Three to Four: Transfiguring Human Consciousness

October 31, 2014 | Writings

Contemplative living is a high art form. The synthesis of action transfigured by contemplation is the highest of human pursuits. We can expand or contract because of our daily actions and choices. Teaching and guidance regarding the union of action and contemplation is about process much more than it is about content.

In one version of the mythical story of Parsifal and the Grail Castle, curious symbolism is at work in describing the great work of transfiguring human consciousness. There is great emphasis on the number four in the Grail castle. Four seems to be the language of the unconscious for peace, wholeness, completion and tranquility. Prominent accent is placed on the number three. Three is the symbol for urgency, incompleteness, restlessness, striving, and accomplishment.

Parsifal, who has been profoundly touched by the four-ness of the Grail castle, must now contend with the difficulties in the three-ness of daily life here-and-now. The here-and-now things of his life claim him (e.g. the knightly quest, his place in the King’s court). No one can make his way back to the Grail castle until he has made his way through the human contingencies of life.

An awkward time comes when life is dominated by three. It must be reduced to one or increased to four. Human consciousness, personal or collective, here represented by three cannot long be endured in its intensity and drivenness. If one finds herself in a paralyzing dilemma, she must make the forward thrust to attain an enlightened place of insight, into four-ness, or else reduce consciousness just to survive.

Humankind seems to be just evolving from a stage of collective unconsciousness represented by three to that represented by four. The work of a truly modern person is to make the expansion of consciousness represented by the evolution from three to four—that is, from a consciousness devoted to doing, working, accomplishing, progressing to a consciousness characterized by peace, tranquility, and existential being.

Apparently we are going through an evolution of consciousness from an agreeable, orderly all-masculine idea of reality toward a view that includes the feminine and other elements difficult to include if old values are insisted upon. Four can contain three but three cannot contain four. A person of higher consciousness is capable of the practicalities of life but is not bound by them. A person of the world of three is not capable of appreciating the elements associated with the number four.

The suggestion is that wholeness and completion include darkness, questions and questionable areas combined with light for a totality that is real wholeness rather than any ideal.

When the fourth element is given dignity and honor it is no longer an opponent. A psychological truth appearing to be negative or evil needs consciousness to give it a useful place in our makeup. Man has often seen his dark side as feminine. During the Middle Ages, approximately four million women were estimated to be burned at the stake—a sure rejection of the feminine element projected as witches outside of self.

Spacious consciousness cultivated by and in contemplative living is essentially non-dual. Non-dual or contemplative consciousness overcomes distinctions of separation between God and self, outer and inner, either and or, you and me. Non-dual consciousness embraces the difficult, problematic, and unknown contingencies of living excluding nothing.

Contemplative living incorporates the personal and the collective unconscious. The mature contemplative is aware of the power of limitations. He is not too quick to prove or assert, and with humility tolerates ambiguity, endures anxiety, and willingly abides in not knowing or not needing to know.