Three is a special number, for it transcends two opposing paths by offering a third alternative. Every time you think you’re caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, remember there’s always a third way you have only to imagine.
Those who answer the call of awakening, repeatedly come up against the tertiary structure. The traditional division of a human being into body, soul and spirit becomes experienced and known. A keen way to think of it is that the body stands for necessity, the soul for destiny and the spirit for Providence. Life will obviously be infused with a much greater sense of purpose and power if you believe yourself an instrument of fate guided by God, rather than merely an intelligent ape left to fend for itself in a concrete jungle.
Indo-European traditions teach that when a civilization is rising it is guided by an invisible metaphysical principle, and when it is declining people lose all access to spiritual reality, and life degrades into a nihilistic battle for resources. And so the civilizational cycle descends through the three stages of spirit, or higher principles; soul, or culture; and finally, a hollowed-out body called homo economicus scavenging for money.
Those who follow the doctrine of awakening, however, evade this gravitational pull downward, climbing upwards through gradual revelations of the spirit. Material reality becomes increasingly supplanted by the soul’s inner reality, which eventually comes to view even itself as subject to earthly conditioning. One then begins to reorient with a supra-personal sense of participating in the timeless realm of Being itself.
The Jungian journey is also divided into three, beginning in a childlike state of unconscious perfection in which everything you feel and think is good, and everything you don’t like is bad. One is then expected to mature through a state of conscious imperfection, realizing there is good and bad in ourselves and others, and that we live in a gray area of conflict within and without. A few will go on to the stage of conscious perfection in which the divisions between good and evil, masculine and feminine, and inner and external reality are transcended by a higher vantage point that accepts and reconciles all opposites.
After all this work, one is liable to be hungry, and so we return to the number three, not for three square meals a day, but for this instead: A simple person comes home and wonders what’s for dinner. The complex person comes home burdened by a thousand conflicts.
And the enlightened person? They come home and wonder what’s for dinner.