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“Often care of the soul means not taking sides when there is a conflict at a deep level. It may be necessary to stretch the heart wide enough to embrace contradiction and paradox.”
— Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul

Tertium Quid: Thoughts About the Third Thing

— I define tertium quid as the previously unimagined answer that arrives in the heart when we bear the mystery of the unknown. —

Literally, tertium quid means “the third thing.” It’s “holding the tension of opposites” until a new discovery or perspective emerges. Often we encounter the paradox of two ideas or paths that cannot possibly be true at the same time, but are. (For example: It’s important to me to stay home with my children. /I need to work to make money to live. These statements are opposite, but both true.) In this type of situation, we’re tempted to end the discomfort or pain of the unknown by forcing ourselves to choose one of the paths right away. But if we can resist this pressure to choose and can bear to remain in the unknown for a time, what will often emerge is a third way that is neither one nor the other, but that holds both.

The tertium quid, then, is a new and different path we begin to distinguish between the two divergent ones we could see before, a path that says both/and instead of either/or. Not simply a compromise, the third way is something altogether different that we couldn’t have imagined before taking the time to sit and listen in the unknown. Carl Jung says that we “overcome opposition through arriving at a third point of view that includes the essence of each conflicting perspective while at the same time combining them into a symbol of the new.”

Usually, if we then follow the path presented in the tertium quid, we feel somehow right, we feel centered in the heart. The answer that emerged from deep within leads us into ourselves; into courage, insight, and empathy; into more authentic living.

To me the tertium quid, and the bearing of the unknown that leads toward it, are symbols of the resilience and fundamental healing nature of the human spirit, of the mystery that resides at the authentic center of each of us. As a therapist, I have the honor of helping to facilitate this process for people, by being a witness and companion on journeys through the unknown. If you find yourself standing at a difficult threshold—a loss, a crisis, a transition, a discomfort, a stuck place, a question—I welcome you. Come with me, and we will traverse the unknown together and help you find your way to a path you may not yet even be able to imagine, to the tertium quids of your authentic self.