About twenty-two hours into Charles Lindbergh’s famous nonstop solo Atlantic crossing, having endured hours of fatigue and boredom, he was visited by the distinct feeling that there were a number of ghostly presences in his plane with him. This story is one of many fascinating encounters with the “third man” from John Geiger’s 2009 book, “The Third Man Factor.”
Lindbergh, of course, had his own understanding of their identities and purpose, and felt perfectly comfortable with their company. As I read, I thought how cool it would be if they were the ancestors of the invention of flight: Daedalus and Icarus, DaVinci, the Mongolfier brothers, Ferdinand von Zeppelin, Wenham, Ader, Maxim, Langley, and the Wright brothers. They would be crowded in there with him, celebrating his grand achievement and guiding him to a successful crossing. Who better to understand the trial of grueling endurance before Lindberg reached his goal? It was a shared victory.
Maybe we all have these sorts of advocates and guides, usually in a far milder form and experienced as hints and intuitions rather than full-blown vistations. It could be a built-in capacity, this porosity to the history of human experience and achievement. Maybe it’s what native people mean when they speak of being connected to the ancestors. Or artists when they refer to the muse as a source of creative inspiration. Or Jungians’ concept of collective unconscious. Or spiritual teachers who speak of “universal intelligence.”
I have felt the presence of someone “other” in the pages of my journal. I don’t necessarily have to be upset or in an altered state (as happens by default when one is in extreme danger). I do have to be relaxed and open to receive. By sitting down and writing every day, I’m actively extending an invitation to my guide to show up. Is this a tame version of the life-threatening situations that Geiger chronicles? The house cat in the bay window as compared with the tiger in the wild jungle?
It’s telling that it takes extreme life-threatening situations to call up the Third Man. We “civilized” folks, with our devout allegiance to the rational, are so steeped in the story that this is all there is: the brain in the head, our primacy, that only we are animate and conscious. The invitation those explorers and mountaineers issued was to surrender to their inevitable death. In other words, along with their hold on life, they gave up the illusion of Separation.
Each of those explorers felt reverence for and from their Third Man, along with awe, calm and peace in his presence. The Third Man is for me an occasional companion, a guide, muse, mentor and Loving Presence. A dispenser of wisdom and reminder of the unconditional love that binds us all.