“Are you an angel” – Anakin
Imagine being hopelessly lost in the desert. Walking for miles as the sun beats down.
The distant line of mountains seems to be now closer after days of walking in the blistering heat and nights spent huddled against the cold.
Eventually whatever water you had is gone. Thirst torments you and hunger gnaws at your belly.
You mutter to yourself mindless thoughts. Apparitions of strange figures come in waves of hallucinations at night.
You dream of water and hear voices in the wind. The sun rises and you greet it knowing you won’t see the end of the day.
Tears come to your eyes but they are dry, an attempt to cry is nothing more than a tortured croak.
You stagger and fall and blackness finds you. With eyes open you see the cosmos spiraling before you, all the planets and stars arc above.
You feel a presence, it bring you peace in the hour of death. It speaks to you and urges you on. You stumble as if in a dream.
The presence never leaves you it tells you everything will be alright and to keep going. You obey.
Voices come out of the dark, water, hands grip your shoulder and you see a face. Salvation has come.
“Who is the third who walks always beside you? When I count, there are only you and I together. But when I look ahead up the white road, there is always another one walking beside you” – T.S Elliot ” The Wasteland”.
There are countless stories that tell of the presence of an “other” when life was in peril. Shackleton recounts that such a presence was felt by his group as they wandered across the Antarctic wilderness held in the place between this life and the next.
“I have no doubt that Providence guided us…it seemed to me there were four and not three.” – Sir Ernest Shackleton
Yossi Ghinsberg an Israeli backpacker who nearly died while lost in the Amazon jungle also recounted being led by a young girl who appeared to him just as he gave up hope. The experience left an indelible spiritual mark on him.
Frank Smyth the British climber attempted Mount Everest in 1933 failed and narrowly survived the descent. Later he recounted the welcome presence of another person who followed him during his ordeal. To him the guiding presence was real and it eliminated all loneliness and fear in him.
Soldiers in war, shipwreck survivors and castaways, people lost in the wilderness, survivors of natural disasters and terror attacks all recount experiencing the presence of a benevolent presence that helped them survive beyond their physical and mental limits. The presence gave them comfort and courage against the odds and this helped saved their lives. Psychologists call this phenomenon the “Third Man factor”.
“An angel. I’ve heard the deep space pilots talk about them. They’re the most beautiful creatures in the universe” – Young Anakin to Queen Amidala “The Phantom Menace”
Intense physical and mental duress can have a profound effect on the brain. No one knows for certain whether the “third person” is a hallucinogenic effect caused by the release of a burst of dopamine and possibly Dimethyltryptamine (DMT). The effect of DMT is very similar to those reported by people who claim to have had a near death experience. In a recent study people who had had NDE’s reported experiences of spiritual transcendence similar to subjects who took DMT psychedelics like Ayuhuasca.
Is the “Third Person” effect simply a coping mechanism, a mental trick, a survival reflex triggered by a brain that knows it is dying? Some believe the “Third Person” a guardian angel that intervenes in the time of greatest physical, mental and spiritual anguish. Does it matter whether the “Third Person” comes from deep within our psyche or is a manifestation of something divine if it leads to salvation?
The human psyche has a persona and an ego at the conscious level. Deeper in our subconscious resides our anima and animus. The shadow, the darker side of our nature also resides there. Why not also a guardian angel? The “Third man factor” is a protector and guide that resides deep within us all?
“Death is just the beginning.” – “Destiny” The Clone Wars
The appearance of a spiritual guiding force in the time of great need is often used in fiction. In Gravity (2013) Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) visits Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) after he has floated away in space to his death. Kowalski speaks to Stone and urges her not to give up and helps her survive. The guiding spirits in “A Christmas Carol” transform Scrooge as they reveal his faults and show him a way to his own salvation.
Guardian Angels are nothing new. They appear to the prophets in the Old Testament. Jesus was said to have been visited by angels during his wandering in the wilderness and again as he suffered during the crucifixion. Guiding spirits occur in every culture; Zoroastrian, Chinese, Slavic, Aboriginal lore describes them as benevolent spirits who look over their human charges and keep them safe.
In Star Wars the Force Spirit is the ephemeral and benevolent presence that comforts and guides those it visits. In “Ghosts of Mortis” Anakin is visited by the “Force Ghost” of Qui-Gon Jinn who tells him he can bring balance to the force. Obi-wan Kenobi and Yoda are also visited by Qui-Gon Jinn. In “A New Hope” Luke is guided by the disembodied voice of Obi-wan Kenobi giving him the courage and presence of mind to complete his mission. At the end of “Return of the Jedi” Luke and Leia are visited by the Force Spirits of Yoda, Anakin and Obi-wan Kenobi. Luke himself becomes a powerful Force Spirit. In “The Last Jedi” his Force Spirit projected to Crait where he comforted Leia and confronted Kylo Ren.
“The ultimate goal of the Sith, yet they can never achieve it; it comes only through the release of self, not the exaltation of self. It comes through compassion, not greed. Love is the answer to the darkness.“
―Yoda and Qui-Gon Jinn
I can’t say I have ever had a near death experience like Ernest Shakleton in Antarctica or Frank Smyth on Everest. I have been exhausted enough to hallucinate while in the army. I was on operations patrolling for days on end with little sleep. My thoughts were disordered and I knew that the visions and voices in my mind weren’t real. The “Third man factor” experience is described as lucid and ordered while hallucinations are dreamlike imaginings.
Some Alcoholics who have had spiritual experiences which directly resulted in sustained recovery report the presence of a guiding presence. Some describe this as a blinding light of love and compassion while others describe the visit of a man or a woman or a deceased love one. These spiritual experiences tend to happen at a moment of great spiritual, mental and physical torment.
I have had the “Rock Bottom” experience and while I did not see a presence I definitely felt it. The sensation was real and tangible in every way. I knew immediately that I had nothing to fear and that everything would be fine. The presence imbued a love and compassion that was transcendent and impossible to articulate. I felt at home. From that point I never have drunk again.
“Fear is a disease; hope is its only cure.” – “Blue Shadow Virus” The Clone Wars
I read somewhere once that an atheist will deny the existence of God until the day he finds himself with nothing and is utterly alone, without hope and facing death. At the end of hope the atheist finds hope, not in changed fortune but in the presence of a spiritual force that guides him to salvation.
Very few people ever call on a “power greater than themselves” until the time they need it. Even an atheist faced with his own physical demise will ponder at the wonder of the cosmos and the symphony of creation. A part of them will wonder at the mystery and purpose of life. While denying someone else’s concept of God they might come to a deeper understanding of a divine truth.
The Force can be a source of strength when I need it. The Force can be a source of calm and serenity in times of turbulence. Understanding and patience can be the little inner voice that comes from the Force when confronted with difficult people and situations. It is the guiding and comforting presence when facing calamity. The Force can be the hand that guides you out of harms way, a candle in the dark that leads the way to the light.
Whatever your concept of God or a Higher Power might be the important thing is to realize that no one is ever truly alone. When you need the will to carry on past your imaginable limits, there is a power you can fall back on within you. All you need to do is accept the hand that’s offered.
Geiger, John (2009). The Third Man Factor. Toronto: Viking Canada.