Emrich -- Coral Reef

The Group Mind -- Exploring Third Space

part of: Dancemeditation

by Teresa Dunyati-Long

The human nervous system is extremely plastic – adaptable—and has two main functions: self-reference and navigation through the external environment. In order to fulfill the many dimensions of these two functions, the nervous system forms molecular and electrical ‘maps’ of our internal environment (from information coming in via the somatosensory, olfactory, limbic, motor, gustatory and vestibular systems), and molecular and electrical ‘maps’ of our external environment (from information coming in via the visual, auditory, somatosensory, olfactory, limbic, motor, gustatory and vestibular systems.) These maps, of necessity, interact with each other. The brain has many ‘association areas’ where these kinds of interactions take place. Distinguishing the purely internal from the purely external from the purely ‘third space’ (how the internal and external information has interacted to create a ‘third space’ map) is difficult. This kind of discernment takes many years to properly develop, if it ever develops at all. Individuals capable of this level of discernment are uncommon, partly because the complexity of the human nervous system is a work in progress. That’s right, it is a result of evolutionary forces linking us intimately with our external AND internal environments – not just one or the other, but BOTH.

The evolution of our systems of thinking about ourselves and our world has progressed neuron in glia (1) with the evolution of our capacity to think. Another way of saying this is our capacity to think has created internal states that have driven our evolution as much as our physiological response to our external environment has driven our evolution.

Just as childbirth has become so difficult for human women because our evolution into bi-pedality has placed strains on a physiological system designed for optimizing birth by the four-legged rather than the bi-pedal, living from our internal space has become more difficult as the degrees of freedom of interaction between our internal and external ‘maps’ have increased until we can create just about any kind of ‘thoughts’ we like in our inner and ‘third’ spaces. We can choose to ignore the external maps and force our internal and ‘third space’ maps upon those around us, as well as the external environment!

Religious, social, philosophical, economic and political systems are ‘third space’ maps externalized upon the world and all its contents. This bit of information should throw light on why a correct understanding our own minds and their operation is so imperative, even though it is also one of the most difficult tasks that we, as humans, will ever undertake.

To be done honestly and constructively, understanding ourselves and our relationship with our environment requires a very concerted effort over a long period of time. It requires forms of study and thought which allow the individual to probe themselves honestly and completely AS WELL AS providing them with solid, reliable information about their external environment. Certain forms of study and thought isolate the individual exclusively within their internal (most religions and philosophical systems) (2) or external (science)(3) environments. Others, such as Dancemeditation, the meditations here on The Tree, or secular humanism (evidence-based living) provide practices and thought structures which not only acknowledge and probe the purely internal and purely external, but also encourage discernment of the interaction between these two primal ‘spaces’ and responsible ways to externalize internal and ‘third space’ maps onto the world and all its contents.

The degree to which force of any kind (physical, emotional, mental) has been used to shape our internal, external, and ‘third space’ mindworlds is the degree to which we will feel pain (4). The degree to which we must deny the honest contents of our internal, external and ‘third space’ maps is the degree to which we will feel pain. This is because our nerves evolved to help us navigate. They warn us when our actions deviate from perceptions because accurate perceptions keep us out of trouble. This warning takes the form of some kind of emotional pain.

The more pain we feel, whether it is consciously (5) perceived or is submerged in our vast ‘subconsciousness’, the more pain we will externalize in numerous ways.

If one takes a cursory glance at the state of the human world today, our effects on our ecosystem, we see a very great deal of pain indeed – everywhere! What does this mean? What can we do about it?

These are the subjects of our dancemeditation today.

Come into your workspace with one or more friends who are also doing this kind of work. Put on music that makes you feel as though you are hovering in the spaces between everything you know and everything you do not know.

Put on music that is in 10–20 minute track lengths. Make sure the track lengths are very similar.

Stand very close to each other, in fact, press your bodies against each other, so you can feel each other breathe, so your breathing echoes through all of you like intersecting waves. Pay attention to the effects of your mutual breathing for one track.

When the next track begins, bring your attention deep inside – that is, engage with all the sensations, thoughts, emotions arising inside you. Let your awareness of your friends dissipate as you engage with your internal maps ever more deeply. Explore, play, dance inside your own internal maps.

When the next track begins, engage solely with the sensations of everything outside of your internal maps – the air in the room, the sounds there, the sensations of your friends pressed against you. Become totally engaged with your external maps.

When the next track begins, engage with the intersections between your internal and external maps – let yourself engage with your ‘third spaces.’ How does it feel there? How do your ‘third spaces’ partake of your external and internal maps? How is what is purely internal and purely external transformed in your ‘third space’?

Repeat the sequence above until you are too tired to go on.

Release down into corpse pose with the tops of your heads touching each other. You will be laying in a circle like the spokes of a wheel. Breathe there for a long time, just hovering wherever it is your attention takes you. Do not force its meanderings in any way.

Arise after at least 15 minutes (but longer if you wish).

Go about your day. Journal if you wish.


1. There are 10 to 50 times more glial (support) cells than neurons in the human nervous system. Glial cells nourish and support neurons in many ways.

2. What religion or social system has not compelled their followers by force of some kind? What religion or social system does not contain some good advice for solving the problems of daily life?

It is useful to think of religions (Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, etc) and social systems (Taoism, Confucianism, Animism, etc) as repositories of ways and means of self reference – internal star maps if you will—guiding practitioners through the confusing landscape of the human individual and group Minds. These systems provide shape to the inner lives of practitioners, and importantly, salve the fear and uncertainty of being human, as well as providing structure for the force and direction of practitioners’ wills, desires, and creativity.

3. In an attempt to overcome the stultifying and destructive tendency to ignore the external world during mental operations, some adherents of Science have gone to an extreme the other way in denying the validity and reliability of human internal and ‘third space’ maps.

4. We can regard pain as having many ‘amplitudes’ such as rage, anger, alarm, foreboding, frustration, ennui, alienation, ambivalence, irritability, or lethargy, depending on its urgency.

5. Consciousness is a matter of great debate, but it is generally associated with awareness. Our nervous systems present information into awareness. Information exists in molecular and electrical terms within our nerves regardless of whether it is actively in ‘awareness’ or not. Information contained in our nerves can be made available to our internal, external and ‘third space’ maps at any time, probably through the mechanism of attention. Suffice it here to say that attention (its mechanisms and attributes) is much-debated in scientific literature. It may be very useful to regard attention as ‘engagement with.’ That is, attention is the process by which neuron populations, stimulated into activity by incoming information, engage with that information in the presence of internal, external, and ‘third space’ maps. This results in the experience of awareness of the portions of the contents of the maps that are engaged with.


Consciousness – An Introduction, Susan Blackmore
Cognition – Exploring the Science of the Mind, Daniel Reisberg
The Cognitive Neurosciences III, Michael S. Gazzaniga, Ed.
The Feeling of What Happens, Antonio Damasio
I of the Vortex, Rodolfo R. Llinas
Principles of Neural Science, Eric R. Kandel, James H. Schwartz, & Thomas M. Jessell
Synaptic Self, Joseph LeDoux