The Sacred Space Between

Dan Edmunds, EdD

When we do not understand or wish to dismiss the other, the tactic is to categorize first, and label the other, and put them in a group alienated from ourselves. We create a we vs. them, and we can feel justified in not dealing with them, and we continue on in our ignorance.

There is that space between the spirits and minds, and the distance of this space is based on cumulative traumas and oppression. To enter this space comes with risk, it is a dangerous territory, but once the journey is made, then there can be that joining of two persons in understanding, humanity, trust, and love.

The problem may be time. Thoughts of yesterday, hauntings from yesterday, caught in yesterday, today conjures up yesterday, some cannot see today, and today brings new struggles, and tomorrow seems so far off, and we fear it may not arrive, or tomorrow will pull us back to yesterday, to the point we never know today.

When in conflict, if we could only remain silent and be able to express the others viewpoint to their satisfaction before we speak. Life is limited and such a precious thing. If we were told the day of our demise, I am sure that it would change immensely our attitudes and our relationships, but the fact is- we know not when this precious life will end, yet we waste our times in quarreling and the most trivial of pursuits.

Let us live cherishing each day, and even when we struggle, knowing that each moment, each breath, conveys meaning and purpose, if we so choose.

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Dan Edmunds, EdD
Dr. Dan L. Edmunds is an existential psychoanalyst and psychotherapist in Northeastern Pennsylvania. His work has focused on drug free, relational approaches for those undergoing extreme states of mind as well as autism and developmental differences. Dr. Edmunds is the founder of the Center for Humane Psychiatry, an emancipatory movement for human rights in the mental health system. Dr. Edmunds has advocated for psycho-social approaches for those in distress that are affordable and accessible. Dr. Edmunds developed a therapeutic community project and is involved with autism acceptance and the autistic rights movement. Dr. Edmunds is the author of BEING AUTISTIC: AN APPROACH TOWARDS UNDERSTANDING AND ACCEPTANCE; THEY SAY MY CHILD HAS ADHD: DEBUNKING THE BIO-PSYCHIATRIC PARADIGM; THE MEETING OF TWO PERSONS; and MYSTICAL METAPHORS. Dr. Edmunds is a frequent speaker on critical psychology issues.


  1. Very poetic and very true. One of the things that I find difficult about peer work is the demand to try to understand the person that you don’t like/agree with etc. Conflict resolution is a major thing in some training programs for peer work. I agree that it’s so much easier to put the person you don’t agree with into the opposing camp so that you can dismiss them. I find that I do this with the people in the Tea Party. I find it very difficult to try and sit down with anyone from this group and come to some understanding about where they’e coming from and why they believe the way that they do. Thanks for the post.

  2. Today, Tomorrow and Yesterday are all the same day for me. I live three days in one, every day. Plenty of people go to bed at night and wake up tomorrow morning. When they wake up that morning, there is a distinct yesterday, today and tomorrow for those people. Not for me.

    Time as a structure indicates “order”. The order of life is typically known as “9 to 5”. Because I do not experience life in that way, others might be quick to call me “dis-ordered”. What they do not know is that nocturnal is normal. Nocturnal might not be normal for THAT person, but it is for myself – and others just like me.

    There are those who live for matters of the day. There are those who live for matters of the night. There are those who live for matters of the left hemisphere of the brain. There are those who live for matters of the right hemisphere of the brain. There are those who are “healthy” and there are those who are “sick”.

    Typically, we are not a body of life (humanity) who blend easily. We are separatists, in a world that calls out for “unity”.

    A sunshine golden, healthy orderly person would never have the tolerance to stand along side of me; a dark, sickly disordered one. Or is it myself who cannot stand to be with opposite other?

    Great question: what is the space between us, and is it divine?

    I was “diagnosed” at 16 years old with a “circadian rhythm disorder”. I think it would’ve been much easier to have called me nocturnal. Maybe there will be a day when I will “come out of the dark”. But what if the voice in my head is correct, and that day has passed me by? Then of course, I will forever spend every today and tomorrow – pining for my lost yesterday. I suppose that makes me a “historian”.

    It’s 2:40 AM and the peace and quiet are abundant. I go out for walks sometimes, at this hour – and it is beautiful. Maybe those who seek a dose of peace in their life ought to learn how to kiss the moon. There aren’t many wolves (those are daylight creatures), but a few bats and some wise old owls, and definitely some pretty interesting humans.

  3. Yes mjk, I know people like you. Two of my sons are nightowls and personally I think it is as normal a way to be as any. It stops you though from fitting in in the modern western society who wants everyone to be the same and it can be a right nuisance.

  4. I always find your writing inspirational. The encountering of two different minds is the source of all creativity in the world. I would even argue that it is the major evolutionary force on earth. I believe the random mixing, creation of beliefs, and selection of beliefs between two persons, or within a group has replaced genetics and biology as the predominant evolutionary mechanism of humankind, and has been the predominant mean of evolution for thousands of years already (we have roughly the same genes and biology than early homo-sapiens, but our culture has evolved in a way our life has very little else in common with them). Culture is more important than genetics, and benefits from the same evolutionary creativity, but in a faster, more effective and more powerful way.

    Ideas can be created and combined everyday, whereas genetics required thousand of years for discernible change, which is why human history seems to be accelerating, as the combination, creation and selection of ideas is done at an increasing pace with language, written language, the press, the internet, as well as increasing freedom of speech.

    “Biological” psychiatry is stuck hundred of thousands years ago in the history of humankind, trying to derive hypothesis about mental illness by experimenting on rats and monkeys, for which differentiation between individuals might still be predominantly a matter of biology and genetics. That might have been the case for the precursors of homo sapiens, with a very primitive language, primitive culture and limited beliefs. The “biological” psychiatrists of today would have been good with early primates (and maybe they can reconvert in providing useful treatment for pets once biological psychiatry for humans will collapse).

    Humans nowadays are predominantly defined by their culture, their ideas, their system of beliefs, their mind. Accepting that trauma and oppression will naturally lead to a suspicious system of beliefs, independently of biology, does not seem like rocket science. It does not seem either rocket science to accept the idea that changing our system of beliefs is both easier and more effective than trying to change biology, can be done at any age, but still requires enormous time, patience, trust, empathy, generosity, and some sacred space for the creation of new beliefs. “biological” psychiatry is the reflection of our society: impatient and wasteful.

    I believe our mind is constantly evolving, but our ideas and our system of beliefs can only improve or degrade at a given pace. Because it is slow, some psychiatrists believe in lifelong diagnosis or personality or predisposition to distress (however you want to call it), give up early, and encourage people to give up on themselves. I guess they believe everybody is rigid-minded and closed to new ways of thinking, because that’s how they are themselves (but I believe psychiatrists can eventually overcome this mindset with patience, trust, empathy, and persistence from third-parties).

    The sacred space, in a open trusting dialogue where two people encounter each other, is where Evolution takes place, and where both minds will change themselves into new minds. I believe that’s why it is so sacred, the result of the partial merge of two minds resulting as two new minds is as sacred as the creation of life itself.

    It is sacred and it is dangerous: if a healthy mind accepts to encounter a traumatized mind, the result can be two traumatized minds, or two healthy minds. There is a risk in that encounter. Usually we manage that risk by defining a set of core beliefs that are not negotiable in any single encounter. Is there a set of core beliefs that we won’t ever negotiate over our whole life?

  5. nice words, and timely. i’ve just about given up on a couple of close relatives who see me as “sick” and can’t take the interpersonal plunge you mention. a lifetime of discrimination i’ve even moved cities to escape, finding life more congenial away from the dehumanisation that comes bundled along with psychiatric labelling by family members. not even doctors agree with them, let alone friends – i’ve been free of any form of clinical “symptoms” for years, living a “normal” (lol) life as an artist with the usual happenings of a creative person’s way: exhibitions, books being published, CDs recorded, correspondence with other artists and enjoyable times with friends, spiritual life and the usual ups and downs of love life, while caring for a large and boisterous family of my own… what’s with thi scapegoating and “poor sick [taotiger]” routine… i’m tired of it – it gets old after a while, and the perpetrators just start to seem like closed-hearted misanthropists when it goes on long enough. they’ve just lost credibility to me as loving humans – i don’t need sympathy or pity, when being treated as of inherently equal worth as a person would do. here’s a rough draft of a recent unpublished poem to express my discontent in a different way, hopefully in a form that is broadly applicable to other families than just my own. …not that it expresses how dumbstruck by i feel now about the deep dearth of basic compassion, from someone i could reasonabbly expect to give me a “fair go”, that i experienced today:

    always one black sheep in a family
    cast out of the collective heart
    with aspersions of insanity –
    in any grouping large or small –
    defining ‘sense’
    requires the fall
    of one scapegoated mercilessly
    as “not like us”
    as “unfortunately
    afflicted with a malaise so deep,
    that we don’t need to feel her weep.
    for with a sleight of labelling hand
    may we maintain this unified band.”
    it’s sad, yet true, communities
    believe themselves to be so free
    from predjudice and discrimination
    dream islands of moral superiority
    without a viable external enemy
    to form precious solidarity,
    so they choose from within
    and gradually learn to see
    this one faulty unit as all about
    what “we are not” and cast them out.
    the same applies to new age coolgroups
    with crypto-christian philosophies,
    seeing those not towing the party line
    as somehow corrupt,
    paragon heathens
    not welcome here,
    choose your group it’s the same
    especially religions and nations.
    but cruelly so does the family name
    a member as mad,
    and lock them away:
    male dominated families
    often dehumanise a young woman,
    moneyed clans often the first born,
    conservative tribes will frequently denote
    a radical member who poses a threat
    to established practice of elder control
    such that committing a member
    safeguards the majority stake,
    and thus the views and challenging ways
    may be discounted as “crazy, just part of her phase,”
    and the family continues…
    you’ll find oftentimes
    they ignore social ills, too
    challenging for them to face
    like hungers, tortures and oppressions at large
    while they claim to be so “good. who us?”
    …a dearth of simple empathy
    pervades these schismed families,
    a reliance on authority
    to act as intermediary
    as hatchetman for those that “we”
    no longer wish to see
    as human, with allotted frailty
    for “glory-be!
    if valid they,
    then since i’ve seen the madness and vice
    that lurks within my own dreaming mind
    they’d take me away too. it’s them or me!”
    and power dynamic dictating the result
    “the doctor did it. that poor subhuman wreck.
    we’d like to help but what can we do?”
    so they look at her with pity
    and patronise her artwork as “pretty,
    but products of her broken brain,”
    while unable to see
    that globally
    the philosophical bases of these families
    rests upon systems that are integratively untenable
    and are themselves shunned by traditional societies
    stuck in ghettos of cities consuming, and watching
    the televised sports and advertised fashions,
    capitalist rooms in decadent houses
    with automatic cars
    with juicers and blenders
    and microwave ovens
    while millions are starving,
    but they are “the others”…

    • Thank you for posting this poem. I appreciated it…read myself in it and felt some kinship. The “others”…those that challenge the gears and change the patterns, catalyzing and redefining. We are the grains of sand that make the pearls trapped inside those old and barnacled shells.

      I sometimes think about madness as being an “other” within ourselves, a sharp brilliant wildness that doesn’t fit within the world as we are taught to know it. We learn to fight against this internal otherness until one day we see it for what it truly is and we break the shells against the stones and hold the pearl aloft, finally claiming its luminescence as our own.

      Thank you for sharing and inspiring.

  6. Very moving poem. Thank you.

    Unfortunately, whereas intellectually we can rapidly develop new technologies like this one,we seem to be stuck with a very slowly evolving emotional brain, which seems to automatically first think that someone different from the core group is a danger. Just look at the Old and New Testaments and see how much humans still seem to act the same. It will take emphasizing again and again our commonality, safety, and what we have to gain by working together to change things for the better.

  7. “The shortest distance between two people is a story.” I have always liked this quote of unknown origin. However, I would say that the true bridge is an emotional openness that allows our stories to bloom in that clear space between.

    Often it is our ego defense that creates the deleterious us/them dynamic that you (Dr. Edmunds) reference in the first paragraph, we are taught by culture to seek alignment with those whom we see as “like us” and draw divisive lines between ourselves and those whose lives we see as being characterized by experiences that are unfamiliar or unimportant to us. We often get so caught up in figuring out what is different about us and another person that we neglect to consider the simple ways that we are all the same.

    We are all people sorting out our hearts and minds, navigating the ideas that shape our understanding of the world…and that very few of us really have much of a clue about what makes us shine or dulls our heart.

    Dr. Moffic was correct, I believe, in identifying our emotional processing as complicating our use of cognitive technologies. Fortunately, there has been a significant increase in accessibility to tools and skills that can support us in understanding our own emotionality and its function.

    I believe that Dr. Edmunds’ acknowledgment of the issue of time-orientation is valuable, as well. A mad friend and I used to have wonderful conversations about time travelers and the amount of our lives we spent caught balancing between then and now and the f-u-t-u-r-e, which seems to endlessly arrive.

    All that might have been is everything that is and everything that might be.

    Over the course of our lives, we live billions of moments and, in some of them, we may find a friend…we may, in fact, find ourselves…but, only if we pay attention.

    Thanks, Dr. Edmunds and all, for valuing the space between.