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According to scientists Humberto Maturana and Fransico Varela, something exists if it is distinguishable from its surroundings. This 'something' can also be called a unity. So this entity always has a boundary that defines its outside. A unit is a living being if it constantly recreates itself. This may be difficult to imagine. When you see a living bird, you experience the bird as a whole. But when the bird dies, you may experience that within a few days the bird is consumed and there is little left of what the bird once was. All the living cells of the bird protect themselves in order to continue to do their job properly. As long as the cells can do this, the bird is alive! The moment the bird is dead, all the cells cease to function and the protective function of the cells is gone. This allows all kinds of animals, fungi and bacteria to do their thing and 'eat' the bird.

Maturana and Varela call this autopoietic organisation. Inside the boundary there are coherent processes that have themselves as results (metabolism). In addition, a creature at its boundary is in constant exchange with the environment in which it lives.


  1. One person stands on the mat and has the task of protecting the space of the mat. Three other people stand on the other side of the room. They walk calmly towards the mat. Their task is to get on the mat.
  2. The other members of the group observe the process. Observation questions

  • How far can the three group members get?
  • Do the three group members achieve their goal of getting on the mat?
  • What did the person on the mat do to indicate boundaries? When did he/she start to indicate boundaries? How did he/she do it? With what words? What did you see in their posture?
  1. Then discuss the process with each other. How did the person on the mat experience the process? And how did the three group members who tried to get on the mat experience the process?


To experience the importance of limits and boundaries

Learning outcomes

Explain different theories of consciousness and conscious presence.
Explain how emotions, concepts and patterns can affect a person
Be aware of emotions and how to overcome them


SDG 16: Peace, security and strong public services


A large mat or defined area of floor.


- There are different ways to protect yourself. Which ways did you see during the exercise?
- What does it do to you to realise that every living being has an inside and an outside?
- Do you experience a clear boundary between your inside and your outside?
- How important is it to protect the boundary between your inside and your outside? Can you explain this?
- How consciously do you protect your "inside"?


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