“We shall walk together on this path of life, for all things are part of the universe and are connected with each other to form one whole unity.”
—To Educate the Human Potential
We shall walk together
for all things are part of the universe
and are connected with each other to form one whole unity
A challenging idea for days like this, when we feel so distant from each other, when the demands of our lives and our work and our families seem to take up every second of the day, from when we first check our phones before getting out of bed in the morning to when we skid back into sleep at night. We are surrounded by tools and systems that separate us, technologies that demand we attend more to screens than to people, to typed words on the page instead of to the vulnerable inflections of another human voice. We walk together, all part of the same universe, connected with one another, but, all too often, common in our sense of disconnection, sharing that empty space in our hearts that nags us from a lack of community, a lack of unscheduled time, a lacking.
Montessori tells us we are all connected, that we form one whole unity. If that’s true, why do we so often feel so lonely?
Lonely, from lone, a variation of alone, itself a twelfth century contraction of all and one, meaning, literally, “wholly oneself.” One whole unity.
Montessori doesn’t remind us of our connection to try to suggest that this work will be easy. Indeed, it is not easy, and it is very often very lonely. Montessori reminds us, though, that even when we feel disconnected, when we feel far from each other or overwhelmed by the demands of the everyday, we remain a part of something universal.
Sometimes, what is universal is the lonely.
Sometimes, what is universal is the lacking.
The challenge, then is not to ignore the lonely, but to use it as a reminder that we are not meant for isolation. Even when we are wholly ourselves, each of us is still a part of the universe, connected with each other.
A challenging idea for days like this. How do we remain connected when distance is not only normal but necessary?
Think about the Montessori classroom, so carefully prepared to refine each new lesson to its core parts. We isolate concepts to focus our attention on that one singular idea that is new. We build lesson upon lesson to protect that isolation. Carrot cutting demands the mastery of moving a chair, of tray carring, of sponging, of pouring, of transferring. And so we don’t introduce it until we’ve mastered those other pieces first.
If we are to learn to live as part of one universe, connected with each other to form one whole unity, we need first to understand what we have yet to learn that keeps us from it.
In the pace of most of our lives, busy-ness abhors a vaccuum, and we are taught that stillness is comparable to idleness, that we are not valuable unless we are busy. These are powerful messages, invasive in our public dialogue, chattering in our minds when we find ourselves all-one. It is although we have been riding in a run-away train, too focused on the work in front of us to notice that we kept picking up speed.
It will take the combined energies of great numbers of us to slow the train down.
Life, or the universe, or that one whole unity, is asking us to look up from our phones, look around to our families, and look into each other’s eyes. For most of us, the sudden stillness will feel unfamiliar. For some, even violent. Stopped short, the change of momentum may be jarring.
Catch your breath.
Make eye contact.
There is no rush. There is no need to run.
Right now, it is enough to walk together on our collective new legs. You may not move as quickly as you did before. That’s ok. There is no rush. There is no need to run. You may feel less productive. That’s ok. Catch your breath. Look up. Look around. Life, or the universe, or that one whole unity is asking us to take stock. What do you value today? What are the relationships that make you feel less all-one? What do you need first, in this moment, for this moment, to understand what we have yet to learn that keeps us from that connection?
What is the one new thing you want to learn today? What is one isolated act you can take to feel less all-one?
Because, remember, while that excerpt of Montessori’s writing is often quoted on its own, it comes from a longer message:
Let us give [the child] a vision of the whole universe. The universe is an imposing reality, and an answer to all questions. We shall walk together on this path of life, for all things are part of the universe, and are connected with each other to form one whole unity. This idea helps the mind of the child to become fixed, to stop wandering in an aimless quest for knowledge. He is satisfied, having found the universal centre of himself with all things.
The universe is both imposing in its magnitude and comforting in its answers. In other words, when we focus on just one thing, when we stop wandering, and when we do so knowing that we are “connected with each other to form one whole unity,” we elevate the value of all the small things. If we are to understand it all, we need first to understand all the component parts. Just like carrot cutting. Just like our own spirits.
What can you do today to slow down and look up, to let yourself be guided by your child’s fascination with whatever small part of the universe has fixed upon them?
There is no rush. We’re walking this together.