“To know, to love and to serve...”
“Sublimation,” meaning, “the purification or refinement, ennoblement,” or “the diversion of a biological impulsed from its more immediate goal to one of a more acceptable social, moral or aesthetic nature or use.” In the original Latin, it is the combination of words meaning “to lift up over a threshold,” and it suggests the elevation of that which is base to that which is noble.
As she describes the “sublimation of possessiveness,” Montessori challenges the idea that children are territorial or hostile in their possessiveness and details, instead, the ways in which allowing children to follow their own interests and pursue the direction of their own guide would, in turn, ennoble their attention.
Think, though, of how often we interrupt children’s interest in particular subjects to insist that they share, or to make sure they’re “well rounded” or to better complete our checklists of their activities. The sublimation of possessiveness is an outcome of repetition, but only if we allow that repetition to occur, and only when it comes first from the child’s interest and not from our insistence on rote skill-mastery.
Young children’s curiosity doesn’t look like ours. If we are curious about a new subject, we ask questions. Children do that, too, but they do much more. They look at the new subject from as many different perspectives as they can imagine. They move the material around in new ways. They explore how it behaves in contact with various stimuli. And when they have a sense of it, they repeat that activity again and again, testing all their assumptions about its nature, learning more and more and more about it as they grow in the precision and attention they offer the activity. Words are not enough. Nor is a single experience with a new content. We need to allow this repetition in order for the child to know what they need to know, that they can love and serve it well then, too.
Montessori offers us some directions here. Offer the child a new materials to explore. First, the child attends to a new idea. Then the child repeats it. Finally, the child increases their own precision and exactness, perfecting their interaction with the material and with the content it represents. The child, absorbing all the tiny details of the concept through uninterrupted concentration, comes to know it intimately and, through that knowledge, comes to love it and to want to protect it.
Not all the time. And not to every material we want them to be absorbed by. But this phenomenon, the sublimation of possessiveness, comes only from repetition and attention and only then when it is initiated by the inner guide of the child. We cannot force it, either by picking lessons for the child or by insisting they repeat activities that they haven’t chosen themselves. gf
Try this yourself: look at your own hand. Notice the spots on it that you’d change. The length of your cuticles or the nail you cut (or bit) too short. Notice how rough the skin is. Remember what your hands looked like when you were younger, and notice the age on them now.
Now, look lovingly at your own hand. See the way the fingers coordinate like they are dancing. Think about how your hand looks when you see it hold something that you cherish: a special item or the hand of someone you loved. Remember how acutely your fingers move as you are demonstrating how to tie on a dressing frame, or when those same tired fingers dried a child’s tears, or held a new baby. Feel the muscles of one of your hands with the fingers of your other, and then exchange. Notice your own strength. Notice how those signs of age seem to correspond with the scope of your whole life. Think about the things you’ve been able to do, from your own independence to your ability to care for the people you love, because of those tired, dry hands. Offer them love. When you offer love generously, even to yourself, you will want to care differently for the thing you have loved. You will want to serve it differently, to elevate it, to perfect it.
When we attend to things around us, from nonjudgmental curiosity, we come to understand them with more love, and to want to care for them more dearly. The children do this through uninterrupted repetition, receiving each new idea like a new puzzle to solve. As adults, we may need to be more intentional. We have more experiences in the world, and so we presume more. We presume we know things we don’t know. We overlook and go on with our day. But if we were to capture some of the curiosity we see in the child, to offer it mindfully to our environments, we may find ourselves more loving toward ourselves and each other, more grateful, more open to serve.
* A response to Chapter 22: The Sublimation of Possessiveness The Absorbent Mind. M.Montessori