For years, the community of children, parents and teachers at Nova Montessori School in Christchurch, New Zealand, gather before dawn on the morning of the Winter Solstice (June 21). They are waiting to view the sun on the ocean horizon. As a prelude, there is quiet repose and everyone lays out their blankets and makes their way down to lay entirely on their front in preparation for experiencing Earth roll; that is, feeling one’s body attached to the Earth as it rolls towards the sun.
As a teacher-educator responsible for sparking awe and wonder in adult learners so that they too will spark awe and wonder in their students, I turned my attention to exploring the function of what I suspect is a game-changing element in adult education. What I found is that to be in a state of awe is a key to transcendence, and it is woven into the story of the universe as part of the fabric of our evolutionary spirit.
Movement is helpful for physical health, but movement for the sake of creating awareness is beneficial for physical, mental, and emotional health. This is not to say that mindful meditation practice is not helpful or valuable, but, instead, that mindful somatic practice integrates the entire being – body, mind, and spirit – into the process of knowing and understanding the inner world through both stillness and motion. For me, mindful somatic practices lend themselves to the experience of a more full and rich internal landscape, from which I can then begin to relate to my outer world.
Our spirit is the lens through which we process and internalize the world around us. When we connect at a spiritual level through wonder, curiosity, and imagination, our personal narrative is woven into the narrative of others and the environments we interact with. When we seek to educate ourselves about these relationships, our spirit is activated, and we discover a deep sense of belonging.
It’s easy to read and theorize about allowing the natural development of a child to unfold before us, but can we actually show that restraint and patience necessary when the moment is before us? Can we defend childhood and adolescence against the myriad pressures and outside influences we all feel? That, to me, is the most radical aspect of Montessori education, but it must be found in a radical transformation of ourselves and our conditioning.
Poets, artists, romantics, farmers, outdoor enthusiasts, traditional healers, nature lovers, and others have known this for ages. There is something about our connection with nature that feels so right. That is the way life was for the first humans. Perhaps we still feel an exhilaration in nature since that is how our species evolved and we deeply sense that connection. Or maybe it was predetermined–nature dictated how our DNA would unfold all along and it simply is not possible not to feel connected.
In the spring of 1994 I was ambling through the Boulder Bookstore where I happened to stumble across multiple copies of Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry’s magnificent tale, The Universe Story, From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Dawn of the Ecozoic Era: A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos, a volume that offered a magnificent and poetic history of the universe. Its initial lament (pp.1)was striking, ”We are somehow failing a fundamental role that we should be fulfilling, the role of enabling the Earth and the universe to reflect on themselves and to celebrate themselves.”
“Now I see the secret of the making of the best persons: it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth” (Walt Whitman).
The “making of best persons” was actively at work one spring day when I took my kindergartners to our garden plot to weed, to harvest the scallions that they had planted, and to plant iris bulbs. Each student has a small plot in our raised bed—roughly two square feet per child with a chrysanthemum and scallions for each, and lavender plants in between their squares.
The Holistic Education Review is a newly emerging Open Access Journal whose Mission is to enhance and broaden the scholarship of holistic education, lift up diverse and emerging voices of holistic education practice and connect the holistic education community. In this endeavor TIES joins other supporting partners including Antioch University, The Transformative Learning Foundation and The Center for Holistic Education at Southern Oregon University, who will be the journal’s host.