“It all depends on how you look at it.” (Open ended and vague sometimes works)
“Did it come from something? If it did, then how did that something get there to begin with?”
It is a curiously reasonable fact of life that humans are born with an intrinsic tendency to question the very fabric of existence. Montessori education strives to nurture this uniquely human trait and encourages children to explore and question further; through story, drama, research, history, and pretty much anything that captivates the child’s curiosity and desire to learn. In many ways the questions above about nothing and the universe reflect a child’s inquisitiveness into their own evolving sense of identity and mind. The universe is a vast unknown, a landscape of the unexplored, filled with planets, stars, and possibility waiting to burst forth- a lot like the mind of the child. In many ways the child is beginning a journey of questioning that will lead at some point to the question of: who am I? What is this human mind, and how did it come to be?
When a child is born Maria Montessori proposed that the child possesses a great store of unconscious instincts towards life, what she coined the unconscious nebulae. These inherited instincts are the seeds of our biological memory that are passed down from time immemorial. These seeds will one day flower as language and communication, emotional knowledge, intelligence, mathematical thinking, love, and so on, and it is because of the nebulae that the child absorbs their environment into themselves and reflects it anew through their developing consciousness. Whether through performing actions upon their environment or by witnessing it unfold around them, the child’s mind is being constantly imprinted with impressions. The unconscious mind is a storehouse of information passed down to the child and as the child gets impressions of their environment the process of incarnating this unconscious mind into consciousness takes place. The environment is like a switch that triggers the unfoldment or release of those mental organs that will become the fabric of the mind itself. The mind is sensitive to those things in the environment that will release the unconscious faculties and bear them to consciousness. It is similar to photo negatives that need certain conditions for the negative to be developed into a photo.
From birth to age 6 the mind is literally building/ incarnating itself. Thus all of the impressions/memories from this stage of life actually become the fabric of the mind itself, as compared to later on when memories are simply stored in the mind. All of the impressions of family, strangers, friends, one’s house, outside, the ocean, the smells, sounds, sights, and all of the sensations of touch and love literally become crystallised in the fabric of the child’s mind. In the first 6 years of life the child does not just learn the behaviours of being human but rather spontaneously incarnates the culture of their environment and thereby adapts to the behavioural characteristics of their society. *
The thread of life is so fragile, yet painstakingly resolute in its purpose and execution. We are the product of something from nothing and young children are living examples of this profoundly existential process in action. Every little experience and impression of the world in the first 6-7 years lastingly becomes part of the nature of the child. As adults we can serve with infinite patience and understanding, providing nurturing and love, while investigating the needs and experiences crucial for a child at this age to engender a healthy and happy period of development. Montessori education simply means aiding the life-process of the child, i.e. providing the right conditions for the photo negatives to be developed. We are indebted for this opportunity to serve as it is life-giving and in reality a service to us. For as we awaken and foster the life in children we are re-awakening the same process in ourselves.
*Note: Interestingly, many traditional societies and religions hold ceremonies to mark the monumental transition that happens at this age, with the overarching theme revolving around a shift towards greater responsibility for one’s actions i.e. one has completed the journey from unconsciousness to consciousness and now has to bear the consequences of one’s actions.