Eating lunch with Caleb Gattegno: a lesson in eating with quiet and focus

Erin, by Kyra, 6 years young, Dublin Montessori Academy student, about 2005.

One's will (present self) is really the hero in learning. -Caleb Gattegno

We all have them. Moments of startling awareness. 

Such a moment happened when I was eating lunch with Caleb Gattegno (about 1986). 

Dr. Gattegno and I sat across from each other in a small room away from the classrooms. I eagerly set out my sandwich and drink on a place mat. He had a simple bowl of vegetables. He sat quietly. I took a bite of my sandwich, chewed a couple times, and then asked a question to engage conversation. I can't remember what I asked and it doesn't matter.

Gattegno listened to my question, paused, and then kindly and gently said, "Susan, I'm going to chew my food and focus on digesting it." Then he did as he said. 

We sat together quietly for about a half hour chewing, looking at each other, smiling every once in a while. I began to practice for the first time a focus on being present in the activity of eating.

This lesson impacted my life. I'm still practicing being quiet when I eat and focusing on the food I'm ingesting. 

I am learning how to stay still, to observe, to be with what it is I am doing (not multi-tasking) for the good of my life, and especially for the good of the learning experiences I share with children.

While studying to become a Montessori teacher, I began to practice stilling myself to listen and observe with heightened sensitivity. Gattegno's life work is based in his extraordinary ability to listen and observe ("the world is my laboratory"). His visits, and this lunch, deepened my desire to develop the same skills.

I believe that the greatest gift I can give myself and others is to be present. To listen and watch. Especially when I'm with children.