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Exploring Eastern Concepts of the Self Through Writing

Spencer Baron


In 11th and 12th grade Eastern Philosophy elective, students uncover striking new philosophies of the self. Early on in the semester, we examined excerpts from the primary Hindu texts–the Upanishads in the Rig Veda–and discussed the concepts of Atman, our inmost soul, and the Brahman, the cosmic soul.

To deepen their grasp of the Hindu philosophy of the self, I ran a creative writing exercise. I asked students to write down how they saw themselves, and told them that no one would see what they wrote, and that they could be completely honest.

Students wrote in free form and in many different ways–some made a list of traits, some wrote in prose, some were poetic and others struggled to write anything. Afterward, I told them I had lied and that they would pass their work to a partner in 30 seconds. They began to wildly adjust their self-definitions before showing their peers. Their next task was then to review their partner’s list and to add/subtract things that they thought inaccurate. 

Following that, we examined the different writing processes as a class. I pointed out that there were parts of their perceived selves that they were unwilling to show others. I asked if anyone had written down negative traits about others–very few had.

I then had them guess why I had conducted this exercise. 

After much deliberation, one student called out–everything that had been written freely and privately about oneself was their truest self, their Atman. Brahman was found in the worldly traits that had been shared and discussed with their peers. They had seen through my intention and held a deeper appreciation for the Upanishads and learned more about themselves and each other in the process!

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