This Scholarly Personal Narrative operates under the idea that individual liberation, guided by the growth of a critical consciousness, can lead to a larger scale, collective liberation from the social structures and societal norms human beings impose on ourselves. In modernity, we have seen the prioritization of rational thought, a tendency that invalidates spirituality in much of mainstream discourse. Recognizing that this invalidation is also self-imposed was the first step toward my desire to seek out a spiritual understanding of humanity in the name of liberation.

When referring to spirituality in this context, I am specifically referring to the idea that humans, beyond the identities we impose on ourselves to make sense of our material world, first and foremost have identities as human beings. As a result, there is an inherent interconnectedness between us all that is so often overlooked because of the self-imposed structures and power dynamics we have created and now have to live within. Simply seeking a desire to forget the problems of the material, human world, however, becomes problematic when it implies that one should forget about past forms of oppression, and the implications of a power structure that is not so easy to reverse.

The task, therefore, becomes how to liberate one’s sense of self from within a powerful and influential system while still being able to function despite this system’s unwavering existence. In other words, the importance of learning to be, first, and participate, second. 

 

I spent my early education as a mirror

   reflecting the norms and expectations I always met.

I could justify calling myself

  motivated

smart,

      maybe even successful. 

But these are just words

 words that only operate according to definitions I was taught; 

 definitions I internalized; 

definitions of words I wanted to strive for; 

I wanted to identify as.

But the motivation came from the expectations, 

The intelligence came from the validation, 

And the success came from the path I was told to follow—

  The path of good grades, external validation, 

    acceptance to an elite university, 

      and eventually the path of wealth and material possessions.

 

For me, living life as a mirror was not sustainable. 

But it was not sustainable because of all I had to sacrifice: 

    Passion, 

        independence, 

            inner peace, 

                Liberation.

 

For those who find these sacrifices uncircumstantial, however, 

a life as a mirror is a clear path to success.

This desire for an internal sense of assurance and an expression of authenticity depends on a deeper exploration of the self;

an exploration that goes beyond what educational institutions explore. 

The spiritual interconnectedness all human beings are inevitably associated with is entirely absent from structured education, 

replaced with agreements that have defined me:

The agreement to privilege rationality

The agreement of monoculturalism

The agreement to privilege outer work.

To guide an understanding of the self outside of these agreements 

requires an acknowledgment that there is a self that exists beyond those agreements;

    A self that has been subjected to the ego

        forced to identify with the thoughts, 

                            rather than simply recognize their existence in the mind.

 

Eckhart Tolle spoke of the liberation that comes from realizing the “voice in my head” is not who I am, 

but who I am is the one who sees that my thoughts are not me. 

This is the liberation that allows for the development of the self 

independent of the material, human world we all participate in.

I find it similar to the liberation of gender identity; 

For me, to be able to express my femininity independent of the male gaze; 

For some, to choose the pronouns that most reflect their own sense of self, 

independent of the social associations that so often come from choosing either she or he.

To liberate my identity as a woman from the norms and expectations attached to being a woman is perhaps what is accomplished from dancing for myself 

or recognizing my beauty without society’s validation 

which most often reflects the opinion of the dominant man.

 

To liberate myself from the identity society has socialized me to internalize is perhaps what is accomplished from meditation or

        journaling

or simply letting my thoughts flow and recognizing the dimensionality of the consciousness.

There is the self that participates in humanity; 

    the self defined by the thoughts and the ego. 

This is the self that perhaps feels hopelessly stuck in the system, 

    believes it unlikely to ever dismantle it, 

        accepts the socialized role within it. 

    But this hopelessness only exists under the assumption that the system is invincible; that the society we live in and participate in with

     other human beings is all there is.

My path to liberation 

comes from an understanding that we exist independent of the human system we participate in.

Humans as social beings 

  have to impose some kind of social structure 

    to simply make material and bodily sense of our world. 

This bodily need, however, 

  can not be an excuse to neglect to recognize the existence of the conscious.

    We must exist and be 

      before we can do and participate.

 

But in our education, 

  we must find a balance 

    between education to participate within the system 

                          and education to develop an awareness of existence beyond it. 

 

A shift from teaching students to value themselves 

only according to the validation they receive from “others” 

to encouraging the development of an individual reality; 

an authentic sense of self that can fully engage with fellow human beings.

A shift from the modern, technological view of knowledge as the objective accumulation of correct concepts, 

which has value only within the modern human desire to take over the world, to seeing the subjectivity in humanity 

and approaching interactions with mutuality and reciprocity.

 

A shift from assuming there exists a hierarchy within humanity 

as based on assumptions from the past, 

to recognizing the shared humanity within us all 

that makes us able to engage respectfully in the present. 

Given the seemingly endless years of oppression humans have thrust onto “other” humans, unity seems a far reach; 

liberation even farther. 

But the the liberatory state that comes from recognizing the complexity of the consciousness, despite the stupidity of the ego, 

can be 

contagious.

 

Samantha Lao can be reached at slao@wesleyan.edu. 

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