After the election in 2016, I gradually became consumed by the stress of working within a tech company that seemed willfully negligent about winding up on the wrong side of morality and history. It seemed like most of the company’s leadership was fine with sleepwalking into potentially unethical disruptions of the defense, policing, healthcare, and other industries. I knew that the only way for me to live with myself would be by being more intentional and present in my own life.
I started to make a more concerted effort to live my own values by trying to figure out what those were and choosing to act on them whenever I could.
Over the past several months, I’ve tried piece-by-piece to dismantle all the different things that comprised my physically and emotionally unhealthy lifestyle. This task has been enormously difficult because some of these cycles (involving what I consumed, how I used technology, the way I interacted with others, etc.) have been a part of my life for so long that it was impossible to see them clearly. And once I saw them, I didn’t immediately know what to do to break out of the cycle.
For example, I have struggled with sleep for years. It took me a while to realize that my inability to sleep well was connected to habits such as drinking lots of caffeine, staring at a screen before bed, and thinking about problems even as I lie in bed. I have eventually come to realize that I could only sleep better once I started applying restraint and moderation to all these poor habits.
It was in the midst of this project of unwinding my unhealthy lifestyle that I started referring to the practice of revealing these cycles as unknowing. Unknowing is the process by which I sought to observe my own life, reflect on it with the aid of others, and act on what I’ve learned from these reflections. As a writer, I chose to focus this process in the form of writing, spending a few hours a day trying to articulate my thoughts in successive drafts. By working my way over and over again through these drafts of my thoughts, I was better able to figure out how these cycles I felt trapped in could be broken.
I have come to the gradual realization that the person I was changing into was already the person I was. I’ve found that by clearing my life of distractions and addictions, and by taking time to reflect, I’ve finally been able to catch up with who I actually am.
As a result, I’ve found a strange new feeling creep into my life. It’s a feeling of warmth, security, and desire, and even though I only feel it fleetingly, it’s something I can’t remember feeling so often before. Perhaps this is part of a broader acquaintance with feeling itself that I have been unfamiliar with.
What’s strange is that this feeling emerges unpredictably from things like pictures of the Polish countryside, the shape of certain chairs, sometimes unpleasant smells, and the faces of people I’ve never met before. It’s unthinking, fleeting presence feels oddly light and graceful, like a brief cool breeze on a hot day. I’ve noticed that my alienation with place and people has declined a little bit, not because I am more attached to some fantasy of where I am or who I see myself as, but instead attached to a more indiscriminate love of my senses and experience.
I wonder if this isn’t the central purpose of our increasingly alienated society, to re-engage people with their own lives, and whether cultivating voluntary associations and clubs is a way to do it. I also feel an urgent responsibility that whatever peace I come to can only be steeped in meaning by helping others. Finally, I can’t deny that a flicker of hope within me believes that such voluntary associations devoted to this purpose may be the root of a conscious political and social revolution worth struggling for.