let me sing you a song

imagine
you float in a sphere of water
which rests in a space of infinite darkness

you are deeply cold
and you are deeply alone

you touch the edge of your sphere with a finger
and see a thread of gold, pulse out into the void
oh look, someone else, they look as cold as you are

the warmth of the thread between you feels so good
by its brief light you see their face, and the sphere in which they float

you both start sending light to one another
you're not so cold now
you can see the bounds of your waters
and you begin to grow
you find others to send light to
and they find you

now you're connecting in synchrony with many
and you see they're connecting with one another
it feels so warm, and by the light you all grow larger and larger
no one will be left alone, you’ll find them all

you spread your fingers
and a glorious tree erupts from your sphere
connecting everyone
creating more warmth, and more light than you ever dreamt possible

but what you see by this light horrifies you
you and your friends are not alone
you are surrounded by legions of others
trapped in cold darkness

there are so many
that even if your cluster sent all of its light
it would be but a drop, in an ocean of darkness
you cannot enjoy the light you have found
it seems hopeless

but from a great distance away, a tendril of light finds you
and it sings you a song
a song about consciousness
about light and warmth
about all those in darkness

it calls you to follow it away from the cluster in which you were born
to join others who see what you have seen
in building a grand tree of light
a tree so bright
and so tall
it can fill this space in which you have all been born
with light and warmth from end to end


I wrote this after a long online discussion with a friend. We’ve been helping one another make sense of some messy feelings. Namely, being 28 and finding ourselves in possession of :

  • Agency: Skills, resources, and connections after 8 or so years of professional work and growth
  • Community: The relationships we’ve made organising and participating in local community
  • Freedom: Nothing vital is currently relying on us to function (e.g a family, or a company)
  • Purpose: We see how high the Jenga tower of civilisation could yet climb, and how we might be able to help shore it up in some small way

After covid lockdowns lifting and borders opening we have the resources and freedom to explore the world and work on ambitious EA projects, as has been our plan for the last 5 years or so. But now that I'm here, there's an unexpected mess of feelings I've been trying to understand.

In the song, the sphere of water I'm floating in is consciousness, the subjectivity in which I exist and from which I cannot escape. Consciousness can harbour deep suffering (cold), but when I swim to the edge of my subjectivity and connect with other people, something happens. Not only does it feel good (warmth), but it helps me make sense of our shared situation (light). When I build relationships (synchrony) with others, it creates ongoing warmth and light and allows me and them to grow, bringing capacity for more relationships, which in turn creates more warmth and light. Sometimes, people realise they have the opportunity to get a large number of individuals in sync, and create a community (a tree of light connecting everyone). This can do a lot for the wellbeing of everyone involved and help people make deep understanding of their situation.

The complication for my friend and I is that we've been instinctively building these relationships and communities locally, all the while bopping our head to a song we heard from far away through the internet called "Effective Altruism". And now that we actually have the opportunity to perform that song ourselves, to travel and explore and find out where we can have the biggest impact, it's emotionally intense in a way I did not expect. Physically leaving to go participate in a fellowship or join an EA org doesn’t mean cutting ties with the people I love, but it does preclude the level of connection that generates the levels of light and warmth I’ve really come to value.

I'm sharing all this as I expect it may strike a chord with anyone recently through the bulk (if not all) of their twenties, coming into their power with a passion for the trifecta of:

  1. Community and relationship
  2. Flourishing and wellbeing
  3. Global and effective impact

This vision of community, light, and global scale helped me conceptualise what I was feeling, and to remember why I was arranging my life to be able to link up physically with others passionate about EA in the first place. 

Some other EAs and myself have been exploring modalities like microsolidarity (specifically crewing) to make sense of the scope of our ambition. I've been surprised at what's possible with the right attention and intention, and how much I've gotten back from investing in others. If you share an interest in community, wellbeing, and effectiveness, please reach out. I'd love to chat!

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