Day as a Shaker
I woke up without an alarm around 5:00. The sun had not risen and my neighbors blinds were far from opening. I had forgotten my written schedule and building plans at school, so my first task was to redesign my layout according to a slightly different scale. I employed the use of every candle I owned (2) to light my garage in order to work before sunrise. Once my drawing made mathematical sense it was time to arrange the cuts on my piece of wood (250x20x4cm). Using only a handsaw and a chisel I had my day laid out in front of me. The initial rip-cuts went smoothly and without issues. Cross-cuts, however, were more difficult and required much more focus when beginning a cut.
Breakfast came quickly and I ate little, eager to get back to my craft. This attitude turned out to not be so useful, as a slower craftsman takes more time and care for his work, whereas I was too excited to work, allowing room for mistakes. My roommate had left the house for a 3 day trip around 8:00 so I was also without any immediate physical connection for the entire day. The rain began shortly after breakfast and did not let up for the majority of the day, forcing me to work either in my candlelit garage or under my small patio awning.
After the main cuts were finished it was time for me to begin chiseling out the dovetails. As this was my first attempt at cutting dovetails- or any joinery- it was a long, grueling process that I am sure my neighbors were not happy listening to. I also did not have the luxury of owning a proper surface to work on, or a bench vice. This means I held the wood with my feet and knees to stabilize it while cutting, which was loads of added strain.
The excitement withered along with the skin of my hands around 12:00, when it was time for dinner- or lunch. I sat and took an hour long rest with my eyes closed. Staring at the same project all morning had started to take a toll on my eyes and my mind began playing tricks on me; vibrations and movements etc.
Shortly after this break I went back to work and soon found myself assembling the step stool and making slight improvements to make it sit level and sturdy, without any glue. The step stool was finished by 14:00 and I allowed myself time to sit and reflect on my day.
Although only 24 hours, the day was long and uncomfortable. The rain didn’t help that feeling. With no technology and social media I had lost a small sense of community. It was lonely at times, especially once my work
was finished and all I wanted to do was share my progress- which I was unable to document in the first place.
For the first half of the day there was not much time for my own thoughts, let alone technology. The energy required to complete this work did not leave time or room for distraction. It was freeing in a way that I believe is the reason for the Shakers’ rigor and determination.
To live a life without temptation means finding sanctioned distractions in menial tasks. This means keeping yourself happy without tapping into an online community for immediate assurance of your relevance. Keeping my cell phone off was easy while there was still work to do. If I am kept busy with manual labor, there will be nearly no time for technological distraction. However, a full day of labor is physically draining and not urgent in my daily life, for things around me have already been built or can be easily bought.
Ultimately, my day as a Shaker was about how we as humans keep ourselves busy. Whether it be through manual labor or scrolling online, these distractions fill a void. This void is a common theme in the school of existentialism- regarding the individual as a free agent, responsible for their own development through acts of will. This freedom creates another layer of consciousness to form in whatever task the individual is involved; thus, the void. These moments allow us to second-guess our efforts in a larger scheme. Is creating this step stool something urgent? Are my labor and energy better spent elsewhere? Am I even worthy of building such an object? These moments arise during down time. For example, when the mind and hands are busy enough, there is no room for second-guessing your actions, i.e. the military or professional sports.
The internet, and even technology, can represent an omnipresent platform for comparing status and relevance. One with which we can constantly compare and contrast our own daily lives and productivity with that of others. Being able to instantly position yourself in the zeitgeist is extremely useful in contemporary professions where the technological world is constantly changing and progressing at an exponential pace. This pace is not of any importance to those who choose to ignore it. The Shakers, and other traditionalists, have lived peacefully, so they say, without any of the digital temptations we now rely so heavily on. Are they really better off without these temptations? Is there good reason for there only being two surviving members?
In the end, if anything, I was one step closer to God.