Luxury and the gifted do not always sit comfortably together.
We are intense. We are obsessive. Our work ethic can make us dismissive of others.
Especially others whose casual ease with luxury can seem a moral insult.
Yet by denying ourselves the same ease we also deny ourselves some access to love and perhaps to the full extent of our potential.
How? I suspect that to achieve the profound connection and love we deserve, we must learn to embrace luxury. To indulge ourselves. To seek ease, comfort, and the benefits of riches.
Open to everything – including love
I am so conditioned into believing that personal denial is the only path to truth that it was almost impossible for me to write: “benefits of riches”.
But I don’t trust the message of my own conditioning. It doesn’t ring true.
So I’m going to suggest that every gifted person needs to discover the benefits of luxury.
And hopefully I’ll convince myself at the same time . . .
Excess is essential
Here’s a bit of autobiography. It helps explain my early conditioning around luxury. It may have echoes for you, even if in different ways at different times.
I was born in the UK, just after WWII when shortages were at their peak.
The world I entered was marked by rationing, the utility label and – more importantly – the moral ethos such things evoked.
It was definitely ‘good’ to do without and to make the most of what you had. Every self-sacrifice benefited society and honored those who had died or been wounded.
It was therefore definitely ‘bad’ to be self-indulgent. Especially when so many of the wealthy were identified as having profited from the deaths and the shortages of war.
There is a corollary today in the thousands of lives that have been ruined by the actions of the banks and the governments that support them.
I find it almost impossible not to be self-righteous about all this.
The puffed-up moral judge inside me declares: “THEY did it. THEY are the evil men.” and points to the generals, the politicians, the bankers, the black marketeers. Or to the women who proudly set them on their ‘evil’ paths.
All the people who apparently profit from the suffering inherent in vast human tragedies.
But the reality is so much harder to accept: that death and suffering from war and depression are caused by ignorance, by fear, by the ubiquitous limitations of human nature.
And we’re all in that soup together.
So there are no evil people. Or good ones. There are just people.
Despite my knee-jerk need to deny it, luxury is not a moral issue but an interesting behavioral phenomenon. And the fact that it exists suggests to me that we need it.
Giftedness is all about being excessive
Luxury and giftedness have one thing very much in common. They both appear excessive to the mainstream of society.
- Gifted individuals push whatever they are doing to the limit.
- They don’t see the point of just going for a run: their exercise has to fit into a planned training program.
- They can’t just stand at a party discussing bling. They have to be recruiting for their campaign to save something that others haven’t even noticed yet.
- They can’t just buy something – it has to be the right thing. They have little tolerance for a half-measure solution, knowing that it will just irritate on a daily basis. They’d rather go without.
A quick scan of my etymological dictionary tells me that luxury has its root in luxuria, meaning excess.
And that’s certainly the sense in which ‘luxury’ is usually used.
It basically implies something more than is needed.
But I ask: says whom? Who is the great assessor of who needs what?
I haven’t bothered to check but I wouldn’t mind betting that the first people to ‘discover’ that you’d be better off poor were the religious leaders.
“They say: “Send your money to the Lord”/ But they give you their address.” as Hank Williams Jnr sang so profoundly.
And it’s a rich tradition to try to buy your way into Heaven. Or at least to hedge your bets by sending a donation to the Pope or some similar after-life insurance broker.
Who needs things?
The close alignment between fear and wealth has been explicitly recognized at least since the Buddha took to the road.
Yet the trappings of the wealthy – and sometimes their means of acquiring wealth – can leave them outside the circle of sympathy that we readily apply to the less materially fortunate.
“What’s s/he got to worry about?” we ask. And: “We’re all miserable but at least s/he’s rich.”
As if it made any difference.
Pain is pain. Fear is fear. Death is the end.
And they all bypass the means test.
So if you need to carry a pedigree puppy in a £6,000.00 handbag in order to stave off the terrors, that’s fine by me.
And if you, you gifted ascetic, need to wear a wealth-rejecting hair shirt to stave off your own terrors that’s fine, too.
But I think there’s a better solution for both:
Embrace luxury, discover love.
Trust replaces hurt
The rich person – especially the inheritor of wealth – has a hard time learning to trust love.
It’s not just that s/he attracts gold-diggers. It’s because the daily privileging of external objects over internal ones leaves him or her untrained in matters of emotion.
The gifted person – especially the one whose sensitivity and idealism have led them into many painful encounters – also has a hard time learning to trust love.
Gifted individuals have a set of expectations – logical enough in their way – that the objects of their love rarely reciprocate.
And the gifted also mistrust their own attraction to wealth because they are so unfamiliar with managing its seductions.
After all, you fear, if you were really really rich, just think of all those books you’d buy. Far more than you could ever read. Just like those hundreds of pairs of shoes that Trust-fund Trudy will never wear.
Barricades against the banshees
So where am I going with all this? To this:
Whether gifted with wealth or giftedness, start seeing luxury not as something shameful and excessive but as a natural outcropping of a particular natural climate.
Luxuriant growth is simply profuse growth, whether we’re talking rain-forest shrubs or Zug billionaires.
Gifted people are all about profuse growth – of knowledge, of talent, of human understanding, and even, sometimes, of material wealth.
The ‘particular natural climate’ that promotes profuse vegetation growth tends to be a bit extreme and excessive when measured against climatic norms.
And the ‘particular natural climate’ that promotes the growth of gifted humans is a complex mix in which we, as individuals, play only a small part.
So trust your luxurious urges. They’re totally natural.
Surrender to your desires
Virgil, an acute observer of human nature, wrote:
“Trahit sua quemque voluptas.” Broadly, “Everyone is drawn on by their own longing.”
So if you wish to be drawn on, to develop your potential to the utmost, you most open yourself to your longing.
This means ALL your longing(s). Not just the bits you regard as morally superior.
Trust the process
It’s safer than you might think.
If your heart be reasonably pure your longings will be reasonably constructive, even if they come under the heading of ‘wicked indulgence’ in your internalized Book of Judgments.
Also, the outcome of allowing your longings will be reasonably constructive even if, at the outset, you have no idea that there will even be an outcome.
Archimedes took a bath and discovered what made us float.
I don’t know whether the bath was a luxurious jacuzzi but it might well have been. Without that indulgence we’d have no “Eureka!” moments – and ships might sink.
Robert Louis Stevenson neglected the family orange plantation while he sat under a tree and imagined – “Treasure Island”.
Isaac Newton did the same in an apple orchard and came up with gravity. (Or should that be down?)
Christian Dior said “Poof!” to post-war fabric restrictions and came up with the New Look and a whole new industry and art form.
Not just material luxury
I want to urge you (and me) to seize your excess and see what comes of it.
There are many who find it hard to permit themselves to indulge their material fantasies while there are so many in the world living below the poverty level.
There’s probably no connection between the two things but guilt isn’t rational.
First, therefore, seek to negate that irrational guilt.
If that fails, look to indulge yourself in forms of luxury that don’t trigger guilt. For example:
- Give yourself some time.
- Take in that exhibit that you glimpse as you hurry past on your way to work every morning.
- Give yourself the effort to find a parking place so you can take a walk in the park.
- Take two minutes longer in the shower so you can really reward yourself for your efforts in the gym.
- Pay a bit more for that shirt or top so its feel and fabric will remind you every time you wear it what a special person you are – and what a joy it can be to be simply human.
And on the subject of clothes, cut those scratchy labels out. Their cheapness and nastiness only serves as an uncomfortable reminder that you could be the unwitting beneficiary of some sweatshop in China.
- Open yourself to luxury because luxury begets creativity.
Even fierce Ludwig could see it:
“Music is the wine which inspires one to new generative processes, and I am Bacchus who presses out this glorious wine for mankind and makes them spiritually drunken.”
Surely, if indulgence was good enough for Beethoven it must be justifiable and valuable for the rest of us?
And finally . . .
Despite all the above, do you still think Lack is Virtue?
If so, don’t be hard on yourself. There is such a long tradition of the virtues of asceticism that we can be forgiven for believing ourselves to be better off by being worse off.
By denying ourselves the rewards of luxury, the thinking goes, we are contributing to the forces of truth and probably helping to save the planet at the same time.
But . . . no wealthy, indulgent patron means no truth, no art.
Just ask Michaelangelo da Vinci.
You never heard of him?
Now I’m off to indulge myself, repeating:
- Luxury is nutritious; luxury is good;
- Luxury is natural; luxury is good;
- Luxury is fruitful; luxury is good;
- Luxury is gifted’s twin; luxury is good.