In week six of The Artist’s Way, Recovering a Sense of Abundance, Julia Cameron focusses on our relationship with luxury and limitation.
It is a fascinating theme to explore. All about that strange and difficult relationship many of us have with ideas around wealth, money, and materialism. It looks at the ingrained messages we have built into our lives about who we are and what we feel we deserve.
There is a difference between ‘Fake Luxury‘ (a judgement we place on others). And ‘True Luxury’ (a freedom we grant ourselves).
Our Relationship With The Idea of Luxury
We often think of Luxury as something other people enjoy. Not us.
“Oh I wish I had the luxury of a lie in” or “if only I had the luxury of a four bedroom house”.
In this sense, luxury becomes a foundation for dissatisfaction, envy, and even resentment. Luxury is an external; enjoyed by others. It is lavish and extravagant. Beyond what we can ever possibly have for ourselves.
But as we explore in this month’s podcast, true luxury is something to which we ALL have access.
Luxury of Introversion and Sensitivity
As self-awareness and understanding increases, there is a transition which I see over time with people I work alongside. In the early days, there’s a sense that something is lacking. A kind of poverty, where to them, it feels like they are missing something that others have.
We might look at extroverts and wish we had the luxury of their confidence or approach to life or whatever. Then, over time it starts to become evident that the luxury isn’t in the external appearance, but it’s found on the inside.
True luxury is in the self-awareness and the ability of a self-aware person to better manage their natural preferences and tendencies, rather than resenting, and working against them. As we learn more about introversion and sensitivity, we step into a place of luxury.
No longer do we need to feel alone, weird, or like we are lacking something. There are many of us, we are weirdly normal, and we are enough. We have enough. We are equipped to learn what we need in order to thrive.
Dropping A Wet Blanket On Other People
Julia Cameron talks about a formidable artist friend of hers, who has disappeared into ‘Wet Blanket Mode’. When she told him about the horse she bought, he responded by saying, “well, I hope you don’t expect to get to ride it much or even see it much. As you get older, you do less and less of the things you enjoy. Life becomes more and more about doing what you must….”
You can probably recognise that kind of mentality. Maybe someone specific comes to mind. A particular situation. Where your excitement about something new was brought to a crashing halt by someone who projected all their own dissatisfaction onto you. Julia Cameron continues…
“Although not yet fifty, he has already been singled out for lifetime achievement awards. Nonetheless, this is an artist suffering in the throes of artistic anorexia. Although he continues to work, he does so at greater and greater cost to himself.
Why, he sometimes wonders to himself, does his life’s work now feel so much like his life’s work?
Why? Because he has denied himself luxury. Let me be clear that the luxury I am talking about here has nothing to do with penthouse views, designer clothes, zippy foreign sports cars, or first-class travel. This man enjoys all those privileges, but what he doesn’t enjoy is his life.
He has denied himself the luxury of time: time with friends, time with family, above all, time to himself with no agendas of preternatural accomplishment. His many former passions have dwindled to mere interests; he is too busy to enjoy pastimes.
He tells himself he has no time to pass. The clock is ticking and he is using it to get famous. “
The Luxury of Time
These stories don’t just apply to artists or creative types. We’re all susceptible to this kind of messaging about the things that matter most to us. We tell ourselves that we can’t have or do things that mean a lot to us, because they’re a natural sacrifice you have to make as you get older and have more responsibility.
Yet, this is often just a self-fulfilling prophesy. We believe we don’t have time for those things, so we end up without time.
I recently did an audit of how much I was spending, and where I was spending it. I’m talking about time not money here.
Over the course of a couple of weeks I checked in to analyse my screen time on my phone, and see what I was doing when I wasn’t really thinking. It turned out that I was checking Twitter, Instagram, BBC News, and email 3 and a half hours a day. Actively on those apps for three and a half hours. That’s nearly 25 hours a week. Over 100 hours a month. Just scrolling, liking, and mostly just getting annoyed.
That’s the equivalent of a part time job. And I didn’t have anything to show for it, other than a growing sense of apathy, resentment, and hopelessness. Not a great return on my investment.
A Different Type of Poverty
We fall prey to this idea that we’ve got to be constantly busy. We’ve got to be connected and we’ve got to be productive.
We can buy all kinds of amazing tools and software to help us do this in more and more efficient and automated ways. But this creates a false perception of luxury. It provides a solution to a problem that only exists because we believe in it.
We think luxury is the privilege we buy for ourselves – the better phone, the smart coffee machine, or designer jeans. But true luxury is the freedom from the need for those things.
True luxury is the ability to live life without standards and expectations that mean you spend most of life caught between judgement and envy. Between looking down on those who don’t have what they should aspire to acquire, and those who have what you wish you could acquire. This is a life of perpetual dissatisfaction and poverty. One that might look like a life of luxury to those looking on, but is underpinned by disconnection.
Luxury and Freedom
True Luxury is the freedom to let go of things that keep us hemmed in and tied down. The things we hold tightly to, which end up holding us too tightly. And so luxury is the freedom to pick up whatever gives us that genuine sense of value and meaning.
The Luxury of Obscurity
I wrote an article for Puttylike back in 2011. It was about embracing the gift/luxury of silence in the early days of any endeavour or project.
“When all is still and we are greeted by quiet, the possibilities are endless. We can step into it, make ripples as we begin to explore ourselves, and play with the ideas that compel us to act.”
We’re conditioned to believe that luxury comes later. That the numbers and the attention is what brings luxury into the equation. If we have more money then we can buy nicer stuff. That is the luxury. But as Julia Cameron points out, we can have all of that stuff and live a life of real poverty, because we are time poor.
What if while we are wishing for luxury to arrive, we are ignoring the true luxury already at our fingertips?
At every point on our journey we must keep checking in with ourselves. Asking, ‘is this a freedom luxury, or an imprisoning luxury?’ Many of us attach ourselves to luxuries that hem us in, anchor us down, and trap us. With crippling debts, hard to shake addictions, and the regressive world-views to justify or qualify the choices we’ve made.