Tag Archives: luxury

Little Luxuries

When we feel pressured, over-worked and under-resourced we can easily be persuaded that luxuries are things we have to buy. Expensive things. The urge to brighten a life that doesn’t feel bright at all can take us into debt or keep us running harder as workers than is good for us. If you can experience a feeling of luxuriousness without having to spend money, this is a great help. Here are some things I find give me feelings of luxury – no doubt others exist.

Rest. There’s nothing like being tired for making me feel fragile and marginal. Making time to rest can feel indulgent. Simply lying around can give a body a sense of peace and ease. This can be added to (for me at least) by adding other soft mammals to the equation. Lounging about with cat or husband, enjoying soft, sensual contact that requires nothing further, can feel deeply luxurious.

Water – be that a swimming pool, a bath, dabbling my feet in a stream, taking a quick shower or running a cool flannel over my skin on a hot day. Water can create rapid feelings of luxury for me.

Getting outside – sun on my face in winter, sitting under a tree in summer. Breezes against my skin, relishing the cool night air, listening to birds, enjoying the scent of flowers. Perhaps meandering a little, but not going far or at any great speed.

Friends – just spending time with people when nothing much is going on, or needs to happen. When we can just sit around and talk, or not talk, or share activities that don’t take too much effort. Taking time to be entirely focused on a friend always feels like a luxury to me.

I can get several of these into most days. Sometimes I’ll have been racing about like a crazy thing with lots to sort out, at which point the contrast of moving into luxury mode can be dramatic. Even just a few minutes of doing something like this helps me feel richer and happier. Pausing to do things that help my body feel good keeps the rest of my life in perspective. I know what I’m working for, and I don’t end up busy for the sake of busy.

We tend to think of luxury in terms of big things – like yachts and exotic holidays. In practice, small luxuries that are part of your everyday life are easily available and enriching, they just need a little space.

Redefining luxury

Western culture tends to define luxury around items that cost a lot of money, or at a pinch, experiences that cost a lot of money (luxury holidays, mostly). ‘The Good Stuff’ is all about objects, and to afford the objects, or cheaper replicas of the objects, we have to work very hard. The culture of things is not sustainable, our planet cannot keep everyone in the style of an average western household, much less in the style of a household that can afford a lot of luxury goods.

What do you consider to be a luxury? Is it the price tag? Is luxury defined by scarcity? Is it an emotional response to something indulgent? If so, what feels indulgent? If we can redefine luxury, perhaps more of us can get off the treadmill and enjoy living, rather than chasing after objects that will soon become obsolete. Here are ten things I experience as luxuries that have little or no cost. Feel free to add more in the comments.

  1. Sleeping for as long as I need to and waking without an alarm clock. Most of us do not get enough sleep most of the time. The pleasure of feeling properly rested is considerable. Having an extra ten minutes to just stay in bed and enjoy it is a lovely feeling.
  2. Sitting in the sun. Granted, the British climate doesn’t create that many opportunities, but just to have the sun in my face, regardless of season, and to have the opportunity to be out in it, feels really good.
  3. Spending time with friends and having the energy to invest in that.
  4. Having time for creativity. Whatever creativity appeals to you, as an audience, as a creator, as a participant. Singing or dancing with people, listening to music, going to a comedy show, sharing jokes and stories with people. It doesn’t have to cost anything but it’s worth a lot.
  5. Having nothing to do. If that’s the case every day, life can get dull, but now and then to have a day with nothing in it, nowhere you have to be, nothing that must be done, and the freedom to do very little with that day should you so desire.
  6. Inspiration, and the time, energy and opportunity to access the things that inspire and uplift you, whatever those are.
  7. Curled up evenings that are snug, snuggely, comforting. Sharing that with other warm, soft mammals. Apparently Scandinavian languages have a word for this, celebrating the cosy.
  8. Leisurely, indulgent, heartfelt, glorious and delightful lovemaking in all its many forms and possibilities.
  9. Good food. Not expensive food, but happy food. Nourishing food. Things you foraged or grew or cooked yourself, things you enjoy, food you can share with people you like.
  10. Any new thing can be delightful, it doesn’t have to be expensive. A new view, a band you’ve never heard before, a food you haven’t tried. Novelty enriches lives, and it can be available on a very slim budget, if you are willing to find it on a small scale and appreciate anything unfamiliar that comes your way.

Part of me thinks these things should be there for everyone all the time. Too many of us do not have the things that would make us well and happy while we chase after the money to buy things that wouldn’t give us that either. Much of what’s on my list rather depends on not being perpetually exhausted and overwhelmed by work issues, and having a small amount of money and an abundance of time to deploy. If we reframed luxury to understand it in terms of small happy things we can have, rather than big expensive things that will leave us in debt, the scope for being happy and being sustainable increases. These are things we can have, if we stop letting big business tell us what we have to buy in order to feel good about ourselves.

Pampering the Druid

What do you consider to be a luxury? What do you turn to for indulgence and a sense of abundance, to reward yourself, as a pick-me-up or a feel-good thing? Becoming a Druid is very much about re-imagining all aspects of your life, and is also an on-going process. If you want to be a Druid, there is no point at which you cease to do the work of becoming a Druid.

I’m not going to be all ‘hair shirt’ about this one. While I do believe in living lightly and trying not to consume excessively, life without anything that you consider to be a luxury can be bloody depressing. Feeling deprived of the good stuff is not conducive to good self-esteem or a sense of wellbeing. However, it is worth noting that a sense of abundance, luxury and wellbeing does not depend on specific external sources, but on how we think about them. If you’ve pegged your sense of self and your happiness to having very new, very fast and expensive cars, only that thing will do it for you. The marketing world encourages us, on a daily basis, to feel that only their product can deliver us the sense of inner peace and happiness we crave. This is of course, bullshit, but we are subject to rather a lot of it.

More often than not, the wonderproducts do not deliver for us, or have inbuilt obsolescence. Many of them are only luxuries, (in our minds) because of their newness. Once they are older and a bit tatty, those shoes, that gadget, no longer delivers and we ‘need’ another one. We fear being seen as poor, behind the times, out of date, and so we get locked into buying things we don’t really need simply because we are told on a daily basis that without them we cannot be happy or fulfilled.

One of the most reliable places to go for a sense of luxury, abundance and indulgence, is the body. There are balances to strike here because while one cream cake can seem like indulgent delight, a whole packet has implications. There are pleasures to be had in using the body (assuming yours works passably well) movement brings its own rewards. Walking, dancing, singing, working up a sweat, making love… if we have a mindset that recognises these as good things, rather than horrible and unwelcome impositions, they can be delightful. Making love, having the time and space to do that slowly, sensuously and with someone you really want to be with…. That can feel seriously luxurious.

Sleep is another. Early nights and long, languid rest periods, letting the body and mind unwind, relishing the smell of the clean sheets, the softness of the mattress… If you struggle to see how glorious a good bed is, spend some time camping, or sit on a hill all night to get a bit of useful perspective. A hot shower or long bath can feel deeply indulgent, relaxing the body and bringing sensory pleasures.

The company of friends, a few glasses of wine, a good view… feel indulged depends a lot on what you consider indulgent in the first place. That is a choice; one we are often influenced in by people who want to sell us stuff. What really makes you feel good? How can you get to that without it costing the world? The Druid path is not one of abstinence and denial; it is a path of finding your happiness in a way that does not take too much. What underpins this is a perspective. Learning to be genuinely happy, rather than reassured by participating in consumer society, is incredibly liberating.

Redefining luxury, Druid style

What does luxury mean? We’re back to ideas that are sold to us from the outside, because it’s so easy to respond to that question with a vision of something that costs a fortune. The push towards ever greater consumerism is often one that asks us to turn old luxuries into things we consider essential, and then to hanker after even bigger, more expensive things.

For the sake of the planet, luxury needs to be a sustainable idea. I don’t think that’s quite as nuts as it sounds either. I do not believe that we’re going to save the world with a hair shirt mindset. Most people are not prepared to suffer for their own gain, much less anyone else’s, and we’re up against all those adverts that keep telling us that we should never experience a moment’s discomfort or inconvenience. Hair shirts are not going to enlist anyone. Not even me. But what if we could de-comodify the idea of luxury? What if we could make luxury, or the experience of the luxurious, that bit more affordable and sustainable? That would shrink a few carbon footprints.

You can’t indulge when you’re on the run. If you’re doing the ‘hectic lifestyle’ routine, grabbing instant food whilst running like a headless chicken from one assignment to the next, you can’t enjoy anything. So the luxury that makes all others possible, is slowing down. And often, slowing down is pretty cheap. A few hours off work will give you that.

A lie in is not expensive, but what is more luxurious than being free to sleep until you wake naturally, and then being leisurely about getting up? You don’t have to wallow in the duvet all day to feel the benefit. An extra hour, stolen from the hectic schedule, is a most lovely bit of self indulgence. Or how about having the time, just occasionally, to soak in a bathtub, to indulge in good massage or leisurely lovemaking? Time is the most precious thing we have, so using that time in pleasing, indulgent ways can create a feeling of luxury at little cost. And equally, no matter how much cash we spend, if we don’t give ourselves time to enjoy the indulgence, we don’t get much out of it. What good a vastly expensive cruise if you’re on the mobile talking to the office all the time?

One of the big mistakes we make, is finding a good thing and then indulging all the time so that the treat becomes normal and all sense of reward is lost. Some such treats become addictive and destructive when continually ‘indulged’. Alcohol for one. Luscious food, for another. Eat ice cream every day, and you’ll barely even notice it. Strawberries all year round are not as good as strawberries that only come fresh from the garden for a few glorious weeks. Preciousness and rareness often equate, but if we make something a regular feature, we deprive ourselves of the sense of a treat. Over exposure to anything can just de-sensitise us, so that we cease to appreciate, or even notice.

I used to sit out overnight to watch the mid summer sunrise. It’s a good opportunity to break with the normal routine. A mattress never feels so magical as it does after a night on a hill. A duvet becomes a gift of the gods then. A roof is a profound blessing. Contrast is good. Contrast allows us to see the real value of things. The more we wrap ourselves in ease, the less we get to enjoy what is good. The less able we become to notice the good in our lives. Coming in after working in the snow, hot soup is sublime.

I’ve stripped a lot of the twenty first century ‘luxury essentials’ out of my life in the last year – more from necessity than spiritual devotion, but it’s been good for me. Happiness is a sunny day when I can dry laundry, and just sit outside and enjoying being alive for a while, knowing that the batteries are charging. Happiness is having the time to soak in lots of hot water. It’s watching grebes dive outside the boat, and sleeping until 8 in the morning. Happiness is not having to cycle in the pouring rain, and happiness is also knowing that, if needs be, I am fit, well and strong enough to do that cycle ride in whatever conditions I get. Going to the pub for internet, electricity and cheesy chips is the pinnacle of self indulgence.

I am bloody determined that as my life swings back towards more conventional options, I am not going to forget these perceptions. The more I am able to enjoy the small things, the easier it is to be happy. The smaller my luxuries, the smaller my impact upon the planet. The closer I get to only having what is needful, the more I experience the indulgent quality of having more than is essential. And the more I see how few things really are essential after all.

The art of stopping

Many druids understand money as energy, creating a way of relating to it that is not just ‘root of all evils’ logic. As a culture we’re all under a lot of pressure to earn money. We should be contributing to the economy, paying our taxes, buying, consuming, using, working more hours to pay for more things, and so it goes on. A ‘normal’ life can involve a couple of hours of commuting each day on top of the nine to five job, to be followed up by a few exhausted hours in front of the TV with a microwaved dinner before dragging off to bed. All to pay for the car to get to the job, the childcare that allows you to do the job, the expensive clothes the job requires, and the TV to fall over in front of. Sliding into debt is also normal. So normal that all our governments do it to a terrifying degree.

It starts early, at school or at home. We are encouraged to be meek and obedient, to follow instructions and work hard. Even when the work is dull, insipid or pointless, we are trained from an early age to knuckle down anyway and accept that someone else has decided we need to do it.

How many jobs confer any innate sense of satisfaction? How many people do not finish the working day feeling like they’ve achieved something? And all the while the bills mount up and the cost of living increases. What many of us do for much of the day is generate wealth for other people, through our work, and our spending.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what my luxuries are. Most of them turn out not to have any easily attached price tag. Yesterday we sat in the spring sunlight for a while, watching swans build a nest. We went for a walk. Lying down has come to feel like the most exquisite kind of self indulgence. I have a very physical life, which frequently leaves me aching and exhausted. Lying down is bliss. Sitting in the sun to think, cuddle, daydream and plan is one of the loveliest ways to pass an afternoon. Time found for music, for my fingers to dance over the familiar neck of my violin, or my voice to find a song. Time spent making love. The things that give me most joy cost nothing. All they require is that I step away from the great energy exchange of money for a while.

I’ve come to realise, in the last few days, that stopping should not be a luxury. I need to think of it as a necessity, a vital part of living well and maintaining both mental and physical health. It is natural to stop. Most of nature does only what it must, and then rests. But then, most of nature does not have a mortgage to pay, or any government or media pressure to be a cog in the economic machine. I spend a lot of time watching dogs, with their boundless capacities for joy and enthusiasm. They wag tails even in the rain. The oldest, stiffest dog will still be cheerful on a sunny walk. They know how to live, and I find it all too easy to forget.

The work should be good. It should be meaningful and rewarding in itself, and it should be properly rewarded. It shouldn’t matter whether anyone is paying for it, because that is not the only measure of achievement. The work should add to the world, enhancing life, not taking from it. It should not leave the worker feeling hollow, used or miserable. It must also end. There must be times when it is possible to step away, to turn off the phone, put down the paperwork and be free of it. Too many jobs seem to require full life commitment, not merely the hours a person is paid for. Professional teaching would be right at the top of the list there. As technology ‘improves’ increasing numbers of companies seem to expect that employees will be perpetually on call.

Sometimes we confuse money for goodness. We mistake the movement of it for success. We fail to distinguish between material wealth and quality of life. Certainly, a degree a physical wealth improves quality of life, but when all we do is service a bank account, we are not living. The best things cannot be bought. A reason to smile. Peace. Friendship. A glorious sunset. The laughter of a child. Good conversation. Dreams.