Just now I snapped off a square of dark coffee chocolate and savoured the sweet creaminess as it melted on my tongue. Luxury. I am getting over a virus. Last night I was able to breathe clearly for the first time in days, and swallow without pain. I slept long and deep. Luxury. I have an hour before my next appointment, fairy lights are twinkling in the fireplace, and Tsuki cat is perched on the back of my chair and purring. Perfect luxury.
What is luxury?
Sylvain Tesson, who retreated to a tiny log cabin in the Middle Taiga for six months, reflects on it here:
The temperature drops precipitously. I chop down some wood in -31 F and when I get home, the heat seems like a supreme luxury. After the frigid air, the sound of a vodka cork popping near a cast-iron stove produces infinitely more pleasure than a palatial stay on the Grand Canal in Venice. That huts might rank with palaces is something the habitués of royal suites will never understand. They did not experience the aching of numbed fingers before they learned about bubble baths. Luxury is not a state but the crossing of a line, a threshold beyond which, suddenly, all suffering ceases. ~ Sylvain Tesson, ‘Consolations of the Forest: Alone in a Cabin in the Middle Taiga’
What I find accurate about Tesson’s description of luxury is that he places it right next door to suffering. Luxury is when we move from the sun-baked lawn into the cool shade of a tree, or, when we begin to feel chilly, move back into the sun. The cool is most delicious when we’re a little over-heated.
Tesson also says that luxury is not a state – we can’t linger there forever. As we move away from suffering, the luxury either becomes boring, or we move into an opposite state of suffering. Sunsets and cherry blossom are beautiful because of their transience – even cherry blossom would become commonplace if we were wading in it all year long. Tsuki cat is still purring, but I stopped paying attention to her a long time ago. Having a nap is a luxury when we are tired, but if we lie around all day, we can fall into a lazy torpor which is just as unpleasant as feeling tired.
The Buddha taught that we expend a lot of pointless energy grabbing at the things we like, and pushing away those we don’t like. When it comes to luxury we are often greedy for more, chasing luxury ‘highs’ and wanting to be in control of how much we receive. My top drawer is full of all sorts of different chocolate – coffee, mint, coconut… but at the moment the chocolate I really want is the one I don’t have – Green & Black’s with sea salt. Once we start grabbing at luxury there is no end to it – just look at the lifestyles of some (unhappy) millionaires.We also use luxury-seeking as a tool for pushing away the things we don’t want to experience – sadness, confusion, a sense of failure. We ‘treat ourselves’ to a bottle of wine rather than tending to our tiredness after a punishing week, or acknowledging the pain we’re still feeling after an argument with our friend.
Luxury (along with pretty much everything else!) wasn’t designed to be something we can control. Luxury is a grace. If suffering is inevitable, and so is impermanence, then we are in constant motion between suffering and the cessation of suffering. Cold, warm, cold. Hungry, full. Sad, happy, sad, happy. If we can be present for the suffering, we can also be present for the luxury of ‘crossing a line’.
In my own experience, the best kinds of luxury are the very ordinary things that we receive every day, mostly without noticing. If we are present for our lives, we will feel a deep gratitude at the cup of tea our husband makes for us, and relish the hot liquid as it soothes our sore throat. We will luxuriate in feeling reconnected with a friend when they text, in pausing to watch the fairy lights blinking on and off, and in putting on our soft pyjamas after a long day of work (one of my favourites). When we remove the scales from our eyes, we see that we are blessed.
I wish for you the courage to stay present with your suffering. Let your breath out. I wish for you the joys of a thousand tiny luxuries. Let the air, rich with oxygen, stream into your lungs by itself.
Chocolate from Pexels with gratitude