Notes From My Journal 

More on Caring Less: The Questionable Virtue of Restraining Desire

Delray Beach, FL-“The discipline of desire is the backbone of character,” wrote Will & Ariel Durant.

That’s different from the Buddhist idea of extinguishing desire. The difference is profound. And it says something about two different worldviews.

The Durant idea is very Western, very Christian – almost Puritanical. It is about self-restraint. About reining in one’s natural impulses. This is a view that sees desire (and the temptations that come from desire) as inherent to the human condition.

The Buddhist idea is about letting go. It is about giving up desire. Energetically, it is the opposite of restraint. It assumes that desire is extrinsic to the self – that the self can be separated from desire.

For the Durants, life is a struggle to resist one’s inherent desires, and the effort to resist builds moral muscle. A good or virtuous person is one who strongly and continuously resists temptation.

For the Buddhist, extinguishing desire (caring less) is not about character but about wisdom.

Let’s say K and I agree that we will go to the Norton Museum Saturday afternoon. I know there is a possibility that we may not go. Still, I allow myself to look forward to the trip. Saturday arrives and K tells me she cannot go. I am disappointed, on the verge of anger. I want to blame her, which will cause a fight and more pain. So I control myself. I restrain the desire I have to act out. I behave myself. I behave like a person of good character.

But if, instead, I take the Buddhist path, I do not attach myself to the prospect of going. While scheduling the event, I consciously detach myself from the anticipation of it. I allow myself not to care. By doing so, I spare myself the possibility of pain if it turns out we cannot go, while not diminishing in any way the possibility of joy.

 

From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket

Collecting: The Best Way to Satisfy Your Inner Material Girl (or Guy)

I’m a big fan of rewarding yourself whenever you’ve made significant progress on any of your long-term goals – especially your wealth-building goals. If, say, you get a raise, start a new side business, or negotiate a great deal on a piece of income property… you should give yourself a present.

For some people, that could be a gourmet dinner or a weekend cruise. For others, it might be an expensive toy – maybe a designer watch, a wave runner, or a motorcycle. I’m not against vacations, toys, and dinners. They make life (and hard work) grand. But today, I would like to make an argument for another kind of reward – one that is tailor-made for wealth builders.

I’m talking about collecting.

How good is it? Let me count the ways:

  1. You can collect whatever you like best. Just about anything.
  2. Collecting is an intellectual pleasure. The more you learn about your collection, the better you’ll like it.
  3. You can enjoy your collection as often as you like.
  4. It makes you more interesting to others.
  5. It makes you more interested in others.
  6. Your collection will never desert you. It will give you a lifetime of pleasure.
  7. There is a reasonable chance that your collection will become more valuable in time.

I started collecting about 40 years ago, about the same time that I got the idea that I should get rich. I don’t know if there was any connection. If there was, it wasn’t a conscious one.

My first collection consisted of beer bottles. I liked beer and figured that saving the bottles was pretty much a no-brainer. Even if I got no pleasure from the collection, I’d certainly enjoy drinking the beer. As it turned out, I liked the collecting too. I liked the way the beer bottles looked standing next to one another. The different colors, the odd shapes, the interesting labels. I found myself wondering how beer bottles are made, why so many come in brown or green glass, and whether there is any reason for the different shapes. I was soon bringing exotic beer bottles back with me from every new destination I traveled to and browsing flea markets for the rare antique.

I know a lot more about beer and beer production now than I did 40 years ago. And while I can’t say that knowledge has improved my career, I can tell you it’s given me pleasure.

Since then, I’ve begun several other collections. I have a nice collection of Latin American paintings and sculptures, early 20th-century European paintings, antique and current cigar lighters, Day of the Dead artifacts, Santos statues, naïve art, and first editions.

That’s one of the problems with starting one collection. It doesn’t end there. [See an example of one of the pieces in my Latin American art collection in “Art Notes,” below.]

Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill were all big collectors. John Paul Getty collected art and Malcom Forbes collected model soldiers and toy boats.

Figure out how much money you spend every year rewarding yourself with presents that perish or decline in value – and then promise yourself to spend at least half of that on a collection.

You can collect anything – antique jewelry, cameras, ceramic coffee mugs, ashtrays, or whatever – and you will find that there are others out there doing the same thing. (You can easily find them on the internet.)

Pick something that you like. It might be something that pleases you (such as landscape paintings) or something that has personal meaning to you (model trains, for example, because you’ve loved them since your first train trip across the country). Avoid collecting what you can’t afford (16th-century Italian icons) or what art brokers try to sell you.

Your taste will change – and improve – as you gain experience. So start off small and build steadily.

One hint: If you decide to collect art, buy unique pieces instead of prints (including lithographs). Prints are like condos. They do well in good markets but tend to collapse in weak ones. It’s always better – both from a personal standpoint and from an investment point of view – to have unique, original pieces no one else has.

But I wouldn’t make financial appreciation my primary goal. Remember that this is about rewarding yourself and taking pleasure in what you collect. The first goal of any collector should be to buy what you like.

 

Today’s Word: languid (adjective) Languid (LANG-gwid) means lacking in vigor or vitality. As used by Jonathan Swift: “As love without esteem is capricious and volatile, esteem without love is languid and cold.”

 

Did You Know? Burt Reynolds was offered the role of Han Solo in Star Wars. He took it, but then backed out.

 

Worth Quoting: “There are two things to aim at in life: first, to get what you want; and, after that, to enjoy it. Only the wisest of mankind achieve the second.” – Logan Pearsall Smith

 

Art Notes

Ernesto “San” Avilés

Van der Weyden + Des San Juanes, 1969

I have more than a thousand works of art in my collection. This little painting by Salvadoran artist San Avilés is one of my favorites.

As you can see, San Avilés can display the technical skill of a classically trained master, but there are always elements in his compositions that veer from the expected. In the case of this painting (which was painted in Paris in 1969), you have a very common subject: Christ being lowered from the cross. However San Avilés’version – sensual and rich in religious symbolism but without any apparent dogmatic intent – is far from traditional.

It sits on an étagère in the billiard room outside my gallery office. It is surrounded by many larger and more imposing pieces, but it seldom fails to catch my attention when I step into that room. And when I see it, it pleases me.

Browsing visitors notice it too. I like to watch how their expressions change as they take it in. The technical mastery of the composition itself draws them to it, and the subject matter makes them think for a moment that they are looking at a Renaissance painting. But then the bits that are missing – figures to support Christ’s body and the face of his mother – tell them they are looking at a post-modern painting. One unlike anything they’ve seen before.

Or such is my interpretation of their expressions.

San Avilés is one of more than 30 modern masters featured in Central American Modernism / Modernismo en Centroamérica, a book I have been working on for nearly 10 years.

For more information on the book, contact Suzanne Brooks Snider: suzanne@rojasford.com; (561) 512-2467