Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Megamansion Syndrome

"Elegant Simplicity"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

I just finished reading an article about the growing trend of building "megamansions" in the suburbs of Los Angeles that stretch west out toward the Pacific Ocean - not more and more big houses, not even more mansions, but more and more megamansions. 

I was especially struck by the description of one of these "homes" set high on a hill overlooking the ocean - 28 bedrooms, 32 baths, 2 separate guesthouses and a 15-car enclosed garage with a tiled floor. The entire complex is located within the confines of a guarded, protected, gated community, and on top of that it is also surrounded by an actual water-filled moat (just like in the Middle Ages).

The article I read today showed some pictures of what was referred to as the "entertainment room" of this megamansion- a huge glass-enclosed patio lounge with an ocean view and a full bar that looked more like a hotel lobby than a room in a house; however, the thing that really bowled me over was the owner's remark about his entertainment room (yes, only one person lives in the entire complex):  "I hardly ever use this room because I rarely entertain, but it's nice to have it just in case I ever want to use it." 

What a perfect icon of what amounts to as a sure-killer on a spiritual path. Everything about this place reeks of isolation and separation from others- a protected gate, a moat around the house, guesthouses that would never be used by guests, even an entertainment room that would never be used to entertain others (but nice to have around just in case). 

The whole point of a spiritual journey is to be in relationship, to foster and maintain relationships with others, to heal and reconcile relationships with others. You can't do that very well surrounded by a moat. 

While most every person I know, myself included, will never have to worry about the spiritual hazards of actually living in a megamansion, I am also convinced that regardless of our social or economic status in life we are all subject to the sway of a "megamansion syndrome" in today's popular culture - the desire to acquire and attach ourselves to more and more stuff, to hide and insulate a bloated self-important ego within guarded gates surrounded only by all the things we have accumulated in life.  

Some interesting research that was recently reported in the Journal of Psychological Science concluding that more and more people today are becoming victims of "mindless accumulation," defined as " a deep rooted instinct to earn and accumulate more than can possibly be consumed even when this imbalance makes us unhappy."

I am relatively convinced that people who live in the megamansions of West Los Angeles may likely be the victims of mindless accumulation, but so are those people who have closets full of clothes or shoes or watches that they cannot possibly ever wear, or refrigerators full of food that they almost always throw away (but it's nice to know you have all this just in case you ever need it.) 

Christians are in the first phases of the Lenten season - a great time for anyone on any sort of a spiritual path (Christian or not) to take stock of how the "megamansion syndrome" may have affected our own lives, a time to examine those places where we may have fallen victim to that debilitating condition of "mindless accumulation." 

This is a time for some spiritual spring cleaning - a time to give away the things we do not need,  but keep around because it's comforting to know we have them. This is a great time to look at our own resources and see if any of what we have might be shared with those who have less. This is an appointed time to look at what we eat or drink or purchase and see if we really need to be consuming that much or if maybe we are just mindlessly accumulating "way more than we need even when the imbalance makes us unhappy."

Lao Tzu once gave this advice for the spiritual journey: 

Manifest plainness
Embrace simplicity
Reduce selfishness
Have few desires.

Such an important teaching for the Lenten season - powerful wisdom to help ward off the "megamansion syndrome."

Listen to my weekly podcast:"Desert Wisdom"


  1. What you described is the antithesis of the Kingdom of God. It is how society plans and thinks. It is not a positive sign but it is a sign none-the less.

    I have way to many 'things' This does not include my 6 cats that were born under my trailer. I have just enough of them. But I have loads of junk I accumulated as prized possessions.

    Lao Tzu is, of course, right.

  2. I agree completely. The last time I was in one of those megamansions, the owner who was only 40-something was recovering from a heart attack. I am not sure that 20-foot tall, 10-foot wide mirrors to make the place seem even bigger than it is, helped in his recovery.

    Better to have a small place with love in it.