People spend countless hours and thousands of dollars throughout their adult lives trying to improve and maintain themselves. You get a gym membership and spend 5 hours a week peddling away like Lance Armstrong in a spinning class to improve your body. You go to church or meditate to center yourself and exercise your spirituality. You eat things that taste like cardboard and buy a Weight Watchers membership to maintain your health. You may even go to couples counseling to improve your marriage and family. You do all of these things to improve your body, spirit, health, and relationships, and all of this is important for living the best life you can, but there is one piece of themselves that most people forget to improve upon, their mind.
Far too often, once people graduate from high school or college they stop trying to exercise and expand their mental faculties. Not only does this make you more susceptible to diseases like Alzheimer’s as you grow old, but it also greatly limits the number and type of experiences that you will have throughout your life. For example, if you have never heard of King Tut, then regardless of whether an exhibit about him comes to your city (like how it is in Kansas City this year), you won’t be able to take advantage of it because you will have no clue who he was. In order to truly take advantage of everything that the world has to offer and live a full life, you have to know what is out there. In order to do this you have to be a lifelong student in the school of life and foster an insatiable appetite for knowledge. Probably because both of my parents were teachers, this is something that was ingrained into me very early in life, and it has allowed me to fill my life with experiences that I never would have even dreamt of trying if not for my love for learning.
Every Summer as I was growing up, my parents refused to just let our minds rot for 10 weeks, so they instituted something called “Culture Time.” This was a 30 minute period every day during which all 5 of us had to do something to improve our minds. This could be any number of things like reading an article in National Geographic, practicing chess openings, or reading a book about some topic you are interested in. The only requirement was that you had to exercise your brain for 30 minutes. I won’t lie, at first I was not a big fan. I thought to myself, “I get straight A’s and work my ass off all school year so that I don’t have to do Summer school. This sucks.” However, I complied being the obedient son that I am, and eventually it was just another part of my day like brushing my teeth and checking my email. As an adult looking back, I am so grateful that my parents did this for us, as it helped to instill in me the thirst for knowledge that I have today.
In addition to getting us to see the importance of expanding our minds and to enjoy learning new things, my folks also worked to give us as many different experiences as they could, to give us a glimpse of what is out there if you just open your mind. I can say without a doubt that if not for my parents forcing them upon me, that I would not have gotten to experience numerous things that have had a large impact on my life. I never would have gone to the opera and been moved to tears by “La Boheme.” I would not have had the appreciation for art that motivated me to start painting. I would not have been exposed to meditation or Zen Buddhism, which is now one of the most important parts of my life. I definitely would not have tried foods like escargot or caviar, which gave birth to my love for trying new food and cooking. By showing me some of the great and wonderful things that are out there just waiting for me to discover them, they developed in me a fascination with broadening my horizons and learning about anything and everything that even remotely interests me.
Even after 8 years of college and graduate school, I still have the same insatiable appetite for knowledge that I had when I was 17 and had the whole world in front of me. I read about 3 books a week, and I am constantly reading or listening to news and current events. I also try to expose myself to new experiences as often as I can. This desire to learn as much as I can that has brought so many new experiences to my life is something that you can develop as well. Pick any topic that you are interested in and instead of turning on the tv or poking your friends on Facebook in the evening, take 30 minutes of “Culture Time” and learn something. I promise that if you do this every day for a month, that you will no longer think of learning as something you have to do, but something you want to do. You will have the same desire to learn that I do. After you make this transformation, you will realize that in order to get the most out of life and really learn to live, that you must also live to learn.