When I was a young man, in our back yard there was a huge apricot tree which towered over all of the other trees in our neighborhood. In the spring, it was covered with white blossoms which made it look as if the tree was covered with popcorn. The tree was so large that we built a three-story tree house in it, both to play in and to help pick the thousands of apricots each fall. (I know there were thousands, because I had to pick them.) We made apricot jam, apricot leather, and apricot nectar, and apricot ice cream.
The best part about our apricot tree, however, was the sand box. My father had built a large sand box under the entire tree, with the trunk sticking up in the center of the sand box. Our favorite thing to do was play in the sandbox with water.
We would string several hoses together in order to bring water from the house all of the way back to the sandbox under the apricot tree.
We would put the hose near one corner of the sandbox and let it run. Pretty soon, we would have a little river. We used the wet sand from our little riverbed to build cities, farms and castles (complete with a moat filled with water). As the water rose higher, our cities needed higher walls to protect them from flooding. The water continued to rise and soon where there used to be rivers and lakes, there were now great oceans. Eventually, the whole sandbox was flooded, and we would be done for another day.
We would return home from those wonderful summer days covered in sand from head to foot. Often, before mother would let us in the house, she would take us out in the back and hose us down to get all of the wet sand off.
My brothers and sisters and I lived in that house for 18 years. Then, our family moved. The following summer, the apricot tree died.
I’ve often thought about that apricot tree. Never have I seen a tree that large, bare so much fruit. It thrived, in spite of hundreds of large nails driven into it. (I’m very thorough when I build a tree house.) As I have analyzed it over the years, I think it must have been all that water that saturated the roots of the tree as we were playing with water in the sandbox that made the difference. Of course, we didn’t realize what we were doing at the time, but it had an effect, nevertheless. Then, when the water was no longer there, the tree died.
Like the tree, we all need nourishment to grow and flourish and produce fruit. Our minds must have constant stimulation in order to thrive. But, too many of us quit learning the moment we graduate from formal education. In reality, this should not be the end of our education, it should actually be the beginning. The graduation ceremony itself is called “commencement” which means “the beginning.” It should be the beginning of years of continuing education—both formal and informal.
Fortunately for us, unlike the tree, as adults we have the ability to control our environment to some extent. We can choose to saturate and nourish our minds with new ideas and fresh concepts, we can learn to read and inquire, we can fill our minds until they expand and grow stronger—or, we can choose to stop learning and allow our minds to slowly dry up.
The fastest way I know to kill your mind is to sit, day after day and night after night, in front of a flickering box and stare at it. You might say, “but aren’t there educational programs on TV?” Yes, of course there are, and selective viewing can be part of your continuing education. But, what do most people choose to watch on TV? Mind numbing drivel.
Why not choose a topic that you are interested in and go to the library in search of information? Why not read an interesting new book every month? Why not enroll in a class at your local community college or university? Why not learn how to improve your communication skills, or remember names, or effectively manage your time? Did you know that the average commuter can get the equivalent knowledge and mental stimulation of a four year college degree simply by listening to educational audio CDs in the car during drive time for that same period of time?
When saturated with fresh ideas and stimulated by mental exercise, our minds become sharp and alert; we are able to more effectively analyze situations and invent solutions; our creativity soars; we are more interesting companions; our productivity improves; and, like my tree, we are able to thrive in spite of the challenges of life. But, remove the stream of learning, and we will eventually shrivel and die. I challenge you to live a life of continuing education. It could make the difference between being successful or mediocre, appealing or dull, enthusiastic or despondent. I challenge you to begin now. What have you got to lose?