A Garden of Ideas

to ponder and share

Secrets of Living the European Lifestyle (Part 4)

Cultivate a ‘Life of the Mind’.

Before you say, “Hey, what do you mean?” let me explain. We Americans obviously live a different lifestyle than our European counterparts. We typically travel greater distances to get to work, spend more time in our cars, take fewer trains, walk less, eat more on-the-go, own bigger homes (many Europeans live in flats or town homes), own more stuff, watch more TV, and speak fewer languages, to name a few. Comparatively speaking, our fast-paced, merry-go-round lifestyles can also keep us isolated from each other.

Additionally, European cities are typically more residential and safer than ours. They usually don’t, for example, have major interstates bisecting them.  Many cities and towns have social gathering places like piazzas or town squares and lots of outdoor cafes where folks gather for refreshment, a little walk and some conversation. Inner city crime (although increasing) doesn’t keep folks from going to a late night dinner in the downtown areas. (When I lived abroad I would walk home alone after my 10pm French class and never felt I was in any danger.)

All the hustle and bustle in the typical American lifestyle adds up to most of us having less time to contemplate ideas, engage in conversation, or dive into a really good book. There might be a few minutes here and there to read the latest People magazine,  but frankly, our frenetic pace dictates that we need to be moving on to the next item of our massive, daily to-do list.

By the time most of us get home at the end of a long, stressful day, we’re not motivated to exercise, take a leisurely walk, spend too much time around the dinner table in conversation or read an engaging book. After dinner is made, kitchen cleaned up, homework is done and the children are safely tucked into bed, the TV goes on until we’re ready to fall into bed. Our day of constant movement, even if that movement involves merely getting into and out of our cars multiple times, is a drain on energy and a discouragement to delve into the finer things in life.

If you think about your mind as a garden, you might start to think, “What would I put in my garden (flowers, bushes, trees, mulch), and what might I take out (weeds, dangerous insects, fallen branches)?”

The mind wants to be fed the good stuff and have the junk removed just like your garden. And just like a garden, we can leave it on its own for a while, but in a few weeks it will show signs of neglect.

It is so much easier to turn on just about any electronic gadget than it is to read a book or engage in some interesting conversation with our family members. Some people enjoy reading books digitally, which I do from time to time. But nothing comes close to the intimacy of reading a really good, thought-provoking book and maybe somewhere down the line, sharing some of what we garnered with a loved one.

“Books are you friends,” my mother still reminds me. And she is right. When I need a friend, and it’s late at night, or it’s miserable outside and everyone else is busy, I can always pull from my shelf a Charles Dickens, a Robert Louis Stevenson, a G. K. Chesterton, or an inspiring biography.

Instantly, my mind is transformed. There will be something interesting to discuss at the dinner table or over a glass of wine with a friend. Perhaps I might even discover things about myself that need adjusting to become more like the characters I admire.

We all need little vacations from the daily grind to refresh our souls, don’t you agree? How will you cultivate the life of your mind? Share your comments with me below…


Karen J.


2 Replies

  1. Cristy Lopez Henderson

    Hello Karen,
    So beautifully written and true! That makes it twice for me today reading about how our minds are like gardens. I’m feeling very blessed!

    1. Thanks, Christy! Hope you and your beautiful family are all doing well!