A Review of “Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety”
When I wasn’t laughing out loud, I found myself thinking about the thought that went into the writing of this fascinating and lucid memoir by Daniel Smith. In fact, it appears Daniel Smith has been thinking about anxiety for most of his life.
He has not only thought about it, he has lived it, researched it and found a way to convey its terrible condition of suffering with grace, dignity and shocking humor.
I’m not sure what I liked best about this memoir, but I will begin with the ability of this relatively young author to open a vein and not die from exsanguination. He artfully tells all and yet does no harm to others in the telling of his story. He is kind in the telling of his story, in the preservation of his psychotherapist mother’s dignity, and in helping the reader understand that it is not the end of the world to suffer from the world’s most common mental affliction.
Daniel Smith explains that the term monkey mind has an origin with Buddhism. One of the roads to spiritual enlightenment in Buddhism is to be able to follow the eight-fold path. The eight areas of focus toward enlightenment include: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration, and right knowledge and liberation.
Monkey mind is a condition where thoughts are racing, peace is disturbed, fears run rampant, and every thought leads to another catastrophic thought. The mind and the person cannot rest. Anxiety and fear rule. It would seem rather difficult to achieve enlightenment with a monkey mind. On the other hand, the book provides enlightenment.
In ways, “Monkey Mind” is an eight-fold path. We watch Smith attend to view, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, concentration, and finally conclude with knowledge and liberation.
So what is a person to do? Daniel Smith tried psychotherapy and was best friends with the little pill we know as Xanax. He found most therapists he had seen to be disappointing in either their lack of understanding of the problem posed with anxiety disorders or with an ability to make the proper therapeutic connection, or both. In the end it appears one has to come to terms with anxiety as a condition that is not always curable, but one that is manageable and treatable.
However, it was not always manageable and treatable in Smith’s experience. It seemed to me that Smith was eventually able to embrace mindfulness and liberation.
One of the passages of interest to me as an adult and child therapist was when Daniel was a little boy. He dropped something off his bed and it found its way under the bed. He had to stretch over the bed to reclaim the temporarily lost object. In his upside-down reach he heard voices. They were coming from the heating register on the floor of his bedroom. His mother worked as a psychotherapist in an at-home office setting.
The voices were strange to little Daniel as he began to realize this voice was his mother, but it wasn’t really. It wasn’t the mother he knew. The woman whose voice floated up through the register was calm, serene, thoughtful in her discourse, and without anxiety. The mother he knew was none of these things in the mind of small Daniel. It is a funny and sensitive passage.
Smith captures the essence of the child’s perceptions and shows how exquisite the experiencing of a child can be. Children are busy recording all sorts of things.
Like any good Hollywood movie, Smith’s memoir has humor, a hero, sex, a struggle, attempts to reach resolution, and many wonderfully rendered sub-plots. It is a meaningful book filled with useful information on anxiety. It will make you feel less alone and it will make you laugh, especially at yourself.
Thank you, Daniel Smith, for a good read. I have already recommended it to many of my clients.
Take care and be well.
Nanette Burton Mongelluzzo, PhD
Burton Mongelluzzo, N. (2012). A Review of “Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety”. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 30, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/angst-anxiety/2012/07/monkey-mind-a-memoir-of-anxiety/