Monkey Mind Book Review

Daniel Smith wrote a memoir of his experiences with anxiety in the book titled Monkey mind:A memoir of anxiety.  I found this book to be well written and gripping.  Smith writes in a style that it is honest and revealing of his struggle with anxiety while also being engaging and entertaining.  The book is funny, not what you might expect from a memoir on the topic of mental illness, but Smith relates some of his life experiences that were distorted by anxiety with a self-effacing manner that steers clear of any “poor me” sentiment.  Not all his anxiety-fueled life experiences evoke laughter, some bring about sympathy and some are quite cringe-worthy, for example a graphic description of nail biting.  Another surprise is that the book is suspenseful, as it is obvious from the beginning that Smith has found some way to manage his anxiety so the journey of how he came to that ability makes it a page-turner.  I won’t give away the ending but will say through perseverance with seeking out effective treatment and with the support of friends and family Smith does end the book on a happy note.

The descriptions of anxiety are another strong point of the book.  Smith is very descriptive of his experience with anxiety, using lots of big, interesting words such as solipsistic, self-eviscerating, unremitting, vicious, self-flagellating, and garrulous (I had to use my dictionary for a few of them).  Smith uses vivid imagery as another descriptive technique, especially in reference to how he settled on the book title, a term with roots in Buddhist teaching: “A person in the throes of monkey mind suffers from a consciousness whose constituent parts will not stop bouncing from skull-side to skull-side, which keep flipping and jumping and flinging feces at the walls and swinging from loose neurons like howlers from vines.”(p. 27)  Monkey mind is a valuable concept to reflect on efforts to cultivate a calm and peaceful mind.

Through his memoir Smith attempts to track the origins of his own anxiety by exploring the influences of his parents’ personalities, early traumas, fears, and compulsions, as well as exploring turning points and peaks in the anxiety.  It is clear he has a deep understanding of his own anxiety which he portrays and compares with the anxiety of family members and a friend. This revealing exploration goes a long way to minimizing the isolation that is often felt when an individual is struggling with mental health issues.  The power of the book definitely comes from the in-depth self-exploration and reflection that Smith has done, supplemented by his observations of others’ experiences and his knowledge of the work of psychological and philosophical scholars which is sprinkled throughout the book.

One last excerpt from the book which I really likes comes after the part in the story where he has found great relief from the anxiety and is living a more mentally stable life, so he offers advice to others suffering from anxiety (spoiler alert!)  “Listen closely.  When you are anxious note precisely what your mind has said and then interrogate what you find for accuracy.  Treat every anxious thought like a philosophical proposition and test it.  Apply logic to the content of your mind”(p. 201); the guidelines of cognitive behavioral therapy in the words of Daniel Smith.  Overall, its a great book that I definitely recommend.

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