Monkey Mind

By Peggy Shafer

“What if your greatest fear is of being afraid?”
– Daniel Smith in Monkey Mind.

In any given year, 18% of American adults are suffering from an anxiety disorder; that 18% is just the diagnosable core of a western world population living in what has repeatedly been termed “The Age of Anxiety”. Though there are scores of internet sites that discuss symptoms and treatments for anxiety, perhaps it’s surprising that there aren’t as many such sites as there are photos of cats.

Though the commonly cited risk factors point to genetics, brain chemistry, personality and life experience, according to Daniel Smith, “Freedom is anxiety’s Petri dish. Freedom says, ‘Here are the lives you can choose, the different, conflicting, mutually exclusive lives.'”

In Monkey Mind—which is autobiographical, hilarious, informative and which has much wisdom to offer, often indirectly—the author isn’t just addressing freedom as a grand abstraction. He recounts in one very entertaining passage an occasion in which he froze in front of a condiments station, unable to choose between catsup and barbecue sauce, while the line of fast-food patrons grew behind him. In those anxious moments his nervous system reacted as if he was faced with a life-or-death choice. (Spoiler alert: He ended up putting barbecue sauce on one half of his meal and catsup on the other.) Freedom permits us scores of choices every day; for an anxiety sufferer each small fork in the road presents an opportunity to freeze with indecision: is this the right choice or is that over there the better choice?

Smith concludes that even though bouts of anxiety can recur throughout a lifetime, there are treatments and practices that, over time, can make an anxiety sufferer’s life less fraught and much more enjoyable.