Thursday, October 4, 2012

Monkey Mind

You've heard of monkey mind. Most of you will associate the term with the agitation of thoughts when trying to meditate. Some of you may also think of your mind and body as inhabited by a particularly agitated monkey when you're feeling anxious. 

If you tell me you've NEVER felt like you "might jump out of your own skin," I'll have a hard time believing you. I can feel the core of anxiety in my belly right now, no different from every other time I've sat down to write anything, no matter how excited I am about the topic or how confident I feel that it will appeal to readers.

Of course the monkey above seems quite pensive. That's because it knows something vital about anxiety. Anxiety holds on with greater strength when you try to avoid or overcome it; anxiety lets go when you let it in. No one knows this better than Daniel Smith, author of Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety.

Typically I use book references or quotes to support a concept I'm sharing, but Smith's book is so good, this post is also a positive review. I could pick any section at random to demonstrate his wit and honesty, but here's one about his personal anxiety scale:
It runs from zero to ten, zero being catatonic and ten being the guy in Edvard Munch's The Scream, where, psychologically speaking, you're on a bridge surrounded by faceless strangers who are unable or unwilling to help you and the sky is blood-orange-red and swirling and hectic and everything is so bleak and awful that you'd rather die than spend another second where you are.
Eventually Smith discovered what I learned from R. Reid Wilson. However counter-intuitive it may seem, when you face into your anxieties, they surrender.

You and the people you coach can design experiments that speak directly to their anxieties. One of my clients, for example, loved amusement parks but avoided the scary rides, especially the roller coaster. While exploring her anxieties, she agreed that her fear of the roller coaster could symbolize all her fears, so she went to the amusement park, sat alone in the front seat of the roller coaster car, and stayed on the ride several times, until her anxiety subsided. This shifted her assumption that her fear had her.

Smith exemplified his own, similar shift, by his reaction to cutting his finger while slicing an English muffin:
The cut was severe. I could see the pink of deep tissue and beneath it the bone. A year earlier I would have had instant visions of disaster -- the night, the week and in turn an entire existence ruined by a hasty gesture. Now I just stood in the kitchen watching the blood drip into the sink, thinking, Well, that just happened. Better do something about it. And then I allowed myself a moment of quiet pride, for such matter-of-fact poise and practicality -- such reflexive poise and practicality -- signaled a momentous shift in my mental life. When they wove the stitches in, I almost smiled.