Tag Archives: Michael Dowd

Mental Health Monday: The monkey in my mind has thumbs.

From an evolutionary perspective, monkeys are very nearly people. Our genomes know it. And so do our brains.

For as long as I’ve been crazy (always), I’ve thought of what the Buddhists and Evolutionary Psychologists call the “monkey mind” as my second track.

My second track is that source of unceasing, never ending criticism; second guesses; should, would, and could haves. It doesn’t matter how concentrated I am on something else, something completely unrelated. The second track is always running.

Maybe I’m working on a manuscript about a community-based underage drinking prevention program. Yet my second track is likely stuck on some other common refrain – “you’re fat, so fat, gross and ugly and disgusting, get it under control, fat fat fat.” It’s unstoppable. Distracting. Painful. Damaging.


I first came across the monkey concept when I read Thank God for Evolution by the Revered Michael Dowd, a once-upon-a-time strict evangelical and biblical literalist who fought vehemently against evolutionary principles, but later came to embrace and even promote evolution as part of what he calls the Great Story. Although Dowd’s discussion of the  evolution of the human brain is somewhat simplistic and over-emphatic, he puts it into a really interesting perspective by diagramming it out using the different animals that have brains as evolved as the different sections of our own… including that monkey.


Several years later, Dr. C explained it to me in the more zen sense — the Buddhist monkey mind being responsible for the incessant chatter many, most, probably all, of us experience. For over 5 years, Dr. C and I have worked and worked and worked on strategies to calm the monkey… quiet down the second track.

We’ve tried modifying or replacing the message. We’ve tried mindfulness practices, dissociating/separating from the chatter. We’ve tried finding and addressing the root issues (the perfectionism, weight concerns, anxiety, and so on). We’ve tried and tried and tried.

But seriously. The monkey in my mind seems to be a bit more advanced. I honestly think it might have thumbs. And it’s using those thumbs to hang on for dear life — refuses to be ejected, refuses to be quieted, refuses to leave me be.

It exhausts me and after so many years of incessant trying and failing to put the second track, the thumb-y monkey, to rest, I’ve reached a point where maybe I’ll have to accept that this is just how I am.

I said so to my psychiatric nurse practitioner a week or two ago – she tends to disagree. I suspect Dr. C will as well. And I guess that’s the best I can do for now; trust in my team of professionals. That’s got to be better than giving into the monkey, no matter how highly evolved he is.

Life is But the Weaving… and Spooky Action at a Distance

First, as promised, the poem for the more spiritually-minded:


Life is But the Weaving (The Tapestry Poem) by Corrie Ten Boom

 My life is but a weaving

Between my God and me.

I cannot choose the colors

He weaveth steadily.

Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;

And I in foolish pride

Forget he sees the upper

And I the underside.

Not ‘til the loom is silent

And the shuttles cease to fly

Will God unroll the canvas

And reveal the reason why.

The dark threads are as needful

In the weaver’s skillful hand

As the threads of gold and silver

In the pattern He has planned

He knows, He loves, He cares;

Nothing the truth can dim.

He gives the very best to those

Who leave the choice to Him.

The idea of life as a tapestry, a needlepoint, or a cross stitch isn’t particularly novel, but for some reason I had either (a) never heard of it or (b) never registered hearing about it until recently.  I heard about it at church and it just resonated with me.  It was one of those days when you sit there in the pew, certain that the priest/pastor/rabbi/whatevs is looking straight at you, into your soul, and telling you the-exact-thing-you-absolutely-must-hear-at-this-moment.  It made me think about all those times I’ve ranted and raved about this, that, or the other thing only to find out later that it was just a necessarily dark thread in a much bigger and more beautiful picture.  Something I couldn’t have imagined, something I didn’t think I wanted, but something I, in fact, needed.

If religion/spirituality isn’t your thing, I totally get that.  And I can speak your language too, because science, you see, is my mother tongue.  That’s where I’m really fluent and that’s where I feel most comfortable.  (Writing in medical-ese is my day job!)  So, when I think about this concept, this tapestry thing, in more scientific terms, two ideas come to mind:

1)  Schrodinger’s (someday I’ll learn how to add a diaresis above the o, sorry Schrodinger, friend!) theory of quantum entanglement, or what Einstein (rather jerkily, actually) dubbed spooky action at a distance.  While Einstein’s intent was definitely not kind, I actually like the phrase spooky action at a distance.  It sounds so… Halloween-style fun, doesn’t it?  Anyway, in very, very rough terms, this is the concept that two particles that share a quantum state can never truly be separated even if they are no longer in the same vicinity.  That is to say, if you know something about the one particle, you automatically know something about the other particle because they are inextricably and forever linked.  Inextricably.  And forever.  And since every atom in your body has at one point in the history of time been a part of something else– a stick of gum, a bumblebee, a dinosaur, a blade of grass, a distant star– it’s hard not to believe that all of these things, all of us on this earth, all of us in the universe, are somehow, at least in some small, quark-scale way, connected.  (As a side note: I’m pretty sure most of my atoms come from dinosaurs.)

2)  Or, in slightly more simple, Newtonian-physics, equal-and-opposite-reaction terms: the butterfly effect.  Like the movie.  Like the phrase, “a butterfly flaps its wings in China…” you get the rest.

Of course, if you’re like me, all of these ideas– spiritual, religious, scientific, and proverbial– appeal to you.  In that case, I would highly recommend Thank God for Evolution by the Reverend Michael Dowd… it’s a great read!  The way he blends science, spirituality, religion… the universe… it’s beautiful and makes such lovely sense.  I really enjoyed it.  (Thanks, Dad!)

Regardless of how you want to think about, it’s hard not to believe, for me anyway, that the things that happen to us and the things that happen because of us don’t happen in a world that revolves around us.  (Double negatives much?  I’m leaving it…)  Therefore, the implications, the ramifications, the causes and the effects, the bigger picture, is really something we can’t entirely wrap our heads around.  No matter how much we think a decision through, there will always be consequences we can’t anticipate.  No matter how much we analyze something, there may always be a cause we can’t even imagine.

That’s not so say that planning and analysis, careful consideration of causes and effects, can’t be beneficial.  But it is to say that there’s more to this world, this life, than we can really comprehend.  I’ve only very, very recently, and very, very inconsistently found the ability to sit back and put a little bit of faith into the idea that the whole, big picture, the one I am completely incapable of comprehending at this moment, is exactly what it’s meant to be.

So, back to the analogy of the tapestry… sometimes the threads are chosen for us, sometimes we get to pick out a strand or two.  Sometimes we think we know what comes next better than the “weaver,” but perhaps that’s not the case.  And the more I think about it, the more I find reasons to be grateful for the blessings in disguise and the silver linings that seem to line even the darkest of clouds.

Finally, I promised some pictures.  My mom recently taught me to embroider, and I’m pretty psyched… but as in life, the back side is not so pretty.

Underside 1

Of course, if you’re like my mother-in-law at cross stitch or my friend Ellen at embroidery, even the back looks good:

Underside 2Dang, that’s impressive…

But that’s the idea.  In words, of the garden and medical variety, and in pictures, of the messy and the so-good-it-hurts variety.  The underside’s not so bad, but the underside doesn’t make nearly as much sense.  It’s that picture on top, that story we tell when the whole thing comes together, that makes life beautiful.