Psychiatric Views on the Daily News - Episode 194

Recognizing the Equinox of Life: In Light There is Darkness and in Darkness There is Light

Only we have the power to permanently increase our lightness over dark.

PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS

“It’s deja vu all over again.” - Yogi Berra

Yesterday was 1 of the 2 yearly equinoxes in the United States and the earth, where there is equal balance of light and darkness. In the Northern Hemisphere, it is the fall equinox as it turns from summer to fall, with the opposite in the Southern.

Our ancestors around the world understood that these days were special and often marked them with celebrations. Now that we better understand the changing seasons, the equinoxes are usually just noted in passing.

But if we add psychology as a parallel process, complementing this external balance of light and darkness, there is an internal struggle to balance and rebalance lightness and darkness, sweetness and sadness, High Holy Days and hurricanes.

Most psychiatric patients feel that they are in an internal and external dominance of darkness, and wonder if they will ever recover. Of course, we believe they can improve, including the coming of seasonal affective disorders. Mutual therapeutic insights and technology pave the way forward.

For us all, it can be helpful to be grateful for the harvests of nourishment of summer crops and whatever has nourished us psychologically. Even if the pandemic is not over, it is decreased and less dangerous, a stage worth celebrating not only for its muteness, but whatever positive came out of those years.

However, given the darkness of human nature, even harvest festivals can turn to horror, as was the case in “Operation Harvest Festival,” the murder of over 40,000 Jews at concentration camps by the German Nazi SS on November 3-4, 1943. I found that out as I watched the last of the Ken Burns TV series on the “US and the Holocaust” on our fall equinox day. Nothing may be clearer than the Holocaust of the fragility of civilization that can be plunged into darkness. And perhaps nothing other than the recovery ever since can still provide hope for the light, as the surviving Jewish people reestablished the homeland of Israel, and Germany this time around has become an essential part of the peaceful alliance of countries.

Where human nature differs from astronomical nature is that we have the ability to more permanently increase our light over our darkness. Perhaps that is reflected in the current societal challenge of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Finally, as we lose more atmospheric light and head from fall into winter, the relative barrenness of nature can remind us of our own potential morbidity and mortality. Yet, whenever that happens, we still have time to bring light into our lives and the lives of all we come into contact with, hoping that the best of what we leave behind is recycled into the circle of life.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.