A Psychiatrist Looks at “Fiat Lux”

I’ve been ignoring the news for the most part in the last few days–lots of sharply polarized, adversarial content. I notice I feel a lot better. My habit is to read the news in the morning over coffee in my home office. But for the last couple of days, I’ve been sitting in my chair, not facing the computer.

This has given me a chance to notice a print on the opposite wall, “Fiat Lux: Ansel Adams, Trilogy.”

In addition to my observation for the first time since I hung the picture that it hangs crooked, the three images are more evocative than I’ve thought.

I know almost nothing about the history of the work, except that it was part of a huge anthology commissioned by the University of California at Berkeley in the turbulent 1960’s. The book was intended to encourage looking forward to the future of the University of California rather than looking back at its past. It was one of the biggest projects of Ansel Adams’s life. I wonder what happened to the option of being in the present mindfully and non-judgmentally?

Anyway, I don’t know how I missed it but the arrangement of the images suggests the extremes of emotions. The serenity of the beach contrasts with the storm cloud while the balance and symmetry of the tree in the middle is an expected resolution, suggestive of a dialectic.

Almost any psychiatrist might then think of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “dialectical” means “… the process of thought by which apparent contradictions are seen to be part of a higher truth.” In other words, we try to resolve and integrate opposite ideas or emotions into a different form, which will help us evolve, hopefully, into wiser and happier people. DBT is a form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and both can be very helpful for those who have trouble with regulating extremes of emotion and its consequences for relationships.

However, there can be dialectics for everyone in life. Not that everyone needs or should want formal psychiatric treatment, but reflection on the polarities, antitheses, and ironies across the lifespan can be a healthy thing.

For example, my view of myself as a Consult-Liaison Psychiatrist is gradually being eclipsed by my view of myself as a soon-to-be retiree. Almost anyone who is thinking about retiring or has retired will recognize the challenge in redefining one’s self at this stage in life.

You can view a lot of issues through the lens of dialectics. Often it seems like moving from either/or to both/and thinking is a transition that health care reform has needed for a long time. We often tend to ask questions like “Is it psychological or physical?” “Is it mind or body?” Pretty soon we might sound like we’re saying “Is it real or fake?”

Does that remind anybody of the news? Take a break from it for a while, and let there be light.

Fiat Lux Ansel Adams Trilogy
Fiat Lux Ansel Adams Trilogy