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Passion for Living

Have a passion for living
12 12 2006 Irish Times by kind permission
Jars of spring water are not enough anymore Take us down to the river
These words of Rumi remind us that for human beings the mere provision of basic human necessities is often not enough.
We may notice this in ourselves when we long to transcend the confined spaces we have created for ourselves - that bolster and protect our sense of identity - to experience a more spacious and vital reality, and to re-ignite our passion for living and discover a richer way of belonging in this world.
Joseph Campbell spoke of how every day we need to make a time for ourselves when we don't know who we are, how much money we have, whom we're married to and where we live.
He was not denying the responsibilities that each one of those elements in our lives require of us, but reminding us that if we see ourselves only in terms of these truths we are in danger of losing touch with the greater mystery of life.
Our strategic mind allows us to solve problems and deal with these realities. But if we see our everyday lives only in terms of a series of to-do lists, we are in danger of losing touch with a greater truth that nourishes us, that keeps us on our toes, that opens up the heart when it wants to close in on itself and stay safe.
People who are ill or troubled particularly need to experience some connection with a reality that is greater than their pain. Those of us who are fortunate to have the opportunity to engage with people in these vulnerable and precarious moments of their lives, have an opportunity to extend to them a sense that their lives are about something much larger.
Medicine involves the provision of technical expertise that relieves pain and heals human suffering. But good medicine is first and foremost a concentrated dose of human contact that confirms the value of each patient.
Good medicine takes people "down to the river" where they experience afresh a sense of the wonder of their lives, even in the midst of horrendous suffering.
We have heard much talk in this past year of the deficiencies in our health system. We are appalled that people have to suffer in needless ways - neglected in nursing homes, left waiting on trollies in A&E, unable to access psychological support when they most need it.
These problems are real but they are not the whole story. I don't deny or minimise the plight of many people whose most basic needs are ignored, but there is an equally compelling force of generosity of spirit in the health system that deserves acknowledgement.
I have spent most of this year travelling to parishes and communities and health services and exploring with them how we could we could more effectively respond to the mental health needs of young people. I have been struck by the quality of concern for young people in these communities and by the acute hunger to improve inadequate services.
And I have been stunned by the generosity on the part of many people who want to contribute their time and resources to helping our young people to achieve their potential.
The challenges we face today - to acknowledge what is clearly not working in our health system and to dare to explore creative alternatives - require that we not merely identify what's wrong and say why, but rather, in the words of George Bernard Shaw, that we dare "to dream of things that never were and say why not".
This was JFK's message in his 1963 address before the Irish Parliament. In that speech, he honoured our capacity as a nation to confront impossible scenarios and to dare to change them: He saw then that we needed to draw on our "remarkable combination of hope, confidence and imagination" to change the course of our own history and to shape world history.
"The problems of the world," he said, "cannot possibly be solved by sceptics or cynics, whose horizons are limited by obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were and ask why not."
His words are as important today as they were in 1963. It's easy to curse the darkness, but this wears down the human spirit. We need to remember what it was that brought us into our work and our relationships in the first place.
The dream that brought us to the path we are on is not simply a fantasy but a star pointing to what can happen, if we can only allow this work to be accomplished in us.
May your Christmas be a happy one and re-ignite in your soul those dreams that you are destined to make happen.

Tony Bates is chief executive of Headstrong - the National Centre for Youth Mental Health.

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