- Jason McCarty
The word substance has my attention lately. There is something both conceptually satisfying about it as well as experientially satisfying. Substantial, filled up, plenty, enough, solid, definitive, complete. How often are we human beings feeling this way or making decisions in our lives that are intended to bring about these kinds of descriptions? A lot of people seek answers in health professions regarding the lack in their lives. Whether it is regarding food, physical health, exercise, beauty, mental and emotional health, or spirituality. We can call it a lack of meaning or an “existential vacuum” like Viktor Frankl, or we can say people are looking to feel better (whatever that means), or we can just say that people are looking for substance. And I guess some people aren’t looking for anything really, and some of us are looking for substance in all the wrong places without knowing that we are actually looking for something substantial.
Look around you. Are you engaging in experiences, relationships, and learning of substance? What do you do with your time? Are those close to you or around you engaging in substantial experiences? Does our culture put out substantial material? Are we asking substantial questions in our lives, in the media, in healthcare, in religion, in education? Where are post-modern people finding substance in their lives? How is our high-speed, technological, drive-thru-culture providing substance?
Substance often comes from meaningful living. Not just doing things that one should do or that culture wants or education wants, but something that is meaningful to you and those close to you. Many times we are on automatic pilot with everyone else running in the same direction toward the same exact things that look the same exact way.
Meaningful means there is some sort of connection between what you are doing and why you are doing it – and the overall outcome it provides one’s life. The thing is, it’s not always what one “wants” to do or maybe even “dreams” of doing, but is fulfilling nonetheless. There is something about knowing our selves that is limiting but in a liberating way. Living from the inside out does not necessarily mean we can do whatever we want but that we live according to who we are, which is a limited person with certain skills, abilities, attributes and experiences. When we do that we are able to live outwardly and less selfishly, even though it seems focused on self at first. When we think we can do anything we want or be whoever we want, and try, we continue to stay focused on an ideal self (living from the outside in) we never fully attain. This leaves us with feelings of emptiness and anxiety, not fulfillment and substance.
When we operate in accordance with our limited, yet true selves, we find a substance we had been missing. When driven after “anything we want” and when driven after what others want for us, we frantically run ourselves past ourselves, missing the alignment of substantial living. When we slow down, stop, rest, listen, sit in silence, spend time with loved ones, give to others, and reflect on our true selves, we start to fit into a groove that is natural, leaving us with feelings of substance. You feel it in the middle of your chest.
One last thought on substance. I have worked in the substance abuse, or addiction, field for many years. Viktor Frankl said that addiction was a substitute for meaningful living, that it showed up in one’s life due to an “existential vacuum” as I mentioned earlier. From what I am saying here, using the word “substance”, it would certainly fit that a person abusing drugs, alcohol and other behaviors is engaged in “substance abuse”. Or “substance-seeking-abuse.” But it never leads to a life of fulfillment and authentic substance. It’s more like my description of the false self, where we “frantically run ourselves past ourselves.” Just something to think about when contemplating addiction and why people abuse “substances.”
Who are you? What are you doing? Why are you doing it? What are you trying to do that is completely missing YOU? What are you fighting that is only making things worse? Are you the author of your life? What is your life already telling you about what might bring you more substance? What do you need to change this week in order to find more meaning, fulfillment, and substance in your life?