We all have a phantom that we’re chasing. This phantom could be anything from health, wealth, freedom, romantic love, lasting peace, or even the highest levels of spiritual enlightenment. Any ideal state of being or life situation that we wish we could permanently abide in is the phantom we chase. But we can never seem to really find it. We may have glimpses, brief tastes of our most sought for desire, but it never stays. We are teased to the point of torment. But let me tell you this; the only thing worse than never getting what you want, is actually getting it.
Let me explain why. Before you got what you desired, you at least had hope. But as soon as you get it and you realize that it doesn’t really make you happy, your hope is taken from you. There is nothing left to chase, no idealistic goal to move towards, no tantalizing fantasy of the grass being greener on the other side of life. This is the point at which you have two choices; to either kill yourself, or to kill your idea of self.
The ego self has a great many mechanisms to maintain its own survival. Most of these are deeply habituated and have their roots in the subconscious. But the most powerful of all its survival mechanisms is the idea that things would be better if. If only this were the case, or that were the case, I could be happy. This is an inherent denial of the now, as wanting something else, by default, means that you do not want or accept what is. The problem with this is that all you ever have is what is at this moment. So you create a dynamic of continuous suffering. Yet the ego itself loves this, because it cannot survive without suffering. Resistance is the structural tension which holds the ego in place. Without it, the ego collapses in on itself. Without any suffering, the ego ceases to exist. Because without suffering, there is only complete love and acceptance of what is.
The Buddha said that there are two base causes of suffering. Attachment and desire. Without desire and without attachment, there is no suffering, and one’s true nature is fully realized. So what does it mean to have no attachment and no desire? It means that you do not cling to the fleeting forms and experiences that come and go in this temporal existence, and you also do not desire for things to be a certain way, for them to be other than the way that they are right now. This state of being is the essence of self-realization or enlightenment, as the true self, your true nature, is beyond all that comes and goes. It is untouched by passing sensations and experiences, and it is the only constant in an ever-changing reality.
The reason why we chase our phantom is because we believe on some level that the phantom is us. We believe that the only way to be our true selves is to achieve this certain state or circumstance and that only then can we be free from suffering. But the truth is that we first free ourselves from suffering by realizing that no state of being or circumstance could ever bring us lasting happiness or bring us closer to who we really are, and then our life circumstances fall into place effortlessly. At this point, we know that nothing that comes and goes can bring us happiness, so we don’t really care if things fall into place. There is no desire. And even if we do get what we want, we don’t care if it leaves us. There is no attachment. Therefore, we have found lasting freedom, we have achieved the ultimate liberation, and we have come to find that the destination had been exactly where we were standing all along.