A famous painter undertakes a new project. He considers his blank canvas and places brush on the taut fabric, stroking bright paints thickly and thinly. After much diligent work and focused intention a beautiful woman gazes back at him from the canvas. Over some days he finds himself falling in love with the woman, with the brushstrokes, and clings and clutches to the painting, taking it everywhere with him, sleeping with it at night, and propping up his easel throughout the house. His colleagues and admirers begin to question the painter, asking why he is in love with a painting, merely a painting. They attempt to take the picture away from him, but he clings and clings, clutching the painting in his arms. His life becomes consumed by his beautiful, material creation.
This is a story that was told to me and many others during one of the 10 discourses we received at the Vipassana meditation I sat in January. The intention of the telling was to illustrate how our minds create beautiful images that we cling to, beautiful images of the future or of the past that can feel so real to us, substance-full enough to base our present actions upon. Pictures of a past place or person or the way our body used to be, and oh how wonderful to be there again…what can I do or say or bring into my life to have that again? Or of the future…images of wealth, images of cured disease, images of success and ease and sunny days. Our mind naturally creates these images. Our ego makes them real, takes them from substance-less electrical brain firings into near weighted objects.
We may know that we hold these patterns, we may know that its fruitless to place incredible amounts of mental energy and time into chasing these pictures, but it is nevertheless rather shocking to become more aware of this lifelong chase, a chase for ghosts.