Then, the more important, the most important experience of this or any individual entity is to first know what is the ideal -- spiritually.   

-- Edgar Cayce reading #357-13

All of us, at different periods in our lives, struggle with what we should be doing, where we should be going, or how we might possibly fill that special niche which God has in mind for us. We find ourselves searching for something, although we often remain unsure as to what it is. Since this state of inner confusion is something we all have in common, you would think that any practical solution that provided insights or addressed an answer to this dilemma would be heralded from the highest mountain peak. Yet, perhaps one of the most frequently overlooked principles in the Edgar Cayce readings is the concept of working with “ideals,” and it’s that very same principle that can provide us with an approach to answering this inner call.

Because the readings recommend writing down our ideals—physically, mentally, and spiritually—we may be tempted to believe this approach is one in which we complete a one-time assignment, filling in columns or jotting down notes that are never again wrestled with once set on paper. And yet, Cayce made it clear that the importance of working with ideals should become a frequent activity in our lives—one in which we’re challenged, encouraged, even prodded to begin a personal masterpiece at a soul level. From this approach, the readings’ insights on ideals can provide much assistance in helping us to manifest in our lives the very best we have to offer our world, our God, and ourselves.

In simplest terms, an ideal is the motivating influence that undergirds the intentionality of why we do what we do. It is like a North Star that guides us in the dark of night, allowing us to focus upon the direction toward which we wish to be headed. Whereas a “goal” is something attainable, in Cayce’s terminology an “ideal” is really a motivating pattern that guides our lives. It’s not something we’re going to pick up and fondle like a prized object, rather it’s more like the rays of the sun that can warm our face as we’re pointed towards it—you can’t help but know when you’re looking at it head on!

What may be surprising from the readings perspective, however, is that everyone works with ideals, even if it is at an unconscious level. For example, Cayce told an individual:

Each individual entity, whether aware of same or not, sets before self an ideal in the material world, in the mental world, in the spiritual world.”

-- Edgar Cayce reading 1011-1

Another person was told that the reason he had so many problems and so much confusion in his own life was because he had never really established a conscious ideal. He often felt like he was in a state of confusion simply because the ideal he had established (to be sure, unconsciously) was that of a “wanderer.” He was encouraged to make a conscious choice and to begin working with it in a positive way. (323-1) The readings frequently reminded individuals that “Mind is the builder,” in other words, what an individual dwells upon becomes a greater part of his or her life.

One way to begin discovering what kind of unconscious ideals we’ve been constructing in our own lives is to ask ourselves introspective questions like the following: 1) What sort of workplace would my company be if every employee was just like myself?; 2) What sort of home life would there be if every wife/husband/child was just like myself?; 3) What sort of neighborhood would this be if every neighbor were just like myself?; 4) What sort of self-worth would individuals have if every person had my self-esteem?; or, 5) What sort of church or synagogue would my congregation be if every member were just like myself? Questions like these aren’t meant to discourage us but instead to help us realize just how powerful unconscious ideals have been in shaping what we’ve become, both positively and negatively.

A conscious ideal is one with which we are willing to measure our every thought, word, and deed. For example, if we chose a conscious ideal such as “love,” it should establish our criterion for our every action. It could also point us in the direction we wish to be headed. Using the five questions above in conjunction with an ideal of love, we might ask ourselves: 1) What sort of an employee would a loving person be?; 2) What kind of a home life would a loving person have?; 3) What sort of a neighbor would a loving person be like?; 4) How might a loving person exhibit self-worth and self-esteem?; or, 5) What would a loving member of a church or a synagogue be like? By discovering our “best guesses” as to the qualities of a loving person (or whatever quality we’ve currently chosen for our ideal), we can begin to exhibit those same qualities in ourselves and in the process begin to demonstrate more of the ideal we wish to have motivating our every action.

So, in answer to our question “What is an Ideal?”—it is something that influences our every act, our every thought, even all of our emotions. It is a motivating impulse shaping the substance of who we are, as well as who we eventually become. As powerful a motivator as ideals are in our lives, unless we become cognizant and take the initiative, they can remain largely unconscious. We may actually have ideals and not even know what they are!

So why are ideals important? In part, the answer to the what establishes the why. Since ideals shape our very lives, our experiences, even who we are in the process of becoming, they must be extremely important. The readings themselves state that setting a conscious ideal is the single most important thing we can accomplish. Essentially, the reason for this importance is threefold: 1) ideals direct and shape the impulse of “spirit” in our lives; 2) ideals help us deal with (and hold us accountable to) those experiences we need in order to come to know ourselves; and, 3) ideals can help us work through the sometimes-confusion we’ve come to call “freedom of choice.”

The entire (oft-repeated) quote from the Cayce material regarding “mind is the builder” is as follows: Spirit is the Life; Mind is the Builder; and the Physical is the result. Although vastly simplifying the terminology, the word “spirit” in the readings vocabulary is really the Creative Impulse that can be utilized positively or negatively. It is the life-force that can be directed through the activity of the mind and will for self-less (good) or selfish (evil) pursuits. The mind is the mechanism through which we decide where and how we will focus our creative energies, even our attention. The end result of focusing this creative impulse in a specific direction or activity (consciously or unconsciously) is that we draw certain experiences, even people, into our lives. In fact, our physical/material world becomes the stage (the result) upon which we can see the activity of spirit, directed through the power of our own minds, played out before our very eyes.

How many of us have ever walked into a multi-screen movie theater without even looking at the marquee or having a sense of what was being shown, purchased a ticket for whatever show the attendant happened to feel like selling us, and then simply sat down without even caring what it was we were going to watch? And yet, this is the very experience we create for ourselves when we don’t make the commitment to establish a conscious ideal.

The challenge of working with ideals seems to be one where we’re encouraged to move beyond simply a personal intellectual exercise to one where we’re able to strategically map out how our ideal will affect our interactions with others, ourselves, even our surroundings. Many individuals have found that the key to making a spiritual ideal practical in their material lives is to again work with the idea that: “Spirit is the life; mind is the builder; and the physical is the result.”

The first step entails taking a sheet of paper and drawing three columns. Label the first “My Spiritual Ideal,” label the second “My Mental Attitudes,” and label the third “My Physical Activities.”

The Cayce material suggests that, ultimately, a spiritual ideal is the highest “spiritual” quality or attainment that we could hope to have motivating us in our lives right now. For some, this might be the pattern set by Jesus, for others it might be a quality such as “love.” In order to really begin working with ideals, however, we should choose that quality or attribute that is currently missing or lacking in our own life in our relationships with others. For example, perhaps we may find that we need to be more “patient” or more “forgiving” or more “understanding” in our interaction with other people. Ideals grow and change as we do, so it’s important to pick something with which we can really begin to work. For this exercise, let’s say that our spiritual ideal is currently going to be “forgiveness,” so forgiveness would be written under the first column labeled “My Spiritual Ideal.”

Under the second column, we need to begin listing “My Mental Attitudes” —attitudes that will help build that spirit of forgiveness into our relationships with others and with ourselves. Perhaps we’ll decide “compassion” is an attitude we will work toward in a frustrating relationship with a parent; maybe “openness” is the mental attitude we want to begin holding in regard to one of our children with whom we’ve been having difficulty; and possibly “patience” best describes that attitude we need to use with ourselves. Our ideals’ chart should list all the people in our lives with whom we need to exercise this spiritual ideal of forgiveness, plus a positive mental attitude suggesting how we will begin working with each one.

The third column is the most detailed. It’s the one place where we can write out all those physical activities we’ll begin doing in relationship to specific individuals. “My Physical Activities” should simply reflect the mental attitudes we’re holding in relationship to our spiritual ideal. For example, with the case of ourselves and the mental attitude of “patience,” perhaps each of the following would be appropriate activities to help build that same attitude: “stop saying (or even thinking) ‘I can’t,” “make a list of every instance where I have been forgiven for something,” “begin praying that I will have the determined endurance to go forward,” etc. Each attitude and person should have next to it a list of multiple activities with which we’ll be working. These activities should map out ways to bring the spiritual ideal into the material world.

Although the readings encourage us to choose a personal ideal, they also assert that there is only one Ideal. One individual was told “There is ONE way, but there are many paths” (3083-1). In essence, what this suggests is that each of us is moving toward an ultimate Ideal. Whether we want to label that ideal “perfection” or “Christ Consciousness” or “God Consciousness” or whatever term with which we’re personally comfortable, the ultimate ideal is the highest spiritual attainment possible. Therefore, each of our smaller ideals (such as aspects of “love” or “service” or “kindness”) really serve as steps or building blocks toward that highest ideal. Interestingly enough, it is this ultimate ideal that Cayce claimed was written upon the very fiber of the soul—a consciousness described as the awareness of the soul’s oneness with God. (5749-14)

In spite of the fact that each of us might have different ideas, plans, or goals about how things should be done, the readings advise that—in spite of all our differences—we can share a common why. Even during the turmoil and international chaos of the 1930s, the readings gave a type of prescription that could serve to bring all of humanity together. In spite of the fact that each nation had different ideas, Cayce suggested that the world could share a common ideal. That ideal was his “answer to the world”:

The world as a world...has lost its ideal. Man may not have the same idea. Man – all men – may have the same IDEAL!...that can only come with all having the one Ideal; not the one idea, but ‘Thou shalt love the Lord Thy God with all thine heart, thy neighbor as thyself!’ This the whole law, this the whole answer to the world, to each and every soul. That is the answer to world conditions as they exist today.                                                                  

-- Edgar Cayce reading 3976-8

Adapted from Edgar Cayce’s Twelve Lessons in Personal Spirituality.

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