An ideal is a standard by which one lives. "The ideal gives us a sense of stability, guidance and orientation, as well as a criterion for judgments." (Puryear & Thurston, 1987, p. 95)
"An ideal is not a goal. It is a motivational standard by which to evaluate our goals and our reasons for pursuing those goals. The goal is what; the ideal is why! A spiritual ideal is not so much a goal toward which we move as it is the spirit in which we grow. It is a living and dynamic standard by which we quicken and measure our daily motivation." (Puryear, 1982, p. 112)
The readings frequently suggest an ideals exercise designed to examine and modify dysfunctional attitudes and behaviors based upon spiritual considerations. This exercise consists of writing down one's ideals on paper. The process involves making three columns headed: SPIRITUAL, MENTAL AND PHYSICAL and listing words under each which signify the meaning of each category. The spiritual ideal is a person or concept which conveys the highest sense of purpose or meaning to which one may ascribe. The mental ideal is the mental attitude which is consistent with the spiritual ideal. The physical ideal is the behavior or physical manifestation of the spiritual ideal. Thus, the holistic perspective is maintained by the coordinating of physical, mental and spiritual ideals.
The technique is cognitive-behavioral since it brings to awareness the attitudes and beliefs upon which a person is operating and links the mental dimension to concrete behaviors. The mental and physical ideals are modified to be consistent with the spiritual ideal. The difference between this technique and many contemporary cognitive-behavioral models is the role of the spiritual ideal as the standard for mental and physical processes. The Cayce readings do not advocate a "value-free" approach to healing. However, the values are not to be imposed by an outside agency - each person must work through the process on one's own to find one's own balance.
The readings state that ideals will change as one progresses through life. Therefore, the ideals exercise is an ongoing process of reorientation. It may be viewed as a tool for maintaining balance and integration at all phases of one's life.
The use of ideals has important clinical implications. Persons who have high spiritual ideals, but whose mental attitudes and physical behaviors fall short of these spiritual ideals, may be prone to self-condemnation for failing to live up to their own standards. Or, they may project their perceived shortcomings onto others. Self-blame or blaming of others is likely to lead to psychological and/or interpersonal problems. On the other hand, a person with low spiritual ideals (or the complete absence of them) may find life meaningless, boring and empty.
An obvious benefit of this exercise is its potential for focusing on beliefs which have been unconsciously adopted during childhood and adolescence. The insistence that the ideals be written down and reviewed regularly is critical in this respect.
- Puryear, H. B. & Thurston, M. A. Meditation and the Mind of Man. Virginia Beach, VA: A.R.E. Press, 1987.
» See excerpts from the Edgar Cayce readings on Ideals Exercise