SFG 1 Resources – Unconscious Ideals

Unconscious Ideals

(Posted on: March 9th, 2013 by David McMillin)

In simplest terms an ideal is the motivating influence that undergirds the intentionality of why we do what we do.  (Todeschi, 1996, p. 31)

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)

If ideals are concerned with intention, motivation, and guidance and provide a standard by which we live, then everyone has them.  Thus defined, ideals have been encoded in systems of belief and practice by religions and philosophies for thousands of years.  Modern approaches like Stephen R. Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People provide a business and self-help approach to core principles as applied to life.

For some people, ideals in the form of beliefs, values, and principles are a very deliberate, conscious choice.  As Socrates observed, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

And yet for many (perhaps most) people in the world, ideals are unconsciously absorbed or internalized from the social environment during childhood.  We all have ideals, whether we are aware of such or not:

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.  (1011-1)

Yet DO NOT confuse the entity [seven year old daughter] or let its imaginations, by visions held before its IDEALS are set.  Hence in its developing years set the ideals in the Christ CHILD, in the Christ's developing childhood, in the Christ as a lover of children, in the Christ that gave, "of such is the kingdom of heaven."  (1179-2)

Thus as children we all unconsciously absorb ideals from our social environment.  In particular we tend to internalize the values and beliefs – the frame of reference – of our parents or caregivers.  This unconscious assimilation could be described as “ideals by absorption.”  We tend to take on the beliefs of those around us.

However, not all ideals are positive and constructive, and this is especially true when ideals are unconscious.  Selfishness often seems to be the default setting for unconscious ideals.

But as has been indicated, first find SELF and what the ideal is; and as to whether this is of a selfish or a universal nature.  For unless founded in spirit it must continue to bring disturbances mentally AND materially.  (1082-3)

Internalization or absorption of ideals from the social environment during childhood is not the only source of unconscious ideals.  Here is an example from one of the Cayce life readings where ideals from a past life were still resonating in the present incarnation:

In the one [past life] before this we find during that period in the revolutions in now France. The entity was then among those that were in the way of being pulled both by political and church conditions in the experience. In the name Amelia, in the household of an officer of the guard to the king in the period, the entity sought to establish those connections, associations or relations between those that were of the patriots (as termed) and those of the peoples that rebelled. The entity gained and lost through the experience. Gained when keeping hold of an ideal as to the purposes of individual attainments in services to others; losing in the hold lost upon an ideal turned to the gratifying of own material and selfish desires; and, as may be termed, IN the law of self-preservation did the entity LOSE self as to its ideal. Hence some combativeness in the present experience, and this continual warring of ideas, purposes, aims, desires of the entity. Through many a trial has the entity passed, both as to the material DEVELOPMENTS in this experience and in the varied associations, in the varied surroundings, in the various attempts to stand alone; yet falling – for FAILING to hold TO the IDEAL. (1733-2)

So if you want to look to the past for the source of unconscious ideals, there are plenty of options.  All the more reason to “KNOW THYSELF” in the broadest sense possible – as a soul making its way through eternity, finding its way back to its Source.

As you look around at the world in this present life and interact with people, you can probably get a sense of what their ideals are, even if the individuals are not consciously aware of their own ideals and have not undergone a Socratic self-examination.  And of course, you can LOOK WITHIN to discover your own unconscious ideals and CONSCIOUSLY CHANGE THEM if you choose.

Please note that just because ideals can be unconscious and learned from the past, that is not the optimal way of working with ideals. The Cayce readings (and many other metaphysical systems) encourage working with ideals CONSCIOUSLY. The Cayce approach to identifying and working with unconscious beliefs is the IDEALS EXERCISE.

When ideals are unconscious the individual is said to be asleep. WAKING UP means becoming conscious of what you believe and put your faith in. Recognizing unconscious patterns of belief can be the first step in WAKING UP to your spiritual heritage. Here is a brief summary of my journey of becoming CONSCIOUS of my ideals.

Discovering Unconscious Ideals

From the Cayce perspective, CONSCIOUSLY WORKING WITH IDEALS serves several functions, including self analysis (“know thyself”).  With regard to learned or absorbed ideals, knowing oneself through introspection by focusing on core beliefs can be very fruitful.  It was for me.  Here is a bit of my own self-analysis as viewed through the lens of ideals.

While growing up, my family was anchored in a fundamental version of Christianity melded with solid working class values.  We were Republicans and drove Ford vehicles – religiously so.  You get the picture.  From the standpoint of ideals, Jesus was the spiritual ideal and I was expected to think (mental ideal) and act (physical ideal) like Jesus – or at least as my church doctrine defined the Christ life.  These were absorbed ideals, of course.  It was a form of benign cultural brainwashing that has existed in all societies throughout the history of the world.  Children need a frame of reference, so internalization of cultural standards is essential for human development.

I went away to college and eventually consciously rejected the ideals of my Christian upbringing, replacing them with secular/agnostic/materialistic beliefs and values.  I remember trying to be conscious and clear about what I believed based strictly on my own experience and reasoning.  Looking back, I realize that there was still a lot of absorbing going on in terms of ideals.  I had simply moved in the direction of the American mainstream during the 1970s and 80s.  My ideals were much more self-centered, particularly with regard to mental and physical ideals related to family life, business, and recreation. 

Then I had a spontaneous series of powerful mystical experiences that made me rethink the spiritual side of life.  After sampling a wide variety of new age and metaphysical perspectives, I decided to focus on the Cayce material.  Then began the process of consciously working with ideals from a spiritual perspective, which has continued to the present day.

Amongst the various systems of consciously working with ideals (by whatever name), the Cayce approach is distinctive because of its emphasis on a spiritual idea that is chosen by each individual (and not dictated by a church or guru).  Furthermore, the spiritual ideal (and associated mental and physical ideals) are expected to change over time as the individual experiences soul growth.  Finally, Cayce’s ideals are based on a triune model that integrates smoothly with health practices and the material side of life.  Actually, it is a powerful and elegant model for consciously organizing one’s life.  But even as I have CONSCIOULSY WORKED WITH IDEALS for many years, I have noticed that I am still prone to unconsciously absorbing ideals and wonder if that is just part of the human condition. Thus it is helpful to revisit the IDEALS EXERCISE from time to time to recalibrate and CONSCIOUSLY adjust ideals as we change and grow.

For example, a few years ago I worked on a multimedia project that ended up as “The Life And Times Of Jesus” DVD.  The project lasted a couple of years and although my spiritual ideal at the time was not Jesus, in looking back, I now realize that the intense study and creative attunement process that I used for that project affected my ideals.  In retrospect I realize that my mindset and behaviors shifted, in some respects resembling some of the patterns that I had internalized as a child.  It was not conscious, but there you have it.  I subtly became more like Jesus in thought and deed.  I was conscious of an increased appreciation for the life and teachings of Jesus – but not aware of the degree of internalization until looking back in retrospect.  That’s just the nature of unconscious internalization.

Then a couple of years later when I did background research for the Searching For God project and intensely studied the major spiritual traditions of the world, I found myself being influenced by the life and teachings of Buddha.  The reading, listening to lectures, and meditating using Buddhist methods affected me profoundly.  I was not consciously trying to emulate Buddha and become a Buddhist.  I did not consciously set Buddha as a spiritual ideal.  I simply wanted to understand that tradition so I could see how it might relate to my Search For God.  And yet, I must admit that to some extent, I absorbed enough Buddhism that it shifted my mental and physical ideals in some definite, and I think, positive ways.

The point is that we are influenced by our environment and lifestyle choices – and have been all of our lives.  We are feeding the soul by want we experience, what we see and feel and think.  It all gets internalized and absorbed at some level.  It is simply a question of whether we do it consciously or not. REVISITING THE IDEALS EXERCISE IS AN EXCELLENT MEANS OF RETUNING OUR CONSCIOUSNESS TO OUR IDEALS.

As spiritual beings, what we expose ourselves to matters.  The beliefs and values (ideals) of the social relationships and community we associate with will get internalized and influence the expression of our ideals.  We will unconsciously absorb ideals (spiritual, mental, and physical) from our environment, especially if we fall asleep and go on autopilot while on the spiritual path. DOING THE IDEALS EXERCISE AND CONSCIOUSLY LIVING OUR IDEALS IS A MEANS OF WAKING UP AND CONSCIOUSLY CREATING OUR LIVES.

Key Points To Remember

  • Growing up we all unconsciously internalized the ideals of our social environment. 
  • Even as adults, we are still constantly influenced by environment and tend to internalize what we experience.   What we read and watch, what we consume and assimilate can have an effect, even if we have CONSCIOUSLY set out our ideals. 
  • Ideals by absorption need not necessarily be an obstacle to soul growth if we maintain a positive environment, as I have described in my examples of Jesus and Buddha.  By just BEING CONSCIOUSLY AWARE AND MINDFUL of how we are being influenced unconsciously is helpful in our Search For God, especially so that we can avoid harmful or destructive unconscious ideals (usually selfishness).
  • DOING THE IDEALS EXERCISE is an important step in WAKING UP and recognizing unconscious beliefs.
  • It is a good idea to REVISIT THE IDEALS EXERCISE from time to time to CONSCIOUSLY recalibrate and make adjustments in our approach to the ideal life.


Puryear, H. B.  The Edgar Cayce Primer.  New York: Bantam Books, 1982.

Puryear, H. B. & Thurston, M. A.  Meditation and the Mind of Man.  Virginia Beach, VA: A.R.E. Press, 1987.

Todeschi, K. (1996). Twelve Lessons in Personal Spirituality.  Virginia Beach, VA: A.R.E. Press.

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