l'ideal masculin by Gerard
l’ideal masculin by Gerard

Idealism is a word with layers of meaning.

As a philosophy, it sees reality as mental, with the world appearance as a mental construct (or similar).

It’s also the pursuit of one’s ideals, idealizing a subject, and the practice of envisioning things in an ideal form.

While ideals can make great aspirations, they are often impractical. If we make them goals, we can find ourselves chasing dreams rather than making it happen.

In a spiritual setting, we often idealize enlightenment. This makes it distant and unachievable rather than normal and ordinary, as it is.

We may also idealize our teacher, putting them on a pedestal, and again making them distant.

We may put ourselves up to a perfectionism that is not possible to achieve. This can have the effect of diminishing ourselves rather than lifting us. Or we present a false, idealized front rather than sharing who we really are.

Depending on your own proclivities, this idealism may show up in various areas of your life, like in work or relationships.

Perhaps we find ourselves alone because our expectations of an idealized partner are too high. This is a me imposing itself on a we. Or we idealize others, making them inaccessible. Or we see others unrealistically, distorting the relationship.

The net result of these various ideals is delusion. We’re not seeing others and the world as they are, but through the lens of our delusion.

Recently, I saw this used for psychological protection. It masked traumatic memories with idealized ones to help cope. However, this blocks healing the trauma, so is not a great coping strategy long term. We end up carrying it with us through lifetimes.

It has surprised me how deep these can go as they’re subtle idea-forms. From the mind, they’re not objects but filters through which we see the world. We notice them by their effects.

Once we recognize the distortion, we can begin to see the filter. Seen through and no longer accepted, it falls away like other stories of the mind. Often there will be an emotional charge to release, the energy that has sustained the delusion.

Not that ideals are bad or dangerous. Only they should be aspirations rather than standards. Carry them loosely and let the Divine be our guide.

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  1. George Robinson

    Guilty on every point and paid for it dearly, too. But, this is as clear of an explanation as I’ve ever seen. I’ll spend some time digesting this one. Thanks, D, this is very helpful.

    1. Yeah, I can relate George. I have an exalted Venus which amplifies high ideals. Expecting perfection from yourself or others just leads to disappointment. Get rid of the expectations, and you can see as they are. A little refined perception and the beauty around you is obvious. Then the world doesn’t fail us.

      We just have to see it the right way. 🙂

  2. John R

    Hi David –

    I think your comments about idealizing enlightenment and idealizing the teacher are especially important. Like so many, I believed enlightenment was an exalted state of perfection, largely because that was how it was presented by spiritual leaders who were themselves regarded as having reached some unattainable level, with supposedly perfect health and the like. Other than those exalted teachers (some of them), there were very few awake people back in the day. Now, “ordinary” people are waking up everywhere, many progressing through all three of the major stages in a fairly short time. And there are many spiritual leaders who are both awake and relatable. Through great resources like your blog, Rick Archer’s Buddha at the Gas Pump website, and others, it’s easy to observe how normal and ordinary enlightenment is, as you say. For me, that realization alone was a huge catalyst for dropping many of the other concepts that were barriers to my initial awakening. (Actually, it’s more accurate to say those concepts dropped away on their own; I didn’t do anything. 🙂 )

    1. Hey John
      You’re right. It is perfectly normal to idealize early on. But at some point it’s good to see it as it is, and to see our teachers as human, etc. Then it becomes accessible.

      As for progressing through the stages quickly, that depends on many factors. Prior life development, long practice, and so forth. It’s about the journey though, so there’s no rush.

      And yes, so many of those ideas just had to be seen clearly to be seen through. And they dissolve.

  3. Charlotte

    This is such a helpful post.

    It really helps to bring together all these different examples and see them as the same movement.

    Life has ground away a good deal of my idealism, but I hadn’t seen the underlying pattern so clearly as you describe here.

    Funnily enough I have been seeing through some instances of my idealising patterns recently – your post clarifies that for me further and helps me see the filter itself.

    A relief to (start to) let go of it!

    Thank you, David.

    PS I don’t seem to be getting email notifications of new posts lately – not sure if that is intentional on your part. A friend of mine who had previously subscribed mentioned the same.

    1. You’re welcome, Charlotte.

      On emails, it seems someone has been marking posts as spam rather than unsubscribing. That’s causing others emails to go to spam too. The fix is going into your spam folder and marking them not spam. If several do this, it will correct the issue.

      I use a legitimate subscription service, so it’s surprising the spam filters are so primitive.

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