Ideological Foolishness

  1. Nothing to Cling To
  2. Clinging to People
  3. Unstuffing from Stuff
  4. The handy dandy 5 step plan to cure what ails you
  5. Real Relating
  6. No-Body Home
  7. Undoing Trauma’s Knots
  8. Non-Habitual Living and Being
  9. Healing the Mind — Body Split
  10. Ideological Foolishness
A New Series—On Clinging


the mask and the fool

Who gave you the right to your own opinion??”
(Photo by Alaskan Dude)

As we end our series on clinging, we turn to ideologies, and ideological foolishness.

First, a definition:

Ideology: Most simply an ideology is a set of beliefs. In order to distinguish an ideology from other kinds of belief we can add a few extra features. First, ideologies tend to be very ambitious in scope, in many cases claiming to offer sweeping insights into the nature of life, spirituality, reality, etc. Secondly, ideologies usually have a strongly prescriptive element, which means that they lay down strict rules of thought and behaviour designed to improve upon what they see as a deficient state of the world. Finally, ideologies tend to be dogmatic, which means that they do not allow for questioning or alternative viewpoints. If a person holds a belief which they simply will not allow to be questioned, or if they seem genuinely unable to imagine how that belief could be wrong, then it is likely that this belief is part of an ideology.

Now, you might rightly think that this entire series has been about letting go of ideology.

As we continue to point out,
it’s not that ideologies are hard to spot in others
it’s that they are hard to notice in ourselves.

Darbella and I just got back from a Saturday Zen Meditation workshop. We stayed over, and sat some more this morning. Much of the morning Member’s Service (apart from the sitting, of course) is in Pali, Sanskrit, or Korean. We don’t speak any of those languages. The chanting is Buddhist, and we are not (yet…) Buddhists. The chanting and prostrations seem foreign to Westerners like us (of course…)

And yet, I can remember, back in my Christian days, chanting in Latin at Taise services (occasionally…) not understanding a word, and not seeing this as unusual. Somehow, my former WASP ideology could expand to include a foreign tongue. Hmm.

in the crowd

Swimming in the sea of humanity…

All of us are awash in a personal belief system, and because we ‘swim’ in it, we cannot see it. (Like fish are unaware of water… until you take them out.)

A goal of this blog is to continually poke and prod you to look at your assumptions, your beliefs, and especially your ‘graven in stone’ ideologies.

At one level, I think of ideologies as being created and owned by groups—kind of a “group-think” thing. With a bit of study, you can see where groups fall on a “flexibility-rigidity” scale. We tend to equate terms like “liberal” and “Libertarian” to the flexible side, and fundamentalist or doctrinaire, or closed to the rigid side.

The farther you are toward the rigidity end of the scale, the harder it is for you to see (or dare to question…) the “rules” that govern the ideology.

Becoming self and life aware requires that we find the ways and means to question everything.

The questioning is two sided, but one pointed.

  • We need to look both at the groups we belong to, (what they believe,) as well as what we believe and choose to be a part of.
  • And then (the single pointed part) we need to recognize that the only part we have any control over is ourselves.

I can choose to see what I ascribe to, and where I choose to belong, and I can question how well my beliefs and memberships accurately reflect who I am, and who I am becoming.

Another conversation between Darbella and I, on the way home, visited the idea of our “sitting” practice, and whether (in this case…) Dar was ready to “sign on” as a Buddhist. She said something to the effect that she has seen incredible changes in her life from her morning “sit,” and is not sure whether she needs go any further down the ideological path. I concurred, although I’m a bit closer to choosing to “signing up.”

The further exploration of this question will be as is typical for us. Not whether the ideology is right, or correct, or best, but “What am I looking for?”

A highly personal question of intent often allows us to see places where we are getting caught in ideological mumbo-jumbo.

A few hints:

Watch Yourself

I spend tons of time getting clients to watch their bodies and words. I’ll split the two (see below…).


Of course I’m noticing what I’m not noticing!”

Your body reacts to everything—good and bad, safe and scary.

I was hanging out with a guy the other day, just yacking, and noticed he was favouring a portion of his back that we think has to do with self-esteem. As I pushed, he said, “My family members do not respect me, and do not respect what I believe.”

His solution was to get sad, tense, and to hurt his back, all without knowing, or noticing, what he was doing to himself. But he did not hurt his lower back, which has to do with relationships. He hurt his solar plexus back area (mid-back.) His issue, which was confirmed as he talked, was this: it was about how he saw himself—his self love and self respect. How others saw him was not the issue.

I didn’t give him any hints. He came up with what was up, all by himself. (This is, of course, not the same as being ready to deal with his self-esteem issues.)

So, when you feel pain in your body, ask yourself what is going on. Where are your sticking points? What situation, or which person, pops into mind? What do you believe about that person or situation? Now, stop, and ask yourself, “If I drop the belief that the other person is doing something to me, what am I doing to myself?

Listen to Yourself

The other way stuff comes out is through speech—through what you say. Freudian slips are real. Often, when I point one out to a client, they want to take it back—“I didn’t mean to say that!” In a sense, they are right. They didn’t mean for the words to come out.

The words, however, are dead on.


My mom is so cool,
she wins prizes!”

One of the strongest ideologies is the relational one. In other words, we have strong beliefs about what “mothers, fathers, kids, spouses (or any other role-name) ” should do or be. (More on should in a moment.)

Example: I recognize that about the only time I call Darbella “my wife” is if I am introducing her to someone. I then call her Dar. I choose, consciously, to see her as a person, not a role. Most toss in the role, and behind the role is a long, long list of expected behaviours.

Listen to see how often you’re putting people into boxes (racial, religious, political, role, etc.) and as you notice, ask yourself why you’re doing that. How does it help you to box individuals into groups, and to have global beliefs about those groups? Can you see how such an approach precludes thinking?

Correct yourself. “My wife” becomes Darbella. 100% of the time.

Monitor Your Absolutes

Monitor how often you say or think “should.” Or “always.” Or “never.”


ALL my friends think just like me!!!”

Any form of absolute is absolutely ideology based. It falls under the category of “Everyone knows…” The everyone is the poster boy or girl for the ideology being expressed.

The beginning of freedom is to simply notice this usage.

As soon as you say, “Everyone…” stop yourself and say “I.”

When you say, “You never…” stop and say, “It seems to me…”

When you say, You always…, stop and say “The story I am telling myself…”

If you universalize and claim the authority of “everyone,” you are wimping out, making yourself one of the crowd, and absolving yourself from the responsibility for choosing your beliefs.

Notice that the more dramatic the ideology, the harder it is to own it.Question everything, and when you decide (as opposed to swallow whole) anything, own it, using the pronoun “I.”

Notice your triggers

This one can be difficult. We’re back to monitoring… body and mouth, usually, and also your interior talk.

The first lesson is the difference between descriptors and judgments.


Split personality”

Modern Art is a descriptor. Ugly, meaningless art is an ideological judgment. The first is a simple category. The second is not true! It is a personal opinion, likely based upon an ideology.

As you begin to notice your use of judgmental language, disguised as a descriptor, you’ll identify the ideologies you hold dear.

This is not to get you to change (although that likely would be good…) but to break your addicted connection to mindless ideological belief mongering.

Own who you are, again, using “I language.”

Clinging is always about justifying a present way of thinking and being.

If you re-read this series, you’ll see that clinging is seldom a good thing.

It’s why the Buddha said that clinging was the cause of dukkha — suffering, or the unsatisfactoriness of life.

The way out is through ruthless self examination and self responsibility, coupled with adaptive and flexible change.

This is expressed in how we live out our lives. In other words, if you are stuck and miserable, look in the mirror for the source of your discomfort, examine your clinging, dissect your beliefs, and drop, repeatedly, your faulty thinking and behaving. The work of a lifetime, and the only meaningful way to be.

Or so it seems to me.

Make Contact!

So, how does this week’s article sit with you? What questions do you have? Leave a comment or question!

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

4 thoughts on “Ideological Foolishness”

  1. What can one do if someone you love is caught in an ideology
    (fundamentalism) that is shoring up their weak ego strength, but causing them to lose themselves to that ideology, such that they have given up many things that used to make them happy
    And they now have a sense of intitlement to act in ways that are righteous to them but judmental and hurtful to others?
    They seem to have a pat answer to everything and will not
    listen to alternatives.

    • Hi there, and thanks for a great question.
      The short answer is, nothing.
      I tell clients there are always three choices as one deals with an issue: 1) stay (accept the situation uncritically) 2) go (refuse to participate) and 3) complain
      The latter is the most popular. We all have a tendency to judge others and to want them to change what they are doing, because we are uncomfortable. We can’t understand why they don’t see the ‘truth.’ (…the truth of our belief… which is ironic, because the ‘other’ is trying to get us to accept their version…)
      Your stance is not correct for anyone but you, and the other person’s stance is correct for them. Both are where you are now, and both may, and likely will, change.
      Let’s pick the other two options:
      1) stay — if you can accept the idea that you are judging that his/her stance is ‘wrong’ (for all the reasons you stated…) you begin to see that you are upsetting yourself (a common theme of ours…) over your belief that her/his belief is wrong. You could use this experience to practice simply watching and being present, and curbing the tendency to judge. In other words, focus on your experience and learning, and leave him/her to figure out what’s up in their life.
      2) go — if you find that the situation is untenable, you may choose to leave it. Since the only thing in our existence that has permanence is that things always change, we end relationships to people, places, and things, all the time. And sometimes, it’s just time to move on.
      It is hard for all of us not to rush in to rescue, correct, fix. Hard to accept that our task is self-direction, self-responsibility, and self-discipline. This is so because, as I noted in this week’s article, it’s easier to see the flaws in others. We scare ourselves with our own rigidities, fears, and dark places, so we turn outward. I believe that this is backward, and doomed to fail. Externals remind us to look inside to see our own reaction, not to pretend to have an unbiased view of others. (impossible, as all of our views are coloured by our experience.)
      I guess I’s opt for choice 1 for a while, to see what I can learn about my ‘intolerance for intolerance.’ I might set a time frame (say six months) during which I’d work on clearing my own pre-judgments, and then I’d consider option 2.
      It’s all there to learn from, even (especially) the painful stuff.

      • Spot-on Wayne.

        One of the most difficult things Mr B has to deal with is letting go of the idea that his love is not the person he wishes for them to be, and that he cannot change that.

        Been there, done that, got the T‑shirt.

        In the end we love people who are themselves — not the fantasies we wish that they would be. Letting go of the fantasy is very difficult and continues to give me much pain after 5 years of accepting it. How much I would prefer the fantasy.

        However it is just fantasy, and I cannot make it real.

        I love your columns. Kind regards, Peter

        • Hey Peter!
          Great, as usual, hearing from you. Just ready to bag it for the night, and there you were.
          I was working with a client today, dealing with similar issues. She was talking about telling her significant other “Don’t!” whenever he offered an unsolicited demand. She seemed to ‘get’ that she was asking HIM to change, and did it when he was asking HER to change. The real ‘getting’ was that the game, for her, is going on exclusively in her head, as she deals with her view of him, which is not, and never will be, him. Boy, did she look stunned when the light went on.
          I like your word, fantasy. Perfect description of the movies we play in our own personal cinema — and what goes on in there is about as real as an actual cinema.
          I figure I have enough to do, just getting a sense of me and my stuff, dramas, and movies. No way I have a clue about Dar’s! She’s a slice, just as she is.
          Trusting all’s well with you, as it is with us ‘up’ here. It’s even supposed to be warm tomorrow.
          Warm wishes, Wayne


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