Anyone on the path of self-realisation will likely agree with this - there comes a time when we have to step out of the box; I'm talking about our own, self-made limitations, which either hold us back, or impose unreachable standards on ourselves. It is the latter that I'd like the focus on in this article. Many of us, especially those in spiritual circles, may have an idea of what a spiritual or self-actualised person may be like. Perhaps you imagine that this person in compassionate and confident. Perhaps they are always at peace, never getting angry or upset...
The problem with this mind-set is that, if we cling to these ideals we limit ourselves to certain states of being and certain behaviours. A great example of this is the 'love and light' identity bubble that many spiritual people carry around with them. If one is only love and light, then so much of life is denied. This may be true at the purest level of the soul. However, we are still living in a dualistic reality, with karma that needs to be played out. Therefore, how beneficial is it to us to deny the places we get stuck, angry or fearful? Isn't this the path to our self-realisation? Surely to be enlightened is to be self-realised through all experiences, no matter how dark.
My Own Exploration of the Box
Recently, I've been letting go of many limiting identities, most notably what it means to be a 'good father'.
I've carried this identity around with me for a long time now. I always imagined myself to be a very involved father, always there for my kids, whatever they needed. However, over the years this has caused me a fair bit of suffering, and I'll tell you why. The idea of being a good father put me into a box. It was a self made casing, which dictated how a 'good father' should behave. For me, it was someone who had infinite patience, who enjoyed being with the children in whatever pursuits they were taking part in. However, I've come to realise that there are many aspects of this box that just aren't who I am.
I often butt heads with my daughter. She pushes my buttons and I push hers. This has, in the past, brought a huge sense of guilt. When I got into conflict with her I was judging myself for not handling the situation with serenity and unconditional fatherly love. But, now I realise that it's not about striving for this, but just seeking to be who I am in each situation. Perhaps this is real unconditional love, because there are no confinements put on the situation. What's really happening is that I'm now loving myself unconditionally. And when this happens, how can we do anything else but the same to others?
A Change of Question
So now, the question that I ask myself has changed. It is no longer, 'how can I be a good father?' Now it's, 'who am I in this situation?' I'm learning that there are many things that I don't feel like doing as a father - and that's okay. For example, I really get down with messy play and painting. And, there are some times when I just won't feel like playing with the kids at all (my children are currently aged 6 and 3). My children do not always find this easy, but that is part of their path. And you know what - it makes the time that I do spend with them more precious. Instead of focusing on quantity, there is more quality to the time.
Being Everything that you ARE
Who am I?
Readers of my articles will already know that I advocate getting right into your pain and darkness in order to expand through to the essence of who you are. This means, before anything else, that we allow ALL aspects of ourselves to come forth, including all the conditioned behaviours and fear and judgement. Only then with the question, 'who am I in this situation?' work. Give yourself the space to work through this stuff.
Once you've come closer to a sense of who you are, then it's important to express this. In this way, you establish authentic boundaries. Situations will come up that you feel to say no to. Of course this doesn't necessarily mean you'll only do things that make you happy. It's more about feeling what is 'right' in the situation. Some less desirable things still need doing (for us right now, there are regular soiled pants to wash). However, there will always be a sense of the empowered choice.
In order to step out of the box of impossible standards, we have to change the question we ask ourselves.
Instead of asking ourselves, 'how would a good (fill in the blank) behave?', we simply have to ask, 'who am I in this situation?' Then it's just a matter of expressing that and watching what gets reflected back to you.
Richard is a spiritual facilitator with Openhand. He is a carer, psychologist, spiritual coach and writer. He has worked close to death for 7 years and is passionate about helping people to move on in a conscious way, even though society is geared to fight against death. He offers services in Spiritual Facilitation and Conscious Dying on his website Back to the Source and writes regular articles on his blog.