Breaking Free of the Box: How to overcome guilt from unreachable standards

Submitted by TeamOpenhand on Mon, 11/13/2017 - 16:38

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...

Unreachable standards

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.

With love,

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.

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Hi Aspasia,

Thank you for your comment and your reflections!  

Interesting you say that this place of silence has no answer but perhaps more questions.  I wonder if, when coming from this place, the question and answer blend together in a kind of clarity free of expectations.  It seems like if we can stay in the question, without needing an answer but always feeling what seems right, then our authentic expression is the answer.  Thus we become both the question and the answer.  

Thank you for this exploration.  It's always interesting to go deeper.

Much love,  Rich

Ps. Open and I agreed not to include the video because there were some elements which didn't tie in with Openhand philosophy.  The video was posted on my website along with article.



In reply to by Richard W

Thank you too Richard for joining me in this exchange.

Yes indeed, I can see how this embodied inquiry allows for a sense of freedom in every day life: "It seems like if we can stay in the question, without needing an answer but always feeling what seems right, then our authentic expression is the answer.  Thus we become both the question and the answer."

I'm fascinated by the exploration :) 

Yes, I agree with both of you about the video not aligning - it demonises authentic expressions of sadness, depression etc and seeks to fix by 'applying' the self-compassion medicine. An unwise approach, even though, indeed, self compassion is a beautiful relationship to cultivate with oneself and when approached consciously and with the bigger picture at heart and mind, it is activating ray 2.

Sending loving vibes,



Very inspired to reflect on this profound invitation you made Rich to all of us:

“Instead of asking ourselves, 'how would a good (fill in the blank) behave?', we simply have to ask, 'who am I in this situation?'”

You are asking people/us to change the narrative and the quality of the narrative of inquiry. From a limited, boxed, conditioned and deterministic question, where only limited and boxed answers can arise, to a more open, expansive and wider question that, on one level invites a more aligned response and behavior within a situation and on another level, it leads one to a place of total silence where there is NO answer…maybe even more questions..

Who am I (in this situation)? is a question asked and answered on two levels – the relative and the absolute – both levels as you suggested Rich, totally interdependent! On the relative level, if you like, it invites a sense of pausing/stopping and openness to ones inner and outer world and their connection. An openness to allow oneself to bring forth and embrace ‘who’ they are in each moment, so that a more aligned engagement to be discovered and created.  On the absolute level, or at least with this at heart, we ask and ask and ask and there is no answer. A simple blankness – the gateway to ultimate Truth that there is no-one there…

Thank you for inspiring this embodied reflection in me Rich! I am SO fascinated by how changing the question, we do change our worlds!

With gratitude,


P.S. Where is the video??? ;)





Hi Chad.  Nice to connect with you.

Thank you for your touching account of your experiences with your kids.  I also spend a lot of time at home alone with the two kids.  I had to chuckle when you said 'My first thought is, what the hell are we going to do?  Then I realize that we will just stir some shit up for each other and evolve together'.  Yes, it seems like children are masters in this.  Both mine are power houses of energy and willpower, which I understand will make them game changers as they grow up - but, my god it's draining!  So, like you said a whirlwind of emotions arise and we are given the opportunity to grow through this.  I remember another member of the Openhand community said to me that she felt consciously bringing up kids must be 'spiritual mastery 101'.


I take my hat off to you sir for what you are doing.






Hi Rich -

After reading this article I felt this strong pull to respond.  It resonated with me on many levels.  I currently stay home with my two little girls 4 and almost 2.  It feels like this great initiation internally.  Many belief systems that I've carried around with me and the belief systems that others have of the situation are dissolving at every turn.  A lot of this processing has felt all over the spectrum of emotions from sad, angry, grateful, guilt, shame, love, compassion, etc.  I feel the list of experienced emotions is changing daily and I've been learning to sit with it all.

This has been the most challenging and cathartic experience of my life, being a stay at home dad to two little ones.  I wouldn't change it for the world, it is growing me beyond what my mind can comprehend.  On a day like today I find myself home with my girls for 13 plus hours.  My first thought is, what the hell are we going to do?  Then I realize that we will just stir some shit up for each other and evolve together.  These little girls have become my biggest teachers along the way.  Challenging me and how I show up in the world every step of the way.

There innocence and vulnerability encourages me to find the same within my own being.  I feel I'm constantly reminding myself to be kind to myself as I continue to dance with these two little souls.  I'm in a continual state of surrendering and letting go, this allows me to get up and do it again every day that I'm called to.  

I'm doing the best that I can with what I have and I'm cool with that.  Thank you for the article, it definitely stirred up quite a bit for me.


With Love and Gratitude,








Thank you Open. 

I hope this is of use to everyone reading it.  Do comment if you feel to.

Much love


What a great article!

How easy it is for subconscious sense of obligation of "must does" and "can't possibly live withouts" to creep up on us and invade the psyche, thus limiting free flowing spontaneous being.

Thanks so much for bringing attention to it.

Open yes