Former South African president, anti-apartheid hero and Nobel peace prize recipient Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in this secluded cell.
For most people, simply surviving this ordeal would be an achievement. But Mandela did something more during his incarceration.
He made a life-changing discovery that would one day also change the world.
In the speech that gave him life imprisonment in 1964, Mandela stated he was willing to die for equality. On that February day in 1990, when he walked out of prison, his answer was love rather than resentment.
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or religion. They must learn to hate and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love for love comes more naturally to the human heart than the opposite.”
And upon his release through an international campaign, Mandela continued to pave the path for a peaceful anti-apartheid South Africa.
What epiphany did Mandela gain in that toilet-sized prison cell?
Not many people know this, but Mandela practiced meditation every day while imprisoned. And not a form of meditation that ancient texts or modern gurus have taught millions… but rather his own version of deep inner reflection, of scrutinizing every inch of your inner self, and allowing the good to wash over the bad.
(And yes, some will point to his treatment of Indians and his relationships with communists as proof that Mandela was far from perfect.)
In “Mandela The Authorized Biography” by Anthony Sampson, he writes of Mandela’s advice, “at least, if for nothing else, the cell gives you the opportunity to look daily into your entire conduct to overcome the bad and develop whatever is good in you. Regular meditation, say of about 15 minutes a day before you turn in, can be fruitful in this regard.”
Mandela was just as disciplined at meditation as his mission to end apartheid. In the same biography, he had said, “You may find it difficult at first to pinpoint the negative factors in your life, [during meditation], but the tenth attempt may reap rich rewards. Never forget that a saint is a sinner that keeps on trying.”
And just like Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Lincoln, his persistence paid off.
Mandela’s discovery was so profound, it stayed to him till the very end…
Despite his deteriorating health in later life, Mandela was still committed to channeling and spreading wisdom. His daughter said in a statement after his death, that while on his deathbed, “he is teaching us lessons; lessons in patience, in love, lessons of tolerance.”
It was no secret when Mandela was released that he had changed. The world saw it. On that day in 1990, the message coming from our collective consciousness was deafening: “Apartheid may end, there is hope.”
His change was all over his face. He seemed peaceful, he practiced forgiveness. Upon his release, he said he forgave all those who had imprisoned him, tortured him and murdered his countrymen. He said forgiveness was the answer to reconcile with his oppressors on a path of true freedom.
Perhaps Mandela’s definition of true freedom… is inner freedom.
We so often see freedom as a physical state. As defined, freedom is the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint. Does such a realization have to be achieved in our 3-D world to fulfill our souls to the same extent?
Mandela once said, “You may find that the cell is an ideal place to learn to know yourself, to search realistically and regularly the processes of your own mind and feelings.”
Perhaps it’s a blessing then that during this time, he was able to reach into his consciousness, and find the measure through which institutionalized racism, poverty and inequality could be overcome.
How far would YOU be willing to forgive?
When Mandela forgave the prison guards that had urinated on him, amongst others, he was liberating himself of hatred. When he forgave the men that had imprisoned him for life, he was freeing himself of blame. And finally, when he forgave himself for his own mistakes, he was letting go of his past.
This was his meditation in full effect, the art of forgiveness and freedom of embracing your self for who you are and not an idealized version of what a country, a revolution or another person has of you.
Through this practice of forgiveness and truth, he saw his purpose without the cloudy haze of what was expected.
And as with any great visionary, a purpose and vision must come to be real in one’s consciousness before it translates to becoming real in our 3-D world.
Nelson Mandela, thank you for not only expanding freedom in all ways, but for your large forgiving heart, your fiery determination and respectful patience. You are truly our world’s mahiba. Rest in peace.
What is the greatest lesson Nelson Mandela has taught you? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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