by Efren Paredes, Jr.
For 27 years Nelson Mandela surmounted myriad battles he confronted daily against an oppressive government intent on breaking his spirit. He did it all while categorically rejecting the use of violence. Had he chose the use of force as the solution to the problems he faced his legacy would have likely been terminated early by a senseless act of violence.
It took enormous courage and fortitude to combat the barrage of attacks Mandela faced at the hands of his ruthless captors. His struggle taught him that life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage. In this truth was a seed he planted in the hearts of people for generations.
Mandela always strived to give birth to the best within himself. He remained unwavering in his steadfast commitment to draw immeasurable wisdom and strength from the Creator. In his story we learn that what doesn't destroy you can only make you stronger.
To be imprisoned nearly three decades and experience the cruel injustices of South African apartheid would have defeated many people. Instead, Mandela transformed his anger, disappointment, and pain into a powerful weapon that lead to his eventual release and an end to apartheid. He ascended from the bowels of a dismal prison cell to the comfort of living in the opulent South African presidential palace as the nation's leader.
Mandela taught us that the Creator will never give us a burden greater than we can bear. His resilience never capitulated to oppression, psychological brutalities, and the incessant injustices he faced. He knew that as long as he continued to tap into the infinite Source of life (i.e., the Creator) he would continue to not only survive in the worst conditions known to man, he would thrive in them.
I have studied Mandela's life for over two decades to learn how he was able to survive so many years of wrongful imprisonment and not allow it to destroy his life. Incorporating many of his practices and beliefs into my daily life has helped me perpetually grow and continue bringing myself more in alignment with the Creator.
One of the most profound lessons Mandela taught us was the need to forgive others. I learned to understand that forgiving others was not something I was doing for them; it is something I do for myself. Forgiveness means letting go of the narrative that pain has had on my life, disallowing its toxicity to poison my life, and liberating myself from struggling under the crushing weight of hatred, anger and the thirst for revenge. It means not allowing my past to define my future.
Mandela was a living example of how not to sabotage our lives because of the mistakes and negative actions of others. Once we realize our capacity for brilliance we can soar above the negative forces that keep us obsessing about the past.
I was able to begin healing from years of wrongful incarceration once I jettisoned the false belief that I will always remain tethered to the darkness (e.g., anger, resentment, pain, etc.) of the past. I discovered that healing occurs in the present not in the past. And, once I made a conscious choice to sever that connection I could move forward.
I also learned that in every experience, painful or otherwise, is a lesson for us about life; something we need to learn. If we remain angry and hurt we will miss the lesson and be trapped in a cloud of pain. It prevents our upward mobility and keeps our lives descending in a downward spiral.
Too often people elect to remain captives to distorted views of themselves than to do the necessary work to liberate themselves from these self-imposed shackles. They continue looking for sources of peace externally and avoid cultivating it internally. Mandela recognized this mistake and did the inversion.
Holding on to feelings of revenge and a vindictive mentality diminishes our quality of life. We torment ourselves and remain enslaved to others. Once we learn to forgive them we desist hearing painful voices of the past or giving them power over our lives. We create space to be occupied with positive energy when we eradicate negative energy.
Mandela taught us that rejecting dis-empowering thoughts and infusing ourselves with the Creator's power and wisdom allows us to realize the law of reciprocity that teaches us the adage, "As we do unto others so will it be done unto us." Espousing this reality collectively can transform the world one person at a time.
In so doing we can, in the words of Mandela, "turn our common suffering into hope for the future." We can also eliminate societal ills that prevent us from seeing peace manifest in the world.
(This essay was written as an assignment for The Power of Peace Project as one of the requirements for successfully completing the "40 Days to Peace" program.)