When someone famous dies, especially someone I like or admire, it’s not uncommon for me to follow the tributes, acknowledge their contribution to the world or what I enjoyed about them, even feel sympathetic for the family. But, I quickly move on. Yet, when Nelson Mandela died, the depth of emotion I felt was surprising.

What was the source of my reaction – tearing up when I hear stories about his life and work, the desire to seek out commentary far and wide about the impact of his death and life, the need to share his philosophy with people around me – to Mandela’s death? It felt personal to me, as if he was a member of my family. Then it dawned on me, there are many lessons I have learned from afar from Mandela. One that stands out is about Freedom. The first time I was introduced to Freedom, the kind of Freedom I have co-written about in The Freedom Zone: Your Gateway to Love, Liberty and Happiness, was when I read about Mandela’s personal Freedom odyssey in his memoir, Long Walk to Freedom.

By now, unless you have been living on a desert island free of any form of communication, you may have heard about Nelson Mandela being imprisoned on Robben Island for over a quarter of century. While his freedom from prison came after 27 years, Mandela wrote about how he experienced a sense of Freedom while living behind bars in a tiny, 50 square feet cell. He focused on what was in his control rather than the circumstances. To this point, here is something he shared in his memoir:

“A garden was one of the few things in prison that one could control. To plant a seed, watch it grow, to tend it and then harvest it offered a simple but enduring satisfaction. The sense of being the custodian of this small patch of earth offered a small taste of freedom.”
In other words, experiencing Freedom is possible whether we are behind bars or in our own emotional prison because Freedom is a state of mind, a way of being or a choice that is entirely within our power. This message was not lost on me then and, through The Freedom Zone Inquiry, it has become a practice for me. So, whenever I have a loss of freedom – whether I feel disappointed by a friend or I am angry and frustrated by a situation or feel anxious about dealing with some difficulty – The Freedom Zone Inquiry allows me to experience a sense of Freedom.