What a Conversation with Nelson Mandela Taught Me About Finding Purpose Amidst Suffering

find purpose among suffering

What purpose does pain and suffering serve… and does it come into our lives because we deserve it on some level?

Many times, I’ve been asked why bad things happen to good people.

Whatever form the question takes, the answer is nearly always the same:

Not one of us deserves to suffer, but suffering can be a doorway that allows us to step into a fuller, freer, more expansive version of ourselves.

Keep reading to discover how an extraordinary man overcame incredible odds, and changed not only his own life, but that of an entire nation — and how you can apply his transformational principles to start finding purpose and create a life you truly love living.

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Anyone of us is far more powerful than anything we may have faced or are currently facing.

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After several decades of helping others as a life coach, speaker, and author — and after even being blessed to co-convene three week-long meetings with His Holiness the Dalai Lama — I had the opportunity to fulfill one of my greatest life goals… to meet with the legendary South African president, Nelson Mandela.

I’d been dreaming about this for years…

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born in South Africa in 1918, and was instrumental in the fight to dismantle the country’s discriminatory apartheid policies.

Because of his vocal protests for justice and equality in the face of an apartheid-led government, he was imprisoned for 27 years, from 1962 until 1990, for what his government deemed to be crimes against his country — a country he would later lead, as president, from 1994 to 1999.

After his term as president, Mr. Mandela continued to work as an activist and philanthropist until his death in December of 2013.

He’s widely recognized as one of the greatest change agents of our time.

Out of all the people in the world that I wanted to sit down and talk with, he was the one with whom I MOST wanted to have a conversation, and I was overjoyed to have the chance to finally meet him face-to-face.

In 2001, I was invited to travel to South Africa as part of a small group to meet with Mr. Mandela

It was a fascinating experience! We were asked not to use any kind of flash photography to capture the moment, because Mr. Mandela’s eyes were so damaged from his years of working in the blinding sun, that he couldn’t tolerate even the brief flare of the camera’s bulb.

We were, however, allowed to ask him questions. I had just one thing I wanted to know:

“How is it that you were imprisoned for almost three decades, and sentenced to hard labor, and there’s not a shred of anger or resentment in you for all of that time you lost, all of those years that you could have been with your family, that were stolen from you? And then you went on to not just forgive your captors, but to go on to lead your country in the fight against apartheid? How did you do it? How did you find it in your heart to forgive?”

In response to my question, Mr. Mandela gave me a simple answer:

“The man who went to prison never could have become president.”

At first, I was a bit confused by his answer…

But he went on to explain that, in his younger years, he was violent, angry, and unable to make sense of his circumstances and conditions.

He protested and fought against apartheid, and was arrested for it, and sentenced to life in prison.

He told me that, at first, sitting in prison, he thought over and over again:

“All is lost.”

But then one day, a new thought began to seep into his consciousness, like a drop of water on parched earth:

“Maybe all is NOT lost.”

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He had no reason to hope that life would get better. He was in prison with no hope of release in his lifetime.

And yet, that tiny bit of hope remained, and he told me that he hung onto it, “like a desperate person hanging onto a branch before he plummets off a cliff to his death.”

For many years, nothing happened to justify this hope. But one day, Mr. Mandela had a new thought…

“Maybe my being here is part of the beginning of the end of apartheid.”

Mr. Mandela slowly began to realize that there might be a larger purpose to his imprisonment.

As he started to think about this, he began to wonder: “If my imprisonment was part of the end of apartheid, how will I ‘be’ while I am in this prison?”

He chose to start becoming the person who could fulfill his vision to end apartheid, a strong and compassionate leader, and this is what led him to begin writing letters that would go on to change the world.

He was allowed to send one letter per week from prison, and he used this method of communication to garner support for the end of apartheid.

Each and every week, Mandela wrote faithfully, forgetting his own pain in the light of his growing role as a symbol of hope and freedom for his people.

The rest is history.

Mandela Day

This meeting with Nelson Mandela changed my life

I’d received far more than the joy and happiness of realizing a life-long dream…

I’d also discovered the power of the question that Nelson Mandela had asked himself:

“If the suffering that I am enduring is part of a larger plan, how would I behave? How would I speak, act and think if this place is part of a greater good?”

Every one of us is called to greatness, and every experience that we have is a part of the process of bringing us into the full expression of that greatness.

In every circumstance, we can choose to either shrink down in despair, or to use what resources and opportunities we have — no matter how small they seem — to hold true to our values, move toward our dreams, and to act and think like the kind of person we choose and desire to be.

This is Mandela’s legacy, and he will always be remembered and cherished for it.

For more proven secrets and step-by-step strategies on how to create a life you truly love living, click here to register for my free masterclass, “Full Spectrum Wealth.”

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Categories: Inspiration, Mindset

Comments (20)

  • Maria-Linda

    Thank-you for your contribution to The Conscious Uncoupling Summit today. I rushed to Amazon and ordered 4 of your books. Looking forward to more of your insights. Grateful, Maria-Linda RScP, Colorado Springs.

  • Mary Morrissey

    Hi Kay. Thank you for letting us know. You will be able to watch those episodes within a few hours. We are working on fixing them right now!

    I hope you like the blog though… Please share it if you do…

    All the best!

  • Hi Mary,
    you absolutely inspire me. I’ve researched & researched life coach training courses & yours is by far the best. I just finished a call with 1 of your mentors & finished my questionaire. I’m waiting for my next call tomorrow morning. I truly hope I can financially afford this on my limited income because I have so much to offer so many & this is my lifes dream.

  • Mary Morrissey

    Hi Carol! I am glad that you found the article inspiring! Lot’s of lessons to learn from Nelson Mandela…
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    Please find the “Stronger than Circumstances” eBook in the article here: http://bit.ly/2cub4Fq

    I think you will like that post too! If you do, share it with your friends and family!

    Here’s to your dreams!

  • Mary Morrissey

    Hi Carol!
    My pleasure… Please open the link… it is an article, which I think you will love! Scroll down and at the end of the article, you will find a link to my eBook “Stronger Than Circumstances” http://bit.ly/2c4WoJF

    Let me know how it goes!

  • Wow, I love Nelson Mandela and I admire him so much. You got to meet him and ask him a question. Amazing, and what an amazing answer! I can understand where that would be life changing. Thank you for sharing with us. Beautiful story.

  • Mary Morrissey, you have always been an authentic source of wisdom and inspiration. This current sharing of dialogue with Mr. Nelson Mandela, is truly a pinnacle in your quest of bringing harmony and sanity into a world which is seemingly losing its way. May the Light of our Creator continue to shine upon you, and all of those whom you love. NAMASTE !

  • The question you posed to Mr. Mandela was a very simple yet a powerful question to ask and ponder.thanks for doing that.I have wondered abt it myself knowing how his peaceful stance on a very grievous and seemingly insurmountable circumstance,that is apartheid, led him to lead his country in a most awesomely inspiring non violent way. Much gratitude for the messages you keep sending me and for others too.It is indeed very timely and much needed…a real moral booster!Thank God for people like Mr. Mandela and to people like you who try to build this world into a real better place.

  • Iam a fan of Mary Morrissey.

  • David Leon

    I am a 51-year-old man who became disabled when I was 35 years old. For a while after I became disabled I was very depressed, but slowly, through silent pondering and meditation, my depression began to lift and I began to experience a new dawn. Reading this blog about Nelson Mandela reminded me of my own experience. His suffering prepared him to lead a nation. I suspect that my own suffering was preparing me to lead a global social revolution. What’s it about?

    Just This

    We’re not from another star
    But we have come from very far
    To trace an image in this place,
    With sweat and blood and tears, God’s grace.
    The power that has made us so
    Beyond our needs drives us to grow
    And teaches what we must unchoose
    To strip away what we must lose
    To realize where we are from
    And then undo what we have done
    The cloud the waters of this place
    That have obscured from us God’s face.

    • Mary Morrissey

      Hi David, thank you so much for your kind words! I LOVE the fragment of your eBook and the sense of awareness it expresses in it.. I am so glad that my post inspired you in a way! Please share it with friends and family.

  • Wow! Thank you! What else is possible if I commit to shift my perspective each time life challenges or
    disappoints me! Thank you for the powerful reminder!

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