The sentiment expressed by Ghandi in today’s quote was echoed by Nelson Mandela years later when he was asked about his imprisonment. He put it this way in his book, Long Walk to Freedom – “I realized that they could take everything from me except my mind and my heart. They could not take those things. Those things I still had control over. And I decided not to give them away.”
There are many forms of imprisonment, some involving the legal system or powers that be and some forced upon people by circumstance. One may be incarcerated by the government in most countries of the world, sometimes just for disagreeing with that government. Both Ghandi and Mandela faced incarceration and persecution due to their fights against unjust governments. Ghandi chose the path of peaceful civil disobedience, while Mandela chose to take the fight to the government after becoming disillusioned with peaceful means. Both men were incarcerated from time to time (Mandela for many, many years) and both came to realize that, though their jailers could contain their bodies, they could not imprison their minds. In essence they found that they could not really be imprisoned while their minds could still wander free.
The same is true of people imprisoned in bodies that don’t work as they should. One of the greatest minds of our time – Stephan Hawking – has been imprisoned in a body laid to waste by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, yet his mind has soared to places that others couldn’t imagine and he has made major contributions to our understanding of space and the originals of the universe. Hawking did not let his enfeebled body imprison his mind.
In our daily lives we may encounter many examples of people who refuse to be taken prisoner by their circumstances. Some of these will be our wounded warriors who return from war with massive, life changing injuries. The ones that you often see on the news shows are ones who refuse to let their loss of limbs or other injuries imprison them in a life of dependence or self-pity. They have focused their minds on what can be, not what was or even what is. They have already freed their minds to take flight and are now training their broken bodies to follow.
There are also often stories of the victims of crime forgiving their attackers as a way to let go of the bitterness or hatred that might have been their initial reaction. These are often people who have suffered great losses; sometimes just the loss of the sense of safety or security, but, perhaps injury or the death of a loved one. The people in those stories have also reached the conclusion that holding onto feeling s of hatred or bitterness will effective imprison them, as did Mandela. Mandela had a quote that covers that, too. He recalled later the day that he was released from prison – “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” ― Nelson Mandela
For many of us, hatred or bitterness or envy or prejudice, are the things that imprison us; not physically, but in our minds. Those are the chains that we must throw off to really be free. We may be free to move about at will. We may have our physical health and full, normal use of our bodies; but, if we live in a constant state of hatred or prejudice towards others we are in a prison that is far worse than those suffered through my Ghandi and Mandela.
How can we avoid our mental prisons or free ourselves from the ones that we might already be in? A starting point is to acknowledge to ourselves that we have some hatred, some prejudice, some bitterness, some feelings inside, in our minds that are imprisoning us and preventing us from freely moving ahead. Once you can acknowledge the issue, the person, the problem or the thing that you have bad feelings about, you can begin to deal with it. A first step might be to ask yourself, why? Why can I not let go of this? Why can I not get beyond it?
Many times, if you ask yourself those questions, you may find that you are still in some stage of denial. Holding on to the rage or the hatred or the bitterness is just a way to put off having to deal directly with the loss involved. If you can deal with accepting that loss first, it might be easier to see that holding on to those bad feelings is doing nothing to help you get on with life. In fact they are your current jailer; and both you and the person who harmed you are being held captive in the same prison cell. Put them aside and walk out of that prison. Saying “I forgive you”, to the person who harmed you frees both of you from that prison.
So, today, free yourself from whatever mental prisons you find yourself in and get on with life. If you are physically constrained somehow, let your mind loose and refuse to be imprisoned by cell walls or a dysfunctional body. Freedom is a concept that lives in the mind, no matter what your circumstances.