The Power of a Spiritual Mentor

Nelson Mandela has saved my ass a couple times this past week.

Here's what happened. I watched the movie Invictus recently. The movie tells the story of how Mandela brought South African together around a rugby game after he was released from jail and became president of a divided country.

It's an amazing story of a true humanitarian and spiritual leader: inspiring and profound. Here's a man who was somehow able to come away from a 30-year imprisonment, and embody a Jesus-like forgiveness, hold steadfast to a vision for his country and step into a compassionate leadership role that focused on moving everyone forward. He was able to free himself from resentment, stories of unfairness and cruelty and have love in his heart. He thought communally, rather than individually.

At one point in the movie, Mandela (played by Morgan Freeman) says to the captain of the losing rugby team (Matt Damon) somthing like "Forgiveness frees the heart. Then you can live without fear."

Who on earth doesn't want any of that?

I am not always such a person. However, I have a good imagination and well-meaning intentions So, here's what I did with my Mandela mentorship, and please, feel free to play along.

A few times the following week I faced some interpersonal challenges around the same-ol-same-ol button-pushing junk we all face around issues of ego, attention, security, etc. 

In a moment of feeling irritated and let down by someone I asked myself, "What would Mandela do?"

Can I tell you HOW CLEARLY THAT QUESTION PUT THIS TINY NONSENSE OF A NON-SITUATION INTO PERSPECTIVE? He would have moved on through and transcended my issues so fast it made my head spin. SNAP, the issue didn't exist. I've never felt so free so fast over a quibble in my life. Thanks Mandela!

I am not an advocate of "snap out of it" admonishments. I think feelings come up for a reason and provide the opportunity to sublimate in a number of glorious ways. But when you're not sublimating and you're stuck -- and you feel silly or embarrassed or tired of these feelings, why not find ways to release them?

So, in comes the Spiritual Mentor -- the Other. Back to the movie, Invictus: Mandela tells the rugby captain how he looked for strength and guidance outside of himself to help get through his prison sentence. The title of the movie is the name of a poem he recited during that time (included at the bottom of this post). So the poem was a spiritual mentor.

Spiritual mentors come in all shapes, sizes and voices. Some years ago Lou Reed was my spiritual mentor. When I was having difficulties with a family member, he told me, "What are you, a child, grow the fuck up!" It was just the kind of tough love I needed.

Now, it's a different voice, but I've internalized the wisdom of Lou, and that stays with me.

So, who can you turn to as a spiritual mentor?

Thanks Mandela!


Out of the night that covers me, Black as the Pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance I have not winced nor cried aloud. Under the bludgeonings of chance My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears Looms but the Horror of the shade, And yet the menace of the years Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll. I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley