Thursday, November 08, 2007

Coping with Torture

Perhaps it was the juxtaposition that got me to thinking about coping with torture. On NPR’s morning edition, I listened to a description of how President Bush’s nominee for Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, had dissembled and evaded when questioned about our government’s policies on torture.

Then I listened to a Krista Tippett (of “Speaking of Faith”) interview with Indian Journalist and author, Pankaj Mishra, about his book on Buddhism, 'The End of Suffering.’ Mishra spoke about how Tibetan Buddhist monks were able to experience torture without being scarred psychologically as many torture victims are.

It reawakened the experience of a memorable evening in San Francisco, many years ago, when I heard a lecture describing a similar experience. The man, whose name I can’t recall, was imprisoned and tortured by the Chinese government for seven years, mostly in solitary confinement, during the ‘Great Cultural Revolution.’ He was briefly released and then imprisoned for an additional four years before finally being given his freedom.

He was one of the most luminous, joyful individuals I have ever met. He spoke about how he came to love his guards and was able to relate to some of them on a human level. A source of strength for him was a poem by Edwin Markham that goes like this.

He drew a circle and shut me out
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout
But love and I had the wit to win.
We drew a circle and took him in.

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