By Dana Gornall
For the past week people all over the world have watched as cameras showed images of a group of boys trapped in a cave in Thailand.
The rescue effort would be complicated.
Heavy rains were expected, which would be making the small, enclosed space even narrower and more confined. When one volunteer, former Navy Seal, perished while trying to aide the rescue mission with air canisters along the path said they would need to dive the group out, everyone had heavy hearts. Still, the divers continued working around the clock to save these kids and their coach.
A video surfaced of the children sitting in the cave wrapped in foil warming blankets and talking to the cameras. People commented on how calm they were, how poised, despite the harrowing circumstances.
To be fair, where did they have to go? Yet, even so, not knowing the end result, not knowing if they would survive, being trapped with little food or water in a cold dark space for days, the children did not look stressed or anxious.
And then we find out that the coach, Ekapol Chanthawong, had trained as a Buddhist monk for 10 years before becoming a soccer coach. An orphan, he went into a monastery at age 12. Stuck inside this cave, Chanthawong began teaching the boys how to meditate.
That explains a lot.
Meditation has been proven to reduce stress and foster equanimity—the word for staying balanced and centered despite the instability that happens in life. Study after study have shown meditation practice reduces anxiety and depression.
MRI scans have shown the physical changes in the brain when one practices regularly, reducing the effects of an overactive amygdala (the part of the brain that sends stress signals of danger). While we need all of the parts of our brain to work properly, as humans our brain changes and shifts with experience and longevity, and we can actually train our fight or flight system to go into overdrive, suddenly ringing bells for situations that do not have cause for a fight or flight reaction.
That would be anxiety.
Meditation has been shown to regulate the amygdala, among many other areas in the brain.
So when faced with a situation that causes some anxiety, we can be better prepared, more able to handle the situation at hand. Meditation has been shown to provide a more stable framework for emotions, awareness trumping the monkey-mind that often happens when we let our thoughts run out of control.
Knowing this, it’s no wonder these young boys looked so calm.
Thankfully, the entire group was rescued. Hungry, cold and ready to see the light of day again, the entire team and coach were brought to safety in stages. First the divers brought food and water to nourish them for the journey, then they instructed each one how to dive and laid out the pathway that they would be taking. Diving experts and Navy seals from different countries joined in on the effort and for one week the world set aside differences and joined a common cause, whether it be helping on the front lines or following the story from our laptops and smartphones.
This is what the Buddha was teaching us and it was brought to light just as the children and their coach surfaced from the depths of this cave: It all comes down to kindness, compassion, equanimity and a lot of science.
And a coach that was a Buddhist monk.
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