How a little meditation saved the day

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Thai soccer coach meditated with boys to calm them in the cave. We can all learn from them.

By Kristin Clark Taylor
The Washington Post

A Buddhist monk holds a praying ceremony at the entrance of the caves where 12 members of a youth soccer team and their coach are trapped in Thailand. (Getty Images)

The boys in the cave have been saved. Hallelujah and amen. All of those involved in their rescue are now our heroes.

Their coach, 25-year-old Ekapol Chantawong, though derided by some for initially leading the 12 boys into the darkness, is being hailed for his bravery by others, including many of the boys’ parents. They credit him for keeping the boys calm during the calamity.

Ekapol helped keep the boys breathing and emotionally balanced during the crisis, and also readied them for their hours-long treacherous escape guided by expert cave divers. In the process, he also gave them vital tools they needed — specifically, teaching them how to tap into their own tranquility and inner stillness. He taught them how to keep themselves calm; a minor but magnificent distinction.

Ekapol is a former novice Buddhist monk who still meditates daily. He knows how to survive adversity: He lost his parents and a brother to a deadly disease when he was only 10 years old. In the cave, he taught the boys some of the basic principles of meditation while they were trapped underneath the earth. I believe it helped save their lives. If they continue the practice of meditation, it will continue to enrich their lives as they grow, now, into men.

My mother taught me the art of mindful meditation when I was just a little girl — long before mindfulness became a buzzword and the practice of purposeful stillness became so highly popularized. Every single day, she’d pull me up onto the empty sofa cushion beside her and there we’d sit, wrapped in our own comfortable silence, for minutes at a time, and for more minutes after that.

I could easily distinguish this stillness from naptime — the movement of my mind was graceful and swooping during those meditative moments, rather than the slower, settled-in rhythm that came with sleep. And as I grew older, I remember marveling at the sight of my own little stomach rising and falling with each breath. Mostly, though, I remember the closeness and the power of my mother’s proximity and the joy that came from creating a collective stillness that covered both of us like a comfortable cloak.

In the same way that many saw Ekapol as a hero, I regarded my mother as my aboveground hero; she was the conduit and the connector who helped me find (and define) my center and tap into the tranquility that existed within my very own little self.

I carry that calmness within me, still.

Today, I like to call it my transportable tranquility, because it goes with me wherever I go. I do not need to go outside or down the street or up the block to search for it. It’s already within me, waiting for me to knock and enter. My mother, who quoted philosophers and visionaries, often shared a favorite passage, that “Tranquility itself is not freedom from the storm, but peace within it.”

How right she was. How right she remains. My goal today and every day, then, is not to live a life free of strife — free of dark, airless, underground tunnels and the unpredictable twists and turns that life will most certainly bring — but that I remain still within (and certain of) my center, even when all else around me swirls . . . especially when all else around me swirls, I will remain still.

What a comforting concept that if the air grows thin and the walls begin to close in, there is a place to go that is right and true and safe. Not some remote, faraway place or even a place that is near, but a place that is here within. 

We’d all be wise to learn to access our own transportable tranquility, to become more mindful of the power that exists within purposeful stillness. All we need to do is create the daily rhythm — and maybe learn some of the actual techniques — that will enhance our ability to access what already exists within us.

My mother had seven children — I am the youngest of the bunch — and she gave birth to me during spring break, while she was writing her master’s thesis. I share that to share this: She made the time to teach me about mindfulness; she created the precious minutes each and every day to carry me into a place that allowed my brain to stretch out and my mind to swoop and dive, or simply to stand still.

That she loved me enough to teach me what she knew about meditation and mindfulness — what it is, what it’s not, how to nurture it every single day — is one of the greatest gifts she left for me. It outlived her, and now, because I’ve taught it to my own adult children, it will outlive me.

I thank my mama — just as I thank Ekapol and all the heroes who helped guide those boys back to safety. During the nine long days and nights they waited to be rescued after being found, and then, finally, when they waded and swam for their lives through those dark tunnels to freedom, they had with them the tools of mindfulness and meditation to keep them centered.

Let’s all learn a lesson from those brave boys.

Kristin Clark Taylor is an author, freelance journalist and mindfulness meditation practitioner.