A Lesson From Twelve Boys Trapped in a Cave and Their Coach

There are a lot of big political stories unfolding right now, but I would venture to say that nothing is being watched more closely, both here in the United States and around the world, than this one:

The last remaining member of the Wild Boars soccer team and their coach have been pulled out of a flooded cave in Thailand, bringing an end to a near three-week ordeal that prompted an international rescue effort that captivated audiences around the world.

The twelfth boy and his coach were the last of the team to be rescued Tuesday, after a complicated three-day operation to extricate the team, who became trapped on June 23 when rising flood water cut them off deep inside the cave.

In the last 18 days, what began as a local search for the missing 13 turned into a complex rescue operation, involving hundreds of experts who flew in from around the world to help.

In a world filled with grim news, the global collaboration that resulted in the rescue of these boys speaks to the better angels in our nature and is truly something to celebrate.

As I heard stories about the way these boys were trapped in a dark cave, I tried to imagine how they were handling the situation for over two weeks. Then today I read this:

When the 12 Thai boys who were trapped in a cave and were rescued one by one were first discovered by British divers a week ago, they were reportedly meditating.

“Look at how calm they were sitting there waiting. No one was crying or anything. It was astonishing,” the mother of one of the boys told the AP, referring to a widely shared videoof the moment the boys were found.

Turns out that their coach, Ekapol Chanthawong, who led them on a hike into the cave when it flooded on June 23, trained in meditation as a Buddhist monk for a decade before becoming a soccer coach. According to multiple news sources, he taught the boys, ages 11 to 16, to meditate in the cave to keep them calm and preserve their energy through their two-week ordeal.

Apparently Ekapol went to live in a Buddhist monastery when he was orphaned at the age of 12 and lived there for 10 years until he left to take care of his grandmother. What a gift he brought with him to this ordeal!

After reviewing the limited research on the effects of meditation, Eliza Barclay writes this:

As Brother Phap Dung, a senior disciple of the Zen Buddhist master and author Thich Nhat Hanh, told me in a 2016 interview: In meditation, “you’re cultivating [peace, kindness, clarity] so you can offer it to others. When you sit with someone who’s calm, you can become calm. If you sit with someone who’s agitated and hateful, you can become agitated and hateful.”

Not to take anything away from the ordeal these boys have been through, but that advice strikes me as something we could all take to heart. Phap Dung is actually saying that emotional states are contagious. When you sit with someone who is feeling agitated and hateful, you start feeling agitated and hateful.

The current president of the United States and many in his administration are attempting to make agitation and hatefulness contagious. If you doubt that, simply watch one of Trump’s campaign rallies, either recently or during the campaign. When those kinds of feelings spread, they win because it is their key to chaos, dominance, and authoritarianism.

Simply reading Barclay’s piece about what Ekapol taught those young boys, I found myself taking a deep breath as I felt the peace and clarity he was spreading around. Even via words on a screen, it was contagious. Now I hope to spread it even further.

Lest anyone get worried, having a sense of peace and clarity does not make one weak or inactive. Based on what I’ve heard about what it took to get these 12 boys out of the cave, the calmness very likely helped them conserve their strength and energy for the ordeal they were about to face. On the other hand, anxiety and hate simply waste resources on useless endeavors.

In addition to celebrating the rescue of these boys and their coach, we could all learn something from how they managed to cope with being trapped in a cave for over two weeks.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .