A story that gained the attention of the world recently was the young Thai football team trapped in a cave in the North of Thailand.
They survived for 10 days with limited food and water in total darkness, never knowing if they would ever see the light of day again.
They were clueless as to whether or not they would be rescued or whether these were the last days of their young lives.
Just stop for a moment. Contemplate what that must have been like for those young boys.
But to the relief of the entire world, they survived.
It is an amazing story. But one of the things that probably kept their spirits high was that their football coach had spent 10 years of his life as a Buddhist monk and taught them to meditate during their terrifying ordeal.
How would this have helped them?
In the same way it helps millions of people every day cope with the difficulties and challenges they experience in life. It teaches us how to let go of our fears and anxieties and find happiness on the inside so that we can learn to live life more enjoyably.
Many people I speak to tell me they have tried meditation, but they can’t do it.
It is not that they can’t do it, it is because they do not understand what they are trying to do.
They are doing it, they just don’t know it and don’t practice it long enough to reap the rewards.
Many people think that when we meditate, we close our eyes and somehow, all of our problems disappear and we enter some blissful state of complete happiness and euphoria.
Actually, it couldn’t be much different.
Meditation can make you feel very uncomfortable at first.
Because just like those boys in that dark cave, when you meditate, you have nowhere to hide and there is nowhere to escape the constant ramblings of the mind. And rather than avoiding them with distractions, you have to face them.
Sometimes, negative thoughts or emotions will materialize. These negative thoughts and emotions come from within. They may have been there for many years and keep re-surfing as anger, irritability, depression, stress or moments of anxiety.
And what we usually do is either dwell on those thoughts which gives them more energy and makes the problem worse, or we distract ourselves and try and pretend they aren’t there.
But with meditation, we choose an anchor, such as the breath and keep our mind focused on it. When a thought arises, we watch it, let go of it and bring our mind back to the breath.
What is the point of that?
Because when a thought arises, we stand back, observe it and let the thought go, we take away its power, its energy. Therefore, if we don’t feed it, it starts to disappear. If on the other hand, we keep that thought in our mind and keep churning it over and over again, we give it energy so it remains with us and as a result keeps arising.
The result of regular meditation therefore is that any strong emotions within us, fear, worry, depression, anxiety etc. will start to dissipate, leaving our minds in a more calm, relaxed and peaceful state. And when the mind is calm, we can deal with the challenges in the external world much more easily. However, when the mind is agitated and in a constant state of worry, the smallest problem in the world can feel like the biggest.
In Thailand, it is expected for all men to become monks at some point in their lives, even if it is a short period of only 3 months or so. And when I used to be a teacher in Thailand, before afternoon classes, all the children in the school would sit outside of their classroom meditating. It is so ingrained in Thai culture that it is accepted as the norm. And as a result, Thailand is known worldwide as “The Land of Smiles”.
We have a lot to learn from the Thais.