by Jameela Mendoza | Feature Writer
Soccer coach Ekapol Chanthawong never intended to lead his team of 11 to 16-year-olds in a cave roughly four kilometers away from light; away from where their cries for help could be heard. The discovery of their whereabouts by two divers was thought to be a miracle, but what surprised the divers upon their arrival was another miracle in itself: 10 days of being stranded with insufficient air, light, and water, yet the team had managed to remain calm—no signs of mental breakdown. It wasn’t the kind of calmness that was devoid of hope or emotion, but a calmness that stood firm in the ultimate test of “mind over matter.”
It turns out Ekapol was a trained Buddhist monk before becoming a soccer coach, and his 10 years in the monastery mastering meditation became the most crucial lesson he would teach his team. Using meditation techniques, the boys were able to conserve their remaining energy until they were successfully rescued from the cave.
The role of meditation in the team’s survival was clear, but how can we—students who are merely surviving 7 a.m. classes and are unlikely to be in life-threatening situations (thankfully)—incorporate meditation in our busy schedules?
Meditation, the practice of achieving a clear and calm state of mind and emotion, can be done in different ways, using different techniques. It is not just about thinking blankly and suppressing emotions. There are no strict instructions that must be followed in meditation, and it is not confined to a specific religion.
How to start meditating (if you haven’t)
“Instead of imagining a white screen for peace or forcing out thoughts in the head for clarity, [I just practice] internal discourse to control and understand the thoughts provoking me to feel certain emotions,” said Paula Estoy, a senior Physical Therapy student who practices meditation as part of her daily routine.
Paula starts her day by meditating through prayer, which she described as something more of a conversation with God rather than a read or memorized prayer. “Praying can be considered as meditation as well, as long as peace of mind is achieved,” she said.
At first, Paula thought meditation can be done only through mantras during yoga. Although she does meditate by sitting quietly from time to time, she found out that meditation can be done anywhere, even while walking or traveling. The Silliman campus alone is filled with perfect spots for meditation, like the labyrinth in front of McKinley Hall or the amphitheater in front of Silliman University church.
Meditation is also not limited to basking in complete silence. Mantras, deep breathing exercises, keeping a gratitude journal, and focusing on something from your surroundings are a few ways of meditating that can easily be done in a couple of minutes. Guided meditation is also available through numerous apps.
Paula continues to meditate in simple moments throughout her day like while walking, and in stressful moments like when there’s an upcoming exam. “[I even meditate] as often as I need to…the more stressful the situations in my day, the more I need to find minutes within the day to clarify my thinking,” Paula added.
Why meditation matters
Studies show that meditation reduces stress and anxiety, improves concentration and promotes emotional well-being, among others.
Last summer, Paula was looking for a way to understand and deal with her emotional distress. She followed a meditation guide on YouTube and read a book about meditation. Since then, meditation has helped her cope with negative thoughts and emotions and brought out a better version of herself.
A clear and peaceful mind helped Paula, who used to isolate herself from others, feel more connected with the people around her after breaking the mental barriers she created for herself.
Mental barriers like stress, anxiety and internalized pressure are things that most college students experience. These barriers often feel like a hostile, dark cave that we feel trapped in, especially because students often feel like they don’t have time left for themselves. The thing about meditation is that it’s simple enough to do anytime and anywhere, and its effects—mindfulness, clarity, peace—can actually change and save lives once done consistently.
So if you find yourself in a cave of mental barriers or if you want to take a break from the noise of the world, give yourself a few minutes. Inhale and exhale. Focus on your breathing, and give meditation a try.