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Connections May Help Ease Stress in Thai Cave

In the mountains of northern Thailand, Ekapol Chanthawong developed a skill that may help him as he sits trapped underground in a cave: meditation.

The 25-year-old and 12 members of a boys’ soccer team disappeared after the team played on June 23. They have been inside the cave ever since.

Before Ekapol Chanthawong was asked to supervise the team, he spent 10 years as a Buddhist monk. He still goes to a religious center in the mountains where [he once] lived from time to time.

Tham Chanthawong, a family member, told the Associated Press that he “could meditate up to an hour. It has definitely helped him and probably has helped the boys stay calm.”

About 300 hours have passed since rising floodwaters trapped Ekapol and the boys in the Tham Luang cave.

Rescue crews found them on July 2. By then, the group had spent 10 days cut off from the outside world. Experts say the boys and their soccer coach are mostly physically healthy. But they say the experience has likely been difficult mentally. And it will likely worsen the longer the situation goes on.

Paul Auerbach is chief of the Division of Emergency Medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

“It’s very likely that while the boys were in the cave, but not yet discovered by rescuers, that they experienced various degrees of anxiety, fear...and perhaps hopelessness,” he told the Associated Press.

Videos taken inside the cave show the boys -- aged 11 to 16 -- and Ekapol speaking with Thai navy SEAL divers. The divers were sent in to give the group survival supplies, provide medical care and to keep them from feeling lonely. Although the boys and their coach appear thin and weak, they can be seen smiling and making jokes.

There is no set date for their removal from the cave. The only way out is for the boys to dive through the same flooded, narrow passageways that their rescuers entered.

The way out is considered extremely dangerous even for expert divers. Yet it is being considered as a possibility. Storms expected in the coming days could worsen the flooding.

Cave rescue experts say it may be safer to provide the group with supplies and wait for the water to go down -- either naturally or by pumping it out. But that could take months. Thailand’s rainy season usually continues until the end of October.

Experts say the boys and their coach have skills and qualities that will help them deal with the situation. They include their young age and their group identity, as well as Ekapol’s training in meditation.

David Spiegel is a professor at Stanford’s medical school. He said young people are “especially social creatures, and having friends with them as well as their coach would be a tremendous help.”

The boys and their coach are known to have very close ties as a group. Outside of sports, they often spend time together, swimming in waterfalls, boating down rivers -- and exploring caves.

Aisha Wiboonrungrueng’s 11-year-old son Chanin is among the boys trapped in the cave. She believes that Ekapol has helped the boys stay calm.

“Look at how calm they were sitting there waiting. No one was crying or anything,” she said of the video taken after the boys were discovered. “It was astonishing.”

I’m Dorothy Gundy.


Words in This Story

cave - n. a large hole that was formed by natural processes in the side of a cliff or hill or under the ground

meditation - n. the act or process of spending time in quiet thought

soccer - n. a game played between two teams of 11 players in which a round ball is moved toward a goal usually by kicking

Buddhist - adj. relating to Buddhism, a religion of eastern and central Asia that is based on the teachings of Gautama Buddha

monk - n. a member of a religious community of men who usually promise to remain poor, unmarried, and separated from the rest of society

coach - n. a person who teaches and trains an athlete or performer

anxiety - n. fear or nervousness about what might happen

tremendous - adj. very large or great

astonishing - adj. causing a feeling of great surprise or wonder

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