February 25th was a normal day at the Mindfulness Project. Until a storm came in, leaving a wake of destruction. The day started with a wake-up gong at 5:30 AM, yoga at 6:00, meditation at 7:15. From there we did karma yoga (morning chores), had breakfast, and then spent the day working. Then our friend Jerry who teaches English to local Thai children brought his class to see the project. Members from the team led the children through an obstacle course, where they practiced their English by tasting and naming different foods, singing songs, learning yoga, and carrying mud. They were taught that we use mud to create bricks, which we then use to construct buildings, such as our Poo Castle (a large adobe building meant to house our toilets and showers in the future). Meanwhile, the rest of the team was hard at work on the Castle, putting a final layer of plaster on the outside, while folks on the top worked on constructing the dome roof.
A fairly standard morning.
Then came lunch.
Foreboding energy began looming in the air while we ate. Thunder could be heard in the distance. On the third clap, a call was put out, “Team, let’s cover the Poo Castle, just in case it rains!” One of the amazing things about the Mindfulness family is that everyone jumps into action fairly quickly, even in the middle of a delicious meal. We had the entire two-story building covered in less than twenty minutes. We were pleased that it was safe from the rain, even it was only a light sprinkling. But that energy remained hanging in the sky, so we knew more was coming.
We continued through our afternoon, showering and enjoying leisure time. Many of us decided it was laundry day, so we went into the village and hung out at the cafe playing cards, reading, or connecting to WiFi while waiting for our clothes in the machine. When it was time, we began the walk back to the Project under the scorching heat of the midday sun. I remember turning to Shaun walking beside me and saying, “I am so happy it will rain tonight. The air is so hot and still that I expect it to be fairly heavy. That should cool things off a bit over the next few days.”
Just a standard afternoon.
Until it wasn’t.
Usually, we’ll hold a Talking Circle for the whole group, but on this particular evening, we’d planned to have separate men’s and women’s talking circles, led by Christian and Anja. We split into two groups, guys and gals, and moved into separate spaces — women in the yoga shala and men out near the brick drying hut.
As we sat down, the wind picked up a bit, small leaves and sand stirring in the air around us. Jo jestfully commented, “This is only the second time we’ve done male and female circles, and the first time there was a really bad storm as well!” We proceeded as we do every night, passing the talking stick around from person to person, individually answering the two questions of the evening. It quickly became clear that a circle of all women had an easy intimacy about it that just can’t exist with men around — a sentiment I’ve no doubts was shared by the men. At about 9:30 we still had two people left to speak. Sadly, we never did get to hear their answers…
The wind picked up and the rain started
The stick was passed from Ilona to Jorein. As the pounding of droplets hit the tin roof, we squished closer together so that Jorein could be heard over the storm. Despite sitting in the center of the shala, we were all starting to get wet — the rain was beginning to fall sideways. Even though she was screaming her answers, Jorein could not be heard, so she had to give up. Either way, by now the storm had become so intense that we felt a need to roll down the protective sheeting in the dorm so that beds and backpacks would stay dry.
Personally, I had been sleeping in a tent in the Bamboo Forest — a tent that I didn’t have faith would stay dry or standing with all the wind — and because I’m a freelancer, I had a backpack full of electronics that I felt an intense need to save. So I borrowed a rain jacket from someone and disappeared into the dark. I couldn’t have been gone more than five minutes, but when I returned the women were all huddled in the kitchen, panicking. Anja was trying to be sure everyone was accounted for. “Anne Marie went to get her computer from her tent and I haven’t seen her come back,” I heard from Karina. “I’m here!” I raised my hand. Karina smothered me in a huge hug. I returned the hug, feeling nothing but love in that brief moment.
Emotions began to run high.
Coming back into the reality of the storm, I realized that one woman was in hysterics. “What happened?” I asked, to no one and everyone. The remaining conversation was a bit of a whirlwind, and I have no memory of who said what. It seems the reason everyone ran to the kitchen was that the roof of the dorm had collapsed. Meanwhile, poor Lucy was in the private sleeping hut when the entire thing fell on top of her. Everyone was physically fine, but nerves were rattled.
Suddenly, from the dark landscape appeared a pack of soaking wet men. They had originally taken shelter in the brick drying hut, only to quickly abandon it when the roof caved in on top of them. As we all huddled in the kitchen, Christian took the lead and directed us to make a run to the tool shed — the only strong, brick building on the property large enough to hold everyone. At this point, loose items had become projectiles, so we bolted from the kitchen to shed, hoping to not be hit by flying debris. I later learned Jorein saw a rooftop wiz past her as she ran to safety.
Once we were all in the shed, Christian shut the door. Adrian counted us, and we felt satisfied that everyone was safe. We were shivering and soaked to the bone. Some were crying, some seemed fairly at ease, some merely wore blank stares. All were at least a bit shaken, but expressing it in different ways.
Then something extraordinary happened
Huddled together, in the midst of the chaos going on around us, we started singing. We sang as One, repeating over and over again the verse we’d learned only a few days prior.
“The river is flowing
Flowing and growing
The river is flowing
Back to the sea
My mother is carrying me
The child I will always be
My mother is carrying me
Back to the sea”
We sang long and loud. The song itself became a meditation. In that moment, I felt so engulfed in positive energy that I no longer perceived the passage of time. We simply kept singing while the wind and rain crashed outside. It was one of the most powerfully spiritual events I’ve been a part of and it was the most truly human I’ve ever felt.
Eventually, the winds died down enough for us to feel safe investigating. Christian and a few others went outside to start assessing damages while the rest of us waited in the warmth of the shed. While I’d rescued my computer, others had rescued their own mediums for creative expression. Guitars and ukuleles began appearing. Music and dancing commenced while we waited to learn what to do. Honestly, in some ways, I think we’d have been okay if the storm kept going all night. But Christian did return with a plan. We’d start gathering belongings and mattresses in the yoga shala and take truckloads into the village. The café would be made into a shelter.
The rest of the night happened in a flurry — as backpacks, mattresses, people, plastic tubs of dry blankets, dishes, food, and other essentials were brought one pickup-truckful at a time into the village. It was midnight before we were all finally sitting in a circle at the front of the café listening to Christian tell us what he thought the course of action should be for the next 24 hours. We finally went to bed around 1 AM.
I awoke before the others
I have an unfortunate inability to sleep in, no matter how late I went to bed, so I stepped over slumbering bodies, making my way toward the café’s only toilet. One toilet for forty people. But there is A toilet, I quickly reminded myself. A toilet. A mattress. Dry blankets. Water. Dry clothes. Who even cared that they weren’t mine? We even had coffee — a true luxury under such circumstances.
As others started to wake, I walked back to assess the damages. The dorm, showers, brick drying hut, and half the kitchen were completely demolished. Two of five tents in the Bamboo Forest had blown over. The Poo Castle looked like…well…a castle made of poo, rather than a castle meant to house poo. All of the clean laundry hanging out to dry the day before was now laying in the mud. But the tool shed, yoga shala, and cooking portion of the kitchen were all unharmed. The kitchen even still had electricity. Our current toilet building lacked a roof, but it stood strong. The tents that blew over were nearby and mostly undamaged.
And really, who cared if our laundry was dirty? It could always be rewashed. As I gathered my clothes from the forest floor, I heard Taylor and Brady. They’d located Ash, the Project’s (very pregnant) cat who had been seemingly lost the night before. She was standing in her spot in the kitchen, begging for breakfast as if nothing had happened. Fortunately, she was still pregnant.
That afternoon we began the cleanup
While others sorted through what could and couldn’t be reused, I put the Bamboo Forest back in order — removing broken limbs, hanging new clotheslines, and picking up laundry. Christian had already made it clear to the group that we’d all have our own way of emotionally processing the devastation, and working alone seemed to be what I needed.
We headed to the monastery that evening. The following day was a Buddha day of worship, and we all appreciated the opportunity to really work through what had happened and what would still need to happen to get the project back in working order.
The aftermath continued over the next several days
The café still served as a safe haven for many, though others craved the familiarity of the Project grounds. Some shifted their mattresses into the yoga shala and those of us who’d been staying in the Bamboo Forest moved back into our tents.
At some point, Christian contacted our friend Jerry who worked the kind of magic that only Jerry is capable of. He got in touch with the District government, and over the following days, two different crews of military personnel helped us start our rebuilding efforts. On the afternoon of February 27th, the EGAT dive team went through their normal training at 5:30 AM, arrived at our site around 3 PM, and then labored until 9 PM. In a matter of six hours, they managed to construct the entire frame for our new dorm, refusing to take even a five-minute break. They only finally stopped because they ran out of lumber.
Anja later described her take on their work ethic, telling us that these are the actions of true spiritual warriors. The mat is simply for practice. True yoga takes place off the mat, in everyday life, where the mind is able to push the body to limits beyond our comprehension.
There are so many what-ifs we can ask ourselves. Things could have happened differently, making the entire situation so much worse. But as we’ve learned from the teachings of the Buddha, ifs are not reality. The reality is that at the end of it all, yes, we had a bit of rebuilding to do, but our connection to one another is a hundredfold stronger. And for that I am eternally grateful.
If you also want to help us rebuild:
Here is our YouTube Video about the storm:
If you want to read the full article check Anne Maries Medium page out!