What an unprecedented year the 2020 has been! There are many lessons to learn, but the one that stands out for me is to expect the unexpected.

Few days ago while enjoying the beauty of nature out on the balcony, I spontaneously sat down and started my daily meditation. With my eyes closed, my hearing became more intense and I began to notice multitude of distinct sounds. Different birds singing beautifully in their unique native tongues “bird-call”, a dog barking in the distance, am I hearing some insects flying too? Briefly hearing the gentle breeze participating in the symphony. Even the sound of distant cars blended in.

I opened my eyes to experiment and noticed, in a deep direct way, that my mind automatically starts naming things. I could now see with my inner eye that naming is an intrinsic part of seeing and perceiving. The fast and implicit mental chatter was something along the lines: “There’s the two recently bloomed beautiful red flowers in that pot. The liquidambar trees with abundance of green leaves adorning the blue sky in the background. The bees, the fence, the tiles, the stairs, the outdoor table and chairs, the aircon, ….”.

I noticed that I no longer clearly hear all the sounds that I could hear with my eyes closed. So, I closed my eyes again. Noticing my breath, hearing my breath. I now hear even deeper. I hear the birds, the breeze and all. I feel them breathing. I notice the naturalness of their sounds and songs. I notice that this feels qualitatively different compared to the sound that the cars on the distant freeway make. What is the difference I wonder? I notice that the sounds of nature are like breathing, they have a natural rhythm that my body and soul resonate with. Whereas, the sounds of those manmade machines feel artificial, somehow not fully participating in the breathing. They don’t resonate, they interfere with me.

Wow, what an experience. While I always knew the difference between natural and unnatural sounds, but I never felt it this way, feeling it with my whole body and soul; direct knowing, in contrast to intellectual knowing.

I then reconnected with an old Rumi poem at a deeper level; as well as with a poem by Sohrab  Sepehri. As if a new portal of meaning opened to an expanded realm of reality. My translation does not do justice to the beauty of the original poem, nevertheless I would like to share it with you below.

And you can read, and hopefully enjoy, my offering of Sohrab Sepehri’s poem here: Little pond of “Now”: a poem

A new world is born fresh,
     with each breath.
We miss the newness,
     caught up in life's ongoingness.
 New, new, 
     moments of life arise fresh.
Ever-arriving like a river,
     mistakenly, we see the same forever! 

COVID-19 Reflections

It also dawned on me that the meaning of breath and breathing is even more magnified, as a result of the COVID-19 hardships that we have all been struggling with. It took a new, highly contagious virus that can literally take our breath away, to teach us to wake up to the beauty and wonder of the precious moments of our lives. It taught us to always expect the unexpected, and not to be drowned in the familiar. As Heraclitus put it:

He who does not expect will not find out the unexpected, for it is trackless and unexplored. -Heraclitus

This speaks to freshness and renewal. It’s an invitation to loosen up our entrenched expectations and habits. It does not mean being constantly vigilant, but widening our horizons to allow new life experiences to have a chance.

If it takes the closing of one’s eyes to be able to hear and take part in the wonderous symphony of nature, then let us all do just that. If it takes us to slow down, to give ourselves a break and to temporarily shut down our day-to-day routines in order to hear the breathing symphony of the universe, then let us do just that; it is certainly worth it.

Like the unexpected natural symphony that I could not quite hear unless I closed my eyes, perhaps Nature had no choice but to impose COVID upon us “unexpectedly” in order to shake our narrow gaze on life.

We have forgotten to expect the unexpected. We miss the vast expanse of life because of our narrow gaze. Having created such an overly complicated world for ourselves, we have forgotten the simplicity and freshness of life. Perhaps in trying to make things as predictable, as orderly, and as comfortable as possible, we have given away our seat in the symphony of life; and maybe COVID can be a wakeup call for all of us.


* From the Mathnawi, Book 1: 1144-45
هر نفس نو می‌شود دنیا و ما   بی‌خبر از نو شدن اندر بقا
عمر همچون جوی نو نو می‌رسد   مستمری می‌نماید در جسد