Breakfast with a Bent Fork (and Other Musings from a Silent Retreat)

bentfork Breakfast with a Bent Fork (and Other Musings from a Silent Retreat)

Gently and quietly, I place my plate, silverware, and mug on the table. Lowering myself into the chair, I settle my feet on the floor and lift my gaze out the window. There is a man outside, holding a mug in his right hand. I chuckle inside my head, “That man is outstanding in his field!”

The man I am seeing is the same one who has his meditation seat right in front of me in the meditation hall. This guy is nice looking and sturdy; he is wearing the kind of pants made for outdoor activities. They are stone colored, Columbia brand, the kind where you can zip off the legs if you want to wade into a stream. His fleece jacket is a medium blue color, not navy, maybe royal blue. He has a Nordic style beanie covering his head. The grasses he is standing in are tall, about knee high, beige and wispy. It’s windy, so the grasses are swaying around his legs.

I wonder whether he is a farmer. Many days as I settle onto my cushion behind him, I notice the back of his t-shirt advertises an organic farm in Escondido, California. I live in San Diego, not far from there, so I wonder about that too – what connections we might have at home. I love the blanket that he brought with him to wrap around his lap in the meditation hall. It’s gray and cream and has musical notes woven into the pattern, like the whole blanket is sheet music for a song. I wonder whether it is a specific song. I wonder whether he is telling us something about himself with that blanket, like perhaps he is a musician or a music lover. Or maybe, I think, it is random, a blanket given to him by a friend, and he has no love for music at all.

My attention drops to my food. I take the first bite of scrambled eggs, and when I pull the fork from my lips, I notice one of the tines of the fork is bent. Does that feel unpleasant? Well, it’s not exactly unpleasant, but it’s not neutral either. It’s unusual enough to grab my attention. In normal circumstances, I would have risen from my chair, and grabbed another fork – but these are nothing like normal circumstances. This is day four and a half of a silent retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center in Red Feather Lakes, Colorado.

If I rise from my chair, I need to be mindful of the scraping noise the chair would make on the floor. The chair would need to be moved slowly. The doors need to be closed gently. We must pay mindful attention to all noise that we generate because, when there is no talking, every noise is amplified. Interestingly, we get more sensitive to noise as each day unfolds.

There is no talking for eight of the ten days. Eye contact and smiling is an issue that caused a quiet ruckus, a policy change, ambiguity, and more clarification from the sages on the stage. Some of us are doing it, so if you don’t want any intrusion into your “noble silence,” cast your gaze down so you won’t catch a loving smile coming your way!

I digress! What did I do about the fork? I considered it. It’s not perfect: a metaphor for all of the perfectly imperfect souls in the room. Some of my fellow retreat participants – or yogis as they are called here – are on rota duty right now in the kitchen, washing all the silverware, cups, and dishes. (We all have to sign up for chores, and perform them twice in the ten days). Would I give them one more piece of cutlery to wash because I want a perfect fork? No, absolutely not! Instead, I made the bent fork part of my practice this sunny, clear, and cool morning up in the Rocky Mountains.

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