Allowing the Mystery

Featured in Mountain Record 31.4, Summer 2013


The wind shifts direction. A river changes course. We speak of “shifting seasons” and the “shifting sands of time.” As human beings, we shift our position, our attention, our perspective, our alliances. We reach a turning point, cross a threshold, lose or gain, mature, deepen. The mind turns. The heart breaks open. The way we experience the world changes. This issue of Mountain Record explores “Shift” from this inner perspective.

Many of us come to spiritual practice because we hunger for a shift in how we see the world. In Zen we speak of enlightenment and liberation, of insight and awakening. Training offers us a way to cultivate this kind of change, to orient ourselves toward it. But even when our intention is aligned with our actions, we’re not wholly in control; when it comes to a true shift of consciousness, there’s mystery at play.

Within these pages, Shugen Sensei describes how in the course of Zen training, the initial insight is only the beginning of a deeper, more thorough transformation of our whole being. Ryushin Sensei speaks about the seismic shift from anxiety to peace, and the need to open to what is unknown within ourselves. Trungpa Rinpoche refers to liberation as the glimpsing of little points of light that gradually expand to reveal the bright expanse of day, yet not according to any timeline or game plan. Our intentions matter, our effort is critical, but inner transformation doesn’t happen just because we want it to.

Shifts of the mind and heart need ripe conditions, a readiness within. Outside, things seem usual enough. Inside, there is a stirring. “It was just an ordinary lunch, but it had profound consequences…” begins David Whyte. Audre Lord reflects on delving into “the dark place within where hidden and growing our true spirit rises.” Reginald Ray describes the healing possible when we let the body’s wisdom take the lead.

We all have days when we crave a shift—we long for a sudden updraft of open-heartedness or a gust of patience to blow through, for something outside of ourselves to help us loosen what’s tight or stuck and return us to the vividness of life. As practitioners, having studied our minds and thinking we know well enough how they work, we can feel like we ought to be able to bring about such a change ourselves. But who can say what changes a person deeply, from within?

The authors in this issue write about searching—leaning in to hear the whisper of intuition, opening to the sensations of the body, studying the self to see into our true nature. They tell us that if we want to deepen our understanding, we need to prepare the ground, to till the soil of our psyche and tend the seed of our intention. But woven throughout these same pieces is the theme of the unknown. What is it that decides the course of our lives or the movements of our mind and heart? What is it, after all, that shifts?

Danica Shoan Ankele, MRO
Mountain Record, Editor