I'm the kid who ran away with the circus. Now I’m watering elephants. But I sometimes lie awake in the sawdust, dreaming I’m in a suit of light. Late at night in the empty big top I’m all alone on the high wire. Look he’s working without a net this time. He’s a real death-defier.
—Lyrics from The Kid
I dwell in Possibility —
A fairer House than Prose —
More numerous of Windows —
Superior — for Doors —
Of Chambers as the Cedars —
Impregnable of eye —
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky —
Of Visitors — the fairest —
For Occupation — This —
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise —
— Emily Dickinson
Those of us influenced by Buddhism find great value in being mindful in the present moment. For us mindfulness is a state of relaxed and alert attention to the world as it is in the present moment. We can be mindful of washing dishes, doing laundry, listening to a friend, and taking walks on a summer day.
Often we see mindfulness most deeply, not in being lost in our thoughts, but in being attentive to sensory detail: to what is here and now, right in front of us, if only we have eyes to see. For us, a most holy saying is: "Have a cup of tea."
Amid our enthusiasm we sometimes forget another kind of mindfulness: a mindfulness that is attentive, not to the details of sense perception but instead to the flow of possibilities within the mind. The attention is not anxious or hurried. It is reverie.
This is a kind of reverie that we are taken into when we hear Satie's Gymnopédie No. 1. It's not so much about this cup of tea in our hands, as it is about the possibility of drinking tea in the first place. Especially if it comes from China, or maybe Argentina.
Reverie is always sensitive to the flow of things: the flow of actual entities in the world and the flow of possibilities in the mind. It is a kind of swimming, and its natural ally is process philosophy: Heraclitus and Nietzsche, Hegel and Whitehead, Lao Tzu and the Buddha.
Process philosophy offers a musical vision of reality. The actual entities of our universe are not substances that remain unchanged over time; instead they are musical notes, played on a piano, that arise and perish, to be succeeded by other notes.
In their unfolding they give rise to different atmospheres and moods. We ourselves are such entities; we ourselves are such moods. We do not stand outside the river of life watching it from afar. The river is in us and we are in the river. Always we are swimming.
In reverie we wander and we wonder. We ask what it might be like to be a snowflake, or a parade of children leaving a gymnasium, or water that ripples alongside a river, or a gust of gold. And in so doing we participate in the primordial nature of God. This is the side of God that is dream-like: not fully conscious but not exactly unconscious either. It is God before creation, when even creation was but a possibility.
There is a lightness in such dwelling, because the things we consider are not solid objects but rather pure potentialities, real but weightless. We are playing in the possibilities, and they are playing in us.
Sometimes in our reveries we begin to ask What if? We begin to wonder what it might be like to take delight in the beauty of momentary events without clinging so fervently to them when they pass away. In a way we become like the children dreaming of joining the circus. The familiar clothing of habitual thinking falls away and we fall into faith.
Faith is not dogmatic belief or blind conviction; it is trust in the availability of fresh possibilities. It begins with a circular movement of water or air, with a flickering eddy, with an atom of amber in a fire. It begins in constructive fantasy.
In the healthy spiritual life mindfulness of sensory detail is not enough. It is not enough simply to pay attention to things as they are. We also need the capacity to be lost in our thoughts; to wander in reverie; to be out of sync with constraints of what is, so that we can be attuned to the world of what can be.
Suffer the little children who dwell in possibility, for theirs is the kingdom of love.