“Real Secret of Life” by Alan W. Watts

“This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.” -Alan W. Watts

I believe this quote from Alan W. Watts is the absolute truth. The operative words are “engaged,” “here and now,” and “play.” I am well aware that I am the happiest when I am present in the moment and neutral with my thoughts, regardless of what I’m doing, whether it’s scrubbing the bathtub, writing a short story, or listening to a friend’s thoughts and concerns. Present without preoccupation seems to me to be the key. This is not easy to achieve and I must admit I’ve spent many years letting my thoughts carry me to places while my body was elsewhere. Otherwise engaged, would be the description that comes to mind. Allowing negative thoughts to contaminate a perfectly innocent moment. That is the opposite of being present; it’s being mentally absent.

Now I often shift to a neutral place in my mind while I am engaged in my activities. I shoo away negative thoughts if I have them by reminding myself that at this very moment in this place all is well and I am fine. This helps me to get focused on my task at hand. Also, I remember that in Morita Therapy, the primary focus is to do what needs to be done. When I am feeling unhappy because of something that is not in the present time, then I remind myself that I need to get on with whatever needs to be done and I can think about my unhappiness later. Often, that later never comes since I have shifted my focus and I have moved beyond the problem. If the problem still looms, at least I’ve given myself a respite so that I can consider solutions with a clear mind.

When I am completely focused on a task, then often it is fun. Not the “Wow, this is hilarious” sort of fun, but rather a relaxed, “Who knew I could enjoy doing this so much?” sort of fun. When in doubt about this concept, just hang out with a 4-year-old and watch them play. My granddaughter Lyla will start to play with her toys, get totally focused, and then burst out in spontaneous song. That is the very definition of fun.

Shifting from a work mindset to play adds another dimension to the mix. Playing is simply more fun than work on any given day and by reframing one’s experience, it makes sense that happiness will come more easily when thinking about fun and not work. I am aware that when Ray and I work on an estate for clients, I often find myself thinking, “I love doing this. It’s fun.” That also happens when I am writing or teaching writing. I may have to work up to thinking cleaning the toilet is fun, but I can at least be fully engaged in that activity and in the here and now. There is the satisfaction that comes with a job well done (a clean toilet in this case) so I do recognize the benefit of keeping life simple and one’s mind clear.

“Be here now” as Ram Dass is famous for saying is the bottom line. Be here right now. Not off in your head to parts unknown. Keep mind and body in the same place at the same time and stay focused on the present. Of course, there are exceptions to this. I immediately think, “Well, that wouldn’t work if you were being tortured,” but then again, most of us are not in that sort of situation. In that case, I believe it would be preferable to high-tail it out-of-town with present reality and head to somewhere more pleasant in one’s head. However, most of us are not in life-and-death situations. We are working hard to understand how to feel happy on a consistent basis. I believe Alan Watts’s words provide that guidance.

Sleep well, my friends. I hope you had a day filled with focus, a here-and-now experience, and fun.

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