meta-attention and happiness as the default

I’m reading Chade-Meng Tan’s Search Inside Yourself: The unexpected path to achieving success, happiness (and world peace). Meng, who was employee #107 at Google and now leads the Search Inside Yourself Institute, combines mindfulness practice with emotional intelligence.

Chapter 2 is a detailed guide to meditation and it has some gems I’ve never come across before.


Meng says meditation trains two faculties of mind – our attention and meta-attention. Say what?

Meta-attention is attention of attention, the ability to pay attention to attention itself. Huh? Simply put, meta-attention is the ability to know that your attention has wandered away. (…) eventually your attention wanders away to something else. After a while, there is something in your mind that “clicks” to let you know, hey, your attention has wandered. That faculty is meta-attention.

Meta-attention is the secret to concentration. The analogy is riding a bicycle. The way you keep a bicycle balanced is with a lot of microrecoveries. (…) By performing micro-recoveries quickly and often, you create the effect of continuous upright balance. It is the same with attention. When you meta-attention becomes strong, you will be able to recover a wandering attention quickly and often.

happiness is the default

Meng gives the analogy of a glass of water filled with dirt. If you let the water sit, all the sediments will eventually fall to the bottom. The water will become calm and clear. He says this is water happens when we cultivate a relax and alert state of mind during meditation. But then he adds one more element:

When the mind is calm and clear at the same time, happiness spontaneously arises. (…) the reason is very simple: happiness is the default state of mind. (…) We are simply returning the mind to its natural state. (…) It implies that happiness is not something you pursue; it is something you allow. Happiness is just being. That insight changed my life.

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