Present moment

The following extract is from our empirically validated ACT at work training manual. It is, perhaps, the ACT at work exercise that is closest to a formal, sitting meditation; it is also significantly shorter than formal meditation exercises advocated by other interventions (e.g., Segal et al. 2002).

First, we encourage participants to adopt an upright posture, with the back straight and dignified but not too rigid, and spine infused with energy. We say that by doing this we are “doing what the meditators do.” We invite participants either to close their eyes or allow the gaze to become unfocused and directed downward.

We then invite participants to pay mindful attention to current sensations in their feet and toes, perhaps noticing any tingling or throbbing in their feet or toes; noticing whether different parts of the feet feel warmer or colder than other parts; noticing the sensations of their feet encased within their shoes; and exploring any areas of pressure in the soles of the feet where they contact the floor. After a few moments, we invite participants to shift the “spotlight of their attention” to current sensations in the hands and fingers—just noticing, without judgment, whatever sensations are there in this moment to be noticed; exploring with gentle curiosity and interest any tingling or throbbing in the hands and fingers; noticing the position and temperature of their hands and fingers. While focusing on hands and fingers, we encourage participants to notice how easy it is to drift away into thoughts and lose awareness of current physical sensations. Each time participants notice they have drifted away into thought, they are asked to return attention once again to sensations in the body. We then invite participants to shift their attention to the abdomen for a minute or so, noticing the sensations and movement in the tummy with each breath. Finally, we end this brief exercise by inviting participants to expand their awareness from the abdomen to notice sensations throughout the entire body—to gradually develop a “strong sense of the entire body” sitting here in this chair, in the here and now. We then ask participants to open their eyes and return to the room (Flaxman et al. 2013, pp. 82-83).

This exercise helps people to develop the flexibility to attend both to narrow and broader aspects of the present moment (e.g., the abdomen and the entire body, respectively, in this present moment exercise). This skill, in itself, is useful in the work environment, as it helps people to concentrate on a particular task; in addition, it can help people to notice quickly, because they are in the present moment, when they might react avoidantly to an internal event (e.g., anxiety). It can thus function as an early warning indicator that it would be useful for them to accept such an internal event, instead of avoiding it.

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