ACT: a multi-method approach to mindfulness
As can be seen, our workplace ACT protocol, like most other ACT guides, does not focus heavily on formal meditation practice (Hayes et al. 2012), but it does include guided experiential exercises, metaphors, and other interventions that promote mindfulness. From a training and therapeutic perspective, we believe that this diverse range of mindfulness exercises is a strength; if one type does not work for a person, perhaps another one will. From a theoretical perspective, it is reassuring that, despite the eclectic range of ACT techniques, as contrasted to formal meditation only, research is very consistent in showing that these various techniques appear to work by impacting the same psychological mechanism: Psychological flexibility (Hayes et al. 2006; Bond et al. in prep.). Knowing this is not just a theoretical nicety; it also allows people to expand and develop ACT to include additional, and perhaps more effective, mindfulness interventions that can target this mechanism and thus help people to lead vital and meaningful lives. The increasing acceptance of, and research literature supporting, contextual CBTs augurs well for this expansion, and we look forward to seeing how it develops.
Personal Meditation Journey
Frank W. Bond
I do not think that I really understand the distinctions and overlaps between meditation and mindfulness. I have examined the relevant literature to try to identify established and agreed-upon definitions for both terms, but I have not been able to do so for "meditation," although I have found agreed-upon definitions for "mindfulness." Perhaps this should not be surprising, as operational definitions are crucial in science but are less important in the realm of religion, from which meditation originally emerges. Psychology has largely adopted the term mindfulness, so it is not surprising that there are agreed- upon definitions for this word. Further complicating the definitional quandary is that "mindfulness meditation" is used freely in the literature, which could imply that this is different from mere "meditation" or "mindfulness." I mention this definitional issue only because I do not know whether what I personally practice is meditation or mindfulness, but here is my personal account of my experience with what I shall term mindfulness. As an undergraduate, I would lie on my floor with headphones on and really concentrate on listening to modern composers, particularly Luciano Berio. I found trying to pick out the different instruments, and the different ranges and tempos at which they played, incredibly enjoyable. It was effortful to do this, but I found that I got more accustomed to doing it over time. It was many years later that I heard the term mindfulness, and its definition of deliberately observing one's psychological and physiological events on a moment-to- moment basis, in a non-elaborative, open, curious, and non-judgmental manner. I then realized that I had been doing this, with regard to music, for many years and so I decided to try to extend mindfulness to other areas of my life, from walking to work to speaking with a friend. I found this very satisfying and meaningful; engaging in the here-and-now was far more calming and enjoyable than being wrapped up in my own thoughts.
When I discovered ACT, with its emphasis on mindfulness and its roots in science, I knew that I had found a psychological theory of human cognition and behavior that resonated with me, both as a scientist and as a person. As we note in this chapter, ACT uses brief and/or guided mindfulness techniques that are largely integrated into one's daily life (e.g., listening to music or talking with a friend). This is how I had been using mindfulness for many years, and ACT showed me how I could extend this practice into my life in a way that could make it more vital and meaningful.
About ten years after stumbling upon ACT, I signed up for the traditional eight-week MBSR training, in which we were asked to practice what I consider to be "formal" meditation for approximately 45 minutes every day. This largely involved paying nonjudgmental attention to your body, breath, and thoughts on a moment-to-moment basis. I was a good student and practiced my mindfulness meditation almost every day. I found it very revealing in that I was able to sit with my thoughts, boredom, and discomfort for quite some time, and that it got easier to do so the more that I practiced. After the course ended, I soon stopped "sitting," but the "boot camp" experience of the MBSR training did increase my use of, and facility with, the going-mindfully-about-your- day techniques that ACT teaches. Occasionally, when I cannot sleep, I will do a meditation exercise that I learned in MBSR classes, so I am very glad that I had that training; however, I find trying to go mindfully about my daily life, choosing actions to take that are consistent with my values, is very useful to me in creating a meaningful life. (This is not to say, however, that formal meditation does not serve the same function for many people.) Thus, with my psychotherapy and coaching clients, I try a range of mindfulness techniques, including formal meditation, hoping that they will respond favorably to one of them. This, I think, from my own experience, is the key point: The technique (e.g., meditation) is not the issue; it is living mindfully, however one gets there. So, in my own mind and life, I think that I have addressed the quandary that I posed at the beginning of this piece: Meditation and mindfulness are distinct, with the former one being a means of achieving the latter.