JENNIFER CHEYNE

When did you first start practicing mindfulness and why were you motivated to do so?

I began practicing mindfulness when I took an 8-week class not long ago. I had been having a difficult time getting over some things that had happened long, long ago and I was on the verge of going to the doctor to see about starting anti-depressants when I came upon a listing for a Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy course at InsightLA, headed by two therapists, Elisha Goldstein and Roger Nolan. I decided to give this a try— my last try before antidepressants.

Did you take a class? If so, what sort of a class did you take?

There were 15 or so of us in the group, and our first exercise was to "experience" a raisin in detail, as if we were from outer space and had never encountered such a thing before. Each week we  practiced different types of meditation including focusing on the breath, and body scans. The part I really liked though is that they also focused, not only on noticing that we were thinking, but evaluating the truth and content of the thoughts, showing us how our perspective colored our "reality."

Also, taking a class was an exceptional experience because if I had met my classmates on the street, I would have compared myself to every person in the room and decided they "had it all together" and I did not. But we all had our own struggles – and we were all just amazing people for it. It taught me a lot about what is on the insides of most folks who are walking through this world with me.

How has mindfulness made a difference in your life?

Instead of being a person whose thoughts have her, I am a person who is having thoughts. I am watching myself have thoughts and they can't blindside me, now. They are separate from 'me,' and can be examined and either rejected or accepted. I have some control over whether I will believe what I think about a situation – and I have realized that very often my automatic assumptions have no basis in reality. It took creating the gap in order to begin to observe and question.

What do you do for your livelihood (e.g., homemaker, teacher, firefighter) and does your practice of mindfulness affect that?

I am a mother and a returned, "mature" student, getting my degree for the first time in middle age (I guess you could call it that). Mindfulness, first of all, allowed me to dismiss ideas that depressed me, about how I was so "late" getting started, how much time I had wasted, how "ridiculous" I looked, sitting in class with a lot of 20-year-olds. I can now actually hear it when a professor tells me how much he or she appreciated my perspective in discussions, and I can see that other students accept me and attempt in all ways to make me feel comfortable and welcome, even socially. The rest was all in my head – and what bits of it were and are true, well, so what? It just doesn't matter – it's my own experience and I can finally choose to interpret it in a way that is helpful instead of harmful to my self-esteem.

Is there anything else you would want people to know about mindfulness and you?

There were so many thoughts that I had absorbed unconsciously, both from my parents and from a critical former partner. Becoming aware that most of this had, in reality, nothing to do with me allowed me to see myself much more compassionately. My examined thoughts have made me see that what I really am is human and striving, and that it is okay, wherever I am at.

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