A conversation with MBCT teacher Jill Roberts
In the first of our new series profiling our MBCT teachers, Jill Roberts tells us about her experience of being a mindfulness teacher with the OMC, her background in mental health settings in the NHS and what her own practice means to her.
How long have you been a mindfulness teacher for the Centre and what is your background?
I have been a teacher for the OMC since it started but began teaching MBCT classes in an NHS setting over fifteen years ago. My background is as a mental health nurse, and cognitive therapist. I have worked in mental health settings in the NHS in Oxford for over 30 years.
What do you think are the greatest benefits of learning mindfulness?
There are many benefits. We can all benefit from being more in the here and now, rather than getting very caught up in the past and future, as we so often do. Another important aspect of the teaching is developing more kindness and compassion, not only towards others but also for ourselves. The world – and life in general – seems to be getting more rigid, difficult and harsh in so many ways. Sometimes this can seem overwhelming. Developing a mindfulness practice can enable us to relate to the world and ourselves with more kindness and compassion. This can make us more resilient when life is challenging and difficult, as it can often be. Rather than viewing the fact that life is hard as evidence of our inability to cope, maybe we can work towards acknowledging that things are tough, while finding some steadiness in the midst of the storms.
“We can all benefit from being more in the here and now, rather than getting very caught up in the past and future, as we so often do.”
How do you support people to embed mindfulness into their lives?
The classes guide people through a range of formal and informal practices – so not only practising in different ways (sitting, lying down, yoga, walking etc) but also being more aware of being in the moment in their everyday lives. This means that people have the chance to try things out, and both explore and discuss how this is going. We not only have the opportunity to talk about this during the weekly classes, but also during a day of extended practice. This means there are lots of possibilities to work with whatever arises.
What would you say to people who may think mindfulness is not for them?
My initial (rather flippant) response is “that is fine, it is not for everyone”. I don’t see mindfulness as any kind of panacea, and do think that no single approach is right for every single person. A more serious response would be “why not give it a go?”. My experience has been that a degree of scepticism is a healthy place to come from when people start a class. Come along and see what you make of it. It could surprise you. At the very least I hope the classes are interesting. Sometimes people are worried the classes are going to be quite solemn and serious – and at times they are – but we often have an opportunity to laugh together as well.
Once people have been on a course, what’s the best way for them to maintain the momentum and continue their journey?
That is a very good question. Having completed the class it can be hard not to have the regular, weekly contact and support from the rest of the people in the room. As part of the final session we discuss this very issue altogether, and get ideas and suggestions from the OMC programme and from the participants themselves. We are fortunate in Oxford that there is a weekly sitting group – for people who have attended an 8 week class – at the OMC itself. This is run by a group of volunteers who have come to a class themselves. This a great opportunity for people to sit together and reconnect with their practice.
It is worth considering how best to keep practice going both with other people and by oneself. It is also important to know that we can any of us begin – it always possible to start the practice, and just do it.
What do you like about teaching the course? What inspires you?
It is a real privilege to teach the classes. The eight week programme unfolds and is so well worked out – I love being able to trust the teaching that is embedded in classes. It feels very special to start out on the experience with a new class, and all begin together. For all of us it is the first time with this particular group of people. It is always exciting and interesting. It is also wonderful to see people developing and learning as we go through the classes. The feedback that we get tells us again and again that people find the classes transforming. I sometimes see people who have attended one of my classes if I am teaching one of the Thursday sitting groups, and it great to hear how they are doing.
What does your own mindfulness practice mean to you?
I feel very fortunate to have this practice in my life, although often it can be a challenge to sustain it. My teaching supports my personal practice and vice versa. I also feel very fortunate to be part of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre team, and to have connections with like-minded people, who believe in the importance of mindfulness teaching.
My practice brings me back to the here and now, and also helps me continue to work on being kinder to myself. The role of self-compassion in the practice is key. I have worked in mental health for a long time, and know there are dangers in being either overwhelmed by the distress of others, or becoming cynical about it. Mindfulness helps me hold a balance between these extremes, and stay steady in the middle – so that I can take care of myself, while continuing to do work I care about.
“Mindfulness helps me take care of myself, while continuing to do work I care about.”