A Profile In Mindfulness: Lakisha Chichester

As we prepare to celebrate and explore wellness at NCBA Annual Meeting in June, we’d like to introduce some NCBA members who are excelling at living healthy lives in the categories of our meeting theme: Work, Mind, Body and Life. Lakisha Chichester impressed us with her mindfulness. She made an impression on her fellow paralegals, too. Chichester received the Paralegal Division’s 2019 Distinguished Paralegal Award earlier this month.

By Amber Nimocks

Loneliness was not what Lakisha Chichester expected to feel after she donated a kidney to her sister last year.

When she learned that she could give her sister the organ she needed, Chichester didn’t think twice about the operation. The transplant was a success, and her sister recently celebrated a year with her new kidney. But after the surgery, Chichester felt a sense of isolation that challenged her emotionally.

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“When you’re preparing to do it, it’s constant doctor visits, constant evaluations, constantly people asking you about it and how you’re feeling,” Chichester says. “Then after you give the kidney, it’s like ‘OK, we’ll see you later. Call us if anything goes wrong.’ ”

She says her meditation practice enabled her to find the mental strength she needed to sustain herself through those post-op days.

“I would credit meditation with my ability to keep my stress down,” she says. “Just processing and really being able to step away from things that — when you’re in the midst of them —seem so monumental. When you meditate you can just separate yourself from the things that are going on around you. You kind of put things in order.”

Chichester works as a paralegal for Family Health International, a Durham-based nonprofit that conducts research and administers public health programs in developing regions around the world. She manages corporate insurance transactions and works in entity management, making sure organizations affiliated with FHI maintain regulatory compliance. Her volunteer work includes serving as a section liaison chair for the NCBA’s Paralegal Division and on the North Carolina State Bar’s Board of Paralegal Certification. She volunteers for Legal Aid of North Carolina, Dress for Success and serves on the Durham Open Space and Trails Commission. She also belongs to several book clubs.

And she never eats lunch at her desk.

Lakisha’s Tips For Living Your Best Life

  • Don’t do it. Don’t succumb to the internal pressure you put on yourself to over work.
  • Just do it. When facing a life change, know what you’re getting into, but don’t wait until everything is perfect. It won’t ever be.
  • Put yourself first — literally. Start the day by doing something good for yourself.

“The best way for me to be successful is to be able to step away and come back with fresh eyes,” she says. “We put a lot of pressure on ourselves, we assume that we have to work through lunch, that we have to go home and do work. I struggle like everyone else, but when I feel like that I say, ‘Is this something that someone asked me to do or is this something I’m assuming I have to do?’ And it makes it easier to step away.”

Her meditation practice sustains that presence of mind, she says. Chichester meditates five days a week for 30 to 45 minutes, focusing on body scan meditation. She attends 6 a.m. yoga classed with the same frequency.

“I get up in the morning and do something for myself, so by the time I leave to go to work I’ve already done the things I need to do to keep myself whole and healthy,” she says.

Chichester started doing yoga in 2013 after injuring her knees. Within months of beginning, the swelling in her knees disappeared, a spinal disorder that had plagued her for years dissipated and she lost 20 pounds. Yoga led her to meditation.

“I started learning how I was able to use my mind to control my body,” she says.

Chichester explained: There’s a feeling in yoga when you’re holding a pose and the instructor tells you to “Relax into the pose.” You keep your muscles taut, but rather than holding your breath and hoping for the pose to end, you breathe deeply and mentally embrace the physical challenge.

“You do learn how much you are in control of what your body does and what your mind does,” she says. “Finding it out reveals how hard it is to do, that it’s not just simply willpower.”

Chichester’s approach to life has not always been such. She spent the first 15 years of her career, when her three children were young, at the phone company that eventually became Verizon. She and her husband both commuted between New York and their home in New Jersey.

“Though I was successful, I just felt like a cog in a wheel,” she says. “I knew after I left there that I wanted to do something different.”

Shortly after 9-11, Chichester and her husband moved their family to Durham. She started the paralegal program at Meredith College in 2011 and landed her first paralegal position soon after. She was drawn to the profession by the vast possibilities it offers. She was particularly interested in business law and the chance to work in an in-house legal department at a nonprofit, which is what she’s doing now.

The secret to making monumental decisions, Chichester says, is to know enough to be aware of the risks but don’t expect to feel comfortable. If you’re doing something daring, and the pounding of your heart fills your ears, remember you’re the only one who can hear it. No one else needs to know.