Gareth Walker, in northern England, works as a police officer and has progressive multiple sclerosis. His daily practice of mindfulness meditation enables him to navigate the physical and emotional difficulties of living with a chronic health condition.
Walker was first introduced to a mindfulness practice when reading Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Walker is featured in Jo Marchant’s 2016 best-selling book, Cure: a journey into the science of mind over body.
To learn more about Gareth Walker and his practice, visit his website, Everyday Mindfulness.
welcome to glass half full with leslie krongold she shares her stories experiences and knowledge of living and coping with a chronic health condition learn about tools and resources and hear inspirational interviews that help you to live a life filled with quality and dignity with two decades of support group leadership leslie’s ready to help you make lemonade out of life’s lemons are you ready are you ready
hello and welcome to today’s podcast last year i read a book called cure a journey into the science of mind over body it’s written by a woman named joe martin chant who lives in london has a phd in genetics and microbiology and works as a science journalist in the book she explores several healing modalities that are more alternative than western medical treatment and pharmaceuticals each chapter is a dive into an area such as hypnotism virtual reality aromatherapy or mindfulness meditation i love the book the author approaches these subjects skeptically and seems to walk away perhaps not a convert but somewhat enlightened my guest for today’s podcast episode is someone she interviewed for the book but before i introduce our conversation i want to tell you my small world story associated with this book the last couple of years each time i visited my neurologist at stanford university i noticed his office was opposite the center for integrative medicine i asked my doctor about the center and he knew nothing about their work so i went inside their offices to investigate apparently most of their work is with cancer patients i talked with the receptionist about my rare disease how i experienced chronic muscle pain and after securing a referral for my neurologist i could get an appointment with one of the doctors i think there was a three or four month wait when we finally did meet there was a discussion about my condition and what they offer which was mostly acupuncture since it takes an hour for me to get to stanford and there are good acupuncture clinics in my community i declined but the doctor did suggest i make an appointment with another doctor at the center who’s not theirs regularly and specializes in hypnosis so i did and the wait was a few more months now i know nothing about hypnosis other than what we see depicted in popular culture i was intrigued and as many of you probably share i’m always open to non-invasive ways to cope with pain and discomfort well the appointment was last year and it was during the time i was reading the cure book and i bet you thought i was going off on a wild tangent right well it turns out that the doctor was waiting to see daniel spiegel he’s in the book and he’s a world renowned expert on hypnosis i didn’t know that i had the appointment and i was reading the chapter just about a week before the appointment and i you know discovered that so i was really psyched but unfortunately when i met with him we went through these little uh tests and everything and it just so happens i’m part of the i don’t know about 10 of people that can’t be hypnotized i don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing anyhow now back to this podcast episode gareth walker lives in northern england and has multiple sclerosis joe marchand the book’s author contacted the multiple sclerosis society in england and asked if they knew of anyone practicing meditation and they all knew of gareth and now you will too when were you diagnosed with ms and how did that happen i was diagnosed about
eight years ago now
it happened um i got blurry vision in my left eye um so obviously went to the doctors and several tests were done the first they thought it was conjunctivitis but the drops they gave me didn’t clear it up the opticians couldn’t find anything wrong so eventually i went for an mri scan which is when um the bomb went off really i was told by a neurologist that there was damage to my optic nerve and that could be a precursor to ms it may not be go away and live your life and and hope that you don’t have ms but unfortunately i do and um about six years ago the symptoms started to accumulate and they’ve been going on since then and it’s pretty certain now that i have um progressive ms and i don’t really have relapses the condition just keeps getting worse to the point where i’m in a wheelchair now oh i didn’t realize that so and you’re able to to still uh work but in a different capacity you’re a police officer that’s correct i’m a police officer and luckily it’s a big organization i work for and a desk job has been found i’m still doing kind of detective work and and still researching things but it’s all computer-based now so what were some of the first ways that you tried to mitigate or alleviate symptoms did you try certain part you know drugs that were helpful i kind of got myself in a bit of a um
depression’s not the right word but i was in a bit of a thug and um i was really down about the diagnosis and i remember my mum gave me a a book the book wasn’t really relevant it was kind of a self-help book and it and it just kind of got me thinking come on you know that this is life this is what’s happened to you and you’ve gotta you’ve gotta start doing something about it and i i went away and did research and things like that and eventually i came across um a website um from an australian doctor who’d got ms and he recommended a series of lifestyle changes um to give yourself the best possible chance with the disease that the lifestyle changes were diet exercise and one of one of the aspects of the regime was meditation but i had no clue what meditation was about and so suddenly gave me a recommendation somewhere for a book the book is called wherever you go there you are by jonkerbat zinn and so i picked up this book uh and it just so happens that junk about zinn is the um pioneer of secular mindfulness in the west he i think he’s a buddhist and he’d stood it he’d studied it from a buddhist view and but but realized that there was a lot in this that could be brought to people um in in the west and so he stripped the religion out of it and um started teaching uh mindfulness classes mindfulness based stress reduction uh this book rang very true with me um and i started meditating and and that was where it all started
meditation is it’s so many things and and often people are confused between well what is mindfulness and what is meditation and they try and they feel like they’re not doing it right did you go through that sort of struggle at the beginning yeah and i think everybody who starts meditating does you know what what happens if i get an itch while i’m meditating what am i supposed to do uh i i’m i’m a bad meditator and that i can’t keep my mind still for a second you know everybody has these kind of thoughts but eventually over time the the benefits start to bed in and mindfulness itself it it’s become kind of a a way of life meditation is the it just brings about more mindfulness um you can do mindfulness the person walking down the street can do mindfulness we can all do mindfulness if you if you’re sat at the beach and there’s a particularly beautiful sunset you’re gonna be looking at the sunset you’re being mindful right there but the problem is sustaining mindfulness do you drive leslie i do not not very often but i do and i i don’t know if you’ve ever been on a journey and you you pull onto your drive and then you think i don’t remember anything about that journey at all right right and that’s because your mind was elsewhere you are on autopilot thinking about the argument you had with your partner the day before are you thinking about the meeting next week that you’re really worried about and the mind is such a restless tumultuous place uh it it it’s always wanting to go here there and everywhere and it’s easy to get sucked into the stories that it it generates for meditation helps you see the mind for for what it is and helps you bring yourself back from these storylines and the effect is life-changing so i understand you started with a five-minute daily practice is that correct uh yeah that’s great so would you did you create a place an actual location at your home or your work or were you able to take the five minutes in any sort of setting at first um i used to try and get myself to a quiet place in the house where i wouldn’t be disturbed now it’s just anywhere and everywhere and do you have the ability to do it if you’re in a room with other people
yeah and you can be um you can be mindful at any moment in your life you in in a room full of people you just listen to the sounds around you listen to the people that are talking to you and listen to the distractions there was a um a really good meditation one day out fairly early on in my practice and i was meditating and um my son was very very young at the time uh burst into the bedroom and i and at first i started to become irritated oh you’ve you’ve interrupted my meditation and you know starting to get angry and then i managed to pull myself back and i thought what hang on a minute my son is the meditation he is the moment right now and instead of meditating on my breath i meditated on him and um he gave all my attention to him and that was quite a revelatory meditation that day
so can you tell me about any of the physical and emotional changes that have taken place since you started your practice of mindfulness and meditation
and i’m not sure that there have been any physical changes emotionally um as human beings we are emotional creatures but um mindfulness allows you to ride the roller coaster of emotions i i can see anger i can see anger coming and i just allow it to come and i don’t get sucked in by it and allow it to come and i allow it to go and then i think and try and react respond rather than react to the emotion
at the time i was off work due to the ms um and i was thinking that maybe website design would be a career that i could do without the use of my legs i’d be able to sit at a computer and do it i was thinking about providing my for my family and what if i had to be retired from the police and it was a time when i was just starting to notice changes from mindfulness and starting to feel better about myself so i just bought a domain name everyday mindfulness and just started messing around really and i set up a twitter feed and right at the very beginning i i just started tweeting my daily observations of mindfulness really and i saw that i was getting so many retweets and and the account was growing really really quickly and it’s just come from there really i added a forum to the website where people can come and chat and get guidance about the practice and
that the website has just crack kind of grown organically really but mike but as it happens mindfulness has got me in such a good place that i’ve been able to return to my old job so it it has had a physical effect on you
and i’m able to deal with the um physical ms provides a lot of physical difficulties and um mindfulness allows me to navigate them um much better i remember one time at my old house it was um a victorian house with a very steep set of stairs and i was starting to have mobility difficulties um and getting up the stairs was getting harder and harder at the beginning when mindfulness was just starting to kick in i remember a time and i had to go upstairs and i just noticed my mind was oh it’s going to be so hard getting up the stairs and i realized that’s in the future my mind’s in the future there just take it one step at a time and i found that it was so much easier
sort of that be here now so it’s like that book be here now you know where you just try to be in the moment without reliving the past or or fearing the future that is mindfulness yeah it’s so hard i mean it is uh it is a hard um thing for a lot of people but it’s always hopeful to to hear stories about how people are able to sort of develop a whole new
i don’t think you can make somebody meditate they have to want it for themselves and they have to there’s a certain amount of dedication that is required at the start and you need to meditate every day i think um and then eventually your practice begins to get off the ground and doesn’t have to be so rigid i don’t like to i don’t advertise really that i’m into mindfulness there’s still a bit of stigma you tell people you meditate they think you’re a caftan wearing hippie and and i think it’s becoming more and more mainstream but i don’t generally tell people other than close friends and family it has an effect on me at work has an effect all through my life you know you’re you’re going down the corridor and your boss gives you a funny look and in the past boom the mind starts going did he not like the report that i wrote yesterday is he displeased with my work and the mind starts going but with mindfulness i can see those thoughts and i can pull myself back from them
should try meditation leslie it’s fantastic well i actually i i have been practicing uh yoga for many years so i do um you know shavasana at the end yes that is a meditation and i am not a um i don’t adhere to one type of meditation i’ve you know explored uh creative visualizations i go to a lot of different workshops and something that i really like a lot is they call it sound bath um it’s where someone you’re you’re in a restorative pose like shavasana and there is a person playing um bowls glass bowls uh or different instruments like gongs and for me it’s very powerful in terms of um being able to meditate and get to a a point of pureness and oneness i feel in me and it’s also visceral the sound does amazing things to my body so i find it healing in that way but it’s not something i do every day and consistency is uh important i think um there was um a period in my early practice i was quite lackadaisical some days i meditate some days i wouldn’t and then i was going a holiday a two-week holiday in spain and i thought no i don’t need to meditate i’m going holidays my holiday and so i didn’t meditate for the whole two weeks and then i did a meditation um i think the first day i came back and i noticed how much more untidy my mind had become and at that point i thought right i’m really gonna knuckle down and do this every single day and i did it i did every day and i increased my practice a bit and and from from then on i really began to notice the benefits well it is something i aspire to i’m always um i think it’s important for me um with a chronic health condition to try to remain open and see myself as growing and learning constantly because sometimes things that have worked for me in the past no longer continue to work and i have to open up to another path another way of seeing things so so i am inspired by your by your journey and um you know i i i will continue to explore different ways to meditate and i know when i’m
i’m mindful i mean it’s a it’s all it’s quite palpable and then i know when you know i’ve got that monkey mind which i don’t know if we can ever totally escape completely you can you can never totally escape i i some days i sit and it’s it’s chaos up there there are thoughts floating about hitting me from every single direction and some days i sit and it’s a much calmer place that’s the nature of the mind and there’s and then knowing that you had that day a couple days ago that felt good where you were able to escape the monkey mind i hope gives you know gives the hope continued hope that you will have those again you know you you don’t get mired in that that downward spiral the uh the only constant is change right right you don’t have to meditate to breath as well i’m i’m a big sound freak as well i my normal method of mess meditation is headphones on listening to music oh okay so what kind of music um it’s generally ambient stuff so nothing too vigorous okay that’s good to know because i as sound is um is very powerful for me you know that’s helpful because some and and sometimes i don’t know if you’re ever explored essential oils a certain uh essential oil can help me uh deepen and relax my body and be that sort of um uh transition into a a uh clearer state of mind a quieter mind so all factory sense uh helps me too you can meditate on smell too yeah
well so gareth this has been wonderful i am i wouldn’t did you have anything you wanted to say that i didn’t ask you about anything to share um only come along to my website have a look
www.everydayhyphenmindfulness.org thank you for listening to glass half full leslie invites you to leave a rating and review on itunes this helps spread the word to others dealing with chronic health issues for show notes updates and more visit the website glass half full dot online.online
You should try meditation…savasana at the end is a meditation. I’ve explored creative visualization…I like sound bath…consistency is important, I think. There was a period in my early practice. I was lackadaisical. I was on a holiday in Spain. My mind had become untidy…I need to do it every day. I increased my practice. I talk about monkey mind…some days I sit and it’s chaos up there. And some days I sit and it’s a much calmer place. the only constant is change…you don’t meditate to breathe. I’m a big sound freak. My normal method is with headphones listening to music…ambient stuff…nothing too vigorous. Sound is powerful for me. I talk about essential oil…can help me deepen and relax my body and transition into a quieter mind. You can meditate on smell too. Come on my website and have a look…