Interview: Anton Bialylew, mindful gardener
I remember growing up and always having a real love for nature, animals, insects, climbing trees and collecting cicada shells in summer. After school, I was moving along a path driven by ambition. I enrolled in a business systems course at Monash University. However deep down, taking over the world and having lots of money never excited me. I was always more inspired by people and cultures. I’ve danced salsa and learned boxing in Cuba, helped indigenous Guatemalans, and worked on Colombian buses selling lollies to raise money for street people.
I am lucky because my gardening-landscaping business, Bay Leaf Gardens, really brings all of my passions together, it is a meditation in itself. I love weeding in the cold early mornings, listening to the cacophony of magpies singing their good morning melodies. My work allows me to create beautiful gardens where people can find calm and refuge from their often hectic lives.
What led you to meditation?
A real defining moment for me was when I badly injured my neck and was told I was not allowed to play contact sports ever again.
I was becoming really restless physically and mentally. The idea of not being able to use my body as I wanted and losing that camaraderie which I loved was very hard to accept. I needed to do something to calm my mind.
My first real exposure to meditation was a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction 8-week workshop recommended to me by my mum. Mum has definitely pointed me in the direction of meditation, she would always hand-me-down Buddhist or psychotherapy books and so one thing sort of led to another. Eventually, I did my first vipassana 5-day silent retreat 2 years ago and although challenging, was also very rewarding.
What value has practising meditation brought to your life?
Definitely, meditation has allowed me to be less reactive and more compassionate. It has provided me with greater compassion and understanding that all people have their problems and everyone is just doing the best they can to give their lives meaning and be happy. I try to be mindful of not taking other people’s stuff too personally (whilst that can be hard sometimes).
Through my practice, I have been able to more objectively separate myself from what is happening, and not become totally consumed by annoyances, things people say, etc…
How has meditation supported you in your professional life?
I am lucky as my work is a meditation in itself, (apart from the pressure of running the business).
Being a gardener has allowed me to stay more focused in my work and artfully work my way through people’s gardens.
Also, I have found that when dealing with occasional customer issues, or staff issues I simply take a breath and allow myself to more calmly address their concerns. I have a Buddha on my dashboard which reminds me to breathe, and also reminds me what’s really important. Sometimes I am so ‘driven’ by the business that I miss the singing magpies or the beautiful morning sun. I make a conscious effort from time to time to stop whatever I am doing and allow myself to enjoy nature and the elements.
What are the biggest obstacles to your practice?
As someone who exercises regularly, I find knee and back pain to be a major obstacle in sitting practice.
Also as a ‘striver’, I can become a bit of a ‘nazi meditator’, eg. I have to sit, or “I must keep going another 10 minutes! come on Anton!”
What is a quote that most inspires you and why?
I think Osho hits it on the head when he says,
“It’s not a question of learning much… On the contrary – it’s a question of unlearning much.”
I think ultimately a lot of what we are taught and led to believe can sometimes narrow our minds, it’s like brainwashing…That is why I love Osho, he was such a rebel the way he went against convention and I think that to follow one’s own beat is the coolest thing you can do.
What is a book that has opened you to new ideas and inspired your growth and why?
Pema Chodron a Buddhist nun, is by far my favourite writer. In her book, “The places that scare us”, Pema writes in such an accessible way, tying together her wealth of wisdom, her incredible personal experiences both in everyday life and also in her practice, with a very witty sense of humour.
I am not a reader and I loved this book. The way Pema talks about ‘fearlessness’, as not only accepting our fears and dreads but going one step further and lovingly inviting them into our homes, it is truly inspiring.
What Mindful Music do you listen to? (ie. music that grabs your full attention and brings you into the moment)
Without a doubt, dancing to West African percussion for me is meditation. The dancing is totally spontaneous which to me is playful in itself. I become totally lost in the beat of the drums as they literally pump through my veins almost becoming my heartbeat. I become totally primitive, conscious only of my moving limbs, dripping sweat and burning legs.
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