How Moulsari Jain creates space by doing nothing

Happyplaces stories (video)

Marcel Kampman
Oct 1 · 13 min read

A while ago, together with Kitty Leering and Peter Mandeno, we organised a Chamber of Beautiful Business in Amsterdam titled ‘The Art of the Unsought Discovery’. We explored and investigated the subject of serendipity, on how to find what you didn’t know you were looking for. Together with 25 others, we went on a quest to together discover different ways and opportunities. Moulsari made the group experience how doing nothing can lead to a lot. I used the opportunity to talk with and film Peter, and after I met Moulsari in person and experienced her session, I wanted to learn more from and about her too. I learned that uses the exact same words to describe my space matters as if she has been hacking my brains and hard drive and reads my thoughts and my book in the making. Obviously, she is not. But we simply live in the same space.

Moulsari guides people and organisations through uncomfortable limitations to insightful breakthroughs for creativity, meaning and leadership on a mission for cultural sustainability. She moved from her native India at three months old and grew up in an international diplomatic community across Vienna, Bhutan, New York, New Delhi, Brunei, Tanzania and Mexico. This firmly planted in her a fascination for the similarities amongst all human beings despite culture and language. I didn’t share that same experience as Moulsari, living in all those different places, but doing Happyplaces comes from that same fascination of wanting to learn more from and about people, their similarities and differences and to better understand things.

Moulsari’s passion for the arts, philosophy, psychology and language, eventually resulted in an independent studio that develops branding and communication systems, drawing from her personal anthropological investigations into identity and meaning. The desire to reach more people led Moulsari to incorporate bold artistic experiments about taboo subjects ranging from mental health to politics and finance. The studio B-A-D for GOOD was born, focusing on pushing cultural boundaries with creativity and courage for positive, sustainable innovation in business and society. Moulsari regularly works with bold organisations who share her conviction about their responsibility for shaping the future of work. She also creates communities of creative practice for the greater good with Artists Are Among Us. She leads courses on creativity, personal branding, purpose and passion, superhumanity, failure and most recently, Doing Nothing. A lot of different ways to create different varieties of space. I visited her and her cat at her home in Amsterdam.


Space as the real truth of human expecience

I think space is what being human is about — continually creating it, looking for it or experiencing it or trying to experience it in the way that we want. Whether it is physical space, or emotional, or creative, or community, ultimately space is what defines being human. Everything from being the more aggressive version of that, of conquering, dominating others, power and control — to receding inwards in the most private way. Of the experience of what happens within our own space, physical space. But ultimately, I think space is a perception. It exists, and it doesn’t exist. I’m not a physicist, but in physics, there is an exploration of space on multiple scales and levels, and I think that is a reflection of what we are as human beings are concerned with. The space within us can be as big or as small; our mind allows it to be in a specific moment. I think that is the same with the space around us. We feel restless, feel the need to travel, and I believe that it is also a way of creating space within us of enlarging our perceived space. When we create something, again, it is about expanding the inner space out into the external space that we find ourselves in. And we traverse the space that is between us and others and close that space. There are some moments in which we seek to create more space between ourselves, and there are others where all we want is to minimise that space. Space might be the real truth of human experience.

I think space is what being human is about — continually creating it, looking for it or experiencing it or trying to experience it in the way that we want. Whether it is physical space, or emotional, or creative, or community, ultimately space is what defines being human. Space might be the real truth of human experience. It is about that journey between these different spaces that we experience.

I do that in a variety of different ways. When I write, or even when I speak on a stage, I may appear to be standing there. But really, I’m not. I’m in this world of my head, but who knows, maybe I’m even standing in this alternate space and somehow broadcasting what I’m observing in this alternate space into the shared space that we have. When I write and when I speak, in a way, I’m fully present, and at the same time, I’m fully somewhere else. And the words, whether they’re written or spoken, create the journey between that space that only I can see and the space that we’re here in together at this moment. I think that that is what human creation is all about. It is about that journey between these different spaces that we experience.

The unknown fearful negative space

One of the aspects that I have been in the past couple of years have been especially interested in is the mind space as it pertains as we talk about mental health or well-being. We live in a moment where space is more crowded. It started with media of all kinds. The fact that people are watching television in their living rooms back in the day, not only did this object take in much physical space, but also the amount of space it took up in the time that families spent together. And the amount of space it took up in their engagement together. Suddenly there is the space where they sit in is filled with a negative space, which is for this other object.

We’re scared of empty space because that means that we do come in contact with ourselves more. And as we become less and less familiar with ourselves, and with the space that we are continually navigating in ourselves and around ourselves, like anything else, the unknown is fearful.

Now that we have our handheld devices, that negative space is even closer and smaller. And that is crowding how we connect to our own inner space or connect. It is not so much the object, and it is not so much the content or the media — I think this is a sort of misplaced blame, I think it is the lack of appreciation for negative space. We have the idea that negative is the opposite of positive and somehow negative means bad and positive means good, just like we think that happy means good and sad means bad. But that would be like saying ‘day is good’’ and ‘night is bad’’. Or ‘summer is good’’ and ‘winter is bad’. People here in Europe do think that, but I think what is more accurate is that we are scared of space. We’re scared of empty space because that means that we do come in contact with ourselves more. And as we become less and less familiar with ourselves, and with the space that we are continually navigating in ourselves and around ourselves, like anything else, the unknown is fearful. So, the less practise we have in dealing with this space, the more scared we become of it, and we try to crowd ourselves with stuff. To make us feel cosier.

Doing nothing

I think the real loss is then that people then have less opportunity to create that journey between their inner space and the shared outer space. Because before it gets that far, there is already this sort of stopping point. There is no need anymore to go out there and make that awkward, arduous effort to connect to other people. I don’t think that it is generation related, it is in human nature, in nature to preserve natural resources. It is in our human nature to be, what we call ‘lazy’. And again, this is a judgement that we have made up. Because it is not about being lazy, it is about being resource-efficient. It is about not doing what is not necessary, but that precisely is why I like to teach people, and permit people for doing nothing.

When you consciously choose to do nothing, you’re not lazy, but you’re taking back your space. You’re taking back your experience of time and attention. You’re taking back the only thing that we have to give.

Because when you consciously choose to do nothing, you’re not lazy, but you’re taking back your space. You’re taking back your experience of time and attention. You’re taking back the only thing that we have to give. Even when we talk about love or work, what is it what we’rewe’re offering? What we provide is our time and our attention and our energy and our thoughts. And all of these exist in our personal space. They’re things that can’t be taken away from us if we don’t let them. But we are allowing them to be taken away from us to easily. I think that is the real loss that we are suffering right now. The feeling of not knowing who we are. What our identity is. Without looking over our shoulder to check if the person next to us feels the same way. Or if we are not too weird or weird enough, that we’re still cool. While again, that is is also human nature, but I think by making this space for ourselves so small, we don’t give ourselves a chance to express what is happening in our inner space.

I think by making the space for ourselves so small, we don’t give ourselves a chance to express what is happening in our inner space.

Dreaming while awake

The best way to create this space again with and for people is by doing in a group. It is one thing to do nothing on your own, and I do that regularly, I spend a couple of hours a day of which I can not tell what I did. Maybe daydreaming, or just considering things or processing them. I prefer to dream while I’m awake because I don’t remember my dreams while I’m asleep; that’s why I do my dreaming while I am awake. And I go to sleep afterwards. At the same time, I feel like that I want other people to remember their dreams a bit more too. Some of those dreams might be old; some of them might be new. Some of them might appear in the here and now. But I think that these dreams only show up when we are not doing. And when we are just being. The ‘nothing’ is not scary if you don’t want it to be. It is a relief. It is like I’m kind of a doctor offering a prescription and at first, the medication might seem scary or not so delicious, but when you feel better, then you suddenly love the medicine that is giving you that feeling. And doing nothing is just like that. It is not something I need to teach anyone. What I am teaching is that we all have this power and we have it whether or not we’re aware of it. But being aware of it is what gives us a chance actually to use it for our benefit rather than having it used against us. That is often the case when we’re a little bit unconscious or getting carried away in the flow of life, in the flow of content and information, stories, people, jobs, and tasks trying to keep up with everyone else.

I think that it is vital to have this beautiful balance between having space for ourselves as individuals, but also to create tightknit space with others. That tightness automatically comes when we are connected through our journeys and experiences we had on our own in our private space.

Slow down

But why can’t we keep up together by slowing down together? What drives me to make an effort to help people find space for themselves? Take, for example, global warmin. Remember, I’m not a scientist, is a straightforward matter of friction: the faster you move, the more energy you spend, the hotter the thing gets. Anyone who has driven a car or has done anything a bit faster than usual knows this. It is a simple matter: if we slow down, maybe the planet will also cool off. Perhaps we’re just doing too much, and we need to slow down and remove all this friction heat and energy that we’re generating. There is a reason for us to keep up by speeding up; we can also keep up by slowing down. It is a bit like when we are walking in a group of people, it seems like we all need to keep up with one who is walking the fastest. But when four people are walking slower, and one person is walking faster. Eventually, the one that is walking a little bit faster will slow down to join the others. I think that it is vital to have this beautiful balance between having space for ourselves as individuals, but also to create tightknit space with others. That tightness automatically comes when we are connected through our journeys and experiences we had on our own in our private space.

Doing nothing is where creativity happens, invention, innovation. These aren’t things that happen when you are doing a lot. These are things that come out of boredom and making those profound connections when everything unnecessary falls away. And only what is significant stays.

All of the problems that we have in the world today, all of the problems that are talked about a lot especially on social media, we all read everything about those same issues. I think of instead of doing something about it, we need to do nothing. To stop trying to do so much about everything. To stop and acknowledge the space around us, the space within us and carefully choose what we want to create, and not to scratch every itch. Not eat every moment we’re hungry. But to allow ourselves to digest first, to create that space for other input. Because what you eat and taste when you’re hungry because you really are hungry and not because you haven’thaven’t eaten at 8 AM again, that tastes better than anything else. The satisfaction that we’re looking for in doing a lot I think is to be found in slowing down enough to allow our senses to enjoy everything we ware consuming and producing. It is like the holiday you take, you come back, and you feel engaged with your work again because you have space. You’re not doing it from a place of ‘have to’ or ‘‘should’, you’re doing it from a place of ‘want to’ and ‘could’. And that is where the magic happens. That is where creativity happens, invention, innovation. These aren’t things that happen when you are doing a lot. These are things that come out of boredom and making those profound connections when everything unnecessary falls away. And only what is significant stays.

I think the potential and the magic of being alive and human is understanding and valuing the space that we have been given. But we have a choice whether or not we want to take it or not.

Time, space, attention; towards a more conscious experience

When we have any kind of experience and feel ‘‘Oh, I need to write this down or need to take a picture of it’, most of the time the ones that we remember without writing down anything or without taking a picture, are the ones that left the biggest impression. Those impressions are left on us when we have an emotional response to something. But is we don’t give ourselves the time and the space and the attention to have an emotional response that we can deal with, rather than filing it away in the background to be dealt with later, maybe in our sleep or in our dreams, then we tend not to remember it. And it tends to be lost, and then we feel like we need to fill our brains with more information. But maybe we need more concious experience: really feeling and experiencing everything from the sounds around us. Or perhaps if we play a piece of music, really listening to it. To everything that we consume, eat, drink. Everything that we read, look at, watch. Everything that we touch feel in the air around us. Or even every conversation we have. How often do we sit face to face, look each other in the eye, slow down and talk at the pace of genuinely engaging with each other? In being in each other’s internal space? Just because we’re sitting face to face like this. And by looking into somebody’s inner space, we find a universal human experience that words don’t even need to be there. They too are there just to fill space. When we look each other in the eye without judgement and connect, we understand each other more than we could with all the world in the world. I think that is the potential and the magic of being alive and human, understanding and valuing the space that we have been given. But we have a choice whether or not we want to take it or not.


Happyplaces Stories

A library of perspectives from the Happyplaces Project, a playful research project to better understand all dimensions of space to eventually create happy places.

Marcel Kampman

Written by

Owner at Happykamping, astronaut at Happyplaces Project.

Happyplaces Stories

A library of perspectives from the Happyplaces Project, a playful research project to better understand all dimensions of space to eventually create happy places.

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