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Ep.005 - Challenging Yourself to Do Nothing - Moses Mohan
Episode 52nd December 2020 • The Spaceship Podcast • Laura Francois & Clement Hochart
00:00:00 00:38:50

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[00:00:00] Moses: And we had one objective on lazy day. If you will call it an objective, it was to do nothing. Honestly, one of the hardest things I had to do every week was just literally have no schedule and nothing to do on a Monday, but I think that's the idea of play: giving space for spontaneity and, you know, just doing nothing.

Clement: That was the voice of Moses (Mohan), reminding us of the importance of carving out time in our daily life for nothing at all and making room for spontaneity. Like many of Moses' lessons, this one comes from his time spent as an ordained Zen monk.

Moses: I think play, in many ways, is a gateway to presence. It's a gateway to being mindful.

And it's always mindful of something, whether it's being mindful of the way you're engaging with your stakeholders... being mindful of the way you're engaging with yourself, your team... I think play offers a very wonderful, easy way to be with that.

Clement:  [00:01:00] Moses sits at the intersection of mindfulness and leadership, supporting multinational corporations and organizations in mindfulness and compassion training. As a coach and facilitator, his work serves to cultivate mindfulness, find resilience and remind us of what it means to be human.

You are listening to The Spaceship Podcast, where we'll be speaking to entrepreneurs and global thought leaders to highlight the theories we cover in the Spaceship masterclass. If you are set on solving some of the world's biggest problems, check out Now, let's give the mic to our guests.

Laura: Go ahead and tell us in a show who you are now. I guess it's always hard to put it into words and put it into context, but... you were talking about being a traveler.

Moses: Yeah. Yeah. So I currently apply myself in bringing... basically the [00:02:00] wisdom traditions and methods from the wisdom traditions into the space of leadership and daily life.

That's the essence of what I do right now. And specifically that takes two forms. One is really bringing the tools of mind training to large organizations, trying to create more human, thriving cultures that... hopefully care [about] more than the profit line and, you know, into people and into the planet. So that's one way of that application right now.

And the other really is bringing tools of self-awareness and coaching to bear on a one-on-one and team basis. So that's, that's the context of who I am right now, uh, both professionally and somewhat personally, in a nutshell.

My background is from strategy. I spent most of my career in management consulting... quite quickly looked around and saw that there was a huge amount of suffering. You know, the classic things like alcoholism, overwork, sexual misconduct, you name it. And I thought to myself then, if these were the smartest people in the room, something's not right here.

[00:03:00] So that got me to exploring the space of coaching for a period of time as a way to be of service and really as a way to uncover who I am and to operate more from a place of purpose and a place of intention.

And long story short, that led me to also spending some time as a monk, which I considered, actually, as a full-time career. But I ultimately felt that I needed to bring the monastery out here rather than people into the monastery... which is why I'm here having this conversation and doing what I do, hopefully making a little bit of change in my own way. And so, yeah, that's, that's about me in a nutshell.

Laura: So how does someone come from a monastery setting, as a monk, and leave that full-time job and enter back into this so-called real world rat race, working with, you know, large companies. You've worked with government, you know, FMCG you've worked with Ikea, Unilever, you name it.

Exactly how does that happen? [00:04:00] How did you decide, why did you decide to do that? You, you mentioned, you know, bringing the monastery out to everyone else. It seems like it would have been really nice to just stay in the monastery, to be honest.

Moses: Oh yeah, absolutely. It was uh... you know, it was not necessarily an easy life, but it was a very meaningful life.

You know, I was living in a community of about 200 monastics and really all united with a singular intention: to unlearn our habits of violence and poor behavior, really, and cultivating habits of inner-peace, mindfulness, and compassion. It was a wonderful, wonderful, and actually very easy for me, to be very honest, environment to be in, very conducive.

But ultimately, you know, the question I always come back to is, you know, how can I be of service? And I was looking back at my history or if you like, karma, or my background. And, you know, I had spent many years in business, had lots of connections. You know, I had an appreciation of the business context as well.

So just in terms of thinking of [00:05:00] reach, right, the monks and nuns, you know, from time to time, they might get invited by certain business people or organizations to speak or to share. But, you know, often just to inspire. Perhaps just to share a few things from your life story, but not really to infuse cultures, you know, with mindfulness, to infuse cultures with compassion.

So that for me really was the main reason why I decided to be out here and to try to do what I can. But back to your question, you know, how does that transition happen? I had the privilege of hosting Matthieu Ricard, who once upon a time was, uh, known as the happiest man in the world. He is, well, French in origin, but a Tibetan Buddhist monk.

And he had many MRI scanners and all sorts of devices hooked up to this head. And that's how he got that moniker. But at one of his talks that he gave in Singapore some years ago, you know, someone asked him - and he's authored many, many books, uh, around altruism, happiness, et cetera. Someone just basically asked him, you know, how do you do this [00:06:00] material?

Clearly you have a busy schedule. Clearly you have lots going on and you're also a monk, how do you do it? And his answer has always stuck with me. He basically said 'I live on borrowed time.' And he went on to explain that in a given year he would spend X amount of time in his Hermitage, in his, uh, you know, little kind of ,uh, monastery cave, if you will. Really just cultivating himself.

And that gave him the inner resources and the energy to come out here to offer talks, to speak, you know, do all sorts of things that he had to do. So in a very similar vein as well, I think for me, it's... it's really around prioritizing my own inner resourcing and inner cultivation.

And just to share maybe a framework that I was introduced to in the monastery, we were always invited to balance four elements in our lives. The first is service or work. And I think most of us do that in some way, shape or form. The second is [00:07:00] study or learning. And probably most of us do that in some way, shape or form as well.

The third is practice or cultivation. And I think probably these days more and more of us are doing that, which is great. And the fourth, actually, [to my surprise, back then] is play. So service learning, practice and play. These are the four elements I, I try my best to design my life around in the sense of my schedule.

And that gives me, I guess, the energy to do what I do right now, at least.

Laura: That's so interesting. I love those four pillars. I'm wondering, which do you think, in your opinion, is the one that most of us entrepreneurs, business folk are lacking? Is there one in particular that you feel is quite deserted?

Moses: I would say two: probably practice and play, but, in particular, play.

I think business people, entrepreneurs, and we, people who focus on creating impact... we suck at play. We're so hyper-focused, laser focused on impact, on [00:08:00] what's the best way to get there, that we don't give ourselves some space, really to do nothing. Once a week in the monastery on Monday, we had a day called lazy day. And we had one objective on lazy day, if you would call it an objective. It was to do nothing.

Honestly, one of the hardest things I had to do every week was just literally have no schedule and nothing to do on a Monday, but I think that's the idea of play: giving space for spontaneity and, you know, just doing nothing. That's I think probably very hard for entrepreneurs and impact-focused people.

Laura: So, so play is not just, you know, I'm going to go play a round of tennis or let's pull out a board game. We're talking about play in a wider context of leaving space, is that right? Like just leaving space for anything to happen.

Moses: Yeah. It's play with a flavor of aimlessness. Are we able to play without really an end objective?

You know, and be with fully. Are we able to have a, a day or, you know, a period of time without anything on our calendar and just be spontaneous? That's [00:09:00] tough for me personally. So I just want to put it out there.

Laura: I love that. I want Monday plays. Clement, can we integrate that?

Clement: Yes. Yes. I mean, uh, in the course or in the Spaceship team?

Laura: I think we should integrate it for everybody. I think everyone should take a Monday aimless day.

Clement: So do you see the play as something related to mindfulness or, like, if you are able to play, you are able to be more mindful in a sense, or like, is there a connection there? Because if you see that this is lacking from most entrepreneurs and impact entrepreneurs, as well, do you see that this could be kind of an obstacle to mindfulness?

Moses: I think so. And, you know, mindfulness, as one of my teachers likes to say, it's always mindfulness of something, right. And if you just, just look at a child playing or bring to mind a child that's playing-- they're completely immersed in the moment, whether it's toys or with friends or with imaginary figures. Just fully there. Fully, fully [00:10:00] there.

So I think play in many ways is a gateway to presence. It's the gateway to being mindful and it's always mindful of something. So whether it's being mindful of the way you're engaging with your stakeholders, being mindful of the way you're engaging with yourself, your team. I think play offers a very wonderful and easy way to be with that.

But, it doesn't also have to be playing in and of itself. It's really also, how do we fully be with whatever we are doing? So if we are drinking a cup of tea or coffee or whatever beverage of choice to re-energize us... are we actually drinking the beverage or are we drinking some worries or how to do this, right?

And I think there are many opportunities in the day, without necessarily having to even carve out time for play, that we have a chance to practice mindfulness. Which is really the art of fully being with what is, wherever you are.

Clement: Thanks. And why is mindfulness important to talk about when it comes to business?

[00:11:00] Moses: Absolutely. It's, it is critical, in a nutshell. Just to give a working definition of mindfulness, it is the ability to be focused and aware. I gave a more poetic definition earlier, but if I'm getting really concrete here, it's these two qualities. Why is focus important? Well, if we're not there, whether we're with a customer, stakeholder, team member, you know, we're not able to receive information fully.

So we may be missing out on signals and on a more personal level, it directly correlates to our output. To our ability to produce results. There's an acronym that, uh, sometimes I use in my training, which is that we live in a PAID reality: pressure, always on, information overload and, therefore, distracted. And that, that's only increasing.

So basically, if we're not able to manage our attention, we're not able to receive signals, information from others, fully and not able to deliver the output that we hope to. So that's just working with focus in and of [00:12:00] itself. Um, But I think awareness is equally important to speak to here as well. You know, if we're looking for creative ideas for innovations, this is where we need to have the ability to, you know, relax our awareness.

Allowing our awareness to... get inspired and, you know, as Steve jobs would like to say, creativity is really about making connections. So by training the muscle of awareness, you then have the greater ability to not only get inspired, but to make connections where, previously they either were not there or not well expressed. Whether in your mind or in the world.

And that's, I think very critical to any form of entrepreneurial endeavor. I think maybe just one last point to mention here that I think underlies both focus and awareness, is really around your own levels of resilience. As an entrepreneur, especially an impact entrepreneur, while you're often so focused on creating impact for everybody, that awareness of your inner state.

How stressed are you, how much tension are you holding in your body? How long can you be running at this [00:13:00] pace that you're at? It's very, very key and critical and being very conscious about how you're focusing your time and attention. So I would say in a nutshell, mindfulness helps us to be more focused, to get more results, to be more aware, to be more creative and also to be more resilient.

Laura: That's so interesting this, this idea of resilience. Clement and I, we talk about this often, maybe not using that word, but we, we speak a lot about, you know, how things take time and it taking time can sometimes be painful in itself. And, um, just having the energy and the stamina to keep up with your...your own self and your own baby that you're creating, the work that you're creating and materializing.

And so when we talk about resilience, what's your definition of it? I mean, I have my own, um, I'm just trying to relate it to this idea of mindfulness as a whole. What... can you speak more to that connection?

Moses: Yeah, happy to. To me, resilience is the ability to rest in the eye of the storm. And what that means [00:14:00] really is to be able to find both inner and outer peace, amidst challenging, and sometimes even chaotic, uh, circumstances.

And specifically, if I'm being concrete here, a bit more, there's sort of three qualities here, the ability to be present to what is rather than having a wandering mind. And I think many of us experienced this with COVID recently looking at the news, checking the stats. Uh, which probably may not necessarily help us. But being present to what is and what's really within your, you know, circle of influence and control.

And the second is around being unhooked, right? We may face, you know, many setbacks or challenges, but, you know, unhooking from that negativity and being in a space of possibility, I think. And the third is, you know, it's very natural for us to fall down and get unbalanced. So it's also the ability to rebalance, right? To sort of calibrate.

 One sort of misconception I would like to just sort of maybe call out, is that I think sometimes it's this idea that resilience means performing at your peak all the time. [00:15:00] I don't think that's realistic or actually humanly possible. I think it's much more about calibration, your ability to be present, to be unhooked and to rebalance when times are tough.

Clement: And how do you see the link between present... and you mentioned also about awareness, and I think this is really important and maybe mindfulness, awareness, I definitely see the link. How do you see awareness being a driver to get inspired, but also in your personal life? I mean, what do you see in your life being your North Star and how did you play with the awareness to kind of discover it?

Uh, or how would you recommend to use the awareness to kind of find your North Star?

Moses:  Hmm. Hmm. I think, I think there's sort of two parts of what you just shared, Clement. I think first there's, you know, why care about awareness? I'm being a bit crude here. There's a lovely quote by Bill Hanover, which you may have heard or came across, [00:16:00] but just really the success of any intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervener.

In other words, you are the vessel for change. If you're trying to bring about some sort of impact into the world, you are that vessel. And therefore bringing that awareness to what sort of vessel you are is very, very critical. Not just from a, from a sustainability standpoint, for yourself, but also the way you make others feel and the way your team would feel, as well.

So that's just more to that piece. And I think to the piece around, you know, North Star, just going out on a limb here a little bit... I think the idea that we all have one true North Star is a little bit overrated and probably not very helpful most of the time. The poet David White, he has his idea of the conversational reality of life.

So I think to make that really, really concrete, I think it is helpful and important for us to, you know, to set an intention. And to clarify that intention for ourselves, you [00:17:00] know, what is, what has meaning for me? What is something that I can add value to, or contribute to? And sort of setting that intention for yourself.

But then I think what is very key here is to hold that intention very, very lightly. And then to bring in that awareness, to tune in to causes and conditions. I may have this specific idea of what I would like to do in the world, but maybe the causes and conditions are not sufficient or inviting me to do something else.

If we don't have awareness, we won't be able to pick up those signals. We won't be able to pivot - to use a word. Or to calibrate what our intention is or to even clarify what it is. So I think it's really a process of discovery. So not just totally shut down the idea of purpose, I think is important.

But to hold it lightly, to tune in with awareness and then to calibrate along the way. There's a story of a 17th century Zen master, that really sort of stuck with me. This is from a book called Standing at the Edge by Roshi Joan Halifax, who is a [00:18:00] very well-known Zen teacher and also social activist. And basically, the story is about an exchange between this Zen master and one of his students.

So one of his students basically asks him, 'So, you know, Zen master, what is the essence of your practice. Of all these years that you practice, what is the essence of it?' And the Zen master said, 'Whatever is needed. Whatever will serve.' And to me, that is, that is my mantra. I mean, I have a, my North star is really to hopefully help to make life a more beautiful world.

That embraces interconnection, that embraces regeneration over destruction, but I really do my best to try to tune in and see how I can be of service from moment to moment. Including this podcast, hopefully.

Laura: That's so interesting. I really like this additional dimension to this idea of purpose or North star or Ikigai or whatever you want to call it.

And it's leaving me with a few more questions for you because the truth is there've been moments in