Eckhart Tolle, Zen, and the Art of MUTTS Comic Strips

Patrick McDonnell, the cartoonist of the MUTTS comic strip, shares his love for Eckhart Tolle books and animal advocacy.

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You’re involved in a number of animal environmental charities, and you’re on the Board of the Humane Society. What was the catalyst for your involvement in these charities?

When I started this strip, I really started seeing…how tough it is on this planet for animals. That’s why I started putting “Shelter Stories” in my strip and began writing about animals on the planet. This got me in touch with HSUS. They asked me to be on the Board, and I was surprised and honored. It’s a wonderful organization, especially with Wayne Pacelle as the CEO. Being on the Board, I see so many different problems that animals face: From extinction to factory farming and from puppy mills to dog fighting. There are so many horrors going on in this planet by humans to animals. At the core, the real problem is just our being unconscious. We have to realize we’re all sharing this planet together.

You have an animal and earth-friendly philosophy that you are deeply invested in. What are some of the steps that you take to live this philosophy every day?

I think a big one is going vegetarian; that was one of the smartest things I ever did. Ten billion animals are slaughtered for meat consumption annually just in the United States alone. Just cutting out some of your meat-eating will save millions of animals. We can all be more conscious of what we buy and what we wear and what we eat.

How would you describe your spiritual background? Is there a spiritual practice that you’re involved in that influences your passion for preserving the earth and taking care of its animals?

I start every morning reading a spiritual book, and I read them all. I don’t say I’m any one religion. To tell you the truth, I feel like my spiritual practice is my art. Creating art is sort of a meditation. Sitting at the drawing board is a big form of meditation for me; you’re definitely in the now when you create art. The artist in me really related to Eckhart’s book, “The Power of Now” because I just feel that’s what you do as an artist. You stay in the present moment, let the ego go, let the ideas come, and you try to get in touch with that deeper place. The tough part is trying to continue that practice and be in the now in everyday life. When I’m at the drawing board, I always feel like it’s a very spiritual place.

Author Alice Sebold described your artistry as having a “Zen-like clarity.” All your comic strips and children’s books have illustrations with text that is deceptively simple, but there’s always an important big theme, a spiritual message: to love one another, take care of the earth, and remember there’s joy. What inspires you to choose these themes? Is there a creative process?

After a while, when you do a daily comic strip, a lot of who you are has to come out. For me, one of the things I loved about comic strips is their simplicity and directness--you have so little space to play in. I compare them to Haikus or poetry. You have to get to the essence of something fast. That’s sort of a Zen-like quality, to say as much as you can, with as little as possible. In one of Eckhart’s books, “Stillness Speaks,” he talks about his writings being like sutras. That’s at the heart of comic strips. You really have to get right to the point.

If you weren’t a cartoonist today, what career path do you think you would have taken?

I love music. I’m in awe of people who can compose symphonies. I’d love to compose a symphony.

What spiritual lessons has your comic strip or your dog, Earl, taught you?

Well, that’s funny. I was thinking about this the other day. Cartoonists make everything come to life showing that everything is a spark of the divine in a humorous way. Every rock, tree, and animal has something to teach us, and they’re filled with the life force. My dog, Earl was the total inspiration for my strip. If I could capture any of his joy of life in my comic, that is my real job. Just like Eckhart talks about in [“Guardians of Being”], they are our portals to the present moment. You can’t be thinking all crazy thoughts when your cat’s in your lap purring. You just relax and let it go.

Who’s your role model? Is there one person that you continually look to for advice?

I met and became friends with my hero, Charles Schulz. Not only in his art, but in his life, he was an inspiration. Lately, I’ve had the pleasure and honor to meet Jane Goodall. She’s a powerful presence and a living saint. Whenever I get a little discouraged, I always think of Jane Goodall and how much hope she has.

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