Guardians of Being: Spiritual Teachings from Our Dogs and Cats pairs original words by spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle with delightful illustrations by Patrick McDonnell, the creator of the acclaimed comic strip MUTTS. We hope you’ll enjoy this interview with Patrick about his collaboration with Eckhart, his inspiration, and the importance of connecting with animals.
How did Guardians of Being come to be?
This book is a collaboration of Eckhart’s teachings and my MUTTS cartoon illustrations. As does all of Eckhart’s work, Guardians of Being teaches us about finding inner peace by living in the now, the transformation of our consciousness, and the arising of a more enlightened humanity. The primary signposts in this book are all of nature and, in particular, our beloved dogs and cats.
Guardians of Being reminds us why we love our companion animals. It illuminates for us their divine purpose. While we are lost in our thoughts and the busyness of everyday life, they have become the key to the present moment, our guardians of being.
How did you become aware of Eckhart’s teachings?
In 1999, while traveling in Los Angeles and visiting one of my favorite bookstores (The Bodhi Tree), I saw The Power of Now on their new-arrival shelf. I was compelled to bring that book home; it moved me with its directness, simplicity, and place of deep truth. As it has done for millions, The Power of Now changed my life. Since then, I have continued to follow Eckhart’s work. His teachings inspire MUTTS, and many strips have a direct connection to them.
How is it that a spiritual teacher and a cartoonist collaborated?
Eckhart speaks often that true happiness is found in simple things, but you need to be present. He says that animals and all of nature can teach us that presence. That same teaching is at the heart of MUTTS. Seeing a photo of Eckhart with his dog, Maya, gave me the impetus to pursue this project. I thought combining my art with Eckhart’s teachings on how animals and nature can bring us into the present moment could be a good entry point “into the now” for some people.
I created a proposal for the book, and Eckhart graciously agreed to collaborate. He edited quotes I selected from his prior talks, interviews, and books and wrote new material for what was to become Guardians of Being
. He created a passionate, humorous, enlightening meditation on the power and grace that animals can bring into our lives.
Why is it important to connect with animals?
Animals are our link back to nature. Walking a dog, petting a cat, or simply watching birds outside a window can take you outside yourself and into the bigger picture. Our companion animals remind us of the responsibility we have in the stewardship of our planet and all its creatures. The simple, everyday choices we make — like what we eat, wear, recycle, and think, and how we treat each other — can help make the world a better, friendlier place.
You have won numerous awards, not only for cartooning but for your work surrounding animal-protection issues. Can you speak about how your animal- and earth-friendly philosophy influences your work?
Animals are one with life and can be our link back to nature. In MUTTS I try to keep the animals animal-like. In trying to see the world through their eyes, I have become more aware of and empathic to their situation.
I’ve been on the board of directors of The Humane Society of the United States for nine years. The mission of The HSUS is to create a humane and sustainable world for all animals — a world that will also benefit people. Through education, advocacy, and public-policy reform, the organization works to prevent animal cruelty, exploitation, and neglect as well as to protect wild habitats and the entire community of life.
But at the core there is just one problem: unconsciousness. We no longer feel connected to nature, to the life force. In Guardians of Being
, Eckhart shows us the way to reconnect: “When you are present you can sense the spirit, the one consciousness, in every creature and love it as yourself.”
You’re a friend to the environment as well as animals. Why is this important to you? Why is it important for animals?
Doing a strip about animals reminds me that all life on this planet is fragile. More and more, I became an environmentalist, and it was natural that I would create MUTTS themes centered on the same. We all need to be more responsible when it comes to our environment.
When did you decide to become a cartoonist?
I wanted to be a cartoonist as far back as I can remember. I’ve always loved the simplicity, immediacy, intimacy, and absurdity of the comic-strip medium. From the start, I was enchanted by how a few simple pen-and-ink lines can come to life on the page, which is, for me, the magic of cartooning. Many great comic strips (such as Peanuts, Krazy Kat, and Popeye) spoke to me directly, and I always wanted to give back some of the joy and comfort I found there. And, at its best, the humor and truth of a comic strip go beyond the obvious.
MUTTS, my comic strip about a dog, Earl, and his unlikely friend, a cat named Mooch, started in 1994. MUTTS focuses on experiencing the natural world (gentle rain, quiet flurries, full moons…) and that special bond that forms between companion animals and their guardians. My own Jack Russell terrier, Earl, was my inspiration. Earl was my teacher; he constantly celebrated life. I tried my best to convey his joie de vivre and good-hearted spirit in my strip.
How does your work on books compare to your process producing a daily comic?
Books and comic strips are different mediums, but my books are in some ways similar to my comic strip. I’m still telling stories with words and pictures. But books allow me to expand artistically and to tell a longer, more formal story.
Walk us through your creative process.
Making art can be a form of meditation. I start my day in the early morning by reading a passage or two from a spiritual book to keep my head and heart open. When it’s time to develop ideas, I sit in my drawing room with a sketch pad. The secret is to just get out of the way and let the ideas come. I really know my characters, so they tend to just write themselves to a certain extent. I know how they act. I put them in different situations, and they usually come through for me. I am very fond of Mooch and Earl.
What was your initial inspiration for MUTTS? Does that inspiration endure?
MUTTS is about my love for the art form of the comic strip, and it is also about my love for animals. My main inspiration for MUTTS was Earl. I’ve always felt that if I could capture any of his joyful spirit on paper, I was doing my job.
Not only have my inspirations endured, but my love for both animals and the comic-strip medium have grown exponentially since I started the strip.
Is there a life lesson we can take from all the animals we encounter?
Animals are living in the here and now. Our companion animals are not judging us, they are simply being with us. And they want to be with us. I think that’s what we refer to when we say “unconditional love.” If we ourselves could stop judging and just be in the moment, we could all be at peace. Animals can be the portal.