I want to tell you a brief story. It’s a story about art and salvation, about dharma and distraction. And then I want to tell you about a remarkable man whose talents merge Charles Schultz with Siddhartha. Because, really, both the story and the man are about paying attention to what’s happening in your creative and existential own margins and not to what others necessarily tell you to pay attention to.
First, the story.
A Mind in the Margins
The doodles in the margins of my English homework took me to quiet places. As Miss Leach lectured on Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” my pencil drew loops on the paper’s right border, that space bound by a straight vertical line of faint red printer’s ink that demarcated where your writing was to stop and return to the next line, left margin.
That space was, to my 13-year-old way of tow-headed thinking, “No man’s land,” and since I was “no man,” my psychedelic doodles like stealth spy boats could take me there.
It was 1978, after all, and for a short stint “Doodle Art” had been a fast fad. Not three years earlier, my older sister, mother, and even father could come together at the same table for 30 minutes or so to doodle a dragon scene. But in those three years, my sister had left for college, my father had left for good, and my mind was having a difficult time staying out of the margins.
“Jeffrey! What are you doing?” Miss Leach yanked my English homework from my desk. Miss Leach was kind, had aspirations to be Barbara Streisand, and had once tried to teach my best friend Joe Driskill and me to drive her 1974 Valiant before I of course landed us in a country ditch, but she had her standards. “You do not doodle on your homework!” she said.
But I do, I thought. “Yes, ma’am,” I said.
“Why do you this?” she said. It wasn’t the first time. She really wanted to know.
“I don’t know. Sometimes I don’t know I’m doing it,” and it was true.
I know now. Sort of. Doodling helped me think. It gave me sanctuary. I used to fake being sick so I could stay home and draw. My grandfather, a printer, used to make blank flip pads for me to use for my elaborate cartoon stories. Doodling stayed with me, and Miss Leach clearly saw it as a symptom of something. Distraction? Disturbance?
The Dharma Doodler
I don’t know what Miss Leach saw in me. But I do know that when a few weeks ago Jonathan Fields shared a video of Eric Klein doodling dharma in his studio, something went off in my tow-headed soul alarm.
Within five minutes, I commissioned Eric to doodle my dharma. It would be a birthday present to myself.
Here’s how it worked: We scheduled a time to talk. The conversation alone was worth the commission fee. He asked me questions about my path; I asked him questions about his. He asked me what gets in my way; I asked what gets in his.
Eric grew up in New York among artists and galleries. He gave it a go as an artist, but the theories and haughty attitudes didn’t stick. Doodling, though, did.
Eric left his college prep school for an ashram – a yogic spiritual center – and ultimately followed his teacher and found his lifelong wife. He became one of the few people to be a holder for a 5,000-year lineage and a bestselling author as he spread a powerful new message to corporations, a message about awakening and about dharma – our life’s teachings.
And then doodling looped back into Eric’s life. He has added to his devotions a devotion to another lineage of masters.
Charles Schultz. Maurice Sendack. Shel Siverstein.
“There are classic forms to learn and to master,” he told me with reverence.
After a brisk 45 minutes, an hour, he said, “I think I’ve got it, the image, I mean.” The image for my dharma doodle.
A dharma doodle is Eric’s way of mirroring back to you –
with delight, with wonder, with evocative images and minimalist words – a part of your path.
I couldn’t wait. Really. I didn’t even tell my wife what I had done. I just told her I had had a special conversation.
The next week it arrived in a package carefully sealed and wrapped with a handwritten card enclosed. I unwrapped it with my 3-year-old daughter’s help and my wife’s anticipation. My daughter squealed. My wife squealed. If I can squeal, I squealed.
Here it is.
Eric has never seen me in person, but he sees me. And I have a new chant that goes, “Hmmm… Hey! Ho!”
But, you see, to have your dharma seen and reflected back to you with such color, charm, and clarity is a gift beyond words (yet not beyond three resonant syllables :-)).
Living & Creating in the Margins
Your path can do this sort of loopy thing, can’t it? A part of your life that seems irrelevant and cast to the margins can circle back around like the hook of a question mark and be at the center of who you are.
On one level, we know now that the goldfish of creative insight that float in a mind’s aquarium often flash in the margins. Only the calm artist with enough awareness of how his mind’s waves work might notice and capture that fishy idea or image.
On another level, we know that the most random comment – heard, harnessed, and transformed – can lead to a best-selling song, novel, or business.
We know that the most mundane moment can also be the most wondrous, memorable, and transformational.
And on another level, we know that sometimes it is that marginal obsession or quirk, that marginal inclination or thought that might actually define us in more radiant ways than what we turn in for our homework.
Live and create in the margins.
Doodle your way to dharma.
And commission Eric for your own dharma doodle or for a gift to someone you love who might appreciate being seen with wit, wisdom, and delight.
What are your thoughts about doodling your way to dharma and living & creating in the margins? Would love to hear your thoughts, stories, protests, and questions.
Grateful to run with you,