It starts by saying “YES” to the tiny yes. CJ interviews former technologist from Facebook, Leah Pearlman, about her career and life change after her father died of cancer. She shares some of her favorite Dharma Comics on air from her new book “Drawn Together” to explain her curious journey through life and love.
Q: Drawn Together is a collection of favorite and never-before-published Dharma Comics. Tell us about the origins of Dharma Comics?
In 2011 a friend brought me a small brown notebook from India with an elephant on the cover. In it, I began keeping my first gratitude journal. I’d read somewhere that
Gratitude! Will! Change! Your Life! In the case of this gratitude journal, it did. Around the same time, my dad, who was also my best friend, had been battling cancer for years.
When he got the call that it had gone into remission, I drew a little stick figure comic strip in my gratitude journal thanking Cancer,“Thank you, Cancer!”for going away. I took a picture of that
entry and I posted it online. People liked it. I liked it. The next week I found myself drawing a comic for a friend about how he was following his heart and posted that online too.
In the six years since, nearly every week I have drawn comics to tell the stories of my life.
Q: What was the transition like when you quit your job as a technologist at Facebook to pursue Dharma Comics full-time?
When I left Facebook, I actually did it to found something called the Happiness Institute. It was a community space in San Francisco designed for people to come together in community to discover and uncover what makes them come alive. I was just drawing comics as a hobby for the first several years. It was only after the Happiness Institute closed that I realized this thing that I was just doing for fun, or for my own sake, was really catching on and growing, and could actually be its own thing. That’s when I started thinking of it as something to invest more time into and a friend came on board to help me start to think of it as a business. We revamped my website, experimented with different ways to sell products and share the comics more broadly. It’s been a few years of experimentation since.
My mom has drawings from when I was four or five that look remarkably similar to what I draw now. But I never had any intention of being an artist. I had a brief “actress”phase, but other than that, I was a sports kid, I was a brainy kid, all math and science. I liked to write, but even in 3rd grade I had a friend illustrate a story I’d written because art was not my thing. You can imagine my own surprise when I suddenly realized these silly stick figure drawings I was doing to get my point across about something, and to make myself and others smile, were actually
turning into a thing. I feel completely differently about Art now. I think compelling art changes the world, in the most beautiful, honest way; both in terms of the present pleasure it can provide,
as well as the inspiration for new thought, possibility, and change.
I never chose it, exactly. I had a message to share, about my dad’s cancer going away and stick figures were all I could draw, so comics it was. If I was a less literal person, perhaps I’d have
drawn something abstract, or if I had deep thoughts about fruit, I’d have drawn still-lifes. But I wanted to share little moments and insights about my day (I had already been a blogger for 10
years before I started drawing) and that usually involved people,so stick people are what I drew.
Q: How has drawing impacted your self-discovery or self-awareness?
At this point in my life, I’m deeply committed to self-discovery and self-awareness. I’d actually say that’s the main thing I’m up to with my life, studying all different kinds of practices, frequently in retreats learning or sharing what I know about self inquiry and understanding. Dharma Comics is one way I share what I learn in my inner journeys, but I often think of them more as the output of self-exploration as opposed to the means. Usually before I draw any comic, I’ve gone through some deep dive around a new learning, and the drawing is how I integrate it for myself and share it with others. I will say though, that now that I draw comics so regularly, I now pay more attention to “what is the beauty/humor here?”in any tough or emotional situation. I’ve been doing this long enough to know it’s always there, if I’m open to it, and if I don’t see it, it’s just that I don’t see it yet. So I would say drawing comics helps me keep an open heart and mind to most difficult situations so I’ll be able to see the gem that will turn into a comic.
Q: Would you describe yourself as a spiritual person?
I’m not sure how you define spirituality. But to me it basically refers to the sense that “Everything-is-ok” or PAI, a friend and I say,“Perfect As Is.” Also, that there is much more order to things
that most of us can perceive. So to answer your question,Yes. Definitely. Had you asked me 7 years ago, the answer would have been No, definitely not. I was a devout atheist and had no patience for anyone who believed in things they couldn’t see. Dharma Comics was born very shortly after I had a profound shift around the idea of spirituality.Sometimes I look at those adorable little faces of those comics I draw, and I wonder “Where did you come from!? I could not have planned this in a million years.”And in those moments, I trust in a sense that’s greater than I’ll ever understand.
A week later, after encouraging a friend to “follow his heart,” an image of someone literally following his heart popped into her mind. She laughed, and then put it on paper.
And so it goes. About once a week, ever since, she’s been moved by something or someone in her life. She illustrates the moment to celebrate it and the person who inspired her and posts the image online for anyone else it may touch. People often reflect that Dharma Comics have a deeply personal feel; that is because each one is deeply personal. They all have a story.
“Dharma” is a Sanskrit word, often used in Buddhism to refer to the teachings that offer us guidance in life. Dharma can also refer to one’s own purpose or path. Your “Dharma” is what you are meant to do. Leah often says the name is twofold: Dharma Comics are comics about Dharma, but they have also proven to be her dharma, what she is meant to do.