Today I spoke with my teacher Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo for the first time after she returned from taking a tour group to India to explore all that India has to offer including places where she studied and worked for so many years. I was aware that despite me living in Melbourne, Australia and Leslie living on the other side of the world in California, USA I had a strange sense of peace knowing she was ‘home’ (her home). I often wonder at the connection we can have with people near and far and how we assume that to have a connection we have to know them at all.

After my chat with Leslie I decided to take  new direction with a project I was working on. This meant that much of my afternoon was about wrapping cords for this new project and as I did so, I started to reflect on the many small imperfections of the thread. The thread is Varanasi silk thread, the same thread used in the authentic Tibetan applique thangka’s. As I wrapped my third cord I wondered about the man or woman in Varanasi, India, that had spun this thread or wrapped this spool and whether they experienced the same fatigue that I sometimes experience. Did their hands cramp a little with age and use? Did their eyes sometimes just get tired, and did they close their eyes and breathe just for a moment and savor the relief that came in that moment? Did the light fade in the same way in the late afternoon and pose the same challenges for the naked eye to discern detail? Did this small inconsistency in the thread occur for any of these reasons?

For a beautiful moment I totally empathized with an older woman sitting on the ground surrounded by ‘life’ working hard for small gains. My fatigue was her fatigue, my cramping hands were her cramping hands  and my tired eyes were her tired eyes ….and so blessed with glasses, magnifying lamps, lights and other comforts, I was so humbled and honored to be working with this precious authentic thread and so very grateful for all its imperfections. Thank you to the person that made this thread, for all your hard work, who ever and where ever you are.

May you be free from harm and danger
May you be free from mental suffering
May you be free from physical suffering
May you take care of yourself happily. 
Sword of Manjushri – by Kerryn (Lobsang Dadrol) 2013
          Project of Stitching Buddha’s by Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo

Stitching Buddha’s in Australia

by Rinchen Khandro Tsomo (Kerryn Coombe)

Stitching quietly on my projects today it occurred to me that I am the only woman in Australia doing this apprenticeship – learning how to make traditional Tibetan Buddhist Applique Thangka’s from one of the only Western Woman trained in the rare Buddhist art of silk appliqué thangka’s, Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo. Leslie has “created silk Thangkas for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Namgyal Monastery, Gyuto Tantric College, Sogyal Rinpoche, and others.” How very privileged I am.

However, while I love quiet moments to learn and to really engage with the process of creating images in this ancient and traditional Tibetan art form, I also a appreciate the potential for connection. Isn’t that what makes us unique as humans – our connection with each other, our sense of community?

Leslie is passionate about the preservation and evolution of this cultural tradition and uses modern technology to teach students from far reaches of the world. She wanted her Stitching Buddhas Virtual Apprentice Program to be more than just an online course. In an article featured in Fibre Art Now Leslie states “I felt like the people who were asking me to teach wanted something much deeper. They were drawn to he whole practice and lifestyle of the work. I wanted to offer them as much of that as I could.”

Leslie uses technology to ensure that the ‘Stitching Buddha’s’ as we are called, connect with each other. Students from each continent around the world connect together through video conferences, telephone conferences and one on one with Leslie, and a forum where we post our latest achievements, our challenges and our discoveries. Leslie also organizes an annual retreat where we also have the option of meeting in person and earlier in 2013 I attended the retreat in Oxnard, California. It was a beautiful house right on the canal, and walking distance from the beach. Despite the beauty of the surroundings and the fact I hadn’t been to the US before I was not at all distracted from beauty and immersion in the art we were creating. Hanging up right in front of us every day was the Thangka that was blessed by the Dalai Lama, the intricate work of which was inspirational and every day another fascinating facet of the work would catch ones eye.

More recently Leslie has taken tours of India and these tours also include visits to where she stayed and studied in Dharamsala, and also Varanasi where the silk fabrics and threads we use are made. Definitely on my bucket list of things to do!

As I sit and stitch I often contemplate how wonderful it would be to share this experience with others in Australia – I would love it if others joined me on this unique journey, to have catch ups and share experiences . Becoming a ‘Stitching Buddha’ does not require that you have past skills in needlework;  it does not require lots of time – it allows you to go at your own pace. It is also not limited to ‘Buddhists’ – it transcends all cultures and religions.

It is so much more than stitching it is a meditation practice of its own, a connection with ones own spirituality – an opportunity learn about oneself in the process.

To learn more about this art form check out my teacher Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo on her website –

you can also follow Leslie on her Facebook page

Stitching Buddha's Retreat 2013

Thangka ‘Buddha Shakyamuni’ by Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo. Stitching Buddha’s Retreat 2013

Piecing the vase

Treasure Vase: One of the practice projects on the ‘Stitching Buddha’s’ path.

Self-Care: Mindfulness in Action

These last couple of months have been a hive of activity as Menla Healing (or rather I) took up a number of challenges the least of which was a trip to Oxnard, CA in the US for a ‘Stitching Buddha’s” retreat where women from around the world gathered under the watchful eye of our teacher Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo to develop our skills in the ancient art of Tibetan Applique.

What does this have to do with pain or Menla Healing? Menla Healing is about managing pain both emotional and physical. Menla Healing promotes self-compassion and care …. and this is how I chose to care for myself. This form of art aids expression, is spiritual and healing, and it lends itself to contemporary pain management strategies such as ‘pacing’.

This ancient applique process used in the making of Tibetan Buddhist Thangka’s offer’s opportunities for practice and self-care no matter how much pain or discomfort you are in. On ‘good’ days one could wrap cords and do the most intricate of work. On days where this is not possible fabrics could be ”stabilized’, or longer less intricate pieces could be stitched and couched. On days that demand stillness, the projects and the course material can be reviewed, images of the works of Masters (including those of Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo) can be perused, or one may prefer to just sit and examine fabrics and threads making choices of textures, colours and designs for the next project.

Pain doesn’t mean we need to lose touch or give up the things we love doing. There is always something that this art form offers no matter where one is with pain, even if that is ‘just sitting’ and accepting.

This art form is also such a beautiful Buddhist practice – the act of stitching is mindfulness in action. Each piece is symbolic and rich in teachings and opportunities for meditation.

One learns a great deal about ones mind while in meditative contemplation of each stitch.

Medicine Buddha's Hand    White_Tara

For more information on this art form click on the White Tara image below or follow this link – Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo’s Threads of Awakening website.