Surfing the Cosmic Seas of the Mandala:
The Spiritual Art of Paul Heussenstamm
By Meryl Ann Butler
P-s-s-s-s-st! There’s a Shangri-La hiding in Orange County! When the door to Paul Heussenstamm’s home and art studio opens, we are transported to Tibet, Indonesia and India by the beauty of the sculpted deities and art objects brought back from his extensive travels. Once inside, Heussenstamm’s stunning paintings, covering every inch of wall space in this Laguna Beach sanctuary, are mesmerizing. His artwork immediately resonates on a deep level, stirring the soul.
Paul’s paintings depict many aspects of the Sacred: multitudes of hands bestowing blessings, all-seeing Buddha eyes radiating light, lotus reflections dancing in ponds, and Tantric lovers embracing for eternity. The artwork seems to be enveloped by sounds of the ocean rushing through the open windows and blessed by the goddess statues in the magical gardens.
Most of his art is in the form of mandalas, an ancient and archetypal image based on a series of circular shapes. As Paul shares the stories behind the images in each breathtaking painting, he gently entices us toward a closer connection with the Divine. For him, it’s all about “exploring the Sacred through seeing the beauty.”
But before Paul created his mandalas, he was seduced by the sea. A youthful 57, Paul has been a passionate surfer for 45 years. When asked how often he surfs, he smiles, “every day that the surf is good,” and that’s been true for him since the age of 12. He laughs as he fondly recounts the many times his father allowed him to skip school so he wouldn’t miss a perfect wave.
And even now, Paul admits that looking for him at his studio in the early morning is fruitless if there is a wave to be found on the coast.
Paul opened his surf shop in Newport Beach in 1974. It was not long before it evolved into a successful, award-winning, multi-million dollar chain of surf shops. Life was good. Looking back, he describes himself as a “golden boy,” successful in business and enjoying life as father, husband, and provider while living in a magnificent home in Emerald Bay — all without ever having to miss a day of surfing!
Then suddenly Paul’s life crumbled around him. Everything he valued as part of himself began to crumble — home, relationships, business, lifestyle. He was imploding, and would later discover that the psychological terminology for this classic, archetypal experience was “the dark night of the soul.” What he knew in that moment was that he was in hell.
In as struggle to heal his heartbreak, Paul sought out spiritual teachers, therapists and art classes. One day, while attending a workshop facilitated by Brugh Joy, a mandala emerged spontaneously from Paul’s brush. At the time he didn’t know what it was, but it spiraled him toward a deep relationship with his soul.
One of the great primordial symbols of humankind, the mandala has its foundations in Eastern cultures. In Sanskrit the word means both circle and center, and the art form generally includes a center, radial symmetry and cardinal points. Just as they have done for many hundreds of years, today’s Buddhist monks still “paint” traditional mandalas with carefully-placed colored sand. One particularly intricate pattern called the Kalachakra Mandala portrays 722 separate deities within the design!
After days or weeks of meticulous work by a team of monks, these extraordinarily-complex mandalas are used in Buddhist religious ceremonies, and are often also available for viewing. When the events have concluded, the sand mandala is ritually swept up and the grains of sand dispersed into a river during a sacred rite to honor nature. According to the Buddhist tradition, sand mandala painting was first taught by the historical Buddha in the 6th Century in India, and the continuous lineage of these teachings extends through to the current, exiled Dalai Lama.1
Carl Jung is credited with introducing this ancient symbol to Western consciousness. His classic Man and His Symbols memorably featured a mandala on the cover. Jung called it a “…cryptogram (encoded message) concerning the state of the self.” In Mandala, a multicultural exploration of the art form, authors Jose and Miriam Arguelles say the mandala “…symbolizes the various levels of awareness within the individual as well as the energy that unifies and heals. Making a mandala is a universal activity, a self-integrating ritual.”
As a portal to the soul, the mandala represents the center from which we all came, and to which we will return, the alpha and the omega. And through connecting with the soul, making mandalas can heal the broken heart. Joseph Campbell2 says, “Making a mandala is a discipline for pulling all those scattered aspects of your life together...”
Communing with the soul requires learning its language — the wordless song of color, creativity, images and textures. The subconscious mind responds powerfully to the compelling language of imagery. In the blockbuster DVD movie, The Secret, a boy manifests a bicycle through focusing on photos of the bike he wants, and a bachelor artist manifests a relationship by painting a picture of himself alongside the woman he desires. In a similar way, qualities of the soul, such as peace, love and joy, can be invited into our experience through their symbolic representation in a mandala.
Paul later realized the spontaneous mandala that emerged during the workshop was a lifeline tossed to him by his own soul.
Just as cutting through a tree reveals concentric rings of growth, Paul had
sliced through himself to find his own mandala within. And when that dam broke
open, his mandala paintings flooded forth.
Paul’s first two stunning mandala paintings were purchased immediately by Brugh Joy and Barbara Streisand. Now, nearly 1,000 paintings later, he is still mesmerized with the mandala, and with surfing the inner waters of its meaning. And he discovers more to delight his soul in the curl of every wave.
It is from his own experience that he tells his Mandala Workshop students, “If you paint and surround yourself with sacred art, it will change your life. You will find out that you are not alone in your body; there is a soul in there with you!” In his workshops in California, and around the world, Paul invites his students, many of whom have never taken an art class before, to a love affair with their own soul. As one self-proclaimed “reluctant artist” reported, “somehow, magic occurs.”
In Paul’s Mandala Studio, a team of painters contributes to each piece of art created there. Paul’s philosophy contrasts with the prevailing Western view that an artist’s work should be created from his own distinct and individual personality. Paul’s point of view springs from the Eastern perspective that the various aspects of divinity can best participate in the creation of artwork through a variety of painters.
This practice of co-creation was common in the traditional art world of many of the Old Masters. Rembrandt, Rubens and Raphael all ran studios with scores, even hundreds of painters, communally creating each work of art. Even contemporary artists like renowned glassmaker Dale Chihuly employ this type of communal method when creating their masterpieces.
Unlike the Old Masters, however, Paul does not sign his name on the front of the painting. He bases this preference on the Eastern philosophy of remaining anonymous in order to honor the Divine Artist. And he notes that Georgia O’Keeffe never signed her paintings, saying ‘the flower should stand in its own beauty.”
In a compromise with Western sensitivities, however, Paul does sign the paintings on the back. And, each piece of art that emerges from his Mandala Studio has his unmistakable fingerprint: his invitation to discover the ultimate love affair with the soul.
Paul’s mandalas and sacred artwork have been in books3, magazines, and movies. Various forms of his mandala painting, Sri Yantra Magic, were featured in several scenes of the metaphysical sci-fi movie The Last Mimzy, though viewing the credit listings won’t reward the attentive reader with a mention of Paul’s name.
A number of Paul’s paintings will be featured in the upcoming TV movie Holidays in Handcuffs starring Melissa Joan Hart and Mario Lopez, and directed by Ron Underwood, which will air as part of ABC Family’s annual 25 Days of Christmas programming event in December.
Heussenstamm’s work is in the collections of many notables, including Margot Anand, Deepak Chopra, Ram Dass, Mark Victor Hansen, Eckhart Tolle and Doreen Virtue. Collectors also include Mr. and Mrs. Dan Aykroyd, Annie Lennox, and Olympian Mark Foster. And his work is also in the royal collections of Lord Constantine of Stanmore and the Viscountess of Windsor.
“Higher Consciousness,” is a rotating exhibit of more than two dozen major pieces of Paul’s work, on exhibit through December at the Agape International Spiritual Center, 5700 Buckingham Pkwy, Culver City, CA. For viewing times, please call (310) 348-1250, ext. 400.
Rev. Dr. Michael Bernard Beckwith, founder and spiritual director of the Agape Center for more than two decades, and well-knownthrough his appearance in the blockbuster spiritual movie, The Secret, welcomes visitors to the exhibit. Beckwith says, “from Hindu, Buddhist, Native American, Aboriginal to Christian — the deity figures Paul has transferred to canvas symbolize the transcendental qualities of the Ineffable and the metaphysical principles from which the Universe has emerged.” Dr. Beckwith notes that Paul’s work is an appropriate fit with “the trans-religious spirit of Agape inclusiveness.”
All of the magnificent art in this exhibition was painted in Paul’s Laguna
Beach studio — his lagoon of creativity, the watery temple from which his
extraordinary mandalas are born. Heussenstamm’s art rises in sacred celebration
from the pools of the unconscious, bestowing blessings of the heart upon all who
1According to the Government of Tibet in exile, http://www.tibet.com/Buddhism/kala1.html
2 The Power of Myth, 1988
3 including Unbound Spirit: Personal Stories of Transformation by Edward L., Walsh, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Tantric Sex by Judy Kuriansky and A Space for Silence by Alen MacWeeney and Caro Ness
For additional information on Paul’s workshop schedule, call (949) 497-2708, visit mandalas.com, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Meryl Ann Butler is a modern-day Renaissance woman: artist, educator, writer, designer of wearable art, labyrinth builder, intuitive reader, mother of eight and author of “90-Minute Quilts: 15+ Projects You Can Make in an Afternoon.” (Krause, Dec 2006) www.merylannbutler.com
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