How a kid raised on waves and yogurt in California found a
calling in one of civilization’s most ancient healing arts.
As a boy, my household had gurus, swamis, health nuts, and actors often visiting. Meditation happened all through my formative years, and I was present for my father’s spiritual practice. I come from two artist parents, and by 18, I was surfing up and down the California Coast when meditation, health food, yogurt, and granola were being discovered in great numbers. Spirituality started in my childhood.
My surfing eventually became an initiation or rite of passage into a more creative life. It opened many doors, and by 21, I had traveled around the world three times before settling down to receive my degree in Fine Arts from the University of California, Irvine. I continued traveling all throughout my surfing years, but once I found the mandala (an ancient sacred symbol) and started to paint, my travels centered around sacred art, especially concepts from Asia.
Teacher training workshops bring inspired students to Paul’s, Laguna Beach studio to learn the craft. (L) Students work on a Chakra Ladder (R) Paul with one of his Bohdi Tree paintings
Having had a spiritual practice throughout young adulthood (yoga,meditation, vegetarianism,breath work, etc.), I found that as I transformed into a painter, it felt natural to make this the subject matter of each painting. My studio had a wonderful altar with several deity statues, like Golden Jambala (Buddhist God of Abundance) and Sarasvati (Goddess of the arts in the Hindu tradition) from which I drew inspiration.
At the age of 27, I was a successful surf shop owner in a solid marriage with two sons. By 33, my shop had grown into a multi-million dollar business. But from 33 to 40, I had to let go of the world. I had a significant life crisis, which changed everything, and I began to paint earnestly and with enthusiasm. It was the classic Christ Dark Night of the Soul (Christ was 33 when he went through a death and resurrection). During this time, my entire world was turned upside down. It started with a ski trip, lead to an illness, and ultimately ended up with a visit to the underworld inside myself. It took me two years to integrate those forces which were ranging from ecstasy to agony. During this time, my life as a business owner was ending, even despite the fact that I had recently won a Marty Award from the L.A. Clothing Retailers Association naming me the most influential retailer in the western United States. At 39, my marriage was over. At 40, I had custody of my two sons. Suddenly, I was a single father and divorceé, and all that I had considered “stable” was gone.
I had no choice but to paint to stay sane, but would I change my Dark Night because everything I had and known was leaving me? No! Would I change those difficult times when there was little success, and art sales were just beginning? No! Would I change the time I had to dive under 20-foot waves on the North Shore of Kauai? No! My soul has been orchestrating my life path from the moment the sperm dissolved in the egg, right up until this present moment of existence, this eternal Now. I let my heart (the organ of the Soul) run my life.
“ As an artist, the most important moment of my creative life is when my heart became stronger than my head or mind. “
The Mandala, which is considered the architecture of enlightenment, changed and transformed my life. My father once told me “When Spirit calls, listen. Transform.”
I then found my first spiritual teacher in Brugh Joy, who reminded me of this, saying “When the call of your Soul opens the door, have the courage to step through!” As I found the Mandala “spirit call,” I stepped through and never looked back. But in the eighties, it was basically hidden from Westerners. I had to dig deep to explore the whole world of Mandalas, which have been created in diverse cultures from the Hopi and Aborigines, to the continental Indians and Tibetan Buddhists. In 1987, the Dalai Lama revealed many traditional Mandalas in order to foster world peace. He said “The drawing of Mandalas creates compassion, and develops deep feeling and greater awareness. The Artist has a special role.”
On viewing Paul’s Mandalas’, Eckart Tolle said, “They carry a presence that can heal.”
he Mandala carries a lot of magic and is an integrated image of wholeness. It has impacted every aspect of my life. I was at a retreat called “Reconnection” in the mountains of Arizona with Brugh Joy, and it was there where I painted my first Mandala. Joy bought it on the spot, and Barbara Streisand asked me to paint the next one for her. That shocked me so much that I went straight to the Bodhi Tree bookstore in Los Angeles and bought all four books they had on Mandalas. One of these was by Dr. Beverly Sheiffer, whom I immediately contacted and studied with for the next few months. She had learned many reliable healing aspects of painting mandalas, and I was initiated through her knowledge. I was so excited, and immediately began to create. After traveling around the country for a few months, talking and teaching about the value of having a personal mandala, I had a two-year-long waiting list.
Once I established a studio in Laguna Beach, people began to visit very quickly. At first, what seemed to be an energy drain turned out to be a profound blessing. I put a brush in visitors’ hands and made the announcement that still functions well in my studio: “We paint while we talk…not just talk!” This casual statement has helped my creations become the result of simultaneous work by many hands participating in the practice, much like Tibetans painting a Mandala with four monks, one on every side of the piece. Some of the first people who came to visit me at my studio are still with me five, ten, fifteen years later. No matter where in the world I am called to, the Mandalas are still being worked on by artists in my studio and as far away as Bali and Nepal.
My studio space is my sacred place, sort of my Holiest of Holies. It’s a divine oven where the recipes of consciousness rise up into the manifest plane. There are beautiful paintings on the walls and a large table where four to six people can spend the day together painting. There are 20 paintings that inspire me daily and encourage the party of creative explosions and ideas that pour forth from heaven, through me, and onto the canvas.
I have visited temples of artists throughout Europe and Asia, and my studio is, and will always be, a part of my sacred path.
“It’s vital that each of us find a vehicle to connect us with our deeper thoughts.”
Whether people use religion, dance, meditation, or yoga, it’s essential for a healthy life to have a way to explore the hidden universe within each of us. The Mandala is an ancient vehicle used in healing, ceremony, and consciousness transformation. I can say that through witnessing several thousand individuals open their hearts through the path of creating a Mandala, something way beyond what we normally experience happens. It’s something so profound, that your life will never be the same again. Every single painting has taught me about life and existence. To see a student create a painting for the first time at 50, is to witness her/his Soul speak clearly through art. It is by far one of the most enjoyable aspects of being an artist and teacher. There’s total joy, a subtle form of a noble path in witnessing this. It’s an amazing experience to see that “God” lives in your body and participates in the painting. That glimpse can move mountains in our modern world of disconnection.
I have been teaching for over 20 years now and I call my workshops “Art as a Spiritual Path.” When you begin to paint a Mandala, you enter into a higher form of consciousness, whether you’ve painted over 1000 like I have, or if you’ve just started your fist one. The Mandala center symbolizes the center of your own heart, so when you practice Mandala painting, it’s a sacred, ancient path that opens your heart. Once your heart is open, spontaneous creativity flows out for the duration of the painting, and in my case, the rest of my incarnation. Deepak has said that Mandalas are “an archetypal form of higher consciousness.” Truly, my Soul is totally and completely in charge of my life and each painting.
In my workshops, the highest potential each student has is to witness a life-changing experience. Mother Meera in southern Germany said “If you experience your connection to the Divine for a split second, it’s enough for you to spend your entire life helping others to experience their deep connection to the Divine.”
“What I thought was luck was really my soul guiding my life.”
In the early 90’s, I made a beautiful Yantra (meditative symbol) for meditation teacher and personal friend, Brent Becvar. Deepak Chopra had just opened his Chopra Center for Wellness in La Jolla, California, and Brent suggested that I bring some artwork next time I was in San Diego. One day, I just stopped by and brought in some paintings. With my luck (what I thought was luck was really my Soul guiding my life in so many mysterious ways), one of the employees got Deepak, who was rarely on site, and we chatted for a while. He loved my art and asked on the spot to
feature my paintings at the Chopra Center. So for many years, my pieces filled the teaching and healing rooms. Then, around 2000, they called and asked if I would be willing to travel with them. For the past 12 years, I have traveled with the Chopra Center and have been a part of their transformational organization. Deepak is a brilliant healer and has amazing stories about celebrities he’s taught how to meditate. Dr. Simon has an incredible intelligence and superior
knowledge of all aspects of Ayurvedic healing, herbs, and medicines. Together, they have reached thousands of people from all over the world and introduced them to meditation, Ayurveda, yoga, and healing.
Twenty five years ago, a booming dream voice said to me: “We are all circles on the great Mandala. Each circle is made of a variation of colors and vibrations and by adjusting the colors you can fine tune the vibration.” In the words of my father, I listened. I transformed. I often ask my students the difficult question: “How much do you want to trust your soul?” When I ask myself this, I honestly have to say “Yes” to all aspects of my life. That means yes to my pain, yes to the unconscious, and yes to my mother (that’s a tough one), but this life is awesome. The great Rodin said “Death is unthinkable. Who would ever want to leave this paradise?”
Aha! moments in one’s life are significant, and will continue to come often if one is in alignment with her own soul, the soul that leads to the ONE Soul—seamless, moving across time, space, and beyond, carried through all humanity. You’ve often heard the Buddhists chant “Om Mani Padme Hum.” It means “Your heart opens like the petals of a flower unfolding.” Within your heart is a sacred jewel of your incarnation. The great leap is made when you realize that the jewel is the jewel in all of our hearts, and within every heart is the entire universe.
Heussenstamm’s Mandalas are found in over 40 countries. They are included in the collections of well-known celebrities, leaders, and spiritual centers. He is Sanctuary Artist at Agape International Spiritual Center in L.A. (Rev. Michael Beckwith – “The Law of Attraction”), and regularly featured artist at The Chopra Center. Admittedly, the path from surfer to artist presented him with a wealth of experiences, many of which challenged him to transform into the seeker he is today.
He shares his gift with others through workshops and inspiring individuals to meet their innate abilities and gifts. His unique artistic message and work is featured in Demian Lichtenstein’s film, ‘Discover the Gift: It’s Why We’re Here.’
He has authored the book: Divine Forces: Art that Awakens the Soul. He also coauthored several books: Color Yourself Calm: A Mindfulness Coloring Book; The Art of Mandala Meditation: Mandala Designs to Heal Your Mind; and Body and Spirit Mandala Masterworks: Beauty. Stillness. Presence.
Note: Paul graciously granted this interview and use of images a few years ago when Art & Spirit magazine was in it’s first evolution. Later we chose to forgo the magazine format and previous name due to overuse on the web, and have since launched stories under ‘Journeys’ here at www.lindavaros.com. We thank Paul for his wonderful influence and for graciously granting this in-depth interview.
For more up to date information, offerings, and classes from Paul please visit his website at; http://www.mandalas.com