Above: Pamela Turczyn stands before a cherry tree at Brooklyn Botanical Gardens and sees more than meets the eye. Foto: Tony Oudaimy. Painting: P.C.Turczyn
My friend, Pamela Turczyn talks with trees. And they talk back. Yes, they do! I knew her art was extraordinary, which is why I invited her to allow me to include her work in my book, Mandala: Patterns of the Universe. But there is far more to this gifted woman than being proficient at creating exquisite, meaningful art. She’s a bona fide, tree-talkin’ woman, and I recently had the pleasure of digging into her roots to find out more about her relationship with trees, her love of sacred geometry and personal approach to creating art.
Nature appears to be a great inspiration for your work, but is there something special about trees in particular that attracts your attention?
So many things about trees are special: their size, their longevity and the way they reflect seasonal changes. I love that, even in large cities, trees are easy to access and form relationships with. Here, Million Trees NYC has achieved its goal of planting one million trees in the five boroughs.
Everywhere I go in the city, I see trees and photograph them. In preparation for a painting of a blooming cherry tree, I took photos of the young street trees that had been planted on my block.
What was your first tree connection in which you experienced a dialogue?
When I met Elisa Novick at the Omega Institute several years ago, she told me about a group of trees in a nearby forest with whom she had made friends. It was the first time I had heard of trees having distinct personalities and gifts or, as she says, individual souls.
I immediately attempted to dialogue with the trees near my country house. I had prior experience in communicating with nature spirits and devas, so I was able to jump right in. There is one oak that I have dubbed “The Communication Tree”, because that is her primary roleat least in relation to me. She has become a very dear friend and coaches me on everything to do with communication, including that between humans and trees.
What is the difference between a tree and other plants? What makes trees especially suited for “creative partnerships”?
I have not spent enough time communing with plants to give you a comprehensive answer. My theory is that plants share a group soul with others of their species. For example, every cone flower plant (Echinacea) has the identical modus operandi as its brothers and sisters.
Conscious trees, on the other hand, are individuals. They make ideal partners with humans because, while we have the ability to hold a vision, they have the “Ways and Means Committee”. That’s a little wordplay coming from a tree. It means that trees are multi-dimensional and have resources for accomplishing our common goals that humans do not have. Together, we can accomplish so much. As an example, Elisa Novick is working with an intercontinental coalition of trees to help preserve our planet and its ability to support life.
Mums at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
Can you describe the process of how you engage with a particular tree? That is, how do you select a tree to engage with and/or do you ask for permission to engage?
Not all trees are conscious and not all conscious trees are capable of dialoguing with humans. Not all of them need to beif, for example, they live in remote locations. I have also found that certain conscious and dialogue-capable trees are not accustomed to talking with humans, yet will become adept over time. I sat with an ancient tree in Japan for five days before we were able to converse. There are also times when a tree is engaged in another dimension and is not available to chat at the moment. That said, I usually scan an area with trees and see which ones grab my attention. Most often, I’m captured by the large, old trees. But not always. Then, I tune in to see if I can sense a feeling of Presence. I focus on that feeling. By then, my consciousness has shifted from brain to heart center, which the ancient Egyptians referred to as the true seat of intelligence.
A tree told me that the heart is an organ of perception and reception. It certainly is key when dialoguing with trees, as I often feel a tsunami of love coming from conscious trees. The sensation is akin to having my heartstrings pulled and can be quite intense.
At this point, I feel permission to engage has been granted. I then ask questions and listen for answers. If communication is unclear, I will muscle-test to get answers to yes/no or multiple-choice questions. Sometimes a tree will initiate engagement, and I will ask if it has a message for me. If “yes,” I then have to figure out what the message is. I suggest various topics until I get a positive response. I often take a notebook with me and take dictation. For some reason, it is easier to “hear” when I’m writing everything down. I double-check my dictation for accuracy by muscle-testing each written phrase.
Sometimes trees offer energy-healing sessions or attunements. They really appreciate it when humans do breathing, meditation, vibrational or energy practices with them! It is as though humans and trees were built to engage with each other in this way and, sadly, humans have forgotten.
Prospect Lake in Prospect Park, Brooklyn
Trees play an important role in your life. Do you recall a particular connection with a particular tree that sparked your awareness of their presence as beings?
Over twenty years ago, I encountered a cedar of Lebanon in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. That species is quite rare in this country and was meaningful to me as the symbol of Lebanon, where my maternal grandparents were born. As a way of honoring my ancestors, I paid regular visits to the tree and sometimes brought offerings. If I stayed away for a long period, I could feel the tree calling for my presence.
Years passed and I rarely went to the gardens, but when I did, I could always locate the tree despite my poor sense of direction. It was as though the tree emitted an inaudible signal that I could sense. Then, a few years ago, the signal went dead and I couldn’t find the tree. I later found out that it had perished during Hurricane Irene, in 2011.
I have since learned that when it called to me all those years ago, it was experimenting with inter-species communication. It didn’t know whether I would be able to hear the call or if I would respond. It was significant that I could and that I did.
You state that when embarking on a project, you pose the questions: “How can my work benefit the greatest number of people? How can I serve Universal Evolution?” How did these questions come to you?
Many years ago, I experienced a spiritual crisis and found refuge in the safe, nourishing exercises in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, including the writing of an Artist’s Prayer. Mine was loosely based on one from Reiki Master Michael Alatriste and gave rise to those questions:
Oh Creator God,
I offer myself to You
As a channel for your creativity
That my talents, abilities and skills
Be put to use
In aligned intent
With the evolution of myself,
My circle of influence
And the universe
Which is You
Hear my desire
And guide me
In the fulfillment of my goal and destiny,
Which is You.
How does asking those questions inform the process and outcome of your work?
It makes the work so much more expansive in its scope. Sometimes the answers are surprising, yet they make so much sense. Many seemingly unrelated experiences suddenly appear to have all been in preparation for what I am now being asked to do. For example, when publisher Paul English invited me to write a column for NY Spirit, he left it up to me to come up with a theme. He thought that I would, perhaps, write about artwork. He had already been publishing my Infinite Qualities series of mandalas for a few years, along with their accompanying transformational practices. And I had been penning a blog, Art that Supports the Healing Process, for quite a while.
Seven of the Infinite Qualities print series of floral mandalas.
It was a surprise to us both that, when I asked how my column could benefit the greatest number of people, the answer came to me that it would be about ways of developing a deep relationship with nature while living in New York City. The resulting column became Urban Biophilia: The Tree Diaries.
As it turns out, everything I do in order to write on the topic of biophilia (a term defined as the human penchant to connect with other living species) is critical for my own wellbeing. I am writing out of my personal experience of creating an exciting spiritual relationship with nature while living in the very urban neighborhood of Crown Heights, Brooklyn. My vision is to inspire readers to develop their own deep relationships with the nature elements that are still alive and kicking in the five boroughs. To accomplish this, the column provides resources that support living in dynamic balance with nature. With that kind of relationship as a foundation, people will naturally become responsible stewards of the environment.
Have you always been drawn to a life of service, or are there incidents or conditions that led you to be service oriented?
The idea of creating art as a form of service didn’t really occur to me until I discovered that I had little or no motivation to make art solely for my own expression. I began my professional life as a designer of printed textiles for home furnishings because it felt good to provide a product that was both useful and beautiful. I continue to hold those intentions for my artwork in addition to the works providing a map for healing or a link to oneness-consciousness.
You have described yourself as highly sensitive. In what ways are you highly sensitive?
Oh, let me count the ways! A lot of different things can give me migraine symptoms: certain foods, MSG and nutritional yeast, falling barometric pressure, solar flares, conflict, time pressures, travel, noise, artificial scents, solvents, crowds and overstimulation of all kinds. On the other hand, I am sensitive to the vibrational nature of reality, so I can sense things kinesthetically rather than trying to figure everything out cognitively. That’s how my intuition works. Being highly sensitive is actually an inherited trait that characterizes 15-20% of the human and animal populations. You can find out more and take a self-test at http://www.hsperson.com
You have mentioned that NDD (Nature Deficit Disorder) may explain your experiences with a highly sensitive nervous system. What are some of the issues you experience and how have you dealt with them?
NDD did not create my highly sensitive nervous system; I was born with that. However, nothing is so soothing to an aggravated nervous system as entraining with the energy flow of a tree, listening to birdsong or watching the movement of water. The human energy system is designed for grounding into Earth through the soles of the feet. Not much opportunity for that to happen in a big city! So, without grounding and exposure to nature’s healing sensory input, it’s pretty easy for me to spin out of control.
When I start feeling edgy, I go to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens or Prospect Park and just drink in the beauty. There’s one particular tree in the park that I go to for grounding and healing. Her name is Edna and her roots extend quite far above ground, so I cozy up to her and snooze for 20 minutes or so while held in her embrace.
Many trees are wonderful to entrain with, as their vertical nature mirrors our own. Trees and humans are both supposed to draw energy from the earth and sky but the modern human energy system can get kinked up. Trees are good role models for proper energy flow.
Edna and Pam: Edna, an elm tree in Prospect Park is one of Pam’s go-to trees for healing energy. Foto: Elisa Novick
When viewing your artwork, I am fascinated when I see the geometric patterns that lie just below the surface. Your work is imbued with the depth of meaning contained in the shapes and patterns revealed in sacred geometry. What is your attraction to sacred geometry and how does it inform your work?
Starting back in college, as a student of textile design, I have been attracted to patterns combining geometric and organic forms. About ten years ago I read Michael Schneider’s book, A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe: A Journey From 1 – 10, and my eyes were opened to how geometric patterns and truths are revealed in nature. What I find particularly fascinating is the concept that the geometric energy matrix is preexistent and actually precipitates the forms we see in nature. I illustrate that process in my floral mandalas by plotting the geometry first and allowing it to interpenetrate both the background and the flowers.
The progression of Infinite Life: The intricate geometric lattice is laid down first, establishing the structural integrity of the tree forms that follow. Original is 24” x 24.” Gouache on watercolor paper. Prints are available in three sizes.
Do you have a daily practice?
In order to maintain an adequate level of function I have several daily practices. While still in bed, I do Reiki self-treatments as well as prayer and gratitude practices. Every morning, I do Donna Eden’s 5-minute Energy Routine, Hatha Yoga and a full menu of the MELT Method for hydrating the fascia system.
Before sleep, I need some quiet time to integrate the day’s stimulation. I bathe, do stretches, a little writing and lie on an acupuncture mat. Later, I drift off to sleep while listening to sound healing recordings by Dr. Mitch Gaynor or Glenn Harrold. This is my minimum daily practice believe it or not! If I skip it for more than a day, pain, insomnia and migraine symptoms rear their ugly heads.
Do you meditate or engage in some form of ritual before each art-making session?
Each project has special requirements, but I generally create sacred space by playing specially selected music. Then I call in a coning team, a technique pioneered by Michaelle Small-Wright. It comprises a balance of evolutionary and involutionary (nature) forces, including one’s higher self.
I also call in the angels, ancestors and ascended masters. I speak about the goal of the project and ask for guidance. I may do movement or dance and toning or breathing exercises. Usually, a practice will come to me that is perfect for embodying the theme of the project, and I will do that practice every day until the work is complete.
Pamela Turczyn’s studio in Woodstock, NY offers the artist a perfect view for a lover of trees.
With service to the viewer as one of your intents in creating, are you also served and healed?
Absolutely! Once I have done my best to embody the theme (for example, compassion, unconditional love or gratitude). I take note of how that feels in my body. I use the circular form of a mandala as a visualization of that feeling. I often compare the center of the mandala with a “You Are Here” marker on a map. The entire creative process, including the studio ritual and transformational practices, is healing for me.
In order that they work for others, I state my intention that the artworks both contain and convey the vibratory signatures of their themes. I then follow guidance from the coning team to ensure efficacy.
Your artworks are replete with meaning and beauty. Do you have any suggestions for artists wanting to engage with their art in a more focused and meaningful way?
I always start with intention, which I recommend to any artist desiring to engage with their art in a focused and meaningful way. The intention could be written or spoken aloud. After that, it’s important to pay attention to odd coincidences or feelings of excitement. For example, I was working on a painting about the growth patterns of ferns when a book I had read around 18 years earlier popped into my mind more than once. I could not remember the title or the author’s name, only that the author was from New Zealand.
The next time I went to the library, the spines of a couple of stout, gray books caught my eye. It turned out they were both copies of that book! It seemed odd that such a small branch library would have two copies of The Bone People by Keri Hulme.
I took this synchronicity as guidance that I should reread the book. Sure enough, there was a passage describing the Maori koru, a spiral based on unfurling young ferns and representative of new life and growth. Koru shaped pendants are often fashioned out of iridescent shells. This really got my attention since my painting already had a large golden spiral, representing nature and growth. Additionally, some of the geometric shapes in the background were rendered in iridescent abalone. I ended up integrating abalone koru spirals into the painting.
It’s exciting to feel collaborative suggestions coming from the Universe. I wonder if the koru carries a message that will resonate with someone viewing my painting?
In this diptych entitled, “Koru: Growth Patterns”, Pamela explores the unfurling spiral of individual fern branches (left) and the branching patterns created by the plant as seen from above (right). (Each panel: 24” x 24”. Copper, aluminum and composition gold leaf, mica, mother-of-pearl, abalone, pigments on wood panels.)
Detail of “Koru: Growth Patterns”: Iridescent abalone is used to highlight the geometric shapes of the background.
While intention is important, ego is not. When working on “Infinite Creativity,” it came to me that the more one can put ego aside, the more creative one becomes. In practice, that means working intuitively rather than from a personal agenda.
Infinite Creativity: Spirals moving inward and outward invite viewers to marvel at the geometric structure of this sunflower that displays the Fibonacci sequence, a pattern found throughout nature. Original is 24” x 24.” Gouache on watercolor paper. Prints are available in three sizes.
What’s next for you?
I am incredibly fortunate to now live so close to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. While still attempting to manifest a new home, I asked how I could possibly deserve such a blessing. The answer that came had to do with my ability to communicate with trees. I was to heal and work with the trees in the Botanic Gardens. I was informed that the trees there had incarnated specifically to partner with humans and yet most had not had the opportunity to do so.
Since finding the perfect home and moving here last February, I have made several new tree friends and have enjoyed some marvelous experiences. For example, a tree I call The Partnership Tree, told me a bit about his closest human friend and I was able to verify the description.
The Partnership Tree in Brooklyn Botanic Gardens reaches out to visitors with long, inviting arms.
My current vision is to create a body of artwork that expresses the divine presence of trees and is created in spiritual partnership with them. I have already begun a few projects along these lines, including “Infinite Patience” and “Infinite Life.” The first group of paintings will focus on my friend, The Prayer Tree, and his relatives in the sycamore family. There is a walkway in the Gardens lined with sycamores, also known as London Plane trees, with whom I have been communing. I look forward to getting to know them better and, hopefully, co-creating artwork with them.
“ Infinite Patience” was created with guidance from the Patience Tree. The center is a portal that was activated by a tree living in a Shinto shrine in Japan. Original is 24” x 24.” Gouache on watercolor paper. Prints are available in three sizes.
It would be wonderful to exhibit the work right in the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens and offer workshops in partnering with trees. I would love to be an artist in residence there. Then, I would like to visit botanic gardens in other locations, displaying artwork and giving workshops.
As I co-created this interview with Pamela, I sat at my kitchen table looking out at the majestic grand fir tree in my backyard. Inspired by her passion for communing with trees, I went outside and opened up to the possibility of connecting with it. Checking first to see if any neighbors were looking, I greeted it with a hug and stroked its gnarly bark while I conversed with it. Stepping back, I just stood under it and looked up. I saw the same branching patterns I’ve seen thousands of times, but this time, with the intent to see them as reflections of a pattern created by a conscious being, I saw something different. The intricate patterns created by the various sized branches and twigs looked similar to the lattices Pamela uses as an underlay for her own creations. I felt a connection with the patterns and, yes, I can say there was an unexpected sense of communing between myself and the tree as well. I wonder how connecting with trees in a conscious way might inform my own artwork? Wouldn’t I love to take one of Pamela’s botanical garden workshops!
To read a review of P.C.Turczyn’s recent New York Open Center exhibition, Out of the Ethers, follow this link: http://www.opencenter.org/blog/2015/07/28/out-of-the-ethers-p-c-turczyn/
About Bailey: Lori Bailey Cunningham is an artist, author of two books on mandalas (Mandala: Journey to the Center and Mandala: Patterns of the Universe) and founder of The Mandala Project. She lives on an island in the Puget Sound where she enjoys creating mixed media art, hiking and consuming copious amounts of coffee.