Missy Collier is a rarity at Sunburst. Among all of the present Sunburst residents, only she and Heiko Wirtz grew up in the community. As the parent, with Jake Collier, of two grown children who were also raised at Sunburst, she has brought a beautiful cycle to completion.
Arriving in 1973 at age 11 for two weeks of summer camp at Sunburst’s Cuyama Valley apple orchard, Missy immediately felt at home in the community and remembers thinking to herself, “This is the family I was supposed to have.” Upon deciding to stay indefinitely and then gradually becoming a full-fledged member of Sunburst, she was taught about the Eight-Fold Path, the Twelve Virtues, and Kriya meditation. Looking back now, she recalls, “The teachings and lifestyle felt so right and so natural, I was never interested in anything else. I grew up with that simple, straightforward framework. The teachings were my guidepost.”
Growing Up in Community
Missy attended the Sunburst School for sixth through twelfth grades along with many other kids. She describes the little school as having a classroom environment with desks, a chalkboard, a structured curriculum, and accredited teachers, but also having an atmosphere in which individual instruction was common. “We got a lot of classes in real-life skills,” Missy remembers, “and had a ton of fun learning carpentry, animal husbandry, gardening, and other cool stuff.” Not many 11-year-old girls learn how to operate a tractor, for instance. Her grandfather also didn’t believe that Missy knew how to work a drill press until she showed him, impressing him mightily.
Proudly bearing a fresh bottle of Sunburst apple juice
“I thought I was the luckiest person in the world growing up,” she told me during our talk. At 13, she sailed aboard Sunburst’s wooden square-rigger The Gallilee, and during summers worked in the community’s restaurant The Farmer & the Fisherman as a bus girl. She also became very fast at putting “noodles”—the wet plastic seals that shrink when they dry—on the Sunburst apple juice bottles as they were processed during the harvest season.
One of Missy’s favorite responsibilities as a Sunburst kid was caring for and milking the community’s dairy cows. She calls the cows “a huge part” of her childhood, and learned how to milk them at age 12. She fondly remembers Sunburst’s first dairy cow, named Betsy.
Along with the hard work and responsibility, there was always time to relax. “We had so much fun it was ridiculous,” she says, recounting playing hide-and-seek with her friends, exploring river and creek beds, making forts, and doing crafts, reading, and chatting in the evening.
Missy and Betsy
The Teachings Bring Peace and Order
After some time in the community, a strong sense of dread and fear that had occasionally plagued Missy since early childhood had largely disappeared. Although she mentions that, as an 11 year old, she “wasn’t consciously searching” for a spiritual path when she came to Sunburst, the teachings calmed her mind and banished the fear and worry.
She and the other Sunburst children also learned “how to behave, how to treat others. The Eightfold Path and Twelve Virtues gave us a reference point so that we were able to step back and see with a new, larger perspective.” Years later, Missy is profoundly grateful for “stumbling upon a spiritual path that is mine completely, that I live and breathe everyday.”
Now and into the Future
These days Missy works professionally at New Frontiers Natural Marketplace as its assistant marketing manager and graphics coordinator. Meanwhile, her work at Sunburst centers on directing the community’s graphics and marketing. In other words, she gets to use her wide-ranging artistic talent to support both Sunburst and New Frontiers, and deals with anything that’s presented visually, including advertisements, posters, flyers, websites, banners, and forms. With her trademark sharp wit and driven nature, she always keeps things moving forward.
When asked about her vision for the future of Sunburst, Missy says she wants to see the community grow, thrive, and prosper—both physically and spiritually. “I’d love for it to be a place where people can live if they want to join our mission,” which she defines as “gaining Self Realization and meeting God face-to-face” through the use of Kriya meditation and the teachings of Sunburst founder Norm Paulsen and his teacher, Paramahansa Yogananda.
Missy expresses profound gratitude for her life in the community and the lifestyle it offers, calling these elements “a side-dish to the main course, the Kriya,” making clear her belief that living in community is “not a requirement for enlightenment.” She also looks forward to Sunburst returning to being more family-oriented so more kids can have the wonderful experience she did growing up.
A Legendary Entertainer
“God created us so he could enjoy life through us,” Missy wholeheartedly believes. Indeed, over the years she’s earned a reputation as an entertainer par excellence. Whether whipping up a gorgeous, bakery-perfect confection at the last minute for Sunday brunch or setting out homemade dip and snacks at her famous annual Superbowl Bash, her talents are in evidence all over Sunburst.
Knitting, baking, sewing, cooking, photography, and crafts are among Missy’s chief skills, although this is by no means a complete list. My son and I each have beautiful shawls she made to keep us cozy, and many residents and guests wear Missy-made knitted caps, scarves, and shawls to meditation on chilly days.
As hard as she works, Missy also finds time to indulge in some of her favorite pastimes, which include drinking coffee with friends, hosting hilarious game nights, running at the ranch, and lifting weights.
Her son Ryan, 27, and daughter Alex, 22, are “the loves of my life,” according to their proud mom, who has been married to their father Jake for 30 years. She and Jake met at Sunburst as friends, and she now counts herself “grateful for every day with him.” She loves how Jake makes her laugh with his understated sense of humor, saying they’re a “good balance for each other.”
Missy Collier’s endearing humor, loving nature, and willingness to look at herself first comprise an inspiring endorsement of the power of the Sunburst teachings to bring about a life well-lived.
Although he would never admit it because of his native modesty, John Henry McCaughey is something of a local legend. This stems not only from his decades-long dedication to Sunburst’s land and people, but also because he’s so profoundly cool. I use that word in the most respectful sense, to connote an unshakeable groundedness in himself that causes others, in the most natural way, to look to him for leadership and guidance. He’s a man who gets things done. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s a wizard at driving really big earth-moving machines.
A man of few words, John Henry nevertheless manages to crack people up at regular intervals. His understated, slightly rebellious humor shows in his eyes and ready smile, while his rugged, somewhat crusty demeanor guards a very tender and open heart. John’s mission is to steadfastly protect and uphold Sunburst founder Norm Paulsen’s legacy and ideals.
As a young man living in Del Mar, California, John Henry discovered meditation in the early 70s through the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF), where Paramahansa Yogananda once lived and taught. Norman Paulsen, who had been a direct disciple of Yogananda in the late 40s and early 50s, founded the Sunburst Community in 1969.
Having brought many of his friends to SRF to introduce them to meditation, John Henry watched as many of them left the Del Mar area to go to Norm’s new community on the Central Coast. He recalls, “I was happy for them because they seemed to be doing really well [at Sunburst], but I was set in my world and everything was going along just fine for me.” With his trademark candor, he explains, “I wasn’t the usual hippie guy. I was really rooted and stable. I loved what I was doing and wanted to keep doing it.” His work at that time was at the University of California San Diego’s High-Altitude Research Lab, using his education and training as an aerospace and mechanical engineer.
Something soon happened that severely upset John Henry’s equilibrium, however. An elderly couple in the early stages of dementia that he had been helping out suddenly and unjustly questioned his honesty, shaking the then-24 year old to his roots. He had been so sure of his mission to “help society,” but this effort seemed to have failed miserably. Sad, angry, and hurt, he walked to a nearby creek to collect himself after the incident. He decided to meditate for a few minutes to find the calm that his practice usually brought. Some time later, John Henry looked up and was astonished to find the words “Sunburst Farm” spelled out in purple letters in the sky. Without any hesitation, he stood up and went into his workplace, where he called information to get Sunburst’s phone number to say he was coming for a visit.
John hitched a ride with a friend to the community, arriving there on his twenty-fifth birthday in 1973. Although he felt strongly that he had been guided to Sunburst, John Henry was also somewhat leery. “I had leapt before I looked a year earlier and got burned,” he told me, “so I approached Sunburst with caution and intended to spend just a week there to check it out.” The community quickly worked its magic on the gifted engineer, however, and by the end of his first day he was already helping people fix things and get broken vehicles moving again. He also met Norm that day, but dispels the notion that the two had an instant bond, saying only, “He was a big guy. Big beard.” They shook hands by way of introduction and that was that.
Meanwhile, John became very impressed with how people treated each other at Sunburst and realized that he “had never seen people interacting that way before. Everyone was very friendly and sincere.” After sitting with the rest of the community that night for evening meditation, he was sold. “That’s when I knew for sure,” he told me during our interview.
A few days later, as John Henry was walking down a path at Sunburst Farm, he heard a man’s voice behind him call out, “Jonathan.” Thinking it was odd, since no one ever called him that, he turned around to see Norm following him. The two men began a conversation that yielded remembrances of past lives working together toward common goals in an intense manner that John characterizes as “do or die.” From then on, they were close friends and in ensuing years Norm relied increasingly on the younger man to manage a variety of community responsibilities.
Then as now, Sunburst residents were required to have a job so they could contribute by paying for their room and board. But when John Henry moved in, work in the community was scarce. Sunburst was running two natural food stores and a trucking company, but all the jobs were filled. Finally, he asked his friends Steve, Mehosh, and Tomas, who worked with the trucks, if they could find him any kind of work at all. They came up with two weeks’ worth of mechanical maintenance that needed to be done. During that time, as John was moving vehicles around to work on them, the other men noticed his natural dexterity and skill with the machines. It wasn’t long before he was promoted to driver for the Sunburst stores, and soon he was the community’s main tractor-trailer operator.
In May 1974 (John has an uncanny memory for exact dates, by the way), Sunburst bought a warehouse in Goleta where he worked on the truck engines and from which he drove back and forth to Los Angeles twice a week with deliveries. Norm had also asked John to restore the neglected and malfunctioning old juicing equipment in the Sunburst apple orchard so the community could start making apple and grape juice for its stores. (It was in the orchard, in fact, where John Henry met Barbara, who would one day be his wife and the mother of their three children.) By this point, he had been given full charge of the entire Sunburst fleet of vehicles. Lack of employment was long a thing of the past; now there were barely enough hours in the day to attend to all of his responsibilities.
Norm’s teachings anchored John Henry during these long but rewarding years of developing and growing the community. When asked how the teachings have affected his life, he answers, “When I moved here, they became my life. I’m an all-in kind of guy. Life here is the teachings.” Likewise, John’s strong bond with Norm became a source of strength and resolve as well. A devout Catholic in his youth, John remembers having doubts about the religion and wondering, “How is this going to teach me to live like Jesus?” It was not until he experienced being around Norm, whom he considers “an illumined being,” that John Henry understood what he needed to do to walk that path. “Norm didn’t pull any punches, but he was here to help you grow. I’ve changed dramatically from the kid I was,” he says, “and it’s all because of the teachings.”
As the years went by and his reputation for hard work and high quality spread, John Henry gradually developed his own building and contracting business. His dark-green heavy equipment is still frequently seen around the ranch with “J.H. & Co.” handsomely lettered on the sides. Having handed off many of his Sunburst duties to others who needed work, he was doing well for himself in 2006 when he learned that Norm was very ill.
This marked another huge shift for John, as Norm—perhaps sensing that he would soon leave his body—suddenly asked his old friend to return to full-time work at the ranch to begin a long list of large projects he wanted to see completed as soon as possible. Although concerned for his mentor and shocked by the sudden shift, John Henry obliged, despite having to drop some in-progress work for which he had signed contracts. His friendship with Norm and support of Sunburst trumped all business concerns. During this period the men also formed the daily habit of meeting at Norm and Patty’s house at Nojoqui Farm for brief work updates, although sometimes they just sat or watched the news together. John Henry’s quiet, reassuring presence was a comfort to Norm, both in the moment and as he looked into the future.
Norm passed away shortly thereafter, leaving John in charge as ranch manager. Five years later, on any given day, John Henry can be seen running huge tractors and digging equipment as he builds and repairs the ranch roads and installs new landscaping at the ranch. He runs a crew of men collectively known as “The Guys,” who do everything from building fences and repairing water pipes to planting trees and branding cattle. While he never appears to be in a hurry, he also seems to be everywhere at once.
As anyone who knows him can attest, John Henry has a strong vision for the future of Sunburst. This vision is based on Norm’s original quest, and his assignment from Yogananda: to pioneer a new way of life for humanity in which we live lightly on the land and return to our roots as stewards of the Earth. John would like to see the world, and Sunburst in particular, increasingly attuned to the rhythms of nature.
John Henry’s pastimes reflect his lifelong commitment to the land as well. His love of archery has led to the ruination of many targets, and it’s rumored that he plays electric guitar and keeps an industrial-grade leather-sewing machine at his house. The beautiful gardens, trees, and other landscaping he and Barbara have done are very popular with the local deer despite his best efforts to persuade them otherwise. (These do not include archery as of this writing). He calls his children, who are now grown, “the best people in the world.”
Guardian, warrior, and stalwart friend, John Henry McCaughey does not suffer fools gladly. He’s also one of the kindest and funniest men many of us will ever know. It’s an honor to live in this community with him.
John Kiddie, fondly known as “JK,” came to Sunburst in inimitable JK style: unhurried, enthusiastic, and curious. His story is remarkably similar to those of many Sunburst residents, although of course the details differ. JK recalls having an awakening experience in the late 60s after reading a book on yoga by Richard Hittleman. As John put it, “a whole new awareness opened up in me that was the beginning of my spiritual quest.” He also recalls that “yoga changed and awakened [him]” as well, at a time when the practice was very new to the West.
A seeker comes home
A man outstanding in his field.
At that time, John had been studying and enjoying Transcendental Meditation with a friend for a year or so, and enjoyed the mellow, peaceful, tuned-in feeling he got from it. At a point in his life when he was free from major financial and relationship responsibilities, JK remembers this period as a time of quiet exploration. Living with his brother in a $75.-a-month apartment in southern California, JK surfed, read, and meditated, sometimes spending weeks at a time on beaches where the waves were favorable. Despite living far to the south, John frequented Jalama Beach near Lompoc because he felt great energy and enjoyed the wild environment there, not realizing that he was near the birthplace of his future spiritual teacher.
In the early 70s, JK began to notice that while he was still enjoying meditation, there seemed to be something missing. The urge to grow spiritually flared up in him again and he began “seeking and looking” anew. One day a friend mentioned a place above Santa Barbara on Gibraltar Road called Sunburst, where people lived in community and meditated together. Intrigued, John went up the coast to see about “this place in the mountains.”
It all makes sense
Upon reaching Sunburst, JK experienced “instant remembrance and kinship” with the people he encountered there. “It suddenly all made sense,” he recalls with his big trademark grin. “I was supposed to be here. I’d found my home and my path.” John remembers being initiated into the Kriya Yoga path in the fall of 1971, remarking, “It felt like we were all bees being drawn back to the hive, like there was a hand that guided us to [Sunburst]. It felt so right to be part of this lineage, learning from this line of masters.”
When JK arrived on the scene, Sunburst had just acquired Lemuria Ranch (formerly Ogilvy Ranch), where he says “we all worked toward becoming self-sufficient on the land.” At the start of 1972, JK and a friend wanted to start a small beekeeping operation, so they were put in charge of building the boxes and getting the business running. He later worked as a truck driver and mechanic, helping the community with transporting products to and from its growing natural food stores, restaurant, and other enterprises.
John’s work at Sunburst as a twenty-something eventually led him into a full-time career as a farmer and steward of the land. He is currently manager of Nojoqui Farms, an organic farm just north of Sunburst that provides fruit and vegetables for the New Frontiers Natural Foods chain and other buyers, supervising a group of local pickers and growers with his special blend of good humor and calmness.
Sunburst teachings center and ground
As a young man barely out of his teens, JK remembers that the first members of the Sunburst community were all about his age, had high spiritual aspirations and open minds, and massive amounts of energy. The founder, Norman Paulsen, was faced with the challenge of organizing and instilling discipline into all those beautiful young people to inspire spiritual growth and bring focus and forward movement to the community.
To that end, Norm asked his young charges to practice chastity (unless they were married), to refrain from using alcohol, tobacco, or drugs, and to meditate as a group for an hour every morning before work and another hour every night before bed. In those days, as another Sunburst resident has recounted, someone would blow a giant conch shell to call everyone to meditation. John also began to appreciate, as his experience within Sunburst deepened, that the many different types of people in the community were all held together by their common pursuit of the spiritual goal of self-realization.
Norm taught his flock the Kriya meditation technique that he had been practicing since his days with Yogananda, and JK remains grateful for the discipline of those formative years. “The Kriya has given me a daily practice that brings me into my center,” he says, and “has imbued [my life] with a certain depth and understanding.” As an Aries, who are known for being great initiators but who sometimes need a boost with follow-through, John especially appreciates the discipline he developed through his meditation practice during his youth. Now in his 60s, he finds that the Kriya has blossomed in him to become the anchor of his everyday life, rather than something he practices just at certain times. “My daily life is my practice, and my practice is my life,” he explains, adding, “My work is to dedicate all my actions to Spirit.”
The future of Sunburst is now
John and his trusty truck at a creek crossing
An energetic, playful, and yet soothingly grounded man, John is a staunch proponent of permaculture, self-sufficiency, and “living lightly on the land.” He works to be an example of existing in harmony with the environment, and is deeply grateful to be living and working in a place that promotes and encourages that mission. Although he admits to wanting things to move and evolve more quickly than they sometimes do and wishes he had “a golden wand” to make real the group’s long-term vision for the community and its land, JK remembers that Norm used to tell him, “God’s time is different from our time. The big wheel’s in motion, so let’s take the long view.”
John is unabashedly passionate about several things: his wife, Letha; his love of the land upon which Sunburst sits; and surfing. He also practices Hapkido and yoga, loves to visit Hawaii and family in Long Beach, still holds occasional pilgrimages to his “soul spot” at nearby Jalama Beach, helps Letha build and maintain their spectacular vegetable and flower gardens, plays with his two grandkids in Bend, Oregon, and enjoys using his photographic skills to document Sunburst community life. His boundless energy and kindness help to make Sunburst the wonderful place it is. We’re all so grateful to have JK in our lives!
It’s not easy catching up with Heiko Wirtz for an interview. One of the busiest and most in-demand people at Sunburst, Heiko is the Guy Who Does Everything. Have a broken water pipe? Call Heiko. Your horse just ran away? Call Heiko. The Internet is down? Call Heiko. Need some hay baled by next Tuesday? You get the picture.
I remember when I first came to Sunburst about a year ago, and got to work with Heiko on installing some sprinklers in the gardens around the Lodge. Over the course of those first days, I was amazed at how much work this man gets done and how many requests for help he fields in an average day. I asked him, “Is there anything you don’t do around here?” His response? “Um, nope.” And he handles it all with good humor and a sense of ease.
So I was pleased when I finally got Heiko to sit down in my living room (in the chair he loaned us) for a talk. Like everything he does, though, Heiko dedicated himself fully to the task at hand and gave me tons of information—about Sunburst history, about his life here, and about his vision for the future of this community.
Heiko came to Sunburst from Germany with his mom and his older brother Claas in 1982 as a nine year old. Sibylle had had a spiritual awakening a few years prior, causing huge life changes that led her to move herself and her boys to Sunburst. But unbeknownst to her and at about the same time as his mother, Heiko had received a message while on a visit to a Catholic chapel. He recalls, “I felt immense energy come over me [and suddenly realized] that I wanted to give my life to God.”
Not knowing any English on his arrival in the United States, Heiko nevertheless made friends quickly with the other children who lived at Sunburst. Among the adults, he felt particularly drawn to Norman Paulsen, the founder of Sunburst, and slowly came to regard him as a father figure and mentor. He would watch Norm lift weights and they often did outdoor work together on the property.
As Heiko and his friends grew into young adults, many of the kids he had grown up with began to leave the community, which at that point was located in Salt Lake City, Utah and Oasis, Nevada. Disturbed and saddened by the thought that Sunburst might be weakened or not even survive this trend, Heiko asked Norm what he could do to help. Norm asked if Heiko would be interested in working on the restoration of the Star Pilot, an old double-masted schooner that Norm (a passionate sailor) had recently reacquired. He eagerly accepted.
So in 1992, Heiko and Ross Gordon, another Sunburst resident, traveled to the ship’s home port at the time in Gloucester, Massachusetts and prepared her for the long voyage back to California. After the ship’s arrival in May 1993 in San Diego, they began the arduous task of refurbishing the craft as they lived aboard it. Heiko remembers, “Norm called every morning and asked ‘What are your plans?,’” knowing that the recent high school grad had a tendency to sleep in. Rousted from his bed early on a daily basis, Heiko gradually developed a routine and the discipline it took to help restore the schooner. As engineering assistant, he refurbished the entire engine and also served as the purser, doing the bookkeeping and distributing pay.
Heiko Wirtz creating new garden beds
Meanwhile, Norm had found a property to call home on California’s Central Coast, near his birthplace. Once the Star Pilot had been moved to San Diego Harbor in 1993, Norm would occasionally go down to stay with Heiko and Ross to check on their progress and help out. It was during these visits that Heiko formed a close bond with Norm.
In November 1993, while on a visit to the farm where Norm lived, Nojoqui Farms(pronounced “NAH-ho-ee”), Heiko went for a horseback ride with Norm’s wife Patty in the rolling hills above the farm. Heiko and Patty gazed out over the valley arrayed before them, the spectacular Las Cruces Ranch. Inspired by the land’s beauty and energy, he told Patty, “Wouldn’t it be great to live on a ranch like this someday?” It took some time for that dream to come true, but three years later, property in that direction became available for Sunburst.
Heiko and the crew finished renovating the Star Pilot in 1997, and the community sold it to finance the construction of a magnificent lodge on the new ranch property. The log structure now welcomes guests and residents alike, providing a wonderful gathering place for meditation and family meals. After moving back to Nojoqui Farms when the ship was sold, Heiko was instrumental in landscaping the new grounds and helping Norm tend the ranch’s small new cattle herd.
When asked what Sunburst means to him, Heiko’s very clear that through his energy, dedication, love, and service, he wants to give Sunburst continuing strength and relevance, and to provide a modern take on what it looks like to live in community. Heiko believes that Sunburst has “moved into a higher gear” now, after a period of inward searching and growth, as it actively seeks new experiences and more interaction with our surrounding communities.
As a member of Sunburst, his spiritual goals are the ones Norm instilled in Heiko as a child and young man: to meet God “face to face” through meditation, stewardship of the land, service to others, and practice of the Twelve Virtues as outlined in the Sunburst teachings. He understands and appreciates the world religions through these teachings, seeing the seeds of truth that are common to all of them, while finding that a direct experience of the divine is possible through the practice of Kriya Yoga as taught by Norm and Norm’s teacher, Paramahansa Yogananda.
Daily life for Heiko usually begins with meditation at 6:30 AM with other Sunburst residents, and then around 9 AM he begins his work as groundskeeper and a member of the ranch’s maintenance team. His wide-ranging duties include corral construction and other fencing projects, creating and maintaining the beautiful landscaping around the Lodge, caring for the 200-head cow and calf operation and seven ranch horses, and generally supporting the 2,000-acre ranch’s infrastructure.
Although he’s often pretty tired by the end of the day after working on the ranch, Heiko sometimes catches a second wind to enjoy our nearby beaches with friends. Another favorite pastime is sailing out to the Channel Islands. Heiko is a dedicated martial artist, studying Hapkido with another Sunburst resident, Dan Posney. His spinning-down sweep kick is inspiring.
A man with a great sense of humor who’s terrific with adults and kids alike, Heiko’s known around Sunburst as the Pied Piper. His energy, caring nature, and open heart leave a lasting impression on all our guests, and he’s a wonderful brother to all the people who live here as well.