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
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.
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
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!
Photo credits: Kara Block at OmImagery