On a Mars mission: reaching far and diving in

Profiles > People

Sumeru talks to Osho News about his life and work as an aerospace engineer, his path as a sannyasin, and retiree.

Right: Sumeru in Arillas, Corfu. Left: Launch of an earlier spacecraft he was involved in.
Right: Sumeru in Arillas, Corfu.
Left: Launch of an earlier spacecraft he was involved in.

My life in a few words: I grew in Berkeley, California, was heavily into rock climbing in the 70’s and 80’s and simultaneously became interested in aircraft and then space stuff – and wound up with a career in aerospace engineering. I moved to Boulder in the late 70’s for grad school and stayed on working for a company building spacecraft. This lasted until a few years ago. Now I’ve just finished working for the University of Colorado, and last July saw the launch of my last spacecraft for Mars. It is so far away in space right now… The mind boggles. A Mars mission was new to me; everything else I’d built stayed in Earth orbit. So I myself am amazed at the distances.

The most exciting part of this career? What I really like about engineering is the poetry of logic between engineers. That’s actually the best part. I mean the hardware is neat – it’s a small contribution to humanity and I like that. But when engineers sit down… a great deal of engineering is human. It’s not physics. It’s a set of decisions on how you want to get something done. And there are times when I am in the flow with my colleagues in a way you can only be with other engineers, and only when you’ve been working together for years. I get a real kick out of that.

Obviously, the first many decades of my life were very mental. We are all integrated beings with many aspects, but I overdid the mental bit. It became obvious when I was in my 50’s that there was an imbalance and I started looking for some way to integrate… Then there was a wakeup call: six years ago my post-divorce relationship failed and this finally put me on a search for What do I really need to totally change?

After my divorce I had thought If I can collect all the pieces and do exactly what worked before – but with a different person – all will be okay. I tried that, and of course it didn’t work because the problem was not who I was with, but the way I was trying to organize my life. That’s when I started exploring a little bit on the wackier side of life.

At the very end of autumn that year, right before Christmas, I decided I wanted to find people to be with who were trying to understand things differently. (But again what I found was something that was very mental. I would’ve said “understand differently” in those days, not “be different.”) Everything was shutting down for the holiday season; all workshops stopped. The only thing I found was a holiday party at Higher Alignment, a spiritual New-Agey place in Boulder. I felt very much at home as soon as I got there and soon took a lot of classes.

Higher Alignment is similar to the Enneagram. In some ways it is about understanding different types of personalities, what their challenges are and what their growth paths are. It’s very well thought out. It was perfect for me at the time because – in a mental construct – they showed me that I was being too mental… The understanding is quite wise. I think the founder has a lot of really true wisdom, but it’s very intellectual. It’s a partial path; you get to the end of the pier and it doesn’t connect. It’s not a bridge. It’s not a complete path like that with Osho. I think the expectation was that if I was aware that I was too mental I would find something else, which in a way is what happened.

I discovered the Osho center in North Boulder almost by accident. The woman who is now my wife said to me one day, “You know what? Let’s go to Satsang today.” So we drove up and the first thing I thought was, “I really like these people.” I realized in that moment that this could well be a new way that was truly different — just hearing them talk and seeing what these people’s lives were like. They really shined. After that we started going to the Osho Center more often. I kept saying, “Wow, these are people that aren’t all smiles, but they’re so alive and they’re so wonderful.” They had a monthly membership, and my wife and I both signed up for that.

A few months or maybe even a year later my wife said, “You know, there is this thing called Awakening of Love. They are running it tonight. Why don’t you run up and see if they take you?”

I didn’t have plans for the weekend and she was working all weekend. So I did Awakening of Love. This is a process designed to integrate emotions, physicality and spirituality with the mind – or more accurately maybe to integrate your whole self to get away from your mind. I loved it! And then at each step the snowball got bigger – that’s really mixing metaphors – but I realized there was a way here that was going to work for me.

That was when I really “got” that Osho had created techniques, and that the sannyasin community had processes, and workshops, that facilitated the integration I needed. It was a natural step for me, very much a stepping stone. I always think of the scene in a James Bond movie, where he runs across the alligator pond on the heads of the alligators, when the heads came up right when he (and I) needed somewhere to step. Higher Alignment was like an alligator head that came up just at the right time and got me to the next. Eventually I got to land, which is what I think Osho is. I landed and escaped the trap I was in.

Sitting down after a Dynamic up at the Osho Center in Boulder one Saturday morning, we were eight or ten of us, we realized we wanted to talk about our experience of the meditation. It was very unofficial. When I looked around I realized nobody had known Osho in person. Everybody was a new sannyasin or not a sannyasin. Osho got this ball rolling; it doesn’t need the original sannyasins to keep it rolling. It keeps on going by itself. It’s got its own life. So that was for me a really beautiful moment – to see that.

About a year later I did the Path of Love. That was a total thunderclap for me. It was like Wow! This is where I want to be. And then I became a sannyasin about three months later.

In the Path of Love I worked very closely with Tathagatha from Santa Fe and sannyasin named Niten from Vancouver Island. The overall leads were Satyarthi and Alima, and Avinash. I found out later, when I became a staffer myself (five times!), that Punitama was the one in the background who did the work to organize staff. But that first experience with Path of Love was the moment that I definitely dove in the deep end. So Path of Love was huge for me. I am still very close to some participants who were my peers going through the process with me. Two of them (out of seven) are now sannyasins also, which is probably not a coincidence.

Just as I became a sannyasin, I also changed jobs, almost to the week. It was really easy to be different in the new place. It was a transition, not a step, but I could feel the difference right away. It wasn’t a coincidence. I chose to work for a university instead of industry, because I was feeling different about myself. The choice was because of the changes in me, but it also allowed me to start over and be different.

I decided to be ‘Sumeru’ also at work and started asking people to call me by that name. But even in this new job still about half the people had known me for decades in my previous commercial industrial work and experience. So they had a really hard time with that. The other half didn’t know me from before and just said, “Okay. You are Sumeru.” And my badge said Sumeru on it. I also wore my mala at work every day. That was okay.

One of the beauties of working for a university – it’s not industry – is that everybody is much more open. So I fitted right in. Also, in my sub-discipline I was the most experienced person in the organization. They asked me to teach a course on how to do what I do, which is basically assembling spacecraft and then running them through a virtual reality program that assures that when they get up into space they will behave the way they are supposed to.

Spacecraft are a lot like robots and they have much the same systems that a human being has; an inner ear, and eyes, and an immune system, and so on. There’s lots of analogs to the human body. I was teaching how to put that through its paces and wrote several slides that were inspired by the Path of Love and by Osho.

And I watched how, over several crises that happened, it got disseminated through the organization. I loved that without even saying the word ‘Osho’, he is now speaking in technical circles about compassion, forgiveness, caring for your co-workers, and not getting so focused on the hardware – which was my focus. These engineers are good people. Some of them are really really ready to listen. So some of my course material now has a life of its own. Again Osho going Osheanic – spreading. I came to see it happens in a small way in a quite small organization. A bit like that quote I heard when Osho said that we should not relay his message but BE his message.

How things have changed for me after sannyas? I continued to evolve and felt much more open to things. I would say that in the industry job there was a part of me that was clinging to being right. At the university I’m sure I started letting go of a lot of ego stuff, in the sense of not identifying so much with my personality. It was a lot easier there, also because it was going to be my last job. If they didn’t like what I brought, that was okay too, they could just say goodbye and I was okay with that. I noticed when I retired and came here to Greece that the process of letting go accelerated. It wasn’t like it was done. The letting go of things is still happening. I already feel very different in these last three months that I have been here, than I did right at the end of my job.

When I retired the plan was to wander the Earth, but of course Covid happened – so I didn’t get to wander – but by great luck I managed to come here to Corfu. It turned out that the Arillas experience was far better than I had ever expected. I really feel the buddhafield in Arillas. The tourist season had just opened when I arrived, and the Gayatri Mandir had started a meditation camp that initially was organized to last for four weeks but then went on for many more. I was there every day. At the start there was a discourse by Osho in the middle of each day. I loved that! That was fantastic! Then I’d go away for a few hours, often go take a nap, come back and do Kundalini. Then in the evenings there were many gatherings with music and such. I was looking for a retired lifestyle and the meditations fit in perfectly. It was a change to something that meant a lot to me, that I was looking for.

So my intention for now is to settle in Arillas. My plan is to let go of science and engineering. In fact, the picture of the ancient Mariner is definitely in my mind; the guy who put the oars over his shoulder and walked inland, until somebody asked him what those funny sticks were for. That’s where he retired.

I am sure my brain will want to exercise at some point, but it doesn’t need to be about space. I’ve got other talents and I’d rather do something more helpful to humanity. We’ll see.

And a final note: I want to make sure it’s clear how much I loved the light that came out of the sannyasins in Boulder, when I first met them. And the staffers at Path of Love, the first time I took it and the first time I staffed. I would love it if the article conveyed the sense of gratitude that I had for all of them.

Interview shortened and edited for clarity


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