Ken Keyes, Jr.

Ken Keyes, Jr.

Ken Keyes, Jr. (January 19, 1921, Atlanta, GeorgiaDecember 20, 1995, Coos Bay, Oregon) was a personal growth author and lecturer, and the creator of a self-help system named the Living Love method. Married four times, Keyes authored fifteen books on person growth and social consciousness issues, representing about four million copies distributed overall.

Early years

It was the final third of his life in which Keyes became famous for his personal growth system and books. Although he had published his first book by age thirty, the first fifty years of his life were dedicated to the mundane activities of making a living, raising a family, dealing with relationships, and adapting to the progressively severe disabilities he experienced due to polio.

Childhood and adolescence

Keyes was born an only child to an affluent family in Atlanta. He found closeness and support from his father and especially his mother, despite her eventual abuse of alcohol. He remained close to both of them but especially to her, throughout their lives. He suffered from chronic bronchitis and croup in his infant years, and in 1925 his family moved to Miami Beach, Florida in hopes of his benefiting from its sunny climate. His father, Kenneth Keyes Sr., became successful in real estate development there and active in the conservative evangelical wing of the Presbyterian Church. [,9171,837385,00.html "Concern v. Concerned"] TIME magazine, October 13, 1967. Accessed April 12, 2007.] Keyes was not very athletic as a child, but excelled in academics and developed many hobbies, such as photography. While in high school, his father bought him a small boat, which began his lifelong affection for sailing.

He attributed the seeds of the personal growth system he would later develop to an experience he had with a stern English teacher in ninth grade. Despite her reputation as a strict teacher and hard grader, Keyes made an effort to be personally caring toward her, which led to her giving him a slight break in grading. He took the lesson from this experience to be "that when I express caring and friendliness, they are reflected back to me in life."

College, military service, and a new family

Keyes entered Duke University in 1938 and spent two years there. He then studied voice and music at the University of Miami, and helped to found the Miami Opera Guild. In 1941, during the World War II era, Keyes enlisted in a naval intelligence unit set up to censor cablegrams entering and leaving the United States.

At age of 20, Keyes met his first wife, Roberta Rymer, at the University of Miami. They were married in December 1941, just days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Their first child, Ken III, was born in December 1942 and their second child, Clara Lu, was born in April 1944. Keyes was discharged from the service in October 1945, and entered the real estate business with his father.

Polio and quadriplegia

In February 1946, at age 25, Keyes contracted polio and became paralyzed in his legs and hands. His paralysis developed into quadriplegia and was sufficiently severe that, for example, he was unable to turn himself over in bed. He required aides for bodily care for several decades.

He went to the Warm Springs Foundation, a convalescent hospital in Georgia. After a year in the hospital, he and his wife moved to a house nearby for three more years of rehabilitation, during which time he adjusted to life as wheelchair user. He invented a switch-activated powered bed that would turn his body over. He said he "began to develop the feeling that I did not have to be so totally dependent on other people" and "still wanted to feel that I was a capable and lovable person." To that end, he obtained a lever-controlled electric wheelchair, a new invention at the time.

The first book

Keyes engaged himself in many activities to overcome the notion of dependence and uselessness brought on by his disability. He wrote a book on mental techniques for increasing effectiveness in daily life. His first book, entitled "How to Develop Your Thinking Ability", was published by McGraw-Hill in 1950 and contained illustrations by cartoonist Ted Key. He later reacquired the publishing rights to it and re-release it as "Taming Your Mind".

In his book "Discovering The Secrets of Happiness", Keyes commented on this period of his life that his disability may have been a disguised blessing:

"Perhaps I would have been so caught up in the business and social rat race that I wouldn't have sat still long enough to study my security, sensation and power illusions — and then discover how to deal with them so I could open up my heart to loving more. My reality is that I am far too busy and involved in my life activities to have time to concern myself with self-consciousness in the wheelchair department. Today I view my so-called 'handicap' as another gift my life has offered me."

Resuming life

Upon completion of therapy in 1949, Keyes returned to South Miami, Florida where he resumed work in real estate and bought a specially equipped speedboat for racing.

By 1950, Keyes was the general manager of a radio station owned by his father, and became successful in his own commercial real estate business. He completed his schooling and obtained a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Miami. He planned and built a series of personal residences, and in 1956 bought a 71-foot yacht, the "Caprice", capable of serving as a floating residence.

Divorce and remarriage

Over these years Keyes and his wife were drifting apart, and he had affairs with other women. He and Rymer separated and then divorced in 1959, after eighteen years of marriage. He received the yacht in the property settlement and moved his residence and office there. His second book, on the topic of nutrition and entitled, "How to Live Longer–Stronger–Slimmer" (later to be retitled, "Loving Your Body"), was published by Fredrick Fell during this period.

Around 1964, Keyes resumed working for his father in a real estate company targeted at foreign investors. At age 44, he met and married his second wife, Bonita, who was sixteen years his junior. During this period he wrote his third book with Jacque Fresco, a book on futurism entitled "Looking Forward".

His wife Bonita's jealousy and depression became major stumbling blocks in their relationship, and looking back Keyes would later fault himself for his unskilled responses to these issues.Fact|date=July 2007 They divorced after a year of marriage, and Keyes grieved the loss of the relationship.

Keyes threw himself into his business, and in 1968 established a national commercial real estate sales operation, with revenues of $25 million during its first year of operation. Despite his financial success, he remained restless and personally unfulfilled. He maintained romantic relationships with various women, and would later comment that his sexual appetite had been an impediment to his personal growth.


The last third of Keyes' life took him deeply into spirituality and the personal growth arena. He was older than many of those around him and many of those he influenced. He spoke in a younger idiom than might be expected of one who was born in 1921, expressing many of his concepts using terms such as "uptight" and "headspace" that those of the time might have considered "hippie" in nature.

In 1970, just shy of his 50th birthday, he traveled to the Esalen Institute in California and enrolled in two workshops there. He then returned to Florida, became involved with the Humanistic Psychology Association, and was exposed to teachings such as those of Chogyam Trungpa and Alan Watts. He also experimented briefly with mescaline, which induced in him a continuously orgasmic experience he found distasteful. He credited this experience with allowing him to begin overcoming his obsession with sex, although he would remain sexually active and continue erotic activities throughout his life such as watching adult movies with his lovers.

Keyes lived for a few months with two students who had been influenced by Trungpa and Ram Dass. These students challenged him about his attachments to money and sex. He traveled with them to a commune and a trappist monastery in Virginia and a spiritual center in Connecticut, which spurred him to explore further. A turning point came for Keyes when he visited Trungpa at his center in Barnet, Vermont at Christmas 1970 and explored the Buddhist notion that the mind's reaction rather than external circumstances creates personal unhappiness. Keyes felt this to be the solution to the life problems he had experienced.

Over the next year, Keyes lived with a small group of people on his yacht, and prepared to turn his business over to an employee and found a nonprofit organization with his other assets. At this time he had a brief experience he described as transcendent, "like the pure energy of God—radiant, indescribable—and I felt a part of it all."

During this period he used his new learning to cope more successfully with issues of jealousy and deception regarding his romantic relationship with a woman named Jane. During an episode in which Jane brought another lover onto his yacht, Keyes in desperation stumbled onto a form of mental reprogramming process (probably "est") that alleviated his jealously without repressing it, a method he would later teach. Within a few days, he formulated his "Twelve Pathways" that would constitute the core of his "Living Love" method of personal growth. Within a month he had drafted the core of his book, "Handbook to Higher Consciousness", which would, despite being only self-published, sell in excess of a million copies.

Living Love years

Going west, and the Living Love Center in Berkeley

He outfitted a bus for living, sold his yacht and shed most of his possessions, and began traveling westward with a group of like-minded people in mid-1972, visiting places like Taos, New Mexico and the Rainbow Gathering at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, traveling for about a year and eventually ending up in Berkeley, California. While traveling he began holding sessions utilizing the Living Love methods.

When the group he had traveled with dispersed, new people arrived and took their place. He gave his first formal workshop on the Living Love methods at the Esalen Institute. He settled in Berkeley in 1973 and began giving regular workshops, establishing the Living Love Center there in June 1973 in an old fraternity house. The workshops were attended by as many as fifty people, and Keyes recruited a staff from the streets of Berkeley at essentially volunteer wages to support the workshops, which he also began giving in Los Angeles. At this point the "Handbook to Higher Consciousness" was selling about fifty thousand copies a year and his workshops attracted students from all over the country. In 1974 he banned drug use from the Center. He wrote additional books and they began to sell rapidly. His staff, which included people like Shakti Gawain, Tolly Burkan, and Summer Raven, busied itself with the workshops and activities like writing songs to go along with them.

Cornucopia in Kentucky

Having outgrown the Berkeley center, the organization in mid-1977 bought a 150 acre (607,000 m²) property in St. Mary, Kentucky that had been a Catholic seminary. The organization moved to the new property, which it renamed "Cornucopia."

Soon after the move, conflict developed between Keyes and the organization's head administrator and training director. Keyes had hired her in Berkeley, but later felt she was influencing the staff in unhelpful directions. She refused to allocate staff to him for the workshops he led, and he felt she was trying to edge him out of teaching and into the financial side of the operation.

"On retreat" in Santa Cruz

Keyes reacted from the fractious situation with his administrator by leaving Cornucopia in her charge and heading back to Santa Cruz, California in March 1978 with six people, a decision he later characterized as an unskillful withdrawal from the problem. He characterized the level of teaching quality at Cornucopia after his departure as lowered and uneven. Debts at Cornucopia began to mount.

On a visit back to Cornucopia in November 1978, he became involved with Penny Hannig, a much-younger acquaintance of several years and a worker at the center, and she joined him in Santa Cruz in 1979. She became his third wife in September 1984.

Keyes remained in Santa Cruz for three years, which period he characterized as being "on retreat." During these years, the couple "lived in a pattern of voluntary simplicity." He received Social Security disability benefits and received room, board, medical care, and a vacation from the organization, but took no salary and received no royalties from his books. He received an inheritance from his mother's estate, which he donated in large part to the organization. He continued to write books, some of which Penny co-wrote.

Penny cared for his physical needs, and they were quite close, remaining in each other's company almost continually. Bouts of depression and hostility Penny experienced over a period of about two years during this time were initially mysterious, but were eventually diagnosed through the couple's experimentation as being the result of food allergies, and were brought under control with a change in her diet.

Coos Bay, Oregon, and the Ken Keyes College

In 1982, the leader with whom Keyes had clashed left Cornucopia, taking much of the staff with her. The organization sold the Cornucopia property and relocated along with Keyes to Coos Bay, Oregon, in an old four-story hospital building. There they continued to give workshops and write books for about four years, before deciding to open a formal training school for the Living Love method, to be called the Ken Keyes College. The first enrolled group numbered almost a hundred.

Late in 1986, during the first nine-month training course, Keyes experienced a medical crisis, developing pneumonia. He was rushed to the hospital and eventually put on a respirator. He credited his use of the Living Love methods with enabling him to summon the strength and serenity to remain calm and upbeat about his situation and to visualize healing for his lungs. Although there had initially been some doubt about his physical viability, he was able to come off the respirator and breathe again on his own. He left the hospital and was able to resume training the inaugural group of students at the college, who graduated in May 1987. Keyes turned to writing, with international lawyer Benjamin Ferencz, another book on world politics, "PlanetHood".

Final years

Keyes and Penny eventually were divorced and the Ken Keyes College closed. In 1990, Keyes began exploring inner-child healing and a rapid-eye-movement technology developed by Francine Shapiro. He established the Caring Rapid Healing Center in Coos Bay to do private multi-day counseling workshops in this area, and wrote his final book, "Your Road Map to Lifelong Happiness", on these topics.

Keyes married a fourth wife, Lydia, who survived him upon his death. He died of kidney failure in 1995. He was also survived by his children with his first wife, Ken Keyes III and Clara Hardin.

Influence and legacy

In his life Keyes did many things that potentially could have bred a lasting influence on the larger world—he sold or distributed millions of books, lectured to many people, spoke to dignitaries at political gatherings, and knew and moved among the self-help elite, including Wayne Dyer who credited, "Ken Keyes literally got me started on this glorious transformational journey." Yet Keyes' organization did not endure but rather essentially died with him. Whether his personal growth system will endure in wide usage is unknown and whether his influence on the personal growth area will continue to be directly felt is uncertain, although his books are still available thirteen years after his death and a small group of his students maintain ties and carry on his methods.

Rather than signifying a personal or strategic failure on Keyes' part, however, the lack of institutional persistence beyond his lifetime may have been by design. Keyes employed no explicit strategies to ensure his organization would continue or grow without him, and he did not focus on promotion or promulgation of any established organization or personal legacy. Rather, at the expense of organizational continuity, he seems to have been more focused on his own personal efforts in teaching and sharing his methods. Instead of seeking out a major publisher for his books, he self published them all, and even brought back in-house one book that had been placed with a major publisher, which retrenchment was apparently a deliberate choice. Of the three teaching centers he founded, only the last was eponymous, that perhaps as a reaction to the schism he had suffered with the head of his second center.

Clearly, Keyes did not leave his former occupation for personal growth teaching in order to increase his wealth, and he built no empire.

Keyes claimed that through the use of his methods he spent almost all of his later life in a state of nearly constant happiness, and some of his followers said his methods had the same impact on their own lives.

Published works


*1989: "Discovering the Secrets of Happiness: My Intimate Story". ISBN 0-915972-15-8.


*1974: "Loving Your Body". ISBN 0-9600688-4-8.

Personal growth

Living Love method

*1972: "Handbook to Higher Consciousness". ISBN 0-9600688-8-0.

*With Tolly Burkan and Bruce T. Keyes, 1974: "How to Make Your Life Work, or, Why Aren't You Happy?" ISBN 0-915972-08-5
*1979: "A Conscious Person's Guide to Relationships". ISBN 0-915972-00-X.
*1982: "Prescriptions for Happiness". ISBN 0-915972-02-6.

*1984: "How To Enjoy Your Life In Spite Of It All". ISBN 0-915972-01-8.

*With Penny Keyes, 1984: "The Power of Unconditional Love: 21 Guidelines for Beginning, Improving, and Changing Your Most Meaningful Relationships". ISBN 0-915972-19-0

*1987: "Your Life Is A Gift: So Make the Most of It!" ISBN 0-915972-12-3.

*With Penny Keyes, 1988: "Gathering Power Through Insight and Love". ISBN 0-915972-13-1.

*With Penny Keyes, 1989: "Handbook to Higher Consciousness: The Workbook". ISBN 0-915972-16-6.

Other methods

*1970: "Taming Your Mind". ISBN 0-915972-18-2.

*1995: "Your Road Map to Lifelong Happiness: A Guide to the Life You Want". ISBN 0-915972-22-0.

Politics and futurism

*With Jacque Fresco, 1969: "Looking Forward". ISBN 0-498-06752-1.

*1984: "The Hundredth Monkey". ISBN 0-942024-01-X. about preventing the dangers of nuclear war. He moved to Coos Bay because it was said to be a place least likely to be attacked in a nuclear war.

*With Benjamin B. Ferencz, 1991: "Planethood: The Key to Your Future". ISBN 0-915972-21-2.


External links

* [ Ken Keyes: Obituaries and Memorials] Accessed April 12, 2007.
* [ Ken Keyes: Quotations] Accessed April 12, 2007.
* [ "The Hundredth Monkey"] by Ken Keyes, full copyright-free e-text of book on nuclear disarmament. Accessed April 12, 2007.

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