The Life and Death of Treya Killam Wilber

Grace and Grit: A Tale of Love, Loss, and Liberation

Ken Wilber
December 7th, 2012
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In this unforgettable 2.5-hour video, Ken Wilber reads select passages from his book Grace and Grit, which documents the life and death of his wife Treya Killam Wilber. Ken's time with Treya was one of the most defining experiences of his life, and this is the very first time that he has talked in-depth about her death since she passed away in 1989. The depth and beauty of Ken and Treya's story is an inspiration to us all. It was tremendously moving to hear Ken read these words in front of a live audience—the room was so captivated, and Ken's vulnerability was so touching, the sound of a pin falling would hit you like a mushroom cloud in the heart. This is one of the greatest love stories ever told, and you will be forever changed upon hearing it.

Running time: 2 hours 31 minutes

Written by Corey W. deVos

"It takes grace, yes—and grit!" –Treya Killam Wilber

In 1983, Ken Wilber met the love of his life. Her name was Terry Killam, or Treya as she later called herself, and she was absolutely stunning. She was beautiful, intelligent, deeply conscious, and more full of life and vitality than anyone Ken had ever met. She had a wonderfully playful sense of humor, was passionate about nature, art, service, psychology, and spirituality, and radiated warmth and kindness from her very core. As Ken says, "it was love at first touch"—there was a powerful and undeniable sense of familiarity that both Ken and Treya felt when they met. She was the woman Ken had been waiting for his entire life, and before long they were married.

Just ten days after their wedding, before they really had a chance to begin their life together, they received the harrowing news: Treya was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. For the next five years Treya and Ken did everything they possibly could to recover from this devastating illness, including a full arsenal of orthodox and alternative treatments, before Treya's life came to an untimely end in 1989.

This is their story. It's a story of incredible suffering, of radical liberation, and of an ever-present love that transcends time and space itself—a love that reaches so far beyond life and death, they both seem like very small things in comparison.

As you listen to Ken, you will notice that the book weaves three different narratives together. The first voice is Treya herself, taken from her private journals that span from first meeting Ken to her death in 1989, which she insisted that Ken use in order to tell their extraordinary story. The second voice belongs to the Ken Wilber who was walking this difficult path alongside Treya, step by step, not yet aware of where their story would lead. The third voice also belongs to Ken, but as the "omniscient narrator" who is lacing these narratives together and telling the story from the perspective of someone who has lived the full experience.

As Ken reads he slides seamlessly from one narration to the next, which creates an almost palpable sense that there is only one single Spirit here—that through every experience, behind every distinct set of eyes, this One Spirit is tasting the intrinsic pain, sweetness, and wholeness of its own manifestation, moment to moment. It's love loving love, always and forever.

This is one of the greatest love stories ever told. And once you've heard it, you will never be the same again.


In Ken's words: "I haven't talked about Treya's death in public since she died in 1989. And even though this was one of the most important events in my life and changed me forever, it's still in a sense too close to me. When I read sections of this book just to myself in private, I still cry. So I'm a little bit worried that by the time I get to the end of the book, and especially the last chapter, that I'll be a dribbling, drooling, slobbering idiot. And I'm going to ask you to just please help me with that and put up with that.

This was an extraordinary five years in my life, and five years that will stay with me forever. So I'm going to spend an hour or two and go through some of the main sections, and hopefully give you a flavor of what this relationship was like, and what this path of conscious love was like.

We didn't choose the path of conscious love. We were both practicing a discipline—I was practicing Zen and Dzogchen Tibetan Buddhism, and Treya was practicing Vipassana. But when we fell as desperately in love as we did, then that love became our teacher. We were thrown onto a path of conscious love. And we had no formal teacher in that, except the power of the love itself. And it constantly surfaced and resurfaced and resurfaced, and in a sense held our hand and walked us forward. And I think you will see what I mean with this."

 –Ken Wilber


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I am left feeling very, very humbled by this. My heart has been harpooned to a place never before touched by the courage and love that this tale reveals. So much gratitude wants to spill out of me. For out of that wound and the searing pain we become touched by something that outlives time, the beauty, purity and divinity of which outreaches the limitations of language.

I cried too, but more than that, I was and I am inspired by this profound and beautiful true story. Thank you very much.

great book on so many levels .I cried 


Thanks Ken for everything. 

Thank you, Thank you, thank you, Ken! What a powerful teacher you have let yourSelf become! TY, TY, TY!

 It feels odd that, in the wake of such a profound teaching, with heart full of inexpressible gratitude, my head 

still wants to ask a question: to what source are you referring when you speak of "Cynthia"? Having been her student

for some years  now, I presume you are referring to Cynthia Bourgeault and her recently published book The Meaning of Mary Magdalene?I am sure that many who have listened to your  incredibly beautiful and powerful love story would be eager to know this book and the references Cynthia provides for further light on that beautiful path of conscious love you and Treya showed us. Thank you,Treya. Thank you, Ken....and Thank you, Cynthia! 


I hope I will find a Treya one day. Whatever suffering I go through I will love her and our souls will be infinitely richer through having shared that love.

Thank you so much Ken and Treya.



 Words can never express the reality of how two unique and special people came to the Earth at this time of history, one a great mind,  the other a brave heart with an equally fine mind to show us the way during these dark times. Treya was and still is the woman behind the man and she didn't mind being behind him even though she is also very much ahead of him.  They have become a gift to the world that will never cease to spread light and love and fragrance that is manna to us all. Without Treya's heart Ken Wilber would not be so widely read and so deeply appreciated all over the world.


After listening to Ken's reading last evening, I went to bed, slept, dreamt, and woke knowing I had to respond and thank Ken, both for writing this beautiful books those years ago, and then for reading parts of it for us.  Beautiful gifts.

And apparently I wasn't the only one needing to express to him how touched we had been by hearing his voice, and seeing his person as he shared these deepest feeling and emotions and knowing.  So thank you, also, to those who wrote and shared their experience of this reading.  I like to think of how many of us were there listening together.

Bless, Bless

At the time I read Grace and Grit I was a teamster trucker, born and raised in Detroit,,yes actualling in Detroit..had did the est training and that book opened my heart and tears came...need I say more.

I always enjoyed reading Kens work, and his sense of humor is as big as his mind. I survived by having a value for laughter. Seeing Ken and Treya in their prime,  she a Goddess so pretty, and Ken so strong and buff I could let my mind  go wild but will censor myself,,, but Ken would prolly dig it. lol



It is nice to see you back Bill. I hope you have been well.

I was also deeply moved by Grace and Grit.. From a pragmatic perspective I am not likely to be interested in a philosophers' theory unless I know him to be a decent person who cares about others and who has  drunk from the cup of life.  I believe that Ken is such a person and that is why I have been loyal to him for so many years.

I hope you stick around.

Thank you Stanley.  Kind of went through a stage of not wanting to read much.. All those words seem to be getting in the way of the flow of life. I seem to be in a better balance . Some of the post are so long and felt I needed to take a break. So appreciate your friendship Stanley as well as your stand for an Integral planet as a possibility.

Hi Bill. Nice to hear from you. Your presence adds much to our community and always do what is best for your well being. If I thought that the best our community could do is engage in hyperintellectualism and ego pissing contents I would also take a long break.

I was thinking of you when I recently learned how much Werner Erhard influenced Dennis Merzel. Apparently Werner was a very influential person.

Be well.

Some time back I launched the inquiry into "What is Enlightenment?". In his beautiful and deeply moving reading Ken Wilber seems to indicate that a lovely expression of Tyera's enlightened way of being was her ability to hold paradox; to hold both ends of the polarity of life; passion AND equanimity, courageous and tough determination AND fragile and tender surrender and so on. I do not believe that she did this in an ugly wavering, dulling down, graying out, negating kind of way, but that she did it in a fully alive charge ahead through life holding on to the currents of both ends of the duality way. I pray you rest in love Tyera, R.I.L. Tyera. Amen

I admire that, even as a young man, some of the qualities that Ken found most attractive about Tyera were her commitment to growth and, most of all, her extreme level of integrity. It was having this rare opportunity to live with this embodiment of integrity that no doubt taught Ken to not deny or turn his back on the truth of what is going on. I believe that it is fitting that many people will soon be gathering to pay tribute to this fine gentleman. I also believe that the form of tribute that would most delight his heart would be to demonstrate to him that, as a result of his life's work, we have learned how to come together into compassionate communities to selflessly serve beings less fortunate than our selves in a manner similar to the way Ken served Tyera in her years of need.

In speaking of integrity, Corey deVos has given me his word of integrity that he will be promptly cleaning off all of the offensive material that we have seen around here in our not too distance past. It will be an inspiration to see this quickly occurring before our very eyes. This dedication and action will help our community to grow in a more good and beautiful way. If I was ever dragged down into the Hell Realm of ugliness and mean spiritedness I apologize. I vow to recommit my self to Tyera and Ken's cause of bringing more beauty and goodness to our wounded world in the name of Eros and integral, and I invite all people of goodwill to join me.

This was so beautiful to hear. To hear presented by Ken, as well. Thank you.

After some moments and activity following listening, I found an urge to say "and terrible". Beautiful and terrible.

What was terrible in me was another dropping into my personal, with my sense of a relative impending death, the normal fears associated with dying, potential pain and suffering, and the difficult to find for me personal meaning from this cycling of human lives. It seems difficult, almost impossible to stay in touch with the personal and the small along with the impersonal, the collective human situation, and the vast.

For me, and for many of us, the default setting for most of our lives' length is fear of this dissolution, this personal ending, change of all changes, as well as the imagination and overlaid memories of pain, suffering, the terribly messy loss of hard earned dignity and pride. We may sum it up as unfair. When momentarily we feel, sense, smell, know of death's ever-presence or closeness, we might shake our heads or shudder and cry or blurt "terrible" - at least I do.

Life often seems too too hard, and in attempts towards or moments of glimpsing life's unfathomable vastness and dimensionality, I truly boggle before shrinking back to a manageable size, which is very small, and think life is too too much.

One way that I am putting this beautiful and terrible story is that by being pushed into a very difficult reality at a particular speed, and graced by a fine and deeply committed supportive and embracing human lovingness, guided by exposure to some of our deepest and most coherent wisdom, these two blessed people were gifted with understandings, resolutions, and forms of awakening and lightening that made beautiful again this terribleness.

There was alternation and simultaneity of grace and grit and grace and grit and grace...

At least I have felt and I feel in myself, quite supported and encouraged by this beautiful example, the early fluctuations of life and death, grace and grit, beauty and terrible fear and dread, my limited and tissue-born liveliness, and the greater realm which can be spoken of as great spirit.


Listening to Ken read last night, I was watching strands of memory surface, appreciating that throughout the unique particulars of this story some common aspects present, features of each of our lives, recognizable, familiar, and known firsthand.


Such recognitions lead me to retrieve a written tribute to a friend, Juliana Abramson, who succumbed to ravages of breast cancer at age 42. On Christmas of ’88 I gave copies of the tribute to the other residents of Zen Mountain Monastery. The following are a few excerpts, beginning with a moment in an ICU.   




Hand in hand, quietly buoyant in resonant entrainment, eyes opening to the opening of eyes, smiling to smile, “Look who it is.”  …place a kiss on her forehead; a fanfare inkin ching, the greeting-signal and expression-sum, the pith and gist of our bond. Acutely congenial, unabashed accord. Not secret, just ineffable. Authenticity, allowed in the dire contentment shared with no face to save, no ice to break. Expressions all the vulture shadows on the world will not wipe away. Deep in this streaming, innumerable gift, little incongruence intrudes, little irrelevant gesture occurs. If something was dying, how loosely she held her identification with what that might have been.


…the so-called ‘remainder-of-life’ was clearly a fiction to us, neither applicable nor wrought with a forward nostalgia. Jul possessed that dimension of respect that is invincible due to genuine occurring beyond those ‘earned’ by device, demanded or coaxed. Her condition was simply not a plead. …I saw that her intelligence scrimmaged with intellect and came to occupy the wound, a triumph. The scar that would not harden donned a heart too big for sleeves. The pliant eye, uncallous, unjaded, admired even its own doom; curious, unsuspicious of destine entropy.


… Poignancy generated lucid accessibility to one another... Our adamant acceptance surprised us only when sized up to publicized sentiments regarding disease. Severity grew transparent, eventually indistinguishable from serenity. It seemed precisely this thin ice that stilled the waters, rememberably a murky turbulence. …Absolved of vague schemings that rivet us to vicissitude, we were relieved to be left alone with only so much. Jul had moored in mid-life. A wanton, perplexing succession of decades had given way to mystery, too commonly viewed a privilege of the very old, or the very young. Yet this wasn’t the predicament of a static has-been caught up in bygones. For all her stillness, she seemed finally to be on-with-it.


Tender or raucous, boisterous or mellow, dwarfing mere coping, consciously punctuating every fling into solace with a dose of tear, of owned evanescence. Staggering ebbs of recognition, present without durable misgivings, immersed in the subtle incredibility of tangible jeopardy… At once unsold on the utter trickery of loss, and busy within dignifying humility. Never for long appeased with pleasant teasings of a guessing hope. …the decided engagement of circumstance as opportune, directly attendant potential became the keystone at each day long encounter. Hope itself became impersonal, incontingent on somatic satiation, directed, not in stead of, or in spite of, but as the transpiring precipitation of entire unique event. And this was the resilient sense that what’s-the-matter is no longer what matters.   

I am sorry for your pain.  I am sorry that you two were parted.  No amount of justifiaction makes that fair.  True love is such a rare, special, and sacred gift.  I wish we could bring her back for you and give you back a lifetime of years together.  

Thank you so much, Ken, for sharing your profound love and your exquisite vulnerabilities.  I've read this book many times and after every read, my life takes dramatic shifts and my senses awaken to a tragically beautiful world.