Grace and Grit: Spirituality and Healing in the Life and Death of Treya Killam Wilber

Grace and Grit: Spirituality and Healing in the Life and Death of Treya Killam Wilber

by Ken Wilber

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Here is a deeply moving account of a couple's struggle with cancer and their journey to spiritual healing.
Grace and Grit

is the compelling story of the five-year journey of Ken Wilber and his wife
Treya Killam Wilber through Treya's illness, treatment, and, finally, death.


Here is a deeply moving account of a couple's struggle with cancer and their journey to spiritual healing.
Grace and Grit

is the compelling story of the five-year journey of Ken Wilber and his wife
Treya Killam Wilber through Treya's illness, treatment, and, finally, death.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Ten days after transpersonal psychologist Wilber married Terry Killam in 1983, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. This harrowing account of her losing battle against disease is unusual in several respects. Killam (who changed her first name to Treya) shared her husband's belief in the ``perennial philosophy'' of the world's wisdom traditions embracing rebirth, enlightenment and the all-pervasiveness of Spirit. Her condition tested their faith simultaneously. Her lengthy, candid journal entries, interwoven with his narrative, form a tremendously moving love story. Killam, who died in 1989, combined orthodox treatment with such alternative therapies as diet, meditation and psychotherapy. Wilber ( The Spectrum of Consciousness ) disputes the imputed New Age view that mind alone causes all physical illness. He intimately participated in his wife's ordeal, and here presents cancer as a healing crisis, an occasion for self-confrontation and growth. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
"A tremendously moving love story. Wilber presents cancer as a healing crisis, an occasion for self-confrontation and growth."—Publishers Weekly

"A singular achievement. It succeeds as a story of one cancer patient's experience, as a guidebook for patients and their caretakers, as a love story, as a survey of the world's mystical traditions, as an examination of death and dying, and as an exploration of relationship as a means for spiritual development."—Natural Health

"A deep and searing look at living, dying, loving, death, and resurrection."—M. Scott Peck, M.D.

"A rare book—a love story that brings the perennial wisdom of the ages to life in all the anguish and exaltation that comprise the human condition. Treya Killam Wilber's honesty, vibrancy, and compassion speak through her many journal entries, masterfully woven with Ken's text, to make Grace and Grit a true experience of sacred partnership."—Joan Borysenko, Ph.D.; author of Minding the Body, Mending the Mind and Guilt Is the Teacher, Love Is the Lesson

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Read an Excerpt

Introduction to the Second Edition

I write this,

it has been ten years since Treya's death. I am immeasurably more, and immeasurably less, because of her presence. Immeasurably more, for having known her; immeasurably less, for having lost her. But then, perhaps every event in life is like that: filling you up and emptying you out, all at the same time.
It is just that, it is oh-so-rare that such a one as Treya is with us, and thus the joy, and the pain, are all so intensely amplified.

There are as many Treyas as there are those who knew her. What follows is my Treya. I
am not saying it is the only Treya, or even the best. But I do believe it is a full account, fair and balanced. In particular, it makes liberal use of her own journals, which she kept off and on for most of her adult life, and which she kept almost daily during the years we were together.

had always intended to destroy these journals after Treya died, and without reading them myself, because they were so intensely personal for her. She never showed them to anybody, not even me. Not because she was reclusive or private about her "real feelings" and thus had to "hide" them in her journals. On the contrary, one of the most extraordinary things about
Treya—in fact, I might say the single most astonishing thing about her—is that she had almost no split between her public and her private selves. She harbored no "secret" thoughts that she was afraid or ashamed to share with the world. If you asked, she would tell you exactly what she thought—about you or anybody else—but in such a nondefensive, direct,
straightforward way that people rarely got upset. This was the basis of her enormous integrity: people trusted her right from the start, because they seemed to know that she would never lie to them, and as far as I can tell, she never did.

I had intended to destroy the journals simply because when she wrote in them,
it was a special time for her to be alone with herself, and I felt that nobody,
including me, should violate that space. But right before her death, she pointed to her journals and said, "You'll need those." She had asked me to write about our ordeal, and she knew that I would need her journals in order to convey her own thoughts.

In writing
Grace and Grit,
read through all of the journals (around ten large notebooks, and many computer files), and was able to find excerpts on virtually every topic covered in the following pages, thus letting Treya speak for herself, in her own words, in her own way. As I read those journals, it was exactly as I had suspected: there were no secrets, no items that she had not generally shared with me or with her family and friends. Treya simply had no split between her public and private selves. I think that was exactly part of her enormous integrity, and I think that was directly related to what can only be called her fearlessness. There was a strength in Treya that was absolutely fearless, and I do not say that lightly. Treya had little fear because she had little to hide, from you or me or God or anybody. She was transparent to reality, to the Divine, to the world,
and thus had nothing to fear from it. I saw her in much pain; I saw her in much agony; I saw her in much anger. I never saw her in fear.

It's not hard to understand why people felt alive in her presence, vivified,
awakened. Even when we were in various hospitals, with Treya undergoing one gruesome indignity or another, people (nurses, visitors, other patients,
used to hang out in her room, just to be around the presence, the life, the energy, that she seemed to radiate. In a hospital in Bonn, Germany, I remember
waiting in line
to get into her room.

She could be obstinate; strong people often are. But it came out of that core of vivid presence and wakefulness, and it was bracing. People often came away from
Treya more alive, more open, more direct. Her presence changed you, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, but it changed you. It drew you into being present to the Present, it reminded you to wake up.

One other thing: Treya was remarkably beautiful, and yet (as you will see in the following pages), she had almost no vanity, which was amazing. As much as anybody I have ever known, including some very enlightened teachers, she was unselfconsciously herself, just so. She was simply and directly present, all of her. The fact that she had little selfconsciousness made her even more
right here.
Treya, the world became immediate and focused, clear and inviting, bright and honest, open and alive.

Grace and Grit
is her story; and our story. Many people asked me, since I was so careful to include Treya's own writing and her own voice in the following pages, why I
didn't list her as coauthor of the book. I thought about doing so from the beginning, but conversations with editor and publisher made it increasingly clear that to do so was misleading (as one editor put it, "A coauthor is someone who actively writes a book with another person. This is different from taking someone else's writings and weaving them into a book"). So I hope that those readers who felt that I was not acknowledging Treya's contribution will realize that such was certainly not my intent, and that Treya's real voice has been included on almost every page, by letting her speak for herself.

At one point in Treya's journals she wrote, "Had lunch with Emily Hilburn
Sell, the editor at Shambbala. I like her a lot, trust her judgment. I told her about the book I was working on—cancer, psychotherapy, spirituality—and asked her if she would edit for me. I'd love to, she said, which makes me even more determined to see this project through!" Treya did not have time to complete her book—which is why she asked me to write this one—but I am glad to report that Emily was the editor of
Grace and Grit,
and did a wonderful job.

few minor points. Most people read this book, not for technical information about my work, but for Treya's story. As I indicate in the Note to the Reader,
chapter 11

is particularly technical, and it definitely can be skipped without missing a thing! (Actually, if you are skipping that chapter, just read the few paragraphs in between the interview material, since it has some important story elements; but otherwise, skip away. Readers interested in a more up-to-date version of my own work might wish to consult

In this present book, all of Treya's journal entries are marked by a vertical solid line down the left-hand margin. These are different from, say, some of her letters, which have no solid lines. Her letters, even if they were mostly private, were still open to other people (namely, those to whom she sent them).
But every entry marked by a solid vertical line is from her journals, and thus an entry previously not available.

The reception to
Grace and Grit
was overwhelming, and it wasn't me the readers were responding to. To date, I have received close to a thousand letters from people all over the world—an unprecedented percentage write to tell me what Treya's story has meant to them,
and how it has changed their lives. Some have sent pictures of their baby daughters named "Treya," and I can tell you, as a purely objective bystander, that they are the most beautiful little girls in the world. Some of the people who write have cancer, and they were initially afraid to read the book; but once they did, they tended to lose their fear, sometimes almost completely—a gift from Treya to them, I honestly believe.


August I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had segmental surgery, lymph node dissection and a three-week treatment. I am in constant relationship with cancer on all levels. Several weeks ago a friend told me of your book and I
knew I had to read it. It was a scary thought because, after all, I knew the ending.

I thought, "she had some other kind of more serious cancer." How's that for denial? The fact is, I have the same kind of terrible cancer Treya had. The truth is this book has been at moments
but totally

because Treya describes, almost step by step, the way in which she moved through the pain and agony of cancer and into a spiritual freedom and liberation that outshines death and its inherent terror. As one of my favorite letters said (and this is the entire letter):

Ken Wilber,

am fourteen years old. Since I was a little girl I have been very afraid of dying. I read Treya's story, and ever since, I have not been afraid to die. I
wanted to tell you this.

Or another:


Last year I was diagnosed with advanced metastatic breast cancer. A friend of mine said I had to read this book,
Grace and Grit,
but when I asked how it ended, he said, "She died." I was afraid of the book for a long time. But having finished it, I wanted to thank you and Treya from the bottom of my heart. I know I might die, too, but somehow following
Treya's story has made me unafraid. I feel free of fear, for the first time. .
. .

Most of the people who write do not have cancer. It is simply that Treya's story is everyperson's story. It might seem that Treya "had it all":
intelligence, beauty, charm, integrity, a happy marriage, a wonderful family.
But, like all of us, Treya had her own doubts, insecurities, self-criticisms,
and deeply unsettling issues about her own worth and her own purpose in

. . . not to mention a brutal battle with a lethal disease. But Treya fought the good fight with all of those shadows . . . and she won, by any definition of the word "win." Treya's story speaks to all of us because she met those nightmares head on, with courage and dignity and grace.

And she left us her journals, which tell us exactly how she did it. How she brought meditative awareness to bear on pain and thus dissipated its hold on her. How,
instead of closing down and becoming bitter and angry, she greeted the world with love in her heart. How she met cancer with "passionate equanimity." How she rid herself of self-pity and chose joyously to carry on. How she was fearless, not because she lacked fear, but because she immediately embraced it, even when it became obvious that she would soon die:
"I will bring the fear into my heart. To meet the pain and the fear with openness, to embrace it, to allow it. Realizing that brings wonderment at life.
It gladdens my heart and nourishes my soul. I feel such joy. I'm not trying to
'beat' my sickness; I'm allowing myself into it, forgiving it. I will go on,
not with anger and bitterness, but with determination and joy."

And she did so, greeting both life and death with a determination and joy that outpaced their tedious terrors. If Treya can do it, we can do it: that is the message of this book, and that is what people write to tell me about. How her story moved them to remember what really matters. How her attempt to balance in herself the masculine/doing and the feminine/being spoke directly to their own deepest concerns in today's world. How her remarkable courage inspired them—male and female alike—to carry on with their own unbearable suffering.
How her example helped get them through the dark hours of their own nightmares.
How "passionate equanimity" installed them directly in their own true
Self. And why all of them understood that, on the very deepest level, this is a book with a profoundly happy ending.

(Many of those writing me are also support people, those who suffer doubly: having to watch the loved one suffer, and not being allowed to have any problems of their own.
Grace and Grit
speaks for them as well, I hope. Those who would like to see some of the mail response to
Grace and Grit
might wish to check
7 entry.)

As of this writing, Treya's family—Rad and Sue, Kati, David, Traci and
Michael—are all still alive and doing very well. Treya often said she could not imagine having a better family, and to this day I agree with her.

Cancer Support Community, founded by Treya and Vicky Wells, is an award-winning institution still going strong. If you would like to offer donations, or if you need its services, you can locate it by calling San Francisco information.

Treya and I were together for five years. Those years have been etched into my soul.
I really do believe that I have kept my promise, and I really do believe it is due to her grace. And I really do believe that any one of us can meet Treya again, any time we wish to do so, by acting with honesty, integrity, and fearlessness—for there lies the heart and soul of Treya.

Treya can do it, we can do it. That is the message of
Grace and Grit.

Meet the Author

Ken Wilber is the author of over twenty books. He is the founder of Integral Institute, a think-tank for studying integral theory and practice, with outreach through local and online communities such as Integral Education Network, Integral Training, and Integral Spiritual Center.

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