In 1986 my dad called me to see if I could skip my Friday classes to take a bus down to West Palm Beach. I was a student at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida, a few hours’ drive north.
“Ken and his group are putting on a seminar in Miami tomorrow, son,” he said. “I think it’s really important that you attend. I think you could really use this right now. I’ve already registered us both. Come on, your girlfriend can spend one weekend without you. Trust me, son, this will do you a lot of good.”
My father always spoke as though he had access to workings of my psychology that were hidden to me. He was a New Age guru, my old man, and he professed to possess many supernatural abilities, including the ability to read minds. For many years I didn’t doubt his abilities. You see, I had been raised in the New Age movement. I first read Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi when I was in elementary school, and before I was a teenager I devoured them all: Carlos Castaneda, Richard Bach, Robert Pirsig, Hermann Hesse, and the rest of the gang. By the time I was in college, I was deep into D. T. Suzuki, Thomas Merton, Carl Jung, and Christopher Isherwood.
So I got on the bus, and with my dad I attended the first real self-help workshop of my (young) adult life: “How to Live Better by Loving Better.” The workshop was put on by a group of students of my father’s close friend and mentor Ken Keyes, whose 1972 book,Handbook to Higher Consciousness, was something like the Bible to me growing up—I carried it with me in my backpack for years, I had much of it memorized— and it followed the principles of Keyes’s “Living Love” method. If you’ve never heard of Ken Keyes, he was one of the great early American leaders of the self-help movement, and was highly praised by such leading self-help figures as Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer, Ron Kurtz, and even Bishop Desmond Tutu.
I don’t remember much of the seminar. That is, of course, one of the common and justified complaints we tend to make about self-help books and workshops: you’re inspired over the weekend, you come home bubbling with enthusiasm and energy and determination, you share your excitement with your cautiously supportive friends and family, you make a bunch of lists of resolutions, projects, and goals, and then, after a week or a month, you go back to your old self. But there was one exercise that will always stay with me. We were seated on the floor—there were 50 of us, the workshop was sold out—and the woman leading the afternoon session explained that we were going to dance with a partner.
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