Seeking Deeper Meaning with Kell Julliard

By Franka Cordua-von Specht • 4 min read

Joy of Living

Quite early in his life, Kell Julliard — a gifted Tergar Guide who has facilitated more than sixty Joy of Living workshops in Northeast USA – was aware of his wish to meet a spiritual teacher. That wish, combined with an intense intellectual curiosity, set the stage for a life of seeking.


In his teachings, Mingyur Rinpoche sometimes shares the traditional example of a traveler on the road to the sought-after destination of Lhasa, Tibet. The journey may be long and arduous and filled with crests and valleys, but the good thing is, if the traveler perseveres, Lhasa gets closer. 

In some way, Kell Julliard’s life — filled with its richness of ups and downs — might be a modern-day journey to Lhasa.

Quite early in his life, Kell — a gifted Tergar Guide who has facilitated more than sixty Joy of Living workshops in Northeast USA – was aware of his wish to meet a spiritual teacher. That wish, combined with an intense intellectual curiosity, set the stage for a life of seeking.

As a teenager growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, he attended lectures, such as one by Franz Winkler, a Viennese physician and follower of Rudolf Steiner, and read books about Zen and yoga. He was looking to understand the human condition beyond his Presbyterian upbringing and also address his own personal crisis.

His peers knew him to be easy-going, friendly, and highly intellectual. They may not, however, have been aware of his conflicted inner world. “I realized that I was gay in the eighth grade,” said Kell in an interview from his Shutesbury, Massachusetts home that he shares with his long-time partner Harold. “And that was too early for me to handle emotionally.”

He found some solace in the arts, having discovered an immense love for classical music that has lasted to this day.

In 1970, before his senior year at Kentucky’s Murray State University, he traveled to Findhorn, Scotland. The trip proved life changing. “I experienced unconditional warmth without strings,” he said. His voice filled with gratitude for the founders of the intentional community. “If other people could accept me unconditionally, then maybe I could accept myself.” Upon returning to Kentucky, he came out to his family and friends. 

After college, he worked as an editorial assistant for the hardcover publishing division of the New York Times for several years. He then embarked on a journey that took him to Colorado, Arizona, Kentucky, and eventually back to New York City.

What unfolded could fill a wonderful memoir: He discovered bodywork. He directed a Sufi choir. He danced in an improvisational dance troupe. He earned two Master’s degrees, one in drama and the other in art psychotherapy. He studied Sufism, the Kabbalah, shamanism, and Robert Bly’s men’s work. The list is exhaustive and accomplished! 

Eventually, he turned to his science mind and took up a career as a science writer to support his art therapy schooling. This led to a position as director of publications for a large hand surgery research institute. Later, when he moved back to New York City, he mentored physicians in clinical research and directed clinical research activity in a large Brooklyn healthcare system for 25 years.


But Kell’s journey has had its fair share of dark times. Going back to the Kentucky years in the late 1980s, he was battling addiction. He was extremely fortunate to come across a 12-step program in 1988 that was nothing less than life-saving. 

“There have been a few moments in my life where I was able to recognize when something really good came into my life and grab on to it,” Kell shared. “The 12-Step Program was one of those. My first retreat with Mingyur Rinpoche in 2009 was another example.”

How did he not give in to despair during the worst times? “I guess, even in my darkest times, I knew there was something deeper that was good, and there was within me an unwillingness to acknowledge defeat.” 

The 12-step program showed him that spirituality could be applied in everyday life and not remain an intellectual pursuit. He also came to believe the second step: that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. This would lay the foundation for the teachings of Mingyur Rinpoche, particularly those of basic goodness or buddha nature.


 “When I turned 60 in April of 2009, I actually formally gave up the idea that I would ever have a spiritual teacher,” Kell said. Ironically, one month later, he attended the first Tergar retreat at the Garrison Institute, and Kell met Mingyur Rinpoche along with Tergar instructors Cortland Dahl and Tim Olmsted. “I thought, I’m finally in the right place at the right time!”

He appreciated Rinpoche’s emphasis on applying the teachings anywhere and anytime. “I wanted a spiritual path that would infuse the entirety of my life,” Kell recalled.

And he was enticed by the benefits of meditation that Mingyur Rinpoche outlined. “Rinpoche said what would result if I practiced the teachings, which seemed outlandishly good! I thought, if 10% of this happens, it’s still going to be worth it!”

Post retreat, Kell decided to invest in meditation: half an hour every day for three months. “After six weeks,” he said. “I could see that the days in which I meditated were better than the days that I didn’t meditate.”

As he continued, he began to notice more and more benefits: He found himself less reactive and less controlled by his thoughts and emotions. He also became aware that he was experiencing self-compassion, not just understanding it. 

Very quickly, Kell stepped fully into Mingyur Rinpoche’s newly formed Tergar community. He founded the New York City Tergar Practice Group and was invited to become one of the first wave of Tergar Facilitators in 2011. Additionally, he has mentored Tergar practice groups, written Tergar curricula, and supported the newly developed Tergar Meditation Teacher Program. 

Throughout the years, Kell has often been the first to test new Tergar initiatives. Where does this willingness to step forth come from? “I guess when you find something incredibly valuable, you want to share it with others,” Kell shared. “Because if it works for you profoundly, and it helps you, and it can help somebody else, then don’t you want to give it away?”

These days, Kell is semi-retired but still leads Joy of Living workshops, writes curricula for Tergar, plays pipe organ and flute at nearby churches, and enjoys the beautiful woodlands of Massachusetts. 

Is there anything he doesn’t do? “Politics and sports!” 

About the Author

Franka Cordua-von Specht, co-founder of the Tergar Vancouver Practice Group and Tergar Canada, works for Tergar International’s marketing and communication team. She is a Tergar Guide and facilitates Joy of Living workshops.


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