Om-ing by the Beach With Andrew Keegan, Former Teen Idol Turned Spiritual Guru

Andrew Keegan, teen idol turned guru. Photo: Amir Magal

“There’s probably a book here. You want to write a book?” Andrew Keegan, ’90s teen heartthrob, asks, only half-joking, before launching into the story of how he came to be a spiritual torchbearer. Here’s how he tells it: In the spring of 2013, Keegan, best known for playing the slicked-hair popular jerk in 10 Things I Hate About You, got down on his knees and dug a small hole in the front yard of a 110-year-old church, formerly occupied by the Hare Krishna. The building, situated at a busy intersection in Venice, California, was at the time housing a New Age group called the Source, whose mission is “raising the collective consciousness of humanity.” Keegan had joined the group early on, when it was known as “God Realization Church,” but he’d distanced himself after coming to understand that the Source’s philosophy was “not in alignment” with his own beliefs. He did, however, feel especially aligned with its place of worship. So in the hole, Keegan placed a small rose-quartz crystal, and as he dropped handfuls of dirt upon it, he made a solemn promise. “I was clear that if there was ever an appropriate time to be in the service of the temple, I would be,” Keegan says as he gazes out at the Pacific Ocean from a bench on the beach less than half a mile away from the church.

According to gemstone-dictionary.com, the rose quartz is a crystal of love and also of magic. And lo, this past April, Keegan became the church’s lessee, co-founding his own community spiritual center called Full Circle.

Back at Full Circle this morning, as he has been every Sunday for the past ten months, Keegan is positioned on a floor cushion a few steps down from the church’s altar, which showcases a golden statue of Ganesh, the elephant-headed Hindu deity. Like so many people in California, he’s white-toothed and tanned—the sort of generally handsome and fashionable guy you’d spot in a Los Angeles restaurant and think, He must be trying to be an actor. He introduces himself to “the circle,” a ring of 50 or so beings, many of whom are young, beautiful women, draped in the kind of kibbutz clothing that blurs the line between blouse and blanket.

“Hi, I’m Andrew,” he says, with a sweet, humble smile. “We love you, Andrew!” the group chants back. Keegan bows his head slightly and touches his palms together in a prayer-shaped thank-you gesture. “I love you all too,” he replies. “Today, I’m here to activate high vibes.” The circle nods approvingly and responds in unison: “And so it is.”

Religious guru is a rareish title for a former child actor. Most end up adult actors (Leonardo DiCaprio) or adult drug abusers (Amanda Bynes) or both (Robert Downey Jr.). From the ages of 14 to 17, Keegan was showing off his naked torso for magazines like Tiger Beat, the prepubescent Playboy for adolescent girls who cover their walls in celebrity centerfolds. He shared many a Bop-magazine cover with Jonathan Taylor Thomas. “Some of these images still make me cringe,” Keegan says. “Maybe one day I’ll make a friend at Google and they can all be taken off the internet.” Life as a young famous person was #blessed, but not without its difficulties. “Back then, I’d be at a mall, and a traveling soccer team of girls would run up and be like, ‘I love you!’ ” Keegan remembers. “Anonymity was an almost impossible experience.”

By the time Keegan hit his mid-20s, he was still starring on the teen soap 7th Heaven, but not much else was happening for him acting-wise. He moved to Venice, where he started meditating, giving surf lessons, and dabbling in real estate. Life bubbled along pleasantly enough, but he began to look hard for a deeper meaning in it all. Today, at the age of 36, Keegan genuinely seems more interested in Full Circle and his spirituality-based community here in Venice than he does in the ambitions of his former self. (He says the more than $150,000 he sank into founding the church was “everything” he had.) But that doesn’t mean his past career doesn’t occasionally resurface. “I had this girl come up to me not that long ago and say, ‘I used to just love you!’ ” he says. “It’s always past tense now. And I’m like, ‘Can’t we just always love each other and everybody in the world?’ ”

If there is a deity of Full Circle, it’s love. The actual theology of the group is tough to pin down, but it seems to loosely follow Hinduism—or at least Russell Brand’s Sanskrit-tattoo version of it. (There is lots of om-ing.) Sunday services begin with intention-setting, followed by a group-chanted “We love you” to each congregant, not just Andrew. Everyone holds hands.

What happens each week is never quite the same. Keegan emphasizes that he wants the experience to feel “organic.” The first time I went, we homed in on our deepest altruistic intentions and then threw them (metaphorically, but still with an overhand-pitch motion) into the center of the room, where a mirror covered with various quartzes and candles lay face up on the floor, so as to reflect our love all over the world. We held hands and, with a small squeeze, passed our “soul medicine” to one another. The woman next to me started sobbing quietly. A muscular young man in yoga pants loose enough to hide a small toddler in each leg played a homemade didgeridoo for the circle and then explained how the Earth regularly sends us invertebrate emissaries. “If a mosquito bites you, that mosquito was meant to bite you,” he explained. “If a fly lands on your arm, it’s there as a messenger.” Later, we spread out on the floor with pillows and blankets and meditated as a “sound alchemist” walked around playing various carved-wood instruments over our bodies. Some people spooned.

The service finishes and Keegan and I walk down to the Venice beachfront to grab some lunch at the Venice Ale House, where Keegan is buds with the owner. On our way there, he tells me about an energy disturbance that took place at the church: The day before, in the middle of a six-hour-long meditation seminar with Master Shinzen Young, a man in attendance undressed himself and started masturbating. “I mean, talk about an odd energy to deal with,” Keegan says. He ended up single-handedly steering the man into one of the church’s back rooms and keeping him there until the police arrived. “And the guy tried to come back again this morning!” Keegan laughs, then reconsiders: “You know, it was an experience of very extreme flow, but it was flow nonetheless, and it goes on. Now we know something and learned something.”

On our way down to the boardwalk, we run into no fewer than a dozen people Keegan knows. He envelops each and every one of them in a big hug. When we get to the restaurant, a pool of customers waiting for tables stretches all the way out to the sand. Keegan slips past some folks and hugs the hostess. We’re still told we’ll have to wait at least 20 minutes. “Should we find someplace else, or …” Keegan’s voice trails off when he spots Arbor, the skate shop next door. “Can we pop in here so I can buy a T-shirt?” he asks. We enter and go straight to the shirts folded on the center display.

I quickly spot one that says ARBOR MEANS CHEERS IN AWESOME! and hold it up for him. “This one has a positive message!” I offer. He eyes it hesitantly. “I have this shirt from here that has a tree and the branches are all—” Here he raises his arms like a ballerina in fifth position. “I wore it so much it’s tattered on the shoulders.” The store clerk overhears him and brings out the shirt he’s describing. “This is it! Oh, man!” he exclaims, and indeed it is a cool design featuring a tree encircled by its own diverged trunk. Keegan whips off his heavy sweater right in the middle of the store and pulls the tee over his head. For a few seconds, I am offered a view of his chest for the first time since Tiger Beat. It is still very nice.

*This article appears in the March 9, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.

Om-ing by the Beach With Andrew Keegan