Friday, October 16, 2009

a 'law of attraction' guru runs amok

From Times Online October 16, 2009:
"The deaths of two people in a 'sweat lodge' at a self-help retreat in the United States are being investigated as homicides. High-profile author James Arthur Ray, who organised the five-day “Spiritual Warrior” retreat in Arizona, is the primary focus of the investigation.


 Yavapai County Sheriff Steve Waugh said the deaths of James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee and Kirby Brown, 38, of New York were not accidental.  "We feel that there should be some culpability on some individuals," Sherriff Waugh said.


Ms Brown and Mr Shore died after being overcome during a ceremony in which people were crowded inside a sauna-like tent. Nineteen other people were taken to area hospitals, suffering from burns, dehydration, respiratory arrest, kidney failure or elevated body temperature. Most were soon released, but one remains in critical condition


Between 55 and 65 people were packed into the 38.5-square-metre sweat lodge during a two-hour period that consisted of eight 15-minute rounds and various spiritual exercises led by Mr Ray.


Mr Ray, who featured in the movie version of The Secret, (and whose website promotes the idea that we can enjoy success and wealth through the 'law of attraction') rented the Angel Valley Retreat Centre near Sedona to hold an event that promised to “absolutely change your life”. Participants, whose ages ranged from 30 to the 60s, paid between $9,000 and $10,000 to attend this year's event.


A sweat lodge is an enclosed dome-like structure covered with tarps and blankets where water is poured on heated rocks to create steam.  Officials say the sweat lodge, built specifically for the retreat, lacked the necessary building permit."


Native American Chief Addresses Deaths In Sweat Lodge - Chief Arvol Looking Horse Speaks Out:
A white man, James Arthur Ray, who owns a company called Spiritual Warrior (among other interests) charges 60 people almost $10,000 each, or more than a half a million dollars, then directs them not to eat or drink for three days before allowing them to cook in a sweat lodge. Each person is then allowed only a space equivalent to two foot by 3 foot space to sit until they “see the light” or die! His Twitter site even says “something must die before something new can be born”


How many things are wrong here? Well first this traditional Native American event is truly a spiritual event, not a “For Profit Event”. Second, the true event is held by a person of native indian descent who have knowledge and understandings of the nature of the spiritual journey. It appears that once again that greed interfered with common sense. Why would anyone pay these outrages fees to be conducted by someone who doesn’t even know or understand the spiritual meaning or significance?


One must ask what James Arthur Ray, a self proclaimed wealth builder, of non Native American descent, from southern California has to do with Native American spiritual growth? Ray's company, James Ray International, is based in Carlsbad, California and brags of raising profits of over 500% last year. He holds two hour wealth building seminars around the country for up to 2000 people for $2000 per person, that’s 2 million an hour, not bad!


What do Native Americans have to say about this? We had to ask. So we’ve contacted the spokesperson for the Native American Indian Cultural Center. In general they are appalled and insulted that anyone would take their age old spiritual tradition and turn it into a Greed Mongers’ Money Grabbing Machine and on top of that abuse it in such an insane way that people would put their life on the line.


A spokesperson of the nonprofit cultural center in the heart of the Black Hills of South Dakota called All Nations Indigenous Native American Indian Cultural Center said this is one of the reason we are trying to help by educating everyone about the history of Native Americans. We wish to accurately inform the general public as to our traditions. Sweat lodges are not games to be played with by people that do not have the understanding of their use in spiritual journeys, quests or healing.


Our hearts go out to the families of the people that have been affective in a negative way over this matter.


Arvol Looking Horse, a 19th Generation, Keeper of our Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe, says, “I am concerned for the 2 deaths and illnesses of the many people that participated in a sweat lodge in Sedona, Arizona that brought our sacred rite under fire in the news. I would like to clarify that this lodge and many others, are not our ceremonial way of life, because of the way they are being conducted. My prayers go out for their families and loved ones for their loss.


Our ceremonies are about life and healing, from the time this ancient ceremonial rite was given to our people, never has death been a part of our inikag¹a (life within) when conducted properly. Today the rite is interpreted as a sweat lodge, it is much more than that. So the term does not fit our real meaning of purification . . . ."


Please check out my post of Saturday, September 12, 2009 entitled, "Have You Been Seduced by The Law of Attraction?" for information about for-profit, self-proclaimed spiritual gurus promising that if you just buy their books, attend their conferences, pay to sit in their make-shift, quasi sweat lodges, etc. you, too, will be able to attract the personal power, success and wealth you deserve. What a devastating experience for all involved.  What a lesson for the rest of us.

42 comments:

  1. Isn't it shameful, how these opportunists seem to pop out of the woodwork? They take something meaningful and sacred, strip it down until it is superficial and highly marketable, dupe silly people out of their money, and end up rich and famous.

    It's bad enough when people choose to pay thousands for empty advice, but when someone dies it's a senseless tragedy that could have been avoided.

    These opportunists are despicable and immoral, in my opinion. They value profit over people every time.

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  2. Angela: I couldn't agree with your descriptive words more - shameful, despicable, immoral, greedy.

    Sincere, good people desperate to learn a 'secret' will pay exorbitently, believe unquestioningly and set themselves up for terrible disappointment . . . or as we see here even worse. Makes me heartsick.

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  3. I cant believe how people are paying this much money for BUYing spirituality. Its not a supermarket. Such a tragic event..

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  4. Turquoise: What a good point. In this consumer society - we think we can plunk down our credit card and purchase anything. We seem to be always looking for the 'quick fix'. What a price these people have paid!

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  5. And I guess he got exactly what he wanted. Greed by any means necessary.

    Love Renee xoxo

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  6. When did this happen? I had not heard about this. It is a shame that shysters like these take advantage of people and exploit the ways of the Native Americans. I sure hope Mr. Ray gets some jail time, AND has to pay out some of his "precious" money, first refunding the money to all the participants, AND paying any medical bills of those who fell ill, plus pay any compensation to all those attending.

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  7. Pat: I believe this happened last week - on October 8th. Ray did not stay after the tragedy, but went immediately to Marina del Rey were he had another seminar scheduled. He was kind enough to telephone back to the attendees as reported by The Associated Press:

    "Ray held a telephone conference call with many of the sweat ceremony participants on Wednesday, according to people on the call. A recording of the call was made and transcribed by one of the listeners, said McFeeley, who also listened in and provided the transcript to the AP.

    During the call, Ray stressed the importance of eating healthy food, exercising, resting, meditation and surrounding themselves with "like-minded individuals."

    "Remember all that we've learned and experienced and knowing by law of the universe that out of every apparent chaos comes a greater state of order, an order that never existed prior to the chaos," he said, after asking those on the conference call to imagine themselves standing in a prayer circle.

    Ray said he used the call as a way to provide closure to those attending the retreat outside Sedona, according to the transcript. Bragman confirmed the telephone conference was held.

    Ray stopped short of apologizing to participants for not being at the Angel Valley Retreat Center the morning after the deaths, saying "I hope you understand it certainly wasn't my wish not to be with you and bring you some kind of closure."

    Rhodes said he had no comment on the conference call, but said detectives have the transcript.

    Fewer than a dozen callers were identified in the transcript, all of whom praised Ray and described his intentions as "pure" and their experiences as "profound." They also expressed sympathy for the families of the victims but suggested that the deaths of Brown and Shore were by choice.

    "It breaks my heart to know that the families are suffering," said one caller identified as Brent. "I think that the people that left, I do believe they made their own choices, whether on this level or the next, but I do feel really for the families."

    McFeeley said the comments on the call solidify his belief that Ray is controlling the people involved in his self-help program.

    "There were reasonable people at this event, and it shows the power one man can have when you combine physical and mental mistreatment," McFeeley said. "Everything in this retreat seems to have been taken too far, and those statements were hurtful to hear and probably more hurtful to communicate them to the family last night."

    Outrageous! Notice how he makes no mention of the 'law of intention' or the 'law of attraction' in his comments - and tries to absolve himself of responsibility by saying the participants who dies 'made their choices'.

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  8. Wow! I just saw this on t.v., but didn't realize it was Ray. My mom actually got emails from this dude, saying he was "changing her life." Wow~ what an idiot, doing that to people ... for $$$$.

    What people will do for a buck.

    So sad for the families.

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  9. I just re-read the excerpt from the Associated Press that I included in my response to Pat. I think I made an error attributing the comment "they made their choices" to Ray. It seems to be someone else who said that. Apologies.

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  11. Dayne: Yes, seems all the secrets and magic can be ours - but only if we purchase something . . .

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  12. It is amazing how gullible people can be when looking for some form of spirituality or healing. It is exactly what people like Ray pray upon. Our society has been plagued with such people..as if they live and profit from our fears...which they do.So many traditions can be twisted and convoluted to their benefit. I hadn't heard about this...thanks for bringing it forward, Bonnie.

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  13. This post made me very sad. The Secret has done so much wrong for spirituality focusing on greed and superficial desires instead of true spiritual pursuits.

    The Native Americans have so much to teach us and this man's selfishness has nothing to do with their scared ceremonies.

    My heart goes out to these two young people who have passed on (for a great cause, to bring awareness to this man's innate evil) and their families.

    The picture of Arvol Looking Horse brings tears to my eyes. I'm deeply connected to the Native American Indian.

    Much love and GREAT POST! Thank you for sharing.

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  14. I think there are charlatans everywhere, but if someone is asking large sums of money for anything - be suspicious. As for me, you would never get me to cram myself anywhere that is so full of people and hot, too! I've never heard of this guy, but then I've never read The Secret, either.

    Good post.

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  15. Alicia: You are so right - 'they prey on our fears'. That is why it is encumbant on us to be awake, conscious, aware of our fears, so that we don't fall victim to greed for magic and secrets.
    I appreciate your comments, as always, Alicia.

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  16. Stacey: It is, as you say, such a crime how we continue to steal from Native Americans. Now all these new age gurus have tried to usurp many of the native american traditions, initiations, healing rituals and produce a dumbed-down version that as Arvol Looking Horse says is totally unrelated to the original intent and purity. And, to presume that a white person can just read a little and conduct these old, rich ceremonies is the height of hubris.

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  17. Nancy: So true, there are charletans everywhere, I just find it particularly shocking when these people claiming to be spiritual, prey on the longing in us all to experience more enlightened levels of consciousness.

    Thanks for your comment Nancy - much appreciated.

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  18. I am pretty shocked by this sad story and it just seems to highlight the cult nature that seems to permeate these ideas. I am always amused by the way these 'gurus' claime they have been told by whatever unseen presence they are in contact with that they must write a book and not be worried about making money from it or some such similar line.
    Having worked in the health service for several years, I am well aware that many people are looking for a quick fix, magic pill.
    Thanks for bringing this to attention.

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  19. What an appalling, awful tragedy.

    Where are people's critical thinking skills? It's a sad commentary on their desperation or just plain unwillingness to seek authentic happiness that they could suspend their good sense in the hope of achieving some kind of bliss. I have often discussed the lure of 'The Secret' with my two sons, one of whom has been heavily influenced by it, but the message is almost irresistible for some.
    Every child should be made familiar with the story of the emperor and his clothes, and how it relates to real life.

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  20. Jacqui: That's it exactly - the quick fix, the magic pill - and health, wealth, power, position and happiness will be mine. We all have those yearnings on some level.

    I do think, though, that some people are genuinely seeking something more and are willing to try some new experience in the hope they will find what they are missing. I'm sure most if not all the attendees are/were fine people on a spiritual search. They just got caught in something that collapsed because it is founded in the leader's greed.

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  21. Deborah: Thank you for the important points you make. The lure of attaining all you desire by means of your intent or thinking is irresistable to many. Everyone thinks, well, I can do that!
    But as you say they don't use their critical thinking skills, and take the premises all the way through to the conclusion - or try to apply it more broadly. If they did they would see that while it is very attractive, it has no substance or basis in reality.

    And why is it a 'secret'. If it were true, what about all the people who REALLY need it - who are homeless or starving - why aren't they privy to the secret - why do none of the authors of this way of thinking offer themselves up to spread the word in Africa, India, etc. Oh, right those people have no money to pay for the secret.

    As you can see, this is a pet peeve of mine. I see clients who suffer from this delusion all the time - and blame themselves when the secret doesn't work for them.

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  22. Bonnie, I feel the same way about 'karma' - although for some it's a time-honoured philosophy.
    How could millions of Ethiopians and Somalians (among many others) be so unfortunate as to invite the suffering of war, starvation and displacement as their 'karma'? Thank you for bringing up this topic - and I've just read your post of Sept 12 - as it has given me an idea for a future essay.
    I passed both your posts on to my younger son, who has regained his critical thinking skills, but the older one will be a harder sell.

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  23. Deborah: Thank you for taking the time to read my post from Sept. on the law of attraction. I'm glad you found some 'fodder' for a future essay.

    While I believe Buddhism is a sophisticated psychology and way of life, I too, have always had trouble with 'karma'. I think it is another example where people have done the best they could to try and explain to themselves the randomness of this existence. It seems to match the machinations of our punitive ego-mind a bit too much to qualify as spiritual for me.

    I particularly take issue with people who try to apply karma to things that happen within a day, a week, a year, even this lifetime. My understanding is that it is a principle that goes along with re-incarnation - and gets applied in the next incarnation. But I am no expert on this, and am simply articulating my personal opinion here. Everyone has to do their own research, thinking and draw their own conclusions.

    It pleases me to find a like-minded thinker Deborah. I often feel like I am speaking out alone in the wilderness.

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  24. I am beginning to see the remarkable opportunities that this (blogging) offers in terms of discussion and involvement in a world that's a lot bigger than my little office.

    You make an excellent point about people's attempts to make sense of life - we do like to have explanations and whys and wherefores - and although karma makes for a nice, neat circle (is that why we say, 'what goes around, comes around'?? well, only partly...) it just doesn't fit as an explanation for good fortune, or the lack of it.

    Excuse my rambling sentences please! It's nearly midnight here and I'm clearly not at my best. I've enjoyed the back-and-forth, Bonnie.

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  25. Deborah: I've enjoyed our discussion too. I really think there is value in sharing and discussing ideas and philosophies. And what an opportunity to do it with people around the world with so many varied, different and rich life experiences.

    My goal with blogging, apart from a forum to share some of my artistic exploits, is to learn from others and to share a bit of what is on my mind. I'm seeing that you enjoy that too!

    'Til next time . . .

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  26. It's scary that people would willingly pay someone that sort of money trusting that their best interests are being taken into consideration. People like this man, who use others in order to enhance his own personal gain, are pathetic. I hope they bring him up on charges of manslaughter.

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  27. Jayne: It really is pathetic as you say. The morning after the two deaths and the hospitalization of several other people at his retreat, Ray left to lead another of his seminars ($2000 per head) in Marina de Rey. Can you imagine that he chose to do that rather than stay and help all the people at this sweat lodge retreat that must have been severely traumatized by seeing the deaths of 2 of their fellow attendees? Even then, the lure to make more money is what governed his actions.

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  28. It is such a shame. So many Americans looking for a "quick fix" in their lives - quick wealth, quick weight-loss, quick dinners, quick everything!!!

    The tried and true, the traditional is what works - and quite frankly, it usually takes some effort and work on our part -- the proper diet (not a fad, but eating right for life), the proper financial plan, etc.

    There is no quick method to attain wealth (unless one hits the lottery LOL). But there will always be the opportunists who will prey on those looking for that quick rixe up the ladder. And they themselves will be the only one getting rich quick. It just makes me sick when I see it - and it's not just individuals, many corporations do the same and hide behind their slick advertising and laws to look legitimate. Ahh, don't get me started! :)

    Have a wonderful weekend!

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  29. hello bonnie - what a very sad story. sad for the unnecessary loss of life. sad that people are so desperate to put on the spiritual clothing of traditions to which they have no connection - at any cost! steven

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  30. Oz Girl: So true - thank you for your comments. I hope you come again.

    I think this search for abundance, wealth, prosperity is unconsciously an attempt to fill the hole or emptiness within. These people probably went there with good intentions, wanting to better their lives, seeking something beyond the secular and material. Fine people who were duped and leave injured, traumatized, poorer and even in a casket.

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  31. this is very sad...we all have that inner desire, looking for some connection...to manipulate that that and use it for gain...not unlike other religeous frauds who promise if you just call now..its just sad.

    i would like to visit and authentic sweat lodge one day though..

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  32. I can't believe this actually happened!
    It's appalling!
    What I find more unbelievable is that people actually pay such ridiculously high amounts and believe that they are on a spiritual journey!
    It's a pity, really.

    Take care
    Deboshree

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  33. Hi Steven: Yes, at any cost, and for two the cost was their life. So sad.

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  34. Hi Brian: You are so right - people having been preying on our vulnerabilities and yearnings forever . . . . It's just hard to fathom how bright, educated people can be taken in by this type of thing.

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  35. Deboshree: Perhaps we become acquisitive even when it comes to knowledge - and thinking this man might know something we don't . . . some of us are willing to pay anything.

    I keep thinking about the other poor folks who were there - they must be so traumatized and disillusionned . . .

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  36. Oh, what a horrible tragedy in such a beautiful place! My husband and I were privileged to live in Sedona for one year!! It is one of the most beautiful places in which I've ever lived! And what a tragic blight and misuse of trust!! Heart-breaking!!! Thank you, Bonnie, for EVERYTHING! Your kindness, your well-wishes, and your lovely words! Your friendship is truly a gift!! I'm feeling a little better each day, and will be back again as soon as I feel myself again!! Love, Janine XO

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  37. I don’t care if this Ray is rich, to me he is a sorry excuse for a man. He preys on vulnerable people – ignorant people of the true way of the Native People of this country. This is despicable.

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  38. I come back Bonnie because I was talking to my husband about your post and I’d like to tell you what he said. He said that when one promises something in the name of religion, or spirituality being the vocabulary in this instance, you can make people do all kinds of crazy things. He added that this has been like this for centuries – that people who are intelligent will still do horrendous things if they have faith in that religion (sweating lodge is part of the Native Indians’ religious ceremonies) as blowing up themselves to go to heaven, riding horses to the other side of the world and killing innocents for a crusade or suffocating themselves in a lodge. Studying history will show that. I thought you’d like to hear his opinion. I clarify that when conducted properly under the guide of a genuine shaman, as Arvol Looking Horse said, it is a religious experience.

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  39. Oh Bonnie this is so tragic but what I find more tragic is that people will blindly follow someone like this.
    I was going to write my usual no nonsense take on this but this is not the venue for it. Lets just say that I have no patience for these sorts of people and am not a very good person to talk to about the path of life because I just tell people to get over themselves and just live life because it is what it is. Quit looking to others to fix you. Funny thing is my friends always come to me for this very sort of advice. A good flick with the fingers upside the head and they are happy. And it was free too.
    As you can see I am not very sympathetic.

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  40. Janine (Sniffles and Smiles): I am glad you are slowly feeling better. It takes a while. I'm so happy to have found your blog too - and know it is going to provide a long and satisfying exchange.

    I like what you say about this Ray tragedy being such a misuse of trust. Perhaps he even believes what he preaches and imagine the shock and disillusionment for him, when he thinks he "attracted" this to himself and his followers.

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  41. Vagabonde: Thank you for your (and your husband's) thoughts. It does seem that humans are 'wired' to behave mindlessly if promised rewards or blessings from god in return for their unquestionning loyalty. It's like we lose access to our critical thinking skills, once we are promised power, eternal life, 70 virgins . . .

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  42. Lori E: Thanks for stopping by. I think it is good when we are impatient for justice or clarity. I'm glad you give your straight-forward advice for free!! :0)

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