Essay

James Arthur Ray’s Spiritual Warrior Event Kills 2, Injures 19 in Sweat Lodge Fiasco

By Duff McDuffee on October 9th, 2009

The news is going around that our pal James Arthur Ray has two dead participants and 19 hospitalized after a 2-hour long sweat in Sedona, AZ. Some partipants paid up to $9000 for this “Spiritual Warrior Event.” From the AP release:

Many people began feeling ill after about two hours in the sweat box, emerging lightheaded and weak, said Verde Valley Fire District Chief Jerry Doerksen.

Two hours in a sweat lodge!? This is insane. (UPDATE: I’ve been informed–by my girlfriend–that 2 hours or even much longer is commonplace for sweats. I still think this is insane.) I remember doing a sweat with the Boy Scouts, and it was about 15 minutes before we got out and dumped ourselves with cold water. Ever spent 2 hours in a sauna with no break?

But this is the logic of these kinds of workshops–break you down to build you up. Tony Robbins’ Unleash the Power Within is very similar–long hours, no breaks, constant full-on exercises. While there is usually no explicit instruction that you must remain with the group, the pressure to do so can be enormous even when way beyond your limits.

I’m guessing that these deaths and injuries were not a result of “carbon monoxide” (which tested negatively) but intense psychological pressure to remain in a dangerous situation far beyond the limits of safety and sanity.

I know several people who have gone to the hospital for various reasons after “large group awareness trainings” such as Ray’s “Spiritual Warrior Event.” Many people online have complained of received mild to moderate burns on their feet after Tony Robbins’ firewalk, for example. It’s time we brought these gurus to justice and demanded that personal change workshops be safe for all.

When something goes wrong in such a seminar due to it being overly intense and dangerous, usually the victims are blamed for “not taking 100% responsibility,” thus dodging the responsibility of the seminar leaders. Personally, I think we should hold James Arthur Ray 100% personally responsible for the death of these two seminar participants, up to and including going to jail.

Seminar leaders are responsible for making their workshops both effective and safe for all. There are many safe and gentle methods and techniques for powerful change that have little-to-no risk, and do not require having a breakdown in order to have a breakthrough. It is long past time that we put limits on dangerous techniques for change and promoted safe and effective ones.

UPDATE 6:56pm 10/9/09

James Ray has deleted all of his recent tweets that had to do with the Spiritual Warrior Event or death. I think these tweets are interesting and instructive, given the context. Luckily, they are all still available in search.twitter.com.

These were posted on JamesARay’s Twitter account before and during the Spiritual Warrior Event (shown from oldest to newest, the opposite order as to how things appear on Twitter):

Picture 15Picture 14Picture 13Picture 12Picture 11Picture 10Picture 9Picture 8Picture 7Picture 6Picture 5Picture 4Picture 3Picture 2Picture 1

James Arthur Ray has an opportunity in this terrible situation to be a spiritual warrior and take full responsibility. Rise up to the challenge, Mr. Ray. It’s time for a new paradigm in personal change workshops, don’t you think?

UPDATE #2, 7:57pm 10/9/09

The news is breaking all over the web. Here’s a great little piece about James’ Ray’s Death Lodge, where we learn that some of the participants lack health insurance. :( So in addition to the almost $10,000 ticket price, expect another $10,000 in medical bills. I smell class-action lawsuit.

Here’s a slideshow from ABC news in Arizona, with a recording of the 911 call, and a short video (upper right). Two people were not breathing, and then on a later call there were three people not breathing. Just awful. Why didn’t they catch this earlier?

$9695 each times 64 people = $620,480. James A Ray could have easily afforded to have medical staff on hand.

Here’s some sales copy from James A Ray’s site (before they take it down):

You’ll accelerate the releasing of your limitations and push yourself past your self-imposed and conditioned borders (no more coloring inside the lines)…

The excessive focus on pushing past your boundaries (treating inner objections as “resistance”) is in my opinion what creates the conditions for dangerous approaches to personal change.

You’ll define and enforce your own boundaries—without someone else telling you what they should be…

Clearly this did not happen on this retreat, or those who were feeling ill would have simply stepped out of the sweat lodge. The psychological pressure to conform is often enormous in such workshops, and individual boundary-setting is usually discouraged.

You’ll experience, at the spiritual level, the ancient methodologies of Samurai Warriors; and gain a true understanding of the authority and strength that come from a life of honor…

Again, this is an opportunity for James A Ray to act with honor in the face of death. Deleting Twitter posts to cover your tracks is a bad start. And the patriarchal hypermasculine metaphor of the samurai again shows its shadow in the death and injury of these workshop participants.

The investment is ONLY $9695 per person.

This was an advanced, 6-day seminar for people who had already attended one of James Arthur Ray’s introductory workshops. The structure appears to be the same as Tony Robbins’ workshops–get them in for free or cheap for the first seminar which is structured to be one big sales pitch for the very expensive advanced course. Caveat emptor!

UPDATE #3

Techcrunch has picked up the story, due to the issue of the deleted Tweets. I think we should read this as the Law of Attraction in action—dishonorable acts of cowardice actually attract more attention than transparency and honesty, a lesson for us all.

UPDATE #4

Please also read my followup post to this one, entitled The Dark Side of The Secret: Reading James Arthur Ray’s Sweat Lodge Disaster through a Magickal Lens.

UPDATE #5
The New York Times has picked up the story (requires login). Here’s a quote:

Joseph Bruchac, an expert on Native American traditions and author of “The Native American Sweat Lodge,” said that number far surpassed the 8 to 12 typically present at such a rite. “It means that all these people are fighting for the same oxygen,” he said.

Traditional lodges are usually made of willow branches and covered in canvas or animal skins, and are not meant to be air-tight. The authorities said that the lodge at Angel Valley was covered in plastic and blankets.

Questions have also arisen about the length of time the people were in the lodge — about two hours. A ceremony usually lasts no more than an hour, Mr. Bruchac said.

UPDATE #6

Wonderful news! This post has been linked to from Steve Pavlina’s forums by “Antarananda,” the very forums I was banned from (by Pavlina himself) for questioning the gurus. If anyone wants to log into the forums and thank Antarananda for me, I would very much appreciate that.

UPDATE #7

AOL has a new article giving some back story on the two who died. The woman, aged 38, “was an avid surfer and hiker who was ‘in top shape,’ took self-improvement seriously and had a passion for art, a family spokesman said.”

Some other relevant quotations from the article:

Nineteen other people were taken to hospitals, suffering from burns, dehydration, respiratory arrest, kidney failure or elevated body temperature. Most were soon released, but one remained in critical condition Saturday.

Brown had no pre-existing health conditions that would have kept her from participating in an otherwise safe activity, said cousin and family spokesman Tom McFeeley. That two people died and 19 others became ill at the Angel Valley Retreat Center indicates that “something went horribly wrong.”

Yavapai County Sheriff Steve Waugh said Saturday that his detectives were focusing on self-help expert and author James Arthur Ray and his staff as they try to determine if criminal negligence played a role. Waugh said Ray refused to speak with authorities and has since left the state.

“We will continue this investigation down every road that is possible to find out if there is culpability on anybody relative to the deaths of these individuals,” Waugh said. He said it could be three to four weeks before they knew if criminal charges would be filed.

On Saturday, Amayra Hamilton said Ray has held the event at the resort for seven years, and there never have been any problems.

Every 15 minutes, a flap was raised to allow more volcanic rocks the size of cantaloupes to be brought inside.

Authorities said participants were highly encouraged but not forced to remain in the sweat lodge for the entire time.

The participants had fasted for 36 hours as part of a personal and spiritual quest in the wilderness, then ate a breakfast buffet Thursday morning. After various seminars, they entered the sweat lodge lightly dressed at 3 p.m.

Sheriff’s Lt. David Rhodes said authorities were checking whether there was a lag time between the first signs of medical distress and the emergency call.

I am especially concerned that participants had fasted for 36 hours and had just broken their fast. I recently tried fasting for 36 hours. The first 24 were wonderful, then I started going into a kind of toxic shock, feeling nauseous like I had the flu (which is apparently common), so I broke the fast at about 36 hours. I wasn’t ill, but it did take about 24 more hours to feel normal again. I would have had a very difficult time doing anything strenuous, let alone a two hour sweat. A friend who fasts regularly says that one’s first fast can be the most challenging, but that they can get easier over time. For anyone fasting for the first time, this fast alone could have been quite challenging. If it had only been a two hour sweat, the risks would have been greatly reduced.

And again, “highly encouraged” to stay within the sweat lodge is almost certainly an understatement of the intense psychological pressure most participants in such an event feel to conform to group norms. I think participants in seminars should be “highly encouraged” to speak up when they feel that a process is too much for them. In my direct experience on both my own path and in facilitating change with others, there is no sane reason to push yourself or anyone else so close to death in order to engage in conscious transformation.

UPDATE #8, 10/13/09
The NY Times has an update. Here are some relevant quotations:

Tom McFeeley, Brown’s cousin and family spokesman, called on Ray to assure that the participants ”were not mistreated and not put in a reckless situation.

McFeeley also said he is concerned that Ray exhibited a ”godlike complex” during the event that might have kept people from opting out of activities Ray acknowledged could cause ”physical, emotional, financial or other injuries.”

”We need to look at this way beyond the sweat lodge,” McFeeley said. ”If we could understand minute by minute what happened this week, I think we’ll get a much greater view on what kind of event this was and the level of danger that existed.”

This is exactly my concern as well. It’s not just the sweat lodge, but the intense days leading up to the lodge, as well as the meglomania that often occurs amongst such guru figures which leads to unsafe conditions. I’ve seen this again, and again, and again.

Fire department reports released Tuesday show the incident wasn’t the first involving a sweat lodge ceremony at the resort. Verde Valley Fire Chief Jerry Doerksen said his department responded to a 911 call in October 2005 about a person who was unconscious after being in a sweat lodge.

Angel Valley resort owner Amayra Hamilton confirmed that Ray was leading the sweat ceremony during the 2005 event. Ray’s spokesman declined to comment.

WOW! Ray almost killed somebody in 2005, but wasn’t stopped. This is exactly what I’ve been attempting to warn people about with my guru criticism on this blog and elsewhere.

Ray’s spokesman, Howard Bragman, has said Ray would speak when it’s appropriate. He declined Tuesday to address the Brown family’s concerns.

”The facts are going to come out,” he said. ”We’re not going to conduct our investigation in the media. We’re going to let the investigative bodies do their jobs.”

Ray is still not talking to police, nor the media, but gave a talk to 200 people (I’m guessing he’s trying to stay on his seminar schedule). He says he’s not going to conduct his investigation in the media, but won’t conduct his investigation with the police either. Again, what would a true spiritual warrior do, Mr. Ray?

A statement released by the family of Liz Neuman, who remains in critical condition at the Flagstaff Medical Center, said she is in a coma and doctors are working to stabilize damage to multiple organs

In addition to the other two dead, there is another woman in a coma!

Two others remained hospitalized. Fire officials say the victims exhibited symptoms ranging from dehydration to kidney failure after sitting in the sweat lodge.

Two dead, one in a coma, two more hospitalized. Do they have health insurance? Why kidney failure?

Officials say the sweat lodge, built specifically for the five-day retreat, lacked the necessary building permit.

UPDATE #9

Here’s a great 90 minute podcast about the event, with an interview with someone named Shawna who was there, helping with the fire (thanks to commenter “Singularity” for the link).

Here are my rough notes from the podcast (so you don’t have to listen to the full 90 minutes unless you want to):

Shawna has done many sweats in the past. She was invited to help with the fire for the sweat. When Shawna arrived at the location, her friend who had invited her was very upset and said “something went terribly, terribly wrong.” She ran to the sweatlodge. There were people lying in the dirt and sand around the lodge, with other people attending to them.

There was a woman in a golf cart to take her to her lodging area because she was cold and they wanted to get her into her sleeping bag. The woman started to speak in a very bizarre way, and had a very blank look, went into seizures with foam coming out of her mouth. (FROM DUFF: This is exactly what I’ve observed from someone very close to me after an overly intense personal growth workshop.)

A paramedic came to get her vitals. Shawna spent an hour or two holding her down so that she didn’t hurt herself or pull out the IV the paramedics put in there.

2 hours later, the other people still looked like they had suffered from physical trauma, shivering in blankets.

One woman told Shawna her story, she passed out in the sweat lodge. She was in the very back of the sweat lodge. Most of the people who ended up with a severe trauma were in the back of the sweat lodge.

When the door was being opened in the lodge to put in more rocks, air rushes in. She was so far in the back and the door was so small, she never felt any relief, no fresh air. This is very unusual, probably unintended. Usually opening the door, everyone feels some fresh air before the next round. She wondered if she was even breathing any oxygen by the end.

2 days prior attendees had gone into a vision quest where they were encouraged to fast and not drink any water. Sedona is a desert, an extremely dry climate. Participants were already dehydrated and then sweating it out.

That morning they had a breakfast and encouraged to hydrate, had about 4 hours to rehydrate and get nutrition in them. In Shawna’s opinion, the sweat was way too long, should be 4 rounds not 6.

People were throwing up water.

Shawna prepared to leave, Sheriff asked her to stay and took a small statement.

She shared with her husband that she was seeing people dead, passed out, etc. when “relief was on the other side of that door.” One man said “yea, I wimped out, I got out on the 5th door…I wasn’t playing full on.” This man had shamed himself, felt like he was letting Ray down. Shawna defended him as maintaining his own limits, speaking up to authority. This man questioned Ray’s authority and took care of himself, Shawna told him. And then he took that in and said “and thank God I did that, because I was well enough to carry the other people out.”

(FROM DUFF: Tony Robbins uses the phrase “play full out,” and his community enforces conformity towards excessive personal boundary crossing with this phrase.)

Many people had passed out in the sweatlodge.

The whole point of the conversation is checking in with yourself in any situation where there is an authority figure, says the show host.

When Shawna told her husband had happened, he said, “well, I know that you would have questioned Ray” she started crying and said “would I have? Would I have tried to impress him by ‘playing full on’?”

Shawna said she personally might have been one of those people who did not take care of herself. Shawna is a therapist, a motivational speaker, and (until recently) was a fan of James Ray. Shawna was humbled to be completely and totally responsible to the people she serves.

Shawna still recommends all the gurus CDs and books and seminars, and encourages others to self-searching, but does not “allow someone to have my answers.”

One of James Ray’s quotes is “your life begins at the end of my comfort zone.” Shawna still believes this, and people got pushed too far. Shawna draws the line with pushing myself, not for other people’s approval.

James Ray is a good example of what to look for. His message was “you’re not going to get this message somewhere else,” didn’t give credit to other teachers.

Power implies responsibility. Shawna can feel judgment from James Ray.

Shawna interviews Jim Tree, a Native American man who does ceremonies. Many reactions from the community–not a sweat lodge ceremony, but a huge aberration from what a Native American sweat lodge is like. He’s never seen more than 20 people at a lodge.

Years of training to be sensitive to everyone in the lodge. Sweat lodge construction has certain materials–red willow branches for frame. There is a reason for this. Plastic tarps trap in gases.

Time to talk about sweats, results, etc. What is this event/ceremony? What is the fruit? Rebirth, cleansing, regeneration.

We do fast the day of the sweat, but don’t fast from water. Start hydrating all day of sweat.

“This was a recipe for disaster.”

“Usually people prepare for a year for a vision quest.”

The elders have been warning people. Apparently the elders went to Ray and confronted him and told him that he shouldn’t be doing this, that “you’re hurting people.” Most every time people have been nauseous and sick for the six or seven years Ray has been doing this event.

If you paid some money for a weekend seminar and they said you’d be a Jewish rabbi after the weekend ended, you’d find it ridiculous. We sample all these different nature-based religions, starving for spirituality (including Native Americans on the reservation). When we find something that feeds that need, we jump right into it without questioning.

The number one thing about a sweatlodge is that you humble yourself. You crawl on the ground to get it. If the lodge leader is exhibiting a bit ego, that’s a warning sign.

“We do not charge for our ceremonies.” The person doing that is supported within native culture–fed, travel paid for, etc.

“You physically cannot build a lodge that big out of the materials we use.”

Our people have been taught to keep their mouths shut. Less than 20 years ago, it was illegal to do a sweatlodge. Before that, medicine people were put in an insane asylum. “It’s not that time anymore.”

Jim Tree encourages people to turn this event into an opportunity to talk openly about sweat lodges, explore the significance of all the aspects of the ritual, etc.

Shawna answers questions: there was a nurse there, she was outside the lodge. Shawna asks if anyone took a psych or health evaluation on anybody? She heard in return from a woman was her first and last name and her date of birth, so probably not.

Caller had been to other James Arthur Ray events, this was the final event in a series of seminars.

Jim Tree—3 types of people shouldn’t be in a lodge: pregnant, high blood pressure, heart history. The only way you can tell is do a health history. Also, woman who died was in perfect physical health.

Jim was stopped from doing lodges after a year from the elders and trained more to sense the condition of people in the lodge.

During the 5th or 6th run, people were calling out to be let out and were denied. “That would never happen” in Jim’s tradition.

Pouring the water is gently sprinkled on the stones to precisely control it. Ray poured water from the bucket directly onto the stones, creates an uncontrollable amount of heat.

Jim would be glad to have Ray call him and talk to him about all of this.

Shawna originally saw James Ray on the Secret, used “the secret” to meet James Ray, met him 3 weeks later at a restaurant.

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243 Responses to “James Arthur Ray’s Spiritual Warrior Event Kills 2, Injures 19 in Sweat Lodge Fiasco”

  1. Toby says:

    Great post. Thanks for drawing attention to this. Lots of the problems that appear in personal development seem to stem from the same source — pathological masculinity, parading about as enlightenment, coupled with a quest for domination (over mind, over body, over others) rather than seeking balance and healthy ecosystems.

  2. MGM says:

    Try constructing something instead of just tearing other people down. You will not become famous and successful merely deconstructing those more successful than you.

    • Are you serious? 2 people are dead, and you are criticizing me for being too critical. Lame.

    • Toby says:

      It's too bad that irony is dead because otherwise it would be ironic to read a negative comment complaining about um, negative comments.

      Besides, within this post and indeed throughout this blog are the seeds of a new way of thinking — personal development based on balance, healthy ecosystems, mutuality, cooperation, and acceptance of limits. As a frequent reader of this blog that's where I see it going — but first some of the old ways of doing things need to be called out and dismantled.

      Also, don't we need to hold folks accountable for their actions? I don't see how enforcing health and safety laws and criminal statutes in any way prevents us from also building up a new and better world simultaneously.

      If we're to really get right down to the heart of the matter, I think so many of the things we do in society — particularly extreme sports, intense folks on work, and hyper-agentic personal development as practiced by Ray, Robbins, Pavlina and others, is all really just "a folding screen to curtain off death" as Milan Kundera said (in talking about the true function of "kitsch" but I think it applies here too). It seems to me that that's what freaks people out so much about Duff's writing — he takes away the curtain that we use to hide from the fact that as human beings we're kinda messed up and fragile and vulnerable and finite. So rather than deal with things as they truly are (which can be kinda scary), some folks get upset and say "STFU" in various ways.

    • Are you serious? 2 people are dead, and you are criticizing me for being too critical. Why don't *you* construct something rather than tearing *me* down?

    • fifi says:

      That response was totally uncalled for, callous, highly questionable, without any thought or respect for those who actually lost their lives, without any knowledge of any other persons feelings or beliefs in fact I would go so far as to question YOUR own beliefs that make you respond with such unbelievable mesmerised blind vision. What a total loser. Sounds like you are a mate of that other loser from the secret David Schirmer, hes just as loopy and narcissistic.

    • Maiingun says:

      I totally agree with you, MGM. Perhaps you should've given 'ol James the same advice…

  3. Vince says:

    Hi Duff,

    This is a really informative post. I've never heard of such an incredible fiasco within the personal development world, but I'm sure they're fairly common. Though I never saw anyone die during my LGAT (Large Group Awareness Training) days, I certainly saw tons of people being taken way beyond their personal limits, in the name of growth and "personal responsibility". It seems like one of the biggest shadows of these communities, is their lack of organizational responsibility. They're more interested in protecting their asses, with huge liability sheets, then protecting the people who come through their seminars, trainings, etc. It's really sad, and I think you're right, it's largely due to some of the fundamental philosophical assumptions they carry. Thanks for challenging those assumptions so clearly.

    In terms of "constructing" something new, I get the sense now that construction has to come from the rubble of what hasn't worked in the past. As Toby was pointing out, there are the seeds of something new within your criticisms, but I suspect it will take a lot of (careful) experimentation and diligent honesty about what doesn't work, before anything genuinely new can emerge. just a hunch. :)

    • Yea, I've never heard of any death directly caused from a LGAT yet either. Very unfortunate. I hope that posts like this one can help others to see the dangers of such methods and to seek out more wise, balanced, precise, and sane approaches to change.

      And I'm starting to see a few seeds sprout, at least in my own understandings of things. But I think any paradigm that goes beyond these approaches will be grown in a community, not from any one individual—and yes, with lots of careful experimentation.

  4. LionKimbro says:

    To identify the new perspective that you are looking for, I would start by giving form to the questions. You are searching for something — I would freetype on the basis of what you are searching for, and let the words flow freely. Then the question will start to appear.

    When you know the questions clearly, you can post them on the blog (if you like,) but most importantly, your mind will start working out the answers.

    At some point, the answers will come, and you can post those too on the blog. This will effect a genuine change.

  5. Hi, Duff: One good blog visit deserves another. Good for you for covering this story and providing so many relevant links. May many more bloggers do so as well.

    As for James Ray, I wonder how Law Of Attraction fans/Secret fans are going to spin this one.

    • Thanks for the comment, Connie!

      I've posted my thoughts on how one might read this event from a "magickal" perspective in this new article:

      http://beyondgrowth.net/guru-criticism/the-dark-s…

    • Joshua says:

      How about we wait and see how James Arthur handles things…perhaps he will impress us with personal responsibility and vowing to learn and adjust for future events based on this experience…after all…isn't that what a real spiritual warrior would do?

    • Yana says:

      :) There's nothing to spin. The Law of Attraction is a universal law that works regardless of you being spiritual or not, criminal or no criminal – it has nothing to do with it. Nobody needs to spin anything. If a person falls from a building and kills him/herself this doesn't mean the law of gravity is wrong or bad. Laws are neutral.

      What happened at Sedona is really really terrible :( . I think the problem comes when a single person starts to think that he/she knows better than the other and disregards warnings. The bad part is that western people think that following a teacher/guru means that they should stop listening to their own inner guidance and beliefs and follow only what the teacher tells them. Not to mention that a spiritual guru, what Ray is claimed to be, is not supposed to take money for teaching.

      I am curious to see how HE is going to spin this one. I am personally waiting for him to apologize. I'm sure his lawyers are telling him to be quiet and that an apology = admitting guilt but I don't agree. If you can't face the pain you directly or indirectly caused and find the strength to apologize without awaiting to receive forgiveness… well… then you're no spiritual guru, but a mere coward.

      On the other hand… how much should you hate yourself to let yourself die?!?! According to the law of attraction nobody's to blame, because everybody is a co-creator in the situation. I would like to think of the Americans as free and non-brainwashed people. Even if the peer pressure is enormous… would you let yourself die there…?? Even if the most spiritual of all spiritual teachers tells you to leave the person next to you faint and die, will you do it?? If yes – then this is just as your responsibility as it is his.

      Not blaming anybody here (even though it might sound like it :P ), but… on a personal note… I'm glad I didn't follow his LoA teachings :P .

  6. Ender says:

    My experiences with James Ray have always been good.

    I am sorry for everyone involved- must have been very traumatic.

    • I'm glad your experiences with Ray have been good.

      And my heart also goes out to everyone involved.

    • david says:

      was invited to one of his free talk several years ago which turned out to be just a giant sales pitch with every manipulative sales technique in the book. this guy is a sales person selling empowerment to people who feel they are lacking some. walked out of the presentation and thought this guy is full of it.

    • loa_fan says:

      Aside from this terrible tragedy which should never have been attempted or happened, there seem to be many, many people who are determined the loa is a hoax, and all around them people are happily applying it and succeeding. The difference is you can’t just watch the secret movie, put a picture on your fridge, and sit on the couch waiting for your new car.
      That is NOT what these guys teach when allowed to finish their entire rap. The secret movie was just a series of snippets and MOST of what these guys had to say ended up on the cutting room floor.
      When allowed time to finish, on the CD I bought, they lay out an easy to follow version of the law of attraction (but complete). Instead of some wishy-washy feel good new age stuff, it’s common sense actions that any self-made millionaire would grin at (having already DONE that).
      Time and again articles about the common habits and beliefs of successful businessmen boil down to the same thing that these people teach about the law of attraction.
      So if the loa is a fraud, there appear to be many very successful people being duped, using it and making a lot of money in business.

      • Yana says:

        that's exactly what should not happen. That incident should not make people think the LoA is a fraud. The loa doesn't state that bad things don't happen, so this has nothing to do with it. The loa states that nobody is to blame as everybody is a co-creator. Question is – what did Ray do that lead to this (and what were those people thinking to let themselves and the ppl around them die)! Ray is know for being a hypnotherapist… maybe people were under some kind of mass mild hypnosis… who knows. Main thing: Ray does not equal LoA.

  7. Joseph says:

    Wow. I saw the headline for these deaths before going out for the day, but hadn't made the Ray connection. Sad stuff, but kind of predictable.

  8. Joseph says:

    Good write-up, needless to say.

    Hopefully this might be a turning point, and all the people who say my criticisms of appealing to archetypes are extreme will see that these sad conclusions can and do happen :(

    • Joseph says:

      From Numen, Old Men: "For a man to access the Wild Man he must retreat into his psychic depths, into the forest, into a pre-Christian pagan space of hirsute manliness. Bly intends the Wild Man, with his relationship with the young boy of the Iron John story, to be an example of how men can be initiated into adulthood and the deep masculine. This would be a worthy exercise if it enabled boys to flourish for both their own sakes and the good of the community, but instead Iron John ‘celebrate[s] violence and killing as the means to establish male identity’. This is the archetypal path established by Bly. … This disturbing precedent is continued with Moore and Gillette encouraging men to access the warrior in the male psyche, whose natural presence is indicated by the fact that chimpanzees resort to battle, and men’s fascination with war movies such as Apocalypse Now, Platoon, and Full Metal Jacket. Moore and Gillette would have their readers believe it is natural for mythopoetically inclined men to imagine themselves operating within the presumably dark and oppressive jungle … these appeals to archetypal models promote largely oppressive and violent masculinities."

      • Excellent and relevant quotation.

      • Jen says:

        One of the problems with these archetypes is that they are based on a socially constructed understanding that is not only far removed from their original context, but also emerge out of a domination based social organization. If we really want to work towards actualization of both individuals and society, we should be honoring and celebrating the diversity of humanity.

        • Joseph says:

          Indeed. Within the men's movement literature (rather than the more complex positioning of Jung), archetypes originate in the dark depths of the psyche (Bly) or in the reptilian brain (Moore and Gillette): hardly a spiritual zenith to which to aspire. However, as you rightly say, the reality is a social construction, which has been described elsewhere as "calcifications of a patriarchal worldview". It remains a complete mystery to me why otherwise intelligent people buy in to such presentations of archetypes.

          • Jen says:

            Joseph, I think part of the problem is that those individuals are embedded within the social construction of the patriarchal worldview. It can be difficult to see the milieu from within it. You don't recognize your privilege until it is pointed out to you. While Bly may have good intentions, they are based on a social structure that values domination and violence. It is the work of socially re-constructing reality that is both difficult and vital if we are to emerge as a society that values the potential in everyone.

          • I totally agree. And what an enormous task this is to socially re-construct society in this way.

          • Joseph says:

            The only problem I have here, is that even when that privilege is pointed out, rarely is it recognized (at least within the context I work in ).

          • Jen says:

            I agree that without good communication design, you can run into a backlash. i.e. "I'm not privileged." In the proper context, pointing out privilege can be enlightening. One of my (white male) classmates made a presentation on white privilege last year. It included a set of questions providing an opportunity for self-reflection. While I don't remember the specific questions, I do remember it being an effective presentation.

          • LionKimbro says:

            I'm happy to recognize priviledge; I just want the priviledge of all actors recognized. Female priviledge is extraordinary. It exists legally, socially, and sexually.

            My own suspicion is that when you look at the whole thing, we find that neither women nor men have more genuine power.

            Why do I say "suspicion?" Because I do not see a way to really count and value the tallies that is truly fair. How much money earned equals how much money spent equals how many passive aggressive attacks equals how many sexual powers equals how many voices heard?

          • Clearly you don't have a background in gender studies or sociology. There are many, many good reasons to believe that patriarchy is the norm throughout human history, and that any "power" women have is usually squashed, ignored, repressed, or denied.

          • Jen says:

            Duff, I would qualify that as recorded Western history. When you say it is the "norm throughout human history" it implies this as "natural." There are examples of societies that are not based in patriarchy. I'd recommend Riane Eisler's "The Chalice and the Blade" for a historical perspective.

          • Thanks for qualifying that statement and for the recommendation.

            What I meant to say is throughout much of recorded history, but then again, history is biased towards who wrote the books, i.e. white, privileged men.

          • LionKimbro says:

            Duff — are you just shutting me down because you are irritated with my perspective, or do you have genuine reasons to believe I have not studied gender studies or sociology?

          • The idea that women have as much privilege as men seems to me equivalent to saying that African Americans have as much privilege as white folks.

          • LionKimbro says:

            No, there is a crucial difference:

            Throughout history, men have sincerely and deeply loved their women, and women have sincerely and deeply loved their men.

            The same cannot be said of race or class relations.

          • Yana says:

            I would love to believe that but… just search youtube on "How to Beat Your Wife" and you will find some really "nice" detailed explanations. The current ones are Islamic, but that is just because Islam has preserved very strictly their traditions over the centuries, so they have kinda transferred nowadays what was common practice back in time. You call this deep love? I call it oppression and domination.
            Geez… what am I talking about?!? The whole understanding of the Islamic religion is oppressive to women! The religion might be good in its essence but it is written, interpreted and used by men. How many Islamic scholars that are women do you know? Some deep love… killing your own daughter or wife for adultery.

          • LionKimbro says:

            Who was more genuinely more powerful, Nefertiti, or Akhetaten?

            I haven't compiled a list, but there are myriad examples in history where the surface appearance is that men are in charge, but when you look at the backside story, you find that important women have held the real power.

            Do you know any families where it appears that the man is in charge, but in fact it is the woman who is the true locus of power?

            My claim is that things are far more complex than you (and feminists in general) are presenting them.

          • Jen says:

            Every group has privilege of some type (although perhaps the Chandals -India's untouchables- would disagree with me). Being aware of your own privilege is key in understanding different perspectives. Arguing over who has "more" privilege is a reflection of our social structure that is based on ranking. A system which places one group over another does not allow for the full potential of any member of the society to be realized. It is as destructive for the privileged as it is for the unprivileged.

          • LionKimbro says:

            Do you include "matrifocal" in those systems that don't place one group over another, as Raine Eisler does?

          • Jen says:

            I believe that a matrifocal society can be non-ranking, but am also aware of the potential for a system of ranking that places female over male. I do think that can be used as an excuse to support the status quo, rather than working towards a non-patriarchal society. We are too used to devaluing "feminine" aspects of our humanity. When was the last time "you throw like a girl" was meant as a compliment?

          • LionKimbro says:

            Jen, my criticism of what you just said is so far beyond our space for dialog here, I'm afraid that I don't know what to do — that we will have to postpone our conversation, to another time and place. You and I will be sitting at a table at a conference, and you and I will have different names and faces. We are talking about things much too deep for these kind of shallow bullets.

            The very framing around the word "patriarchy," propped up by decades of feminist criticism, is itself a broken frame.

            As for ranking, I would look at dignitarian arguments about "rankism," and note that they do not argue against ranking itself. (Ranking is very, very important.)

            We all want change, believe me — we all want change. But it cannot be naive change. Simple arguments about pendulums going swinging from male to female will not do — if they succeed, we only find ourselves in another miserable predicament. I have born the tears of mothers for their sons on my shoulder on just this subject.

          • Jen says:

            Lion,
            I get the feeling we both have complex, nuanced perspectives that don't translate well on a internet forum. There are clearly places where we align, as in the desire for a paradigm shift over a pendulum swing. There other places where we likely have very different opinions, though we may agree more than we realize.

            I do hope that our discussion will allow us both to expand our perspectives and construct new understandings.

          • Thanks for being more reasonable than I was, Jen!

            Lion, I meant to say what Jen said. :)

          • Jen says:

            Thanks for trying to be a good ally. Here's an interesting list about that: http://www.amptoons.com/blog/archives/2009/10/01/…

            I think #1 is important to keep in mind in any situation.

          • Lion Kimbro says:

            Thank you. {:)}= I understand.

          • Lion Kimbro says:

            Yes, I agree, but — Our discussion would have to be elsewhere than an Internet forum, I am sorry to say.

            These conversational niches exist in moments between tasks at work and so on; Surely, you understand the limitations of the frame.

            If you would like to participate in a conference call between the three of us, I am happy to participate. I am open to coordination by any of the three of us, and I am willing to coordinate myself.

            Our quest is, quite simply: for revelation and insight, sharing and learning as we are able, not knowing what will come.

          • Jen says:

            I am curious about your focus on gender. Certainly it is a basic point of ranking, but was not my impetus in talking about privilege. Gender itself has a complexity which we have not even touched.

          • LionKimbro says:

            I'm sorry, — what gender focus?

            Gender and sexuality and power and privilege are highly intertwined, yes, — but, — what focus on gender?

          • Jen says:

            From my observation, your first post on this thread, in response to my post about privilege, specifically named female privilege. Your second reply asked me about matrifocal structure. Previously the thread was more focused on social construction and archetypes. This is why I perceive a focus on gender.

            In my understanding, domination can be expressed in many forms. Straight > gay, humans > nature, rich > poor, white > black. This is, of course, grossly over simplified. Gender is a central issue in domination, but not the only one.

          • Lion Kimbro says:

            I brought up "matrifocal" for myriad reasons — one of which is to demonstrate "look folk, I'm not totally naive to these conversations here." Another is to say to a feminist, "I think that there are problems with the concept of "equality" that you are presenting, and I think we can find evidence of this in the very word matrifocal."

          • This is a common critique of "authenticity" as well. Often to be authentic is said to be to express whatever is inside the deep psyche, but much of what is in there is dark and nasty and needs either transformation or simple repression if we are to have a civil society at all.

            I do think reading something through a narrative lens can be very useful, but to do so with "calcified patriarchy" from ancient archetypes leaves something to be desired.

          • Joseph says:

            It’s also worth pointing out that the integral use of archetypes, as seen here (not great timing for such an event, given the current focus):
            http://garystamper.blogspot.com/2009/10/integral-…
            are a clear example of the pre/trans fallacy, as archetypes are firmly rooted in the magical-mythical first tier, not the integral second or third tier or, as the above link notes, ‘what David Deida calls "3rd-stage masculine"’ (if, indeed, one believes in this stage-and-gate approach to the spiritual).

    • I sincerely hope it is a turning point for this community. It's time we talked about the elephant in the room, and considered such intelligent critiques as yours.

  9. Gina says:

    I say Thank you Duff for sticking your neck out.

    Without talking and examining in our own hearts and minds why this may have happened it could make it more probable to happen to any one of us.

    Your blog urges us on and gives the freedom, the permission to actually THINK for ourselves and look at why we do what we do.
    Yes I will admit sometimes for me it can be painful.

    Money does crazy things to us…a big fat price tag can lure us into the belief that someone other than our self has our answer…why else would they charge so much?

    Keep it coming Duff, so we can each pull back our own curtains of illusion in our own time.

    Much Aloha~*

    • Thanks, Gina. It's often painful for me too to think and examine in these ways, but I have faith that doing so will lead to a greater wholeness, a deeper perspective.

      "The love of money is the root of all evil" said Jesus, and I do think greed plays a role in these kinds of expensive workshops.

      • Yana says:

        see that is something that really bothers me… In our society everybody needs money and saying that money is bad equals… I don't know… equals you living a life of hate as you will need and want and get and spend money… imagine all that evil going around… The LoA teaches that people should not crave and ask for money but for what they really need and want, i.e. a house over their heads, paid health insurance, etc. So I'm kinda struggling here… I guess "the love for money is the root of all evil" just does not equal "money is the root of all evil", right…?

        Another thing that I am struggling with is exactly this high price of those workshops and programs. These kind of teachings should not be accessible only to the rich people… I think a spiritual teacher should distribute such teachings for free or… okay… for at least a low price. What are your thoughts on that…? What should a person do when he/she loves teaching loa and wants to devote his/her entire time on that? Count on the universe to deliver donations…? Thing is… you should not reject what's offered to you if you want it to keep flowing in, so… if people want to pay then so be it… Do you see my dilemma :) ? I think I'm just thorn between wanting to learn things from those who walked the same path before me and… paying money to them for that (not that I don't have it, just I don't think its right).

        Would love to hear your thoughts on the subject :) .

        Great blog! Thanks for the good work, Duff :) !

        • I think there is a middle path between the views "money is bad" and "money is good" which is something like "enough money for me is good, but too much is greedy."

          From what I see, ethical teachers charge a reasonable but low rate for their services and workshops, as in $300 or less for a weekend workshop, or $75-$100/hour max for healing work. Greedy scammers charge $1400+ for a weekend, and $300-500 or more per hour for coaching or healing.

          Of course, some folks also give away their stuff for free, but in our modern culture I think a fair market rate with some pro bono (free) work is the best option.

  10. [...] As I reported on yesterday, participants of James Arthur Ray’s “Spiritual Warrior Event” got more than they paid for (and they paid $9,695 each) when two people died and 19 were injured in a large sweat lodge with 64 people. [...]

  11. [...] Motivational speaker and host of the “Spiritual Warrior” retreat Thursday at which two event-goers died and 19 others were hospitalized has deleted some tweets that may be of interest in the deadly incident. [...]

  12. Constance says:

    Thank you Duff for writing this, and doing it well with links and supportive facts.
    The warped intentions that this man is participating with are a blatant cry for help! This man and his organization have gone done a dangerous path here. I can only pray for all of the people involved from him to the families, to the medical workers and now the lawyers and news media that will be involved. May all learn that progress in the spiritual path can be wise and gentle.

  13. dude says:

    Since you are obviously ignorant of sweat lodges, and think they are insane, any comments you have are just coming from your personal bias.

    • Sue says:

      Dude, I think you misinterpreted what Duff said. I too thought 2 hours in a sweat lodge seemed insane when I first read it. ie The amount of time seemed insane not the actual sweat lodge. He then updated that when his girlfriend told him that amount of time was commonplace. You'd certainly have to keep hydrated if you stayed in for that long.

    • Yea, I heard after posting that this is commonplace. Still, there do seem to be major risks involved with sweats, and it seems obvious that appropriate safety measures were not taken in this case.

    • From the NY Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/11/us/11lodge.html ):

      Joseph Bruchac, an expert on Native American traditions and author of “The Native American Sweat Lodge,” said that number far surpassed the 8 to 12 typically present at such a rite. “It means that all these people are fighting for the same oxygen,” he said.

      Traditional lodges are usually made of willow branches and covered in canvas or animal skins, and are not meant to be air-tight. The authorities said that the lodge at Angel Valley was covered in plastic and blankets.

      Questions have also arisen about the length of time the people were in the lodge — about two hours. A ceremony usually lasts no more than an hour, Mr. Bruchac said.

  14. [...] Beyond Growth blog, a longtime critic of James Ray, points out that these “large group awareness trainings” [...]

  15. DJPeckinpaugh says:

    What a douche!! I can't believe people would pay $9,000 for something like that. Where are these people so I can sign them up for my training at only 50% of that cost?? ; o)

    For the record, I almost had to kick a guy's ass who wouldn't let me out of a Sweat Lodge once. He was doing the same thing—pushing everybody way beyond anything sane and turned it into an ego-trip. I could smell it and said I was getting up to leave. He said, "Remain in your seat and find your truth." I told him, "I just did. I am getting up and leaving–that is my truth, and I am willing to do whatever it takes to see my truth through."

    He could tell I wasn't fucking around and let me out. It was empowering to step out of that madness!

    I have also done a Lodge with an authentic Lakota Elder and it was one of the most spiritual, kind, compassionate, and sincere spaces I have ever been in.

    I believe if we are willing to trust our senses we can smell when ego is running the show. Unfortunately, too many people seem to get caught up in the demands of someone else's egotistical agenda, and throw common sense out the window! Sad.

  16. Copper says:

    In competent hands, there are probably dangerous techniques that are useful (and that have traditional knowledge and practitioners). Clearly this wasn't competent or tried-and-true.

    We can't demand that every transformative experience be safe–that's out of touch with reality and with what does provoke radical transformation–but we should demand that dangers be very clearly spelled out.

    As far as I'm concerned, his liability should depend entirely on what the participants signed and how truthful it was. I do blame the "victims" as much as Ray–it is quite foolish to pay this much for any sort of spiritual transmission (it is a clear indication of the seller's real interests, always financial), or to enter into such relationships with "celebrity" leaders one doesn't know–and can't trust–personally. A quick bit of research into sweats reveals their dangers–these folks abdicated responsibility; it was not stolen from them.

    • I agree that the use of various techniques is somewhat contextual. Indeed all transformative experiences carry some risk, but I do know of many less dangerous techniques and approaches. I consider Ray and Robbins to be the "extreme sports" of spirituality, but do not adequately convey the risks of such extreme approaches.

      According to a report from the NY Times, there may have been negligence due to covering the sweat lodge with plastic, thus not allowing enough oxygen in:
      http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/11/us/11lodge.html

      I do think there is some responsibility with the victims as well, yes. I hope that this incident can better inform consumers of spiritual and personal development seminars so that fewer people fall for such things. However that said, consumers should be protected by law from highly manipulative sales pitches like the kind Ray, Robbins, and others engage in.

      • Joshua says:

        And how would that law look Duff?

      • > Indeed all transformative experiences carry some risk, but I do know
        > of many less dangerous techniques and approaches.

        Personally, I use less dangerous techniques. I believe that spending some time sitting silently and paying attention to my moment to moment experience… is just as fruitful as techniques that put my life at risk.

        That being said… the point isn't that some techniques are more dangerous than others. Getting out of bed is dangerous; life is about managing our risks. To believe that avoiding risk is possible, is delusion. We each can and must constantly make risk assessments, weighing possible risks vs whatever goal we seek. No one else can make these assessments for us, since no one else is responsible for choosing our goals. There's no objectively correct goal, it's a matter of personal choice.

        Thus I agree with Copper that the key point is that whoever offers such techniques ought to be forbidden from using lies or deception to sell them. As long as they're presented honestly, participants can make their own choice re the risk.

        • I suppose that if someone presented the risks honestly and without deceptive sales then a rational consumer could make a calculated choice. But that is exactly what is NOT occurring in these contexts–sales are made in *extremely* emotional large group awareness trainings using *very* manipulative tactics, and no risks are conveyed whatsoever (or at least that's my personal experience with Tony Robbins, and similar experiences have been reported again and again about other Large Group Awareness Trainings).

          • The laws regulating sales and advertising, as you've referenced in this thread, make a distinction. Lying in order to sell something is illegal. Using sales tactics that appeal to emotions is, and should be, legal.

            It's common in all business to use emotion-based persuasion. We have an emotional reaction to the sales pitch, and then we choose how much to temper our emotions with reason. Examining any conflict between emotion and reason is indeed difficult, but it's a vital and necessary part of the process.

            On the other hand, if false information is permitted, it will make reasoned examination impossible. That's why it's necessary to draw the line. If a seller tells me that the Snuggie (available for just $19.99) is better than a mother's love, that's a legal emotion-based sales pitch. If he claims that a Snuggie cures cancer, he's breaking the law.

          • I'm not sure what the laws exactly are, but I'm pretty sure that highly aggressive in-person sales situations have seen some legal recourse, either though existing laws or just through lawsuits.

            Advertising is of course an appeal to emotion, but strong-arming someone into buying a car, a gym membership, or an expensive and dangerous workshop at times goes beyond what I see as ethical.

            I don't know if you've ever attended a large group awareness training such as Ray's or Tony Robbins', but at Robbins Unleash the Power Within seminar, he gave a 4-hour long sales pitch at the emotional peak of the workshop, after doing intense psychological change work that included crying on the floor with 2000 people, jumping up and down and screaming at the top of your lungs again and again for hours and hours, getting little sleep (the workshop went from 9am to past midnight all 4 days), etc. Robbins used social psychological tactics like breaking up the group into two sections, and having those who planned on going to the seminar MOCK the ones not going for their lack of commitment to their success, etc. Robbins encouraged those who could not afford the several hundred dollar deposit to use a post-dated check and "find a way" doing "whatever it takes" to get the money. Robbins used the same screaming "YES" anchor he used on day 1 for the firewalk during the sales pitch, again and again, to block out all rational thought.

            This is not merely a matter of "choosing how much to temper our emotions." It is a matter of cult-leader psychological tactics that would make Hitler blush. I think there is strong evidence suggesting that Ray uses very similar sales tactics to Robbins, as his workshops (including pricing) are structured very similarly, his style is very similar, and Ray has even stolen at least one of Robbins' jokes! (see http://precisionchange.com/2008/07/27/how-to-star… )

            Yes, advertising appeals to emotion, which is understandable and ok within reasonable limits. But yes, there are also cults and cult-like sales tactics which should be prevented, legally or otherwise.

          • I should add as well that much of what Ray and Robbins are doing falls in the domain of psychotherapy. There are many regulations prohibiting psychotherapists selling their services to clients, taking advantage of their vulnerable position to personally profit. The ethics guidelines for therapists in my opinion are too strong, not allowing a therapist to even advertise in some cases. But the independent gurus are completely unregulated by any advisory body and thus can get away with enormous ethical breaches.

          • I should add as well that much of what Ray and Robbins are doing falls in the domain of psychotherapy. There are many regulations prohibiting psychotherapists selling their services to clients, taking advantage of the client's vulnerable position to personally profit. The ethics guidelines for therapists in my opinion are too strong, not allowing a therapist to even advertise in some cases. But the independent gurus are completely unregulated by any advisory body and thus can get away with enormous ethical breaches.

    • I should add that I appreciate your perspective on this. It's not necessarily a simple matter to sort out.

    • I should add that I appreciate your perspective on this. It's not necessarily a simple matter to sort out.

  17. dmarsters says:

    Thanks for a thoughtful and complete posting on this sad event. I have been in a few sweats, sometimes with trepidation, but always had complete knowledge of the leader. I am no expert but it seems like it would be impossible to monitor the safety of 65 people in a lodge like that and that is crucial in any sweat. I appreciate your balanced analysis. I am a little baffled by, in the midst of this crisis, someone choosing to worry about tweets which we all know live on.

  18. [...] James Arthur Ray’s Spiritual Warrior Event Kills 2, Injures 19 in Sweat Lodge Fiasco | Beyond Grow… [...]

  19. jcw says:

    It is very common now to put blankets layered and then many tarps over. In fact I have yet to see one made any other way as of yet. Even on Reserve. (I am talking where I live).
    So this is not so bad, if it is built with proper air flow.
    But the amount of People! ??? And if they were first time in the lodge. Then this was wrong. And he disrespected everyone and the ceremony.

  20. henry says:

    I have participated in a hundred plus sweat lodge always with native american that have been doing this for generation
    its usely 4 rouds of 15 or 20 minute each then the door is open for fresh air
    and uselly no more than 20 people maximum

    James Arthur …subjecting 65 people to hight heat for 2 hours …..crazy
    $10,000 a pup thats $6 millions plus….a mental speculation ..to maximise profit
    No native american running a sweat ….would ever do that

    The Secret is out and poor suckers think that they will become superman
    by being manipulated by some of these so called teacher
    What will Arthur say about the law of attraction …now …after he is directly responsible for the death of 2 people ….maybee more to come
    I hope that the LAW …pure and simple of Arizona will get Arthur Ray and put him somwhere
    where he can meditate for a very long time
    on the Law of Karma
    And then there is the Law for the rich and the law for the poor.

    • Thanks for sharing your experiences with sweat lodges. Fresh air does seem to be the critical factor in this case, from what I can tell.

      • Bill Thomas says:

        I've been in a lodge with up to 35 people (crammed in tight. Lodges are small for a reason). As for two hours, hm, maybe? 4 rounds, about 4 songs apiece with 4 verses. I know of lodges that are MUCH hotter (many, many stones piled in the first round) and some that won't "let people out" but in ALL of them, they are overseen by people with extensive traditional training and keeping people healthy seems to be the overriding concern. It's a purification / healing ceremony. Death is the last thing you're looking for. From looking at Ray's event, without having been there, I'd lay odds it was (1) too big a lodge [no chance for oxygen to circulate] (2) plastic. I mean, seriously — plastic? Who the F thought that was a good idea? and (3) length of time after stressing the participants out with a fast. At the Vision Quest our community provides, you do the 3 day fast, then a 'dust-off' sweat of 2 gentle rounds (the event is started with a 2-round sweat) and then a feast, rewarding the body rather than taxing it. It's about compassion, it's about paying attention, it's about understanding and taking full responsibility for the health and welfare of your participants. Last note: I saw a traditional earthen sweat, meant to hold 100 people (a California tradition). Know what was most noticeable? An 'air window' up at the top all the way around. Small size (crowded, okay; breeze still gets around), hydrate and feed well directly after. DON'T tax your body beforehand. And for gods' sake, don't add in manufactured substances — like plastics — that react with heat!

    • Celia says:

      65 x 10,000 = $650,000
      They paid it willingly (stupidly perhaps, but willingly). Near as I can tell nobody locked the doors. They were free to come and go. They should have had the good sense to figure out that if they weren't feeling well, they should seek relief.
      So many people are so great at pushing the Law of Attraction and saying it brings riches to those who know how to use it. But the sad human factor kicks in pretty quickly when someone who is making large amounts of money gets into some trouble. Suddenly, everyone is up in arms about how much money this man charged for his activities. We know nothing about what was involved in the whole gathering, how long it lasted, what resources were tapped, etc. We just see the big $ signs and assume he must have been greedy and guilty. Ignorance and Jealousy are such sad, predictable human reactions. Time to get a life maybe and let the poor man sort through his troubles. They are his to sort through, not ours. We can only 'assume' things. Assumptions are dangerous, inaccurate things. Move on folks. There is nothing to see here.

  21. Joshua says:

    It will be interesting to see what Arthur Ray does from here….

    • Darren says:

      By all accounts, Ray was uncooperative with the investigators, and left the state as soon as he could, no doubt under legal advice.

      [ from ABC15 news site : Yavapai County Sheriff Steve Waugh said everyone involved was helpful during questioning, except Ray, who would not cooperate with investigators, and left the state the next day. "We attempted to interview Mr. Ray at the scene," said Waugh. "He refused to talk to us. We will at some point in time schedule another interview with him." ]

      Acting out of self interest in such circumstances, even after he has made so much money, seems to say plenty about his character.

  22. Christine says:

    Thank you for your clear, cogent and succinct discussion of this seemingly tragic situation. The bigger question is why are people so disenchanted with their lives that they will part with $9,000 for six days of "soul-searching." I thought money was supposed to make us happy, the great American dream, right? $9,000 is a little over four months' salary for me right now. Maybe being too privileged is indeed a curse.

    I echo the sentiments of others in regards to a sweat lodge. In my experience, 65 people is bordering on insane. To keep them in there for 2 hours, plastic tarp or not, is even worse.

    People are naively drawn to these hucksters in the belief that they hold the "get out of jail free" card; i.e. follow these rules, this guru, do this and do that, and your live will be from tension and encumbrances. Unfortunately, that's just not the case. There are many tools out there to help us navigate the choppy waters called life, and many of them don't cost near the amount that Mr. Ray charges.

    I do feel for all these people who must have been in some deep existential pain where they felt he was the one that held the key to release them from their misery, and held on to the glimmer of hope that finally, this weekend, they would finally find the answer that would once and for all release them from their misery.

    • In part, I believe that people part with such money due to the highly manipulative conditions in which the sales process takes place, i.e. at the emotional peak of an enormous "introductory" seminar, with very unethical sales tactics. (That's at least how Tony Robbins sells his similarly priced and structured courses.)

      But yes, why are we even drawn to such manic courses in the first place? I do think it has to do with naive perceptions of what is possible, trying to escape the human condition which Buddha told us is suffering.

  23. ~C4Chaos says:

    Duff,

    great work in following this story. been reading your tweets about this. all i can say is that it's very unfortunate to hear about things like this, especially after people had died already. it's a hard lesson for all the parties involved. i agree with you that James Ray should take personal responsibility for this and that his (or his groups') actions in covering the tracks don't make it look good on their end.

    that said, sweat lodges (or samurai bootcamps, as my teacher would call it see http://bit.ly/2OphAW) have their place in catapulting people to transcend the limited self. however, they are not necessary, especially in our modern society. key word here is "necessary". it may not longer be necessary but it doesn't mean that it no longer works or that people can't do it anymore. obviously, some people are still doing it, for good reasons. what good reason? well, for one, sweat lodges compliment the Buddhist mindfulness practice (see http://bit.ly/IvCS).

    in any case, mindfulness or no mindfulness, charging ridiculous amount for seminars like this is already a red flag for me. that's why i stick with more traditional more user-friendly sitting practice without the spiritual warrior metaphor thing, because "spiritual warrior "is just another identity of self as a thing.

    my two cents.

    ~C

  24. ~C4Chaos says:

    P.S. oops the links got screwed. here they are again:

    http://bit.ly/2OphAW

    http://bit.ly/IvCS

  25. David says:

    Certainly those people indeed "have no enemies or no fear." Indeed, they also have no pulse, brainwaves, or bloodflow. They've been freed from the strictures of life, by eliminating the burden of being alive. They now have total freedom. Their goals in attending the workshop have been completely fulfilled. Good job Mr Ray!

  26. > It is long past time that we put limits on dangerous techniques for change
    > and promoted safe and effective ones.

    Several times, I've hiked to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite Nat'l Park. There are signs warning of the dangers; indeed, a handful of people over the years die on the final climb. I think it's wonderful and correct that I'm allowed to decide for myself whether to take the risk.

    The suggestion to "put limits on dangerous techniques" can itself be problematic; it depends on exactly what the writer is advocating. Surely, I'd agree that some who profits from offering a workshop should be legally forbidden from lying about what it will involve, or presenting a technique to be more safe than it actually is. But as long as the technique is presented honestly, each individual ought to maintain the freedom to decide what risks to assume.

    • robert says:

      I totally disagree Stuart. Half Dome on your own is so different from group dynamics and a charismatic speaker using hypnotic techniques and urging you to push yourself. One assumes, with an experience such as this, that the event promoters have done their job to make it safe as an experience.

  27. henry says:

    You are wrong David …Theses are probably good people who just have been sucker in by waching and trusting one of the main teacher of "The secret "
    When it came out ..Arthur Ray was the front propagandist .. appearing on OPRAH an Larry King and many more shows to explain to the world what the LAW OF attraction is all about.
    I am a hypnotherapist …and its a scientific truth that 20% of the population are natural hypnotic subject …in other word ..easy to convince .
    Just reread the last book of Arthur Ray …In a chapter he sing the glory of his very expensive car …that cost a fortune just to get a tune up …he said
    Some of those good people are dead …in part for the expensive taste of Arthur
    A good wake up call …….related to the to the misuse of the so Called LAW OF ATTRACTION

  28. henry says:

    Mastering these (quite esoteric) practices required me to think and act more differently than I've ever had to before. At first it was quite grueling, but the results…well…all I can say is, "Wow!"……………From the web site of Arthur

    WOW IN DEED

  29. Magnolia says:

    Interesting….Ray left the state and refused to talk to investigators. Wanna bet Ray is in the process of developing an excuse to blame his Director,and others in his employ?

  30. Jen says:

    This is very sad and tragic, for everyone – even James Ray. What he did was a vision quest with a lodge concluding it. That is a very normal Native American practice, I know many people who have done just that and have lived to tell. However, it is important for the medicine man (shaman) to be dialed into his people by setting his ego aside and putting them first. He should always be checking in with each of them, offering water between "doors", and allowing plenty of time during "doors" for air to come in and cool down the lodge. With a lodge of the size James did, the back flaps should have been open between "doors" so that fresh air could reach the back. I was not there, so I do not know if that happened or not. Nor do I know if he offered everyone water or how he was in communication with everyone. All I know that the shaman I work with does all this and he's never had a tragedy during one of his lodges.

    Putting physical factors aside, handling the energies released by these people by one man (James Ray) is irresponsible. People have all sorts of spiritual 'crap' in or attached to them. That alone could have created a doorway for many people to become ill or cross over at this ceremony. I personally participate in Sweat Lodges and the land keeper and shaman work very hard in keeping the spiritual 'nasties' released and moving along on their way. My point, could the Angel of Death been summoned? What were the real demons people released? Hmmm…. I've seen / experienced some pretty interesting stuff in recent years regarding this and physical causes aside – this was spiritually irresponsible.
    OK, now to James Ray. I have participated in his events. There is a fine line between teacher and ego. This is a horrible way to get an ego check and my heart goes out to him for the guilt he will experience for the rest of his life. I do not feel the man comes from a malicious place, just lost his true vision of what he initially set out to to – make people's lives better. Any man, any woman can have times in his/her life where the ego takes over – hopefully not at the expense of people's lives.

    On the other hand, I have attended these self improvement events. Sometimes there are people there who push themselves too far. Not to point blame to the victims, but who's to say that they did not come in from the quest and skipped the meals? Knowing the types of people that attend these events (because I've been there), I could easily see someone declining the food to stay in the "PURE" mindset for the final lodge after the seminars.
    Also, were people inside the lodge totally unaware of their neighbors? I know when I've been in a lodge you are connected and in communication with those around you. Where were people around the sick individuals? Why didn't anyone catch that others were falling?

    This whole thing doesn't make sense. Something went very wrong. Nobody is to blame, yet everyone is responsible. Everyone will be living with the repercussions of this for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately this was a "LIFE CHANGING" event that nobody expected.

    Boo hoo for everyone: James Ray and Staff, those who lived, those who died, families of those who died, the property owners, the EMT people, Sedona, and anyone who is touched by this story.

    It will be interesting to see how this whole event unfolds.

    • Jen,

      Thank you for your thoughtful perspective on this matter. I appreciate your knowledge and experience of proper sweat lodge practices.

      Indeed, I do think the "angel of death" was summoned, which James called The Warrior. I wrote an interpretation of this event from the "magickal" perspective here:
      http://beyondgrowth.net/guru-criticism/the-dark-s…

      I don't think he is coming from a malicious place either, just a classical example of a magician attached to power who got a serious reality/ego check.

      If anyone skipped the fast-breaking meal, that would certainly be stupid and likely to lead to problems. I wonder if Ray and the 6 other staff strongly emphasized the need for breaking the fast or not.

      I totally agree that this is a terrible event for everyone involved, and that it will be interesting to see how this event unfolds.

      Namaste,
      ~Duff

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  32. henry says:

    Jen…in your last sentence you say …Nobody is to blame ,yet everyone is responsible.

    No …… Arthur Ray is responsible ….for the death of that beautifull and successfull woman
    mention on The Fox web site ……He set himself as the chief …the boss
    Tragedy happen and he leave the state ASAP without talking to investigators
    and say that sorry ..I am now in a private meditation retreat for a few days .
    What about the famaly of those dead people who whant to talk to the 6 million dollars
    shaman ?And what kind of law in Arisona would let the organiser of an event that kill 2 people plus one is in critical condition …just leave the state and go home to his mension overlooking the sea ……I don,t get it

  33. [...] • Sweat Lodge Deaths Bring Soul-Searching To Area Deep In Seekers (NYT) • Pulse coverage: Sedona, Arizona Angel Valley Resort Sweat Lodge Incident • Beyond Growth Discusses James Arthur Ray’s Spiritual Warrior Event [...]

  34. Kelly says:

    This is what happens when you prostitute the religious practices of Native Americans. When will people learn to leave their ways to them.

  35. Joht Angha says:

    Aho Osiem … may the spirits of those who are now with the Creator be blessed and their families be comforted.

    The sweat lodge path is a sacred one and one I have been blessed to participate in regularly. I have been in over 50 lodges in various places. Most of my lodge experiences have lasted for over 4 hours – each. during most of these I was struggling with an intense endocrine illness and was not "physically fit" in the normal sense… so it is not about the fitness of the people … and every lodge i ever was in the leader always allowed anyone to leave when ever they needed to all you had to do was say "all our relations open the door" kinda simple really.

    I see little here addressing the spiritual integrity of the lodge or the leader. The great traditional sweat lodge leaders I have met all have warned me on this path – to NEVER CHARGE MONEY FOR A CEREMONY NEVER…. this is a deep sacred LAW… Mr. Ray violated the law and the spirit world sadly used this experience to remind everyone of the sacredness of this path – and ironicly it's power!

    May we all honor the lives that were lost by deepening our commitment to integrity …. and RESPECT… the spirit world and all its glory will not be cast into the world of bought and sold.. it is what is killing our planet and sadly killed these people… it is sacred because it is not part of this… to quote the beatles… "Money can't buy you love" …. this is so tragic …

    I am going to pray hard for Mr. Ray and his team… the spiritual price he will pay is far more intense than any trial or jail cell.. his running and hiding is a true sign of his true integrity… I am praying because this will be a great journey of suffering for him … and every saint has a past and every sinner a future…

  36. Joseph says:

    I haven't read this yet, but this new book looks pertinent:
    Bright-Sided: How The Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America
    by Barbara Ehrenreich
    Metropolitan Books (October 13, 2009)
    http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/rdbook/…

  37. Dallas says:

    My life has been changed dramatically for the better by workshops like these. This is a sad and tragic isolated event, of an exercise gone wrong, but it should not be a blight to an entire community and industry of professionals and people who give their lives to improve the lives of others; although it may work out that way, and it's too bad.

    My sweat lodge experience was well supervised, it only had about 20 people inside 1 person asked to leave and was encouraged to follow their gut and not risk their health, after just a second of rational discussion with the event leader. We stayed in for about 30mins and it was great. The whole workshop was great. This was a different company and different experience. Total at my event were over 250 people and the whole 4 days went off with out a hitch as did many before and since.

  38. Dallas says:

    It's good to challenge yourself and work to improve daily because that is how we overcome fear and are able to live with more joy and success and give more to the world; whether we do that in everyday life or at personal development workshops and camps. The reality is people pass in the most horrible ways every minute! In fear, war and violence because of mistakes or self inflicted and although this offers no solace, these people died trying to better themselves! I wish the families and loved ones peace.

  39. Tom says:

    Full disclosure – I have been to a weekend event put on by James Ray and have participated in sweat lodges with other “self-help gurus” as they are known here and elsewhere.

    Having said that, what happened is an absolute tragedy. Something went terribly wrong. If Ray indeed was leading it, he shouldn’t have been. It should be left to Native Americans because it is their ceremony and we would be invited to participate, as I have been. Ray has responsibility to those in his charge and should be held accountable if it is determined he was negligent.

    When I saw the pictures of the blue tarps I cringed. That’s a big no-no as I am sure you have read before now. It could have caused a hypoxic situation due to it being sealed and not breathable, and potentially the plastic gave off toxins. The sweat lodges I have done were performed by Native Americans who had many years of experience with the construction of the lodge and the process. They always used big dark colored cotton canvas tarps. The sessions were 15-30 minutes, with no more than 4 sessions. The groups were a bit smaller but still maybe 30 people. We were well hydrated the day of the sweat; that was a requirement. I feel privileged to have participated in them.

    As a footnote, there seems to be a huge emphasis on what was charged for this event, as if that somehow proves James Ray is a greedy criminal who’s bilking unsuspecting victims. First of all, everyone has the free will to choose how they spend their money. I have paid similar money for other events, and I can promise you I have gotten back that cost many times over from improvements that I probably would not have realized on my own. And my ability to help others as a result far surpasses the finances of my past. The simple fact is that if you think 9000 US is an outrageous sum of money to spend on a 5 day retreat, then you don’t understand the value of the work involved and, most likely, you are broke, because that’s your money conversation showing up, aka poverty mentality. That’s just the way it is. I know. I’ve been there.

  40. Singularity says:

    Interesting photos of previous Spiritual Warrior event.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesray/sets/721576…

  41. henry says:

    2500 years ago a young man had every material thing money could buy …for his time period ….He left everything became a monk in search for enlightment .
    And the Budha became a role model for untold millions trought the ages

    Arthur Ray …talking about his expensive car and houses in his last book
    and saying that everyone trought the LAW of attractions can attracts those material goodies and mixin it with his spiritual mombo jumbo
    stealing …sacred native American ceremonies …and marketing the whole thing
    in a plastic cover sweat lodge …is just stupid and criminal .
    you are right Tom …if someone whant to spend $9,000 in search of enlightment
    in a 5 days period Because Arthur Ray pich was
    "This will change your life for ever " Thats their right
    Two of them surely got their life change for ever .
    But I say that they are mostly victim of a supersaleman

  42. henry says:

    What kind of a man would refuse to talk to the Sheriff about the desaster he just created ?
    What type of a man would leave without paying a visit to the person in critical condition at the local hospital …or contact directly the famaly of the people that just died as the interview of video at Fox news reveal……. May all the little salesman of enlightment take note

  43. Scott says:

    Having participated in many sweats over the past 13 years, I have done some that went on longer than two hours after fasting for 4 days straight. I can't judge what went wrong here–although plastic on the outside of the lodge raises some red flags for me–but I will say that Mr Ray is in indeed 100% responsible for what occurrs inside his lodge. Who did he train with? Was he fully aware of any prohibitive medical problems his guests might have had? And not to mention, in the tradition I was taught in, charging people money to do sweats is extremely taboo.

  44. henry says:

    County official says Arizona sweat lodge where 2 died during spiritual retreat lacked permit

    from ABC news

    Who in is right mind would have approve a structure made of plywood and plastic sheets
    where 60 people would be subjected to 120 degree temperature

  45. moonie says:

    I have been involved in many sweatlodges run by Native Elders in the Cree and Dene tribes of Saskatchewan. From my experiences (and I have attended over 40 private and public events) of the Native Canadian traditions you go into a lodge (made of branches of pine and other coniferous trees, covered with either hides or canvas) for 10-30 minute intervals, with breaks of 15 mins out of the lodge, for 3 to 10 "rounds"… I was told by several elders that breaks were necessary for both the health of the participants and for spiritual reasons (to absorb what you learn), and that there is no shame in having to leave the lodge between sessions or even DURING a session, because health is more highly valued than danger…

    But, then again, they never asked for more than a pouch of organic tobacco or a few meters of cotton broadcloth, traditional gifts for Elders, so maybe I'm just not spiritual enough since I haven't paid $9000 for my experiences.

  46. wade crowe says:

    We, the D/L/Natkoa oyate have every right to deny these fraudsters any information about our culture. Wade Crowe, enrolled with the Yanktonai Hunkpati Dakota Sioux from Crow Creek, South Dakota

  47. Singularity says:

    Radio interview with actual witness of Spiritual Warrior 2009. A must listen.
    http://www.blogtalkradio.com/ShawnaBowen/2009/10/…

  48. Wow! Excellent find. Thanks so much for sharing this.

  49. Intense Debate cut off the link. Here is the correct link to the interview: http://bit.ly/1BYCWq

  50. wade crowe says:

    Sure, just come on down to a reservation in South Dakota with tobacco and groceries for the elderly. Do this a numerous amount of times over a number of years and if you follow the rules: keep your mouth shut, your eyes and ears open. You may be drawn into a family of natives.

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