For most of my life I’ve thought of myself as the kind of person who doesn’t have enemies. “Enemy” is a strong word, one that evokes thoughts of moral superiority if not hatred and violence. Surely I’m not a person who wishes the death or injury of others, or thinks I’m better than anyone, right? After all the work I’ve done on myself, I must be beyond all that. After all, I try not to be judgmental. I say, “to each his own” when I encounter unusual beliefs and ways of being. I listen to others and try to see from their perspective no matter how much I disagree. I don’t wish harm on any man…or do I?
If there is anyone who qualifies as being my enemy, James Arthur Ray does. In the wake of his terrible and reprehensible actions in November at his Spiritual Warrior Event workshop in Sedona, I have spent countless hours angry at him and what he represents. I have called him names in public and in private, most of which he probably deserves, but none of which have changed what happened (note to JRI’s lawyers: everything I’ve said and written have been my opinions only and not verifiable facts, thus my words and speech are fully protected under the law—just sayin’).
Speaking Truth to Power
When James Arthur Ray came to my home town only a few short weeks after his seminar injured and killed several people, my friend and I stood up suddenly while he was in the middle of a sentence. In a large hotel conference room with approximately 300-500 people, trembling with fear and anger, I looked James Arthur Ray right in the eye and challenged him to take responsibility and cease all his seminars immediately.
With less than four weeks having passed since three healthy spiritual seekers had died in his plastic sweat dome (befitting of a “plastic shaman”), James Ray was still hawking his expensive and dangerous programs—claiming his work was “too important” to stop. We protested that his “work” had lead to the deaths of four and injury of 18. Just recalling that B.S. line Ray spoke that caused my friend and I to stand up and speak out is bringing up anger in me now as I type these words (see the postscript below if you are interested in how I decided to work with these feelings).
My friend and I had brainstormed hundreds of different possible plans (I had even printed 150 flyers earlier that day)—all which went instantly dissolved when we got into that conference room and we saw there would be no space for civil questions and answers. The words that came out of our mouths—while people were standing up and yelling back at us and Ray’s bodyguard staff began surrounding us—were a mix of strong directness and awkward shouting. Even so, confronting this man directly, boldly, and nonviolently (we were escorted peacefully out of the hotel) just seemed like the right thing to do and I’m glad I did it. I hope anyone in my position would and will do the same…meanwhile, the assembled crowd cheered our exit.
Is Loving Your Enemies Just Idealistic B.S., or a Real Human Possibility?
“But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” ~Matthew 5:44
Growing up my family attended a Protestant church. I don’t necessarily think of myself as a Christian now—I find myself more drawn to Buddhist philosophy and practice—yet I have often contemplated the radical challenge from Jesus to “love your enemies.” When I’m feeling cynical, this famous Bible verse seems like an attempt to shame someone for their lack of perfect love, a manipulative tactic used to “blame the victim,” or even a condescending “I’ll pray for you” from an arrogant bible-thumper. Indeed, we human beings have come up with many ways to use teachings on love as a weapon:
At other, more optimistic times, I can see this outrageous challenge to love your enemies as an idealistic possibility—an ideal that might never be fully realized yet remains a worthwhile virtue to cultivate.
To what extent can we live this challenge of loving our enemies? By what specific methods can we reliably actualize this possibility while also loving ourselves and others? Is it possible to love our enemies while also fully pursuing justice and protecting ourselves and others from the perpetrators of violence? Can we explore this love without blaming the victim or shaming those who cannot or choose not to explore the same possibilities? And what would happen if I…and maybe you too…explore this with current enemy James Arthur Ray?
Loving-Kindness and Idiot Compassion
In Buddhist loving-kindness meditation as taught by Pema Chödrön, there is an understanding that one cannot actually feel loving-kindness or “metta” towards all sentient beings right away, fully and forever. This is an extreme level of attainment, the Olympics of saintliness, and perhaps just an ideal that cannot be fully realized by any imperfect human being. Chödrön emphasizes starting with people you already care about and naturally feel positively towards, and gradually extending your loving-kindness over time towards a wider and wider circle, embracing those whom you feel less positively kind towards, then neutral about, then slightly irritated by, and eventually towards those you intensely or even violently hate. One might never be able to say “May all beings be happy” and really, genuinely, totally mean it—down to the very last asshole on the planet—but the aspiration itself can begin to lead one down a path of more and more kindness as a character trait if practiced wholeheartedly.
In a short article on the Shambhala website, Pema Chödrön explains another concept called “idiot compassion” coined by her controversial Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Idiot compassion is exactly what it sounds like—thinking you are being compassionate, but actually being an idiot and “enabling” harmful behavior in someone else. “It’s the general tendency to give people what they want because you can’t bear to see them suffering.” Malignant narcissist gurus often pull on the heartstrings of their followers and victims by attempting to elicit this kind of idiot compassion. The solution according to Chödrön is not to viciously attack the person, nor to enable the bad behavior, but to set boundaries or otherwise prevent the abuse from occurring. “It’s the compassionate thing to do,” says Chödrön, but “they will certainly not thank you for it.” I can still hear the crowd cheering as we were peacefully escorted out of that conference room on a cold, dark night in Denver, Colorado.
I don’t know exactly how much a person can love their enemies, but I’m curious to find out how much we can—while simultaneously pursuing justice without compromise, maintaining safe and healthy boundaries, and preventing abusive and manipulative relationships of all kinds.
Postscript: An Experiment in Loving-Kindness
The following is a stream-of-consciousness description of a process I did to work with my own anger towards James Arthur Ray which came about as I was writing the beginning of this very article. I used the method of Core Transformation created by Connirae Andreas which I consider consistent with Buddhist loving-kindness practices (this process is primarily focused on loving-kindness for all aspects of the self, however, not “all sentient beings” and thus can be seen as a subset of the complete loving-kindness practices).
The process below follows the specific steps outlined on pages 114-121 from the book Core Transformation, which is what I refer to when doing the process on my own. This postscript is included as one possible example for those who are curious about such practices of self-inquiry and personal development in the context of loving your enemies without succumbing to idiot compassion. This section is very long and will probably not interest all readers, so feel free to skip down to the comments if you wish to simply add your thoughts about the article above. I’ve included many details so as to assist readers in understanding how such a process might occur, although there is no “typical” session in that there are many possibilities for one’s experience whenever you do inner work like this.
Note: I understand that people who have been victimized by James Arthur Ray or other coercive gurus and groups may not want to engage in any such practices. Due to the nature of such abuse which often includes blaming the victim with demands that you “work on your stuff/ego/attachment/etc.” with the technique(s) of the group, it is totally understandable and reasonable to avoid any and all psychological and spiritual practices for whatever length of time you deem appropriate. In fact, I specifically recommend against doing this technique if you are a recent victim of James Arthur Ray for you may be better off with a cognitive-behavioral approach given his heavy use of malignant trance states and contorted logic (this is my guess, but does not constitute medical or therapeutic advice). That said, Core Transformation is my preferred method for deeply transforming my own emotions and I encourage interested readers to pursue further study.
This is also an example of a therapeutic application of hypnosis and NLP, as this transpersonal technique of personal change is derived from the methods of Neurolinguistic Programming and Ericksonian Hypnosis—which most people discussing the “death lodge” have equated with coercive persuasion, despite the many therapeutic applications of these methodologies when used in a non-coercive context.
My subjective experience to inquire into: An inner dialogue says “that is such bullshit–I will not let this man get away with such lies. He needs to be immediately thrown in jail and held to task to the full extent of the law.” The voice has an angry tone, a fast tempo, and sounds like it’s coming from the right and slightly behind my head (a common location for inner dialogue). My jaw is clenched, my throat is tight, my brown is furrowed, and my lips are pursed—I’m seething with anger. I feel adrenaline in my body. My heart is beating faster, there are buzzing sensations in my chest (left side predomantly) and belly. From time to time I take a deep breath and my body buzzes with vibrations along my skin, rushing down my hips and legs and up the sides of my neck and head. My sympathetic nervous system is firing, preparing me to fight. The intensity is perhaps a 5 of 10, but peaked at about an 8 and has dropped to a steady burn. I attempted to continue writing, but felt this angry state was influencing my article (especially given the topic) so I decided to pause and get to know this reaction better. I don’t always do so, and have only done this practice once or twice in the past month, but would probably benefit from more frequent sessions.
Identifying the part: I recognize this is an unconscious reaction. I am not consciously generating this experience–in fact I’d rather not have it for it is unpleasant and interfering with my writing. I don’t have this feeling all the time–I didn’t have it when I started writing this article, when I was feeling much more calm and peaceful about James Ray–so I recognize that this is only a part of me.
Location of part: It exists primarily in my chest and belly. My heart aches, my chest burns. The fire in my belly is ready for action, yet my throat is tight as if swallowing my tongue.
Generalizing the behavior: I recognize that this is a reaction I’ve had before, specifically when I saw James Arthur Ray in person. I was trembling with a mixture of fear and excitement and adrenaline, unsure what I was going to do. I would like to generally feel more resourceful, free from this fight-or-flight response when I encounter James Arthur Ray’s hurtful and deceptive speech, or anyone else I encounter in the future who communicates in a similarly coercive manner.
Welcoming the part: Recognizing that this anger and the accompanying inner dialogue and physical sensations are not consciously generated and not always present, it’s as if this experience is being generated by an unconscious part of me. While I don’t know exactly why that is yet, I think it may be most useful to explore the reasons with the attitude that this unconscious part has a deeply positive purpose for me in doing so. Turning towards my experience instead of habitually reacting to unpleasantness, I put my hands on my chest and belly…and breathing in and out I begin to welcome this part of me, appreciating it for bringing me this mysterious message (even though I don’t necessarily like how it’s choosing to communicate).
Discovering the outcome chain: I ask this part of myself, “What do you want? What do you want for me by giving me this angry response to Ray saying ‘the work is too important?’”
The first outcome it responds with is “Justice. I want Ray to Pay. I want his victims to be fully compensated, his seminars to be shut down, and for the man to be incarcerated for a very long time.”
I thank this part of me for this response, which I also consciously agree with (although I’d like to be less vengeful and reactive).
I then invite this part of me to imagine and experience what it would be like if I get this first outcome, fully and completely. I then ask, “if you get justice, fully and completely, what do you want through having justice that’s even more important?”
The second outcome I receive is “I want nobody to ever again suffer from anything like this, from a New Wage guru or anyone else. I want safety and protection for all.”
Again I thank and appreciate this part of me for wanting safety and protection for all. Sometimes parts of me want less refined and mature initial outcomes. I have sometimes had parts respond that they wanted to kill or hurt, or pursue selfish and destructive activities (I’m glad I repressed these parts and didn’t allow them to act on their whims!). This part of me is responding in a more evolved way (perhaps because it knows you’re watching? ), and I am appreciative of that as well.
I ask “if you have safety and protection for all, in your imagination (even if this isn’t possible in the real world), but if you could really experience what that’s like to have now, what do you want through having safety and protection for all that’s even more important?”
Stepping into safety and protection for all, the next outcome is “to know that all is well” accompanied by the breath relaxing with big inhales into the upper chest, a softness in the face, and my jaw relaxing. A feeling of sweet sadness comes over me, and my legs are buzzing with tiny vibrations as if waking up from having fallen asleep.
Again I thank and invite this part to have what it’s wanting in my imagination, and ask what’s even more important. The answer is “to be OK and loved.” I feel sensitive and quite sad, curled slightly inward as if to comfort myself. Appreciating the outcome, inviting having it (I feel enveloped in a Cosmic Mother’s arms), and asking what’s deeper I discover that the buzzing sensations in my chest and belly cease and the room seems suddenly silent—but then I realize it is just the silence of my own mind. I drop into some state of absorption and clarity—an indication I’ve probably reached a Core State. A flying ant suddenly lands on the glowing screen of my Macbook–a synchronicity? I try to blow it off gently but it persists, so I accept the presence of my winged guest as perhaps containing a lesson I don’t yet understand. It paces back and forth across the top of my laptop as I continue to investigate.
How to name this state which feels beyond words? Emptiness, peace, Being come to mind. None fully capture it, but any will do. It’s not too strong or intense—in a way, nothing at all special—but definitely has a sense of the unconditional or the transcendent. I decide Being will do for now for a label, and with that my winged companion walks off across the kitchen table, exploring the world beyond the glowing rectangle I’m usually engrossed in. My words seem unusually poetic to me.
Reversing the outcome chain with the Core State: It’s as if this part of me had a strategy for getting to this state of Being by getting angry in the hopes that this anger would lead to justice, then justice would lead to safety and protection for all, then I’d know that all is well, which would make me feel OK and loved, and finally I’d reach this state of Being which is beyond conditional logic! That strategy hasn’t been working all that well, as I’ve more often simply gotten angry about this whole James Ray thing and been stuck there for hours at a time (often until I’ve done Core Transformation). States of being don’t necessarily come from achieving or doing anything in the world anyway. This kind of conditional logic is more often a prison that keeps us from such experiences—at least that’s what I’ve found. Moreover, it is probably more useful to begin with this state of Being, since it doesn’t depend on actually changing anything in the outside world to experience it (it can be very handy to have access to deep inner resources like that!). James Ray is still tweeting along and my feeling angry about it doesn’t seem to be stopping him. But perhaps I can act from this experience of Being in an ongoing way if in fact I simply step into it and have it.
General reversal: I now invite this part of me to just step into Being and have it, as an ongoing way of moving through the world, a place from which my actions can ideally just flow forth from. It probably won’t always happen this way, but why not imagine this as a possibility for my life. I ask my part, “How does already having this ‘Being’ in an ongoing way make things different?” I feel much buzzing and tingling in my head and lower legs as my breath comes in and out more fully now. I feel freer somehow. The buzzing anger in my chest and belly has dissolved. My throat has relaxed. The big breaths keep coming, and I’m even feeling a bit lightheaded. I ask again. My mind is calm and clear. My heart feels open and “large.” If I can keep this Being in an ongoing way, I expect I will naturally be more compassionate, less reactive, more kind to myself and others. I sincerely intend for this to happen, and humbly ask my unconscious and any other forces that may exist to help this to occur. “May all beings be happy….” Somehow things seem simpler from this state, and some of the mysteries of life make intuitive sense, but I don’t necessarily have words for what that means—it’s just a feeling that everything’s going to be alright, as cheesy as that sounds, even to me.
Specific reversal: I ask my part, “how does already having Being in an ongoing way transform or enrich ‘to be OK and loved’?” I hear “I am already OK and loved, deeply so.” This doesn’t necessarily make much sense rationally, but my heart tingles with warmth and the big breaths come upon me again.
I then ask, “how does already having Being in an ongoing way transform or enrich, ‘to know that all is well?’” The answer comes quickly: “I do know—and feel—that all is well.” “How does already having Being in an ongoing way transform my experience when I’m getting ‘safety and protection for all’?” I can rest in that safety and feel secure. “How does already having Being in an ongoing way transform my experience when I’m not getting safety and protection for all?” I can more easily take swift and effective action to get that safety for myself and others while being more resourceful and centered. (I wish this for anyone in a situation of coercive persuasion like that deadly sweat lodge—may we all have the spiritual, physical, and moral courage, the “banality of heroism” of those who dragged out the wounded.)
“How does already having Being in an ongoing way transform or enrich this outcome of justice? How does it transform what was a desire for vengeance, to ‘make Ray pay?’” Lots of big breaths and sensations of “energy” flowing through my legs, arms, and head occur in response to these questions. I still want justice, but now I feel I would like justice to be served fairly and without vengeful punishment. In my ideal fantasy, I would like Ray to plead guilty, accept full responsibility, liquidate all of his assets (including any hidden ones if such exists), cancel all of his seminars indefinitely, and voluntarily do whatever he can to make up for his destructive behavior, including giving every penny of his assets to those he has hurt and repenting day and night to whatever higher powers he believes in for the entirety of his prison term…without seeking any early release or special treatment. For what it’s worth (and this and 50 cents will buy you a Coke), I pray that this or something like it may come to pass.
Finally, I ask this part of me, “How does already having Being in an ongoing way transform my whole experience of James Arthur Ray, his harmful actions, and his response to the deadly outcomes of his behavior?” Many big breaths again, and more moving vibrations on the skin of my legs, head, and arms. I feel some sadness arising as if tears want to come. This whole situation just seems terribly tragic to me, and I’m sorry that it happened. I feel sad for the victims of James Ray and all other coercive gurus and groups. I also feel sad for James Ray—I also feel some disgust when I think about him. This process has not made me a saint, free from all moral disgust (I feel somewhat relieved by that). I have the thought that there could be an opportunity to investigate this disgust in the future, but I’ve done enough processing for one evening, as it has now become very early in the morning.
I ask the question again to see if there is anything else. I imagine being back at his free event in my home town, and him saying “the work is too important not to continue.” I feel a rush of energy, warmth in my arms and chest. I observe myself subconsciously shaking my head “no.” My sympathetic nervous system does seem to be firing off a bit, yet it lacks the “looping” response and so the sensations slowly fade, although my jaw is now a bit tense. I ask again, connecting back with the sense of Being. “He knows not what he is doing…or maybe he does know—I can’t know exactly what’s going on in his head, can I.” A feeling of sadness again washes over me in waves of vibration corresponding to deep inhales and exhales. This was a tragedy. I hope justice is served. I feel more at peace, but not exactly free from sadness or other emotions, yet the buzzing reactivity in my chest and belly are now very calm. I quickly visualize having this Core State of Being throughout my entire body, as well as my past and future as to help solidify this resource as an unconscious and automatic response. The effect is brief but intense, and totally not something I can comprehend consciously, yet feels somehow deeply healing.
I conclude with the insight to give my Core State to James Arthur Ray (I don’t necessarily believe that this actually does anything in the physical world beyond my own psychology and how that affects my communication, but you never know, and it is an interesting thing to try internally). I imagine being back at the free talk Ray gave. I stand up and I’m in Being. I imagine what looks like a field of heat waves flying out from me, carrying this state, and going into his body up on stage as I hold eye contact. I see him breaking down, crying—this time not crocodile tears, but honest tears of a man who recognizes the harm he has caused. This time in my imagination I say nothing and the room is quiet. I hear in my head “may you be happy…may all beings be happy.” More tingling and sadness washes over my body….
As I return to rewriting this blog post, more waves of anger, disgust, and despair come and go…. More opportunities for healing perhaps, but all in it’s proper time.
About the Core Transformation Method
This session was not especially powerful or unique except that I took much more precise notes than I ordinarily would. This kind of result is a reliably common one with this method, or so I’ve observed (nothing is 100% effective of course). Yet Core Transformation is but one psycho-spiritual technique for welcoming and transforming emotions and behaviors—others prefer EFT, focusing, CBT, vipassana, or one of many other methods of healing. I prefer Core Transformation because I’ve found it to be very reliable in actually getting to the bottom of things, comprehensive in it’s approach to welcoming all parts of one’s being, both very gentle and very deep, and precisely laid out such that one can learn to do the technique on your own or in a workshop without dependence on a therapist or guru.
This method may be too deep and intense for some people, so be careful. Core Transformation seems to work more at levels of unconscious processing and emotion than rational cognition, and I think is therefore complimented by an approach like cognitive-behavioral therapy (or just solid critical thinking—the “meta model” in NLP). This technique is also not a replacement for actions in the world—feeling more centered about doing your taxes for example is not quite the same as actually doing them. Nor is personal psychotherapeutic or spiritual work—however profound—a substitute for changing unjust structures of power within groups of people. And we should always be on guard for the possibility of our using love as a weapon. With those caveats, I strongly recommend learning more about this technique. It is not yet widely known but deserves to be so in my opinion, as it is a wonderfully gentle yet powerful method of cultivating loving-kindness and a fearless sense of one’s innermost Being.
(Full disclosure: I work for the author and publisher of Core Transformation, and am in the process of becoming a licensed trainer. My views expressed in this article however are strictly my own. I have a small private practice facilitating this method with clients. I receive no commission for sales nor compensation including any wages for the writing of this article, but marketing is a part of my job role. I was an evangelist for this method several months prior to even knowing there was a possibility for me to work for the publisher, and would practice and promote this technique regardless.)
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Tags: Buddhism, Christianity, compassion, Core Transformation, idiot compassion, James Arthur Ray, James Arthur Ray sweatlodge, James Ray, James Ray sweatlodge, Jesus, love, loving-kindness, metta, Pema Chodron, Sedona sweat lodge