Whirled Musings

Across the Universe with Cosmic Connie, aka Connie L. Schmidt...or maybe just through the dung-filled streets and murky swamps of pop culture -- more specifically, the New-Age/New-Wage crowd, pop spirituality & religion, pop psychology, self(ish)-help, business babble, media silliness, & related (or occasionally unrelated) matters of consequence. Hope you're wearing boots. (By the way, the "Cosmic" bit in my moniker is IRONIC.)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Another moment of silence

Today, October 17, is the one-year anniversary of the passing of Liz Neuman, James Arthur Ray's third victim from the Sedona sweat lodge. Liz, who had been a faithful follower of Ray for more than seven years, suffered multiple organ damage and lay comatose for nine days in a Flagstaff, Arizona hospital, until her family finally made the wrenching decision to disconnect her from life support. In those nine days she didn't receive a single visit from Ray, who had claimed to be her friend. She had no ID on her at the time she was admitted to the hospital, so she was admitted as a Jane Doe. Her family learned of her admission through a news story 24 hours after the fact.

* * * * *

Connie Joy, whose book, Tragedy In Sedona, I wrote about at some length in my previous post, tells a story towards the end of her book that I find both haunting and disgusting. A mere eight days after the Sedona travesty, James Ray gathered the troops for his annual World Wealth Summit in San Diego. The World Wealth Society (now defunct, as this link seems to demonstrate) was Ray's most expensive offering, costing $60,000 per year for an individual membership, though couples could join the elite group for a mere $75,000. Though their hearts were no longer in it, Ms. Joy and her husband Richard had made a previous commitment to attend the 2009 Summit. For a number of reasons, however, the Joys had also made the decision to dissociate themselves from Ray, and they had actually made this decision before the sweat lodge tragedy. Their purpose for attending the Summit was partly to hear the guest speakers, but mainly to support and be supported by their similarly shocked and stunned fellow members, who needed each other more than ever.

Before the event there had been some speculation among members about whether or not the Summit would be canceled. It wasn't. Then there was speculation about whether or not Ray would show up. After all, this was the one event that the members could pretty much run themselves, without his presence, and they figured that in light of the deaths in Sedona, Ray might have more pressing matters on his plate. But he was there, and in fine form. While many members were expecting some sort of official apology from him for what had happened, and/or some promise of financial support for the families of the victims, there was none of the above. His eyes did well up with tears few times, but since Ms. Joy had seen him cry on cue before, she was understandably suspicious. "He could be crying because he majorly screwed up his company and his money flow," she writes. "When I hugged him, I felt no emotional energy coming from him. I usually have to work to keep myself from being overwhelmed by people's emotions, especially when they are under extreme duress, but this time, I felt absolutely nothing."

It wasn't that Ray refused to acknowledge the fatalities. On the second morning of the event, October 17, he began the day with a group meditation for the families of Kirby Brown and James Shore, whose funerals, he said, were going to be held that day. At this point, Liz Neuman was still lying in a coma in Flagstaff. Immediately after the remembrance meditation, though, the event switched back to pep-rally mode. As the egregiously overplayed Black-Eyed Peas anthem, "I Got a Feeling (That Tonight's Gonna Be A Good Night)" played loudly, Ray stood up on stage and started clapping and dancing, yelling at the audience to do the same. In this audience were several survivors of the Sedona sweat lodge, who looked rather dazed and confused. Although a few people, including the Joys, could not bring themselves to get into the pep-rally spirit, others were not similarly troubled.

And amazingly, some people were still signing up for World Wealth Society membership, which Ray continued to promote heavily during the two-day event. Ms. Joy writes, "They replayed an old slide show of photos taken of us at WWS activities, set to the Queen song 'We Believe.' When it came to the part where they sang about a hero who is 'a man or a woman who knows how to say they're sorry,' they showed a photo of James. How ridiculously ironic!"

That afternoon, Ray was speaking on stage when Josh Fredrickson hurriedly came up and handed him a note. This was not something Josh or anyone else would normally do while Ray was in the middle of a spiel, so it must be something pretty serious, Ms. Joy thought. She watched Ray's face carefully but saw no display of emotion whatsoever, nor did her friend Edward, who was also observing the situation closely. Ray simply continued his talk, though he called for a break a few minutes later. Many participants wondered if perhaps the police were waiting for him backstage, and some of them thought he probably wouldn't return. He did, however, and the event continued and then wrapped up with no further interruption.

As members were saying their goodbyes after the close of the event, Ms. Joy was hearing comments from some who still strongly supported Ray and were sure that the investigators in Sedona were using him as a scapegoat, in part because one of them was up for re-election. As many of you may recall, this was the same absurd accusation that Ray's then-publicist, Howard Bragman, had been making. The Joys couldn't believe that some folks were still so credulous and seemingly indifferent to the families who had lost loved ones. Then, just as they were getting ready to leave, one of their friends ran down the hall and said he had been looking for them, for he had heard on TV that a third victim, Liz Neuman, had died. The news was not entirely unexpected, but that did not lessen its impact.

"We speculated," writes Ms. Joy, "that the note Josh handed James may have contained the news of Liz's death. I flashed back to the absence of expression on his face when he read the note. Could he really have remained that devoid of emotion upon learning a loyal student who had been with him for over seven years was dead because of him?"

It's difficult for me to fathom what was going through Ray's head. Whether or not that note Josh handed him on stage was indeed the news of Liz's death, I really do not understand why he didn't visit her in the nine days she lay in the hospital. Many have speculated that his lawyers and/or PR people advised him to lie low, but I can't see how making that simple gesture for her family would have compromised him legally. It might have made Liz's family a little more sympathetic to him. In any case, he didn't lie low; that World Wealth Summit was just one example of his efforts to carry on with business as usual in the weeks immediately following Sedona.

* * * * *

I have the deepest sympathy for the families and friends of all of Ray's victims, and if the grief of Liz's family seems particularly poignant to me I am sure this is because I lost my own mother fairly recently. Three days after Christmas 2007, my siblings and I had to make the same painful decision to disconnect her from life support. We were marginally more prepared than Liz Neuman's family, for our mom was considerably older and had multiple health problems, and her condition had been rapidly deteriorating over the last few days before her death. Still, the decision was painful and her loss deeply felt. And I miss her. Even now I find myself wanting to pick the phone up and call her when I have good news to share, or when a storm is headed our way and I want to make sure she has taken the necessary precautions. As it happens I also know what it is like to lose a parent suddenly and unexpectedly, and to have the person responsible for it walk away virtually scot-free. Many years ago, before today's stricter drinking-and-driving laws, my dad was killed by a drunk driver, a young man from a wealthy and influential family. My mother was "persuaded" not to file charges.

So I can somewhat imagine how Bryan Neuman and his brother and sister felt when faced with the sudden and completely unexpected loss of their mom. And I can imagine how sadness was mingled with joy at the birth of Liz's first grandchild, Lauren Marie Puckett, who was born to Liz's daughter Andrea on September 30 of this year. Bryan wrote to me, "I'm an Uncle now, yay!" He said that Liz had been "beyond extremely excited" at the prospect of being a grandma someday.* Thank you, James Arthur Ray, for depriving her of that experience.

The other night I was watching the new CBS cop show Blue Bloods. The story line centered around an off-duty police officer who had been killed during a diamond heist, leaving to mourn a husband, a young son, and the entire New York Police Department. In one scene towards the end, Linda, the wife of one of the main characters, Danny, is advising her prospective sister-in-law about how it goes down when an officer is killed. There is outrage at first, she explains, and the incident makes the front pages and top news stories for a week or so. There's a lot of noise in the beginning but it quickly dies down, and then the family is left to grieve in obscurity. It is, Linda says, a pain that is handed down quietly through the generations.

Though Blue Bloods is fictional, it is fiction based upon reality. Some might say it is not appropriate to compare the murder of a police officer – fictional or real – with the death of people at a self-help retreat. I say that the results of those deaths are the same to their loved ones. Loss is loss and grief is grief, whatever the circumstances.

Let's not leave the families of James Ray's victims to grieve in obscurity. Let's have another moment of silence, not only for Liz and her family, but also for the families of Kirby Brown and James Shore, and also for the family of Colleen Conaway, who died at a James Ray event in San Diego a couple of months before Sedona. And then, as Cassandra Yorgey suggested in her blog post commemorating the one-year anniversary of Sedona, let us refuse to be silent about the situation – and the man – responsible for these families' losses.

PS ~ The owners of the Angel Valley retreat have said that they will never again host another sweat lodge there. Today, the spot where the fatal lodge stood has been transformed into a memorial, where trees have been planted in honor of the people who died. Rocks in the shape of a heart – the very stones that were used in the sweat lodge – lie at the center of the memorial. A ceremony was held on the one-year anniversary of the event. Here's the story.

* I asked Bryan for his permission to share this news on my blog; I did not want to exploit their grief or invade their privacy.

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26 Comments:

Anonymous Yakaru said...

Ray's disgraceful behavior must make it very much harder for the bereaved.

Thanks for writing this sensitive piece, Connie. I am happy to learn of the new addition to the Neuman family.

Sunday, October 17, 2010 3:05:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Thank you, Yakaru. Bryan said the birth of the baby could not have come at a better time. I hope she will help the family heal.

I have the same thoughts you do about Ray's behavior. I am glad to learn, however, that Rick Ross will apparently be testifying for the prosecution.

Sunday, October 17, 2010 5:03:00 PM  
Anonymous The Amish Hacker said...

Cosmic Connie you rock? Are you single? What about the anti-gravity bubble that put the stones in place in Egypt? (page 190) I'm impressed with how much compassion you're showing the families of James Ray's victims, but aren't you letting Ms. Joy off a little easy? Her book is full of ridiculous paranormal explanations for this scam artist's despicable cult/business!

Sunday, October 17, 2010 7:43:00 PM  
Blogger SustainableFamilies said...

Rick Ross will be testifying? Hell mutha **&*(ing yeah!!!

Sunday, October 17, 2010 8:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Britt said...

Excellent article! Thanks for taking the time to post your thoughts.

Monday, October 18, 2010 2:00:00 AM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Hi, Amish Hacker, and thanks for weighing in. To answer your first question, I'm engaged to Ron Kaye, who occasionally makes an appearance here as RevRon's Rants.

Regarding your question about whether or not I am letting Ms. Joy off too easily, I kept having that argument with myself as I was writing my blog post. And as I was reading Tragedy in Sedona, I definitely found myself internally arguing with one or another of Ms. Joy's claims or explanations on nearly every other page. (Believe me, I took pages of notes...) Moreover, in all of the mounds of verbiage in my previous post, I do explain that I had a problem with the metaphysical/New-Wage spin she puts on events, and I felt other readers might have a similar problem.

However, at one point I finally realized that it was counter-productive (for me, anyway) to keep nitpicking at the author's beliefs, when the huge common ground we have is that we both think JAR is a b.s. artist. I came to that conclusion when I first heard of him back in 2006, but my general attitude is that a New-Wage guru is full of b.s. until proven otherwise. Ms. Joy's experiences and opinions are obviously different. I finally decided that if she wants to believe in paranormal explanations for things, it is NBD in the larger scheme of things, as long as she isn't using her beliefs in a way that is harmful to others.

The obvious counter to this is that if more people were critical thinkers and fewer were willing to buy into the metaphysical/mystical p.o.v., Ray wouldn't have been able to lure so many folks to economic ruin or worse. That may be, but we have to work with what we have. And I am still willing to err, if an error it is, on the side of compassion for all who felt they were screwed by Ray, even if their beliefs are different from mine. That's why I came to the conclusion that it would be a mistake to dismiss Ms. Joy's book just because she is affluent and a "believer."

Monday, October 18, 2010 7:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Martypants said...

Thank you, once again Cosmic Connie...for putting into so many thousands of words, things I really wanted to hear. Just keep typing - I'll keep reading. I now bring a snack.

Monday, October 18, 2010 8:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Candy Coop said...

Thank you for showing so much sympathy and compassion for those left alive after this tragedy. I went to the site link to read the story about the memorial at the place where the sweat lodge was. And was appalled to find that 40% of the people who read that article have said that their 'laughing out loud.' What's wrong with these people? Do they really think this is just a big joke? Or do they not fully understand what happened there? I don't understand some people...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010 8:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Bryan Neuman said...

I seriously didn't know that Rick was testifying... Thank you so much Connie. Sharing your real-life tragedies along with my family's helps us heal. With James Ray not even acknowledging either day what-so-ever, only builds our case against him.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010 9:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Yakaru said...

@Candy Coop,
Yeh, it's all too easy for people to say "it's their own fault - why didn't they just leave". It's probably unavoidable given the complexity of the story and the average attention span, but worse, that's also the cornerstone of Ray's defense.

His lawyers likened him to a sports coach who was encouraging athletes to push themselves that little bit further. But any sports coach who caused four deaths in barely two months would also be facing charges, especially if it came out that he didn't have the expertise he claimed and had been habitually pushing novice athletes way past their physical endurance without even realising or caring, for years.

And name even one sports coach who has done that.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010 2:31:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Martypants said:
"...Just keep typing - I'll keep reading. I now bring a snack."

Ha, ha. I do get carried away sometimes, don't I? I always say that for my really long posts it's best to just print the darn thing out (and highlight the links you want to follow later). But hey, I'm glad you're here!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010 3:23:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Candy Coop, I absolutely agree that the "LOL" votes on this matter were appalling. On one of the online articles I read about the one-year anniversary and the Angel Fire memorial, the first comment was from someone who said that the people who didn't leave the sweat lodge were idiots and had only themselves to blame for their deaths or injuries. I addressed that mindset briefly on my long post about "Tragedy In Sedona."

There's also a particularly offensive blogger whose URL I will not mention (making me, in some respect, like Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, who refers to the language of Mordor as one "which I will not utter here"). In the weeks following the Sedona tragedy this blogger went on and on about the stupidity of the sweat lodge participants. That kind of self-righteousness is beyond appalling.

But I would actually like to believe that those who express such sentiments are, beneath their veneer of superiority, quite horrified at the situation, and perhaps their self-righteousness is their lame defense against that horror. They would like to believe that they are immune to such tragedies.

Either that, or they're sociopaths.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010 3:39:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

@Bryan Neuman, I too was pleased to learn that Rick Ross is scheduled to testify at the trial. Here is a link to the document, dated 10-14-10:
http://bit.ly/cDHC5l

Ross will testify regarding group behavior.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010 3:44:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Oh, @Sustainable Familes and @Britt: Thank you for your earlier comments.

And, as Sustainable Families said regarding Rick Ross's scheduled testimony at the JAR trial: "Hell mutha **&*(ing yeah!!!"

Wednesday, October 20, 2010 3:46:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Yakaru, thanks for bringing up the "sports coach" analogy, which is, as you said, the tack his attorneys have been taking. I have a feeling that this defense will be torn to shreds in the courtroom.

By the way, on that document I cited above, another person listed as being scheduled to testify is one Steven Pace, Director of Risk Management for Field Activities at Prescott College in Prescott, AZ. As his title implies, that is exactly what he will testify about: risk management for field activities. My guess is that it will be revealed that Ray's "risk management" was somewhat on the sucky side.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010 3:54:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

BTW, everyone... somebody going by the name @Slowly Waking on Salty Droid's October 19 blog post linked to an interesting article in the New York Times:

http://tinyurl.com/32z6kzm

It appears that, in contrast to earlier reports last year in the wake of the tragedy, Sedona isn't doing so well these days as a spiritual destination. Last year there were numerous reports that it was bidness as usual in the New-Wage community there, even after the deadly sweat lodge. One year later it's a different story. There's a whole lotta negative energy going on, it seems.

I found this part of the NY Times article of particular interest:

==begin segment of NY Times article==
Ten people who were either in the sweat lodge or were relatives of those who died sued Mr. Ray and eventually settled. Angel Valley [the retreat where the sweat lodge was held], however, remains a defendant, with its owners rejecting any monetary settlement.

[Amayra] Hamilton and her husband, Michael, also sued Mr. Ray, accusing him of damaging their struggling retreat’s business of helping people find inner peace. After the sweat lodge deaths, the suit says, many spiritualists began keeping a distance from Angel Valley, and it began losing as much as $35,000 a month.

Several months back, the Hamiltons made a spiritual appeal to end the lawsuits, e-mailing those who were suing them and asking them to consider the implications of what they were doing. “Let’s come together,” the e-mail said. “Let’s find a new way to do this.”

Their effort drew no takers, although it did rile the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

The Hamiltons also came up with the idea of holding a large grieving ceremony this month for sweat lodge participants and survivors at the one-year anniversary of the deaths, and planned to use their insurance money to pay for it. They insisted, however, that all attendees agree to drop their suits. Nobody agreed, so the smaller ceremony was held.

“We were waiting for a miracle to happen,” Mrs. Hamilton said, “but it didn’t happen.”

==end segment of NY Times article==

Also noteworthy: Angel Valley co-owner Michael Hamilton only agreed to speak with a reporter after consulting with the archangel Michael.

In a later comment on Salty's blog, Slowly Waking alluded to something that has always been a sore point with me: the New-Wage/McSpirituality penchant for euphemism. In this case, it was the use, by one of the surviving sweat lodge participants, of the term “transition from here” instead of “die.”

And then there was this...

==begin==
“Initially, I didn’t think it was going to affect business and, a year later, I know I was wrong,” said Deidre Madsen, who runs a New Age travel company in Sedona and a Web site devoted to inner growth. “I’m shocked at the impact. My business is down 20 percent.”
==end==

Apparently a few New-Wagers are getting a pretty rude awakening. But I'd be willing to bet it's not as rude an awakening as the families of JAR's victims got.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010 4:16:00 PM  
Anonymous hhh said...

Different topic, Connie, gotta squeeze this in here.

As per my long standing prediction, science has got around to interpreting aura seeing as synaesthesia.
I knew it!

http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/shortsharpscience/2010/11/auras.html

What do you think about that??

Friday, November 19, 2010 9:12:00 AM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Hi, HHH, it's great to hear from you. Any topic is welcome. I'm trying to get onto that aura link now to look at it, but my IP is being stubborn and it's loading verrrry slooooooowly. But I wanted to acknowledge your comment before any more time went by.

'Kay... it finally loaded. Lemme take a look...

Yeah, it is interesting. I'd heard of synaesthesia, of course, and have a mild form of it myself (ever since childhood, the word "Monday" has looked grayish-white to me and "Friday" has always looked bright turquoise with white polka-dots, and so forth).

My scientifical opinion, however, is that much of your garden-variety aura-seeing is a case of vivid imagination and/or a desire to con rather than synaesthesia. But of course I could be wrong ("wrong" being a word that is a muddy brown in color).

Monday, November 22, 2010 5:54:00 PM  
Anonymous hhh said...

How does 'monday' look grayish white?
You mean you see the word written down and it has a colour overlay?
Or do you see this in your mind as a flash of gray when someone says monday?
Or do you see it as a flash in your mind when you read the word?
What is the difference between this synaesthesia and a simple memory association such as being reminded of a place when you smell a particular scent?

What happens when I do this

Monday Monday Monday Monday Monday Monday Monday Monday Monday Monday
Monday Monday Monday Monday Monday Monday Monday Monday Monday Monday Monday Monday Monday Monday Monday
Friday Friday Monday Friday Friday
Friday Friday Monday Friday Friday
Friday Friday Monday Friday Friday
Friday Friday Monday Friday Friday
Friday Friday Monday Friday Friday
Friday Friday Monday Friday Friday

?

What about months and years, do they have colours?

's very interesting and we need to know.

Monday, December 20, 2010 5:54:00 AM  
Anonymous hhH said...

Am I being nosey? I feel like I have been nosey. In fact, I know I'm off on one again.

Monday, December 20, 2010 2:13:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

No worries about nosiness, HHH, my friend. I've just been distracted with work today (plus I FINALLY posted that long bit about my dead cat). Seeing the words in print don't give me that "color" impression. But thinking about them or hearing them do. It's not overwhelmingly strong, and it's not as strong as it was when I was little.

I can't think of any particular memory association that would have given me those "color" impressions. 'Tis weird, I suppose. But then, so am I!

Monday, December 20, 2010 2:26:00 PM  
Anonymous hhh said...

Ok, what about Lunes and Viernes?

What if someone says "first day of the week" or "fifth day of the week"
(You would need help here)

What if you think of a calender with numbers, but no names?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010 5:36:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Curiously, I find that only English words give me that color impression, perhaps b/c English is my native language.

"First day of the week," etc. does nothing for me, color-wise.

A calendar with numbers but no names? Not sure what you mean...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010 6:17:00 PM  
Anonymous hhh said...

A calender with numbers but no names is my test to see if this is a numerical or verbal thing. A bit loose in conception, I think.
Those desk calenders with little boxes, a date and day in them - I wondered if the dates on their own would do the trick. It seems that is not going to work.

If I ask what colour the 16th of May 2008 is?

What about these

Mernday

Fruday

Monda

Monfriday

?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010 7:19:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

No, the quasi-synaesthesia only seems to work with single words. Maybe it's the vibrational quality of the word itself that produces the color impression. Too many words in a row = too much data, apparently. Any color impression that might be produced by one word is canceled out by the other words.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010 7:31:00 PM  
Anonymous hhh said...

OK then Connie, you can have your food pellet now.
Well, you are an interesting lady.
Synaesthesia is an amazing subject, especially when considering the talents it can give people. I even think there is a case to be made that our normal symbolic thought processes are the intellectual slow lane in comparison with what can be done synaesthetically - thinking of people like Daniel Tammet who can do amazing calculations because he has a mathematical synaesthesia. I am sure as neuroscience develops at it's current high pace that we will see that sort of thing artificially replicated.
That may be another conversation sometime.
Bye for now.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010 1:12:00 PM  

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