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.)

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

James Arthur Ray and the deaths in Sedona: Four. Long. Years.

Another year has passed, and here we are at another sad anniversary. Four years after his recklessness* killed Kirby Brown and James Shore, and fatally injured Liz Neuman,** in a phony sweat lodge in Sedona, Arizona, selfish-help guru and star of The Secret James Arthur Ray is out of prison, presumably planning his comeback tour in Scamworld. I still find it appalling that he served less than two years in an Arizona prison for those deaths, and has yet to answer for another death a few months previously, that of Colleen Conaway in a San Diego shopping mall.

A couple of weeks ago I heard from Ginny Brown, the mother of Kirby Brown. She apparently came across my blog by way of doing research into the Kevin Trudeau/James Ray connection. (As regulars know, I've written about the True-dough/Death Ray connection numerous times on this blog, such as here and here. And I have commemorated it pictorially as well.) Ginny wanted me to help spread the word about the nonprofit organization she founded in the wake of her daughter's untimely death. This is SEEKsafely, Inc., and it is dedicated, she wrote, "to educating the public about self-help, empowering seekers and promoting ethical and safe practices in the self-help industry."

I already knew about SEEKsafely, having mentioned it a couple of times on my blog,
including on this post from this past July. I promised Ginny that I would mention it today as well, because I had planned to write another commemorative post, as I have done every year since the Sedona tragedy happened. (This was my first commemorative post -- an inordinately long one, framed in a review of Connie Joy's book, Tragedy in Sedona.)

Ginny explained to me that
SEEKsafely is trying to take a positive approach to what she and many others see as a very troubling self-help phenomenon. "As long as traditional religions fail to bring people spiritual growth and personal fulfillment, people’s search for meaning and purpose will continue with the self-help industry working to fill that personal need," she wrote. "In the midst of the scams there are sincere teachers who do offer legitimate help and support...  While I do not want SEEK to promote, endorse or monitor self-help providers, we do want to create change in the industry and educate the consumer."

Though I have never been a bastion of positivity, I see the value in Ginny's approach. I agree with her that traditional religion has failed us in many ways, and that is why people seek alternatives that sometimes are not safe. I told her I think that because of her own experience and background (she is a therapist and retreat leader, coming from a Catholic background), and of course because of the tragic loss she suffered, she is in a unique position to effect some changes in an industry that is here to stay but is very much in need of change.

I know that here on this blog my own views often come across as much more on the cynical side (though I continue to insist that it a cynicism I have earned honestly), but the truth is that I remain sympathetic to the quest for meaning in life.*** What riles me is the way that the selfish-help and McSpirituality gurus so often take advantage of people's deepest hungers and fears and longings.

And I told Ginny that I think it speaks volumes that so many of the most well-known self-help/motivational/spiritual gurus to whom her organization reached out have still not signed
the SEEKsafely Promise. Here is the list of those who have not signed. I told her that I agree with her that there are some good, sincere people in the industry, and actually I think that many if not most start out with the best of intentions (I honestly don't think we can say that about Ray, however). However, it seems to me that this industry attracts many people who, once they reach a certain level of fame and fortune, all too often become more concerned with promoting their "brand" than with anything else.

Perhaps some of the gurus don't think that a pledge such as the SEEKsafely Promise applies to them because they don't conduct "extreme" workshops (or in some cases they conduct few if any workshops at all).

Some may be reluctant to acknowledge that a workshop doesn't have to be physically extreme, on the order of a desert vision quest or a sweat lodge, in order to be dangerous. But as many people have learned the hard way, many of the Large Group Awareness Training events are emotionally and psychologically grueling, and have occasionally been known to spur psychotic episodes in vulnerable people --
sometimes with tragic consequences.

In addition, it is possible that some of the gurus feel there is too much potential liability in signing such a pledge, fearing that by doing so they might weaken or compromise those elaborate "waivers" they have participants sign before their events.

All of this is speculation on my part, of course, but I suspect that it is fairly well-informed speculation.

I told Ginny that I applaud what she is doing with SEEKsafely, and added that although I did not have the pleasure of knowing Kirby personally, I feel I know her, at least a little, through Ginny's words and those of others who knew and loved her. And it seems to me that she would be very pleased with Ginny's efforts to help others...well... seek safely.

It seems to me, though, that in order for people to be able to seek safely, a little negativity is definitely in order. Towards that end, it is up to all of us who care about these issues to make sure that the world never forgets what James Arthur Ray did four long years ago.

Here again is the link to SEEKsafely, Inc.

Update, 13 October, 2013: Saturday, October 12 marked the end of community supervision in Arizona for James Ray. He was expected to return to California, presumably to hit the comeback trail in earnest, so I guess we need to keep our eyes open for his next trick.
Recent and related on this Whirled:

* Technically, James Arthur Ray was convicted of, and served time for, three counts of negligent homicide, rather than reckless manslaughter. Being negligent carries less of a prison sentence than being reckless. But eyewitness accounts point to utter recklessness at best, and at worst... well, anyway, he's out now.
** Kirby Brown and James Shore died on October 8, 2009, and Liz Neuman lay in a coma for nine days before her family finally made the painful decision to withdraw life support on October 17, 2009.

*** As many probably know, I'm actually "on the fence" about many things and, as noted above, I remain sympathetic in general to people's search for meaning. In case you haven't seen these yet, here are a couple of blog posts I wrote years ago, when both The Secret and this blog were pretty new:

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Connie,

I've been following your blog for a while now, especially since you're focused on scammers which is a particular interest of mine.

I think it's despicable how some people will do anything for a buck, even if that means ruining other people's lives. I especially despise those who play on people's vulnerabilities, such as religion (even though I'm not religious). But the ones I can't stand the most are the ones like Leonard Coldwell who claim they have the answers to medical conditions when in reality they're gambling with people's lives. James Arthur Ray is a prime example of that.

I just wanted to say I really like what you've been doing by keeping this in the public eye. As a journalist, I'm sometimes skeptical of the accuracy of bloggers but I'm glad you're doing what you're doing. Keep up the good work!

By the way, Texas is one of the places I'd most like to visit in the U.S, even though I hear the lifestyle is very different from here in Ontario. Don't know if you've been to Canada. If you do, I'll tell you right now: you DON'T need to bring winter clothes in July - all the igloos we live in will have melted in June. ;)

Tuesday, October 08, 2013 2:04:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Thank you for your kind words, Anon journo. Agreed about the James Rays and Leonard Coldwells of the world being particularly despicable.

Canada has always fascinated me, though I've never been there.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013 9:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I noticed that Jane Willhite of PSI Seminars is not on Seek Safely Inc.'s list.

She is cahoots with Bob Proctor and John Assaraf. Both speak at the week-long Principia event every year at High Valley Ranch in Clearlake Oaks CA.

One can spend $20,000 on the Basic seminar, PSI 7, the Men's or Women's Leadership courses, Pacesetter Leadership Dynamics 90-day classes. They really don't care whether one actually improves's one's life, but just want their money since it ALL ABOUT THE MONEY.

There used to be blog posts linking James Arthur Ray with PSI Seminars, after he presented at PSI Seminars events and Principia, but those posts have long been deleted.

Bob Proctor and 2-time felon (look him up) Berny Dohrmann, who is a speaker at PSI Seminars, just say that JAR was a bit misguided with the self-help philosophy and the sweat lodge excercise just got away from him.

It's only a matter of time before JAR is completely back in business again with a whole new crop of young people who don't have any research skills other than to see what the first hit about him on Google is.

I imagine the off gassing of heated plastic (blue tarps) was nasty. Native Americans say that JAR's bastardized sweat lodge was an affront to their principles and culture in that they use only natural materials and never plastic to seal off a heated area.

There's always an opening to speak next year at PSI Seminars Pricipia event in the fall of 2014.

Thursday, October 31, 2013 7:14:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Good points, Anon. I know about PSI and the Wilhites from various threads on Salty's blog and from some comments here as well -- possibly some comments you have made in the past? ;-)

Somehow I doubt that Jane Willhite would be willing to sign Seek Safely's promise. Seems like very few of the "successful" New-Wage/selfish-help/McSpirituality gurus are very interested.

Friday, November 01, 2013 12:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I posted this on Salty but I feel so incensed about his return and all the simpering women on his FB page who maybe still think they have a chance with him (despite his 4 year relationship with Nataliya Katsalap that is still ongoing - she is also the one handling his financial issues & was probably in charge of getting his money offshore, by the way - note, all his longer term relationships are with women who are accountants/financial advisers!!) that I wanted to vent here as well. All the sheeple wishing him Welcome Back and Happy Birthday on his FB page and posting comments about 'media vendettas' etc despite all the evidence from police & civilians of his total lack of integrity after the event as well as during. What planet are they on? How DARE they blame victims, victims' families and the press for his pratfall. Sorry Connie!

"... and now, he’s back. Tweeting. Website revamp with new (old) photo. Facebook revamp with new (old Peru) photo smiling – no longer the Angel of Death? Appearing on Piers Morgan on Monday night, for Chrissakes. To say what? Sorry??? Doubt that very much. To say he’s refunding all the monies he owes for cancelled events? Ditto. To accept some responsibility for what went down? Or to preach on about how unless you have adversity, you’re not growing, which is another way of phrasing a superior put down, ie unless you’ve suffered like he has, you’ll never grow/be spiritual/be successful/fill in the blanks and you’re a nobody…. Read his blog on the website on Gratitude …. seems it’s STILL not his ‘fault’ what happened at Sedona and here he is, Phoenix rising from the ashes, still has NO clue how not to alienate people with his crass comments. Oh yeah, and it’s STILL ‘all about him’ of course. Duh.

Saturday, November 23, 2013 9:30:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

A lot of us were afraid this would happen. It was almost a no-brainer prediction. It remains to be seen if Piers will give JAR the grilling he deserves tomorrow night.

Kevin Trudeau has nothing to worry about, it seems. Even convicted killers get a pass from those who want more than anything to BELIEVE in someone.

Sunday, November 24, 2013 6:09:00 PM  

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