Friday, October 09, 2009

Sweat lodge deaths: is the heat on Secret star?

"Counting down the days to Spiritual Warrior in Sedona! On Saturday 60 people will enter the desert and 60 new people will exit 5 days later."
~James Arthur Ray, on a September 28 Facebook entry*

James Arthur Ray is still in Spiritual Warrior... for anything new to live something first must die. What needs to die in you so that new life can emerge?
~ James Arthur Ray, on an October 8 Facebook entry *

Note: I've added quite a bit since I first published this piece on the afternoon of October 9. In fact, this post is becoming more and more like a big ol' rambling house that the occupants keep adding on to. It started out as what Wikipedia would probably call a "stub," and I've been steadily slapping on addenda as new items come to my attention. Check back frequently; you never know what you'll find.

A tipster just sent me a link to this news bit. A man and woman are dead (see first "Addendum" below), and at least nineteen other people were hospitalized, having collapsed after a two-hour-long sweat-lodge session at a "Spiritual Warrior" retreat in Sedona, Arizona yesterday (Thursday, October 8). [Note: As of October 18, a third person, a 49-year-old woman, has also died. See October 18 addendum below.] The host of the retreat? None other than Secret star and "Harmonic Wealth" hustler James Arthur Ray, whom you may have encountered on this very blog a few times before (here and here, f'rinstance). And here (scroll down to, "It's because the Universe likes greed, Michael").

Some participants paid between $9,000 and $10,000 US to attend the retreat, which James has held at the same location previously.

According to early reports there were 64 people in the "sweat dome," including James, who was questioned by detectives and then "left the facility."

But I have a feeling the investigations are far from over. It should be noted that
participants apparently had to sign a lengthy waiver of liability form [see more information below], which acknowledged that some participants might "suffer physical, emotional, financial, or other injuries." I imagine such waivers are S.O.P. for retreats of this nature, though how binding such things are when actual deaths occur at an event, I couldn't say. In any case, as a spokesperson for James Ray said (see link to news article above), at this point there are more questions than answers.

At the very least, James may be inspired to re-think having sweat-lodge sessions in next year's "Spiritual Warrior" retreat. Sweating for enlightenment is not among the most risk-free of activities. In fact, extreme enlightenment activities can be pretty hazardous to your health, as participants at a past Burning Man event in the Nevada desert could probably testify.

You can keep updated on this story by clicking here.

One more point: Lest anyone think that I find the deaths of New-Wage workshop participants in any way humorous, I don't. That's not what this post is about. Rather, it is one of those "dark side of enlightenment" pieces, which, alas, seem to be getting more frequent of late.

Addendum, 12 October 2009: As of this morning, the "Google news results" for the sweat-lodge deaths appear as the number-one search result for "James Arthur Ray." At the moment I am writing this there are nearly 1,400 related articles, and the number grows by the hour. And as many of us expected, the more sensationalist "newsmagazine" shows, such as 48 Hours, have jumped on the story, as evidenced, for example, by this piece from the "Crimesider" blog, which bills itself as "The True Crime destination from the producers of 48 Hours Mystery." [Addendum 14 October: Also take a look at comments by some of the defenders of James Ray (e.g., "januaryguy" and "thousandoaks"), as well as responses by critics (e.g., "aconscience").]

Not unexpectedly, there's a lot of buzz about possible criminal negligence charges in this incident, although I think that some of the news reports' description of the Sedona retreat as a "crime scene" seem a bit overblown. Granted, the area where the incident occurred had been cordoned off with yellow crime-scene tape, but it's not as if it was a bloody murder scene such as those we routinely see on CSI. And despite my long-time criticism of James Ray et al., I doubt that there was any criminal intent on the part of James or his staff.

Of course, none of this lets him off the hook, as far as I'm concerned, and, more importantly, as far as investigators are concerned. And, all potential legal liability aside, it does seem clear that a fierce profit motive on James Ray's part
played a major role in this tragedy, coupled, of course, with that well-known phenomenon of workshop euphoria, which often causes participants to suspend anything resembling reason and common sense. (And, as one of my commenters in the discussion following this post pointed out, if they've paid thousands of dollars for the workshop, they will be more willing to push themselves to the limit, ignoring any warning signals from their bodies.)

There is, indeed, something about the "workshop high" or "workshop hypnosis" that occurs during an event (as well as what I can only describe as "workshop addiction" in general), that can cause even the relatively young and strong to get in way over their heads. For instance, the woman who died, 38-year-old New Yorker Kirby Brown, was an avid surfer and hiker who was reportedly in top physical shape. (Here's a link to a Fox News video and story about her family's reactions.) She was also described as a person who took self-improvement very seriously. Obviously she did, if she had attended previous James Ray events and was willing to pay between nine and ten grand to attend this one.

Which brings me to another important point: whenever there is discussion about the negative aspects of selfish-help/New-Wage stuff, and particularly, it seems, when tragedy strikes, there is invariably discussion about how we shouldn't place all of the blame on the gurus or leaders; the followers should bear some personal responsibility as well. I agree. Even so, as I said in a recent post about another New-Wage workshop-related tragedy, in which an Australian woman took off all of her clothes and leaped out a window to her death (and please forgive me for quoting myself, but I'm too lazy to paraphrase):

I'm all for personal responsibility. But one problem with these seminars and just about everything else in the New-Wage/selfish-help industry is this: While the [legal] disclaimers are whispered out of one side of the mouth (or written in fine print on one page of the web site), what comes out of the other side are the loud (or large-point-size) proclamations that THIS technique or path or technology or course or workshop or whatever will improve the quality of your life and deliver miracles – whoever you are, and no matter what your problem is. Add a bunch of poetic marketing copy, and throw in a few filmy trailers with mystical music and special effects interspersed with ecstatic testimonials from "graduates," and you have a very powerful emotional cocktail.
The manipulation doesn't stop once the marks have signed up and paid; in fact, it's just beginning. There's manipulation to get participants to spend even more money for additional products, "graduate" classes, and other next-level stuff. But there's an even bigger problem, and it is the crux of the present controversy: the one-size-fits-all therapizing, which is conducted all too often by unlicensed, under-qualified facilitators/leaders/teachers/gurus.

One of my first thoughts upon reading about the Sedona incident was to wonder how fans of The Secret and stalwart believers in the Law Of Attraction would spin this story. As a matter of fact, we've been discussing that, among other matters, in the "comments" section following this piece, but I thought I'd bring a few of the points up here to the front lines. So far it seems that there are two main schools of thought among the LOA believers and New-Wage-guru fans who want to continue believing and being guru fans. I realize I am over-simplifying a bit, but this is a starting point, anyway (and for a third school of thought, though one that's not nearly as popular amongst the New-Wagers, see the second October 14 addendum below):

1. The "conscious-choice" believers: These are the people who are speculating that the folks who died or were injured in James Arthur Ray's sweat lodge tragedy consciously chose to have that experience. For example, take a look at the scintillating conversation on the Powerful Intentions discussion forum (which is officially blessed by The Secret enterprise and is brought to you in part by the ebullient Marcy From Maui). If the Powerful Intentions link doesn't work (which may be the case if the thread is ultimately removed by site administrators, as has happened in the past with controversial threads), you can see a couple of the more ludicrous remarks here and here. One of the more noteworthy, though I suppose not surprising, aspects of this discussion was that some folks seemed more concerned with James Ray's well-being than with that of the affected participants or their families. I am not suggesting that James Ray is unaffected emotionally by this, nor am I suggesting that he is undeserving of our compassion, prayers, or good thoughts. I just don't think it is appropriate to make this story all about "poor James." And I think it's unfeeling at best and idiotic at worst for the participants to respond to this tragedy by repeating what has become a tiresome New-Wage platitude: "All is well."
2. The "unconscious-factors" believers: This is the faction that speculates unconscious factors or "counter-intentions" on the part of James Ray and/or the retreat participants may have been responsible for the tragedy. One example: Although James' name and the incident are not mentioned directly in this blog post about "the shocking truth about the Law of Attraction" by James' buddy and fellow Secret star Joe "Mr. Fire" Vitale, I strongly suspect the post was written, at least in part, as a response to this incident. I base that on the fact that Joe mentions in his post that some stars of The Secret have had some troubles that the media have picked up on. (Fortunately, he just happens to have some products and services he can sell you so you can avoid being tripped up by "counter-intentions" in your own life.)

Here's a discussion on Steve Pavlina's "Personal Development for Smart People" Forum. Steve, as you may recall, was recently at an exclusive hustledork conference in Bermuda, the Transformational Leadership Council (TLC), of which James Ray is a founding member. The James Ray/sweat lodge thread on Steve's forum was initiated by a forum member, though as of now, Steve himself has apparently not yet weighed in on the matter. He did, however, interview James Ray in 2007; here's a link to that interview.

Then there's this article by Horizons Magazine publisher Andrea de Michaeles, who says the Abraham-Hicks vibrational-resonance theory explains the deeper reasons behind the tragedy ("Whatever we experience, we experience because we are vibrationally in tune with it"). As you probably know, I'm no fan of Esther and Jerry and their imaginary pals, but I have to say that Andrea does do a good job of making James Ray's words come back to haunt him. And as Andrea wisely notes,
"Teachers have a responsibility to correctly assess whether a student is prepared to take their teaching. Not just financially able."

And here's a more mainstream discussion, with strong opinions from both defenders and detractors, on Anitra's Spa Blog on
Addendum, 13 October 2009: For those of you not on James Arthur Ray's mailing list, here's the email blast he sent out today (and also posted on his blog):

For All Those Affected by the Tragedy in Sedona
I am shocked and saddened by the tragedy that occurred at Spiritual Warrior in Sedona, Arizona, Thursday evening. I wish to express my deepest heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of those who lost their lives as well as offer my prayers for a speedy recovery for those who were taken ill. Because there are so many more questions than answers at this time I believe it inappropriate to comment further until we know more.
Out of respect for the deceased and their loved ones and for those who have taken ill and for whose speedy recovery we pray, we will not be replying to individual postings. Instead, we thank you for writing, and we hope you will share in our continued wishes of support, strength and comfort to all those impacted by this tragedy.
We also want everyone to know that a friend has been at the hospital monitoring the condition of those still ill. Our love and warm affection is with all who mourn and with all of you in this time of grief, sadness and challenge.
One wonders how much of the "love and warm affection" will translate into James Ray taking real responsibility (including but not limited to legal and financial responsibility) for this sad affair.Addendum, 14 October 2009: My friend John Curtis of Americans Against Self-Help Fraud sent me a link to a good article on the web site. Granted, the author, Deborah Price, is a life coach (a "financial-crisis coach," as she describes herself), so she is also in the self-help business. But she does have some excellent points about telling the difference between a real guru and a charlatan. She doesn't actually come out and call James Arthur Ray a charlatan, but the implication is clear.

One point she makes is one that should be obvious to everyone, and is particularly poignant in this time of recession: Many people go into debt to attend overpriced New-Wage/selfish-help workshops (and reportedly, some of the people treated after the Ray sweat lodge incident did not have medical insurance. I'm still checking up on that.). For some who go to these pricey wing-dings, it may be their way of "refusing to participate in the recession." For others, it's a way of refusing to participate in life.

Anyway, here is the link to Deborah Price's article.
"Satan did it!" Yet another 14 October addendum: Someone just pointed me to my pal Salty Droid's very salty blog post about the James Ray sweat lodge debacle. The Droid has never been known to mince words or err on the side of decorum, and he does not disappoint on this post. He lets James have it with both barrels. (Warning: If colorful language offends you, avoid this link.)

One of the things that makes this post so special, apart from the Droid's own trenchant observations, is the link in the comments section to a video comment on the tragedy by Aussie Secret star David Schirmer, aka Saint David of Victoria, aka the Mini-Madoff of Melbourne, whom you've met on this Whirled more than once. David begins with what he seems to feel is one of the most important messages: His beliefs are different from most of the Secret stars, because he's a born-again Christian, and he doesn't believe that purification rituals such as sweat lodges are at all necessary if you've accepted Jesus H. Christ as your personal savior.

Then David goes on to say that nevertheless we should all be sending our thoughts and prayers to his friend James Ray and everyone else who was affected by the tragedy. He goes on a bit about the wicked media and how they will be jumping all over this, as he knows from his own experiences. And then he gets to the meat of the matter, 'splaining why the whole sorry thing happened despite so many people trying their best to attract good things via LOA. Have you guessed the culprit? Yes, Dear Ones, it was... Satan!... who, as it happens, has also been responsible for Saint David's travails. Here is the link. (Warning: it may be full-screen, so be prepared for a very large mug of the Wanker of Oz.)

The good stuff just keeps coming: "Persuasion expert" Dave Lakhani just published a very excellent blog post about the James Ray tragedy, and, more importantly, about why so many people get sucked into doing dangerous and stupid things in the name of personal growth. Do not miss this one. (According to a recent Tweet, the LOA fans and the Christians are getting after Dave for this post.) Read it now.

James Ray himself now seems to be publicly grieving, and reportedly received a standing ovation for expressing his grief at a recent seminar. (The seminar had been scheduled weeks in advance and James chose to show up to it because he said people were counting on him.) But, as the aforementioned Dave Lakhani wrote in the post linked to above:

His behavior afterward has also bordered on Narcissistic, his statement at another event that he conducted only days after the deaths demonstrate that. His focus is on himself and how he'll cope much more than an outpouring of concern and support for the families and others injured at his event.
Imagine...a selfish-help guru focusing on himself. I know...big surprise, eh?

And still another addendum ~ 15 October, 2009: The article that has really caused a buzz today is this piece on the web site from blogger Cassandra Yorgey, whose regular beat is speculative fiction. Cassandra wrote that an anonymous tipster who claimed to be one of the sweat-lodge victims sent her a transcript of a conference call that took place on the evening of October 14 between James Ray and the surviving participants of the ill-fated Sedona retreat. The purpose of the phone call was "to bring closure to the retreat and to give James Ray a chance to interact with everyone."

Although I have published a couple of remarks about this article in my comments section, I've hesitated to publish this link up on the front page because I wasn't sure if the story was legitimate. And I'm still not entirely certain; although it seems clear that James did call the participants (as was verified by AP), I am not sure if the "transcript" (or paraphrase thereof) is legit. Granted, it sure sounds like James Ray and his followers, as you'll no doubt agree if you read the article. But as my pal Steve Salerno wrote on his SHAMblog post today, we have to be careful here. Journalists have been fooled before by hoaxes and false tips.

If it turns out that this story can be verified, then my hat is off to Cassandra Yorgey for helping to further expose the manipulative tactics of New-Wage gurus and the muddled "thinking" they actively seek to foster in their followers.

One point has come out in the past couple of days, and has been noted in more than one article (such as this one, f'rinstance, which I linked to yesterday): Contrary to previous claims from the James Ray camp that he has conducted similar retreats at the Angel Valley Resort for years without incident, it turns out that there was indeed an "incident" four years ago.

Fire department reports released Tuesday show the incident wasn't the first involving a sweat lodge ceremony at the resort, the Angel Valley Retreat Center. 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.

I can only wonder if the 2005 incident rattled James Ray at all, other than, perhaps, to inspire him to get his legal team cranking to tighten up the pre-retreat liability waivers. I'm certainly not surprised that James' spokesman (I assume this would be the aforementioned Howard Bragman) did not wish to comment. But that's okay; if Cassandra Yorgey's piece turns out to be legitimate, it looks as if James himself is finally saying plenty at this point. I have a feeling, though, that his legal team is kind of wishing he wouldn't.

Update: It's now a homicide investigation:
According to CNN: "An investigation into the deaths of two people who spent up to two hours inside a 'sweat lodge' at an Arizona retreat last week has been elevated from an accidental death investigation to a homicide inquiry, Yavapai County Sheriff Steve Waugh told reporters Thursday [15 October]." Read more here.

Signing your life away? If you're interested in reading the kind of liability waivers that participants in a James Arthur Ray event have to sign, and you haven't done so already, here is your chance. This has been up on the Rick Ross forum since October 10. And here's the link to a PDF on James Ray's site (see pages 11-14 of the document). A
s many of you may know, this is pretty standard stuff at LGAT (Large Group Awareness Training) events.

Addendum, 17 October: While investigators are still sorting out all of the factors that led to the deaths of two participants [now three; see Oct. 18 addendum below ~CLS], and the injuries of numerous others, at James Ray's recent Sedona disaster, it seems abundantly clear by now (at least to me) that the very nature of the retreat – and the manipulative techniques James Ray used – were factors in those deaths and injuries. Numerous accounts I have read said that even though participants were told they could leave whenever they wanted, those who recognized their limitations and tried to exit the sweat lodge were, in some cases, chided by James (he called one guy a "wimp") and they were encouraged to stay and experience the event "full-on."

Comes another piece, published yesterday, from Cassandra Yorgey, recounting eyewitness details of the disaster scene from an unnamed source. It begins with a nightmare scenario:
People are flailing in seizures; others are vomiting violently, or foaming at the mouth. Bodies are lined up unconscious, some are blue from lack of oxygen, but for some it is too late, they are already dead. Survivors that are barely able to stand struggle to help the others, they have had almost no food or water for nearly three days, even longer without sleep. It looks like a war zone, but for the incongruent figure of James Arthur Ray (a contributing author to The Secret) who exits the sweat lodge and stands tall with a big smile, the only one able to stand on his own volition. He is not concerned with the medical emergency going on full swing around him. He is not worried about the health and well-being of his followers who have paid $10,000.00 (tack on an additional 5,000.00 or so if you include flights, room and board, and camping supplies) to attend his retreat. In fact, he and his team urge people to stop taking care of others and focus on their own journey, assuring them they are fine and only “purging”. Someone finally realizes James Ray is not in control of the situation and calls 911.
As did Steve Salerno at SHAMblog, my mention of this piece comes with the same qualifiers and disclaimers as did my previous mention of Ms. Yorgey's work. It's not that I don't think that the substance (of both of her pieces) sounds credible, notwithstanding the somewhat over-wrought writing style and the author's apparent agenda. Furthermore, in light of my own perspectives about the whole New-Wage guru racket, I tend to be more receptive to anti-guru information than to pro-guru stuff. But that is one reason I still feel I have to be so cautious about wholeheartedly accepting Ms. Yorgey's reporting. Is it all true, or do I just want to believe it, since it provides such clear evidence of the things I've long complained about in the New-Wage industry?

I have had some friendly email correspondence with Ms. Yorgey, which she initiated (she thanked me for my help in continuing the discussion about James Ray, despite the fact that I didn't give her my unqualified endorsement). Being as curious in my own way as is Steve Salerno about how Ms. Yorgey landed this story, I asked her if she initially went out seeking the information or if the "sources" came to her. She simply replied that she respects the privacy of the victims and that as she continues to live by her code of ethics, more of them have continued to come forward to tell their stories to her.

However, she did not answer my question. I believe that she could easily have done so in a general way without betraying any confidences or revealing any sources, but she didn't. I really do want to give her points for consistency and effort, as well as for what seem to be good intentions, but my disclaimers and qualifiers will remain, pending receipt of information that will convince me my doubts are misplaced. I am of course always willing to retract when proven wrong.

Should we start calling him "Death" Ray? I thought it was bad enough that there was a sweat-lodge medical disaster at a previous James Ray seminar (as I noted in my October 15 addendum above), but it gets worse. I was recently alerted to reports of a death during another James Ray seminar weekend, Creating Absolute Wealth, this past July. Colleen Marian Conaway, a 46-year-old Minnesota woman who had traveled to San Diego for the seminar, died when she plunged off of the third-level railing at a San Diego mall
Reportedly she was not suicidal before the event and seemed a happy enough person. Of course there may be other factors we don't know about, and perhaps the intensity of the James Ray weekend just set her off. But, as I noted in a discussion on SHAMblog, it's worth investigating, and no doubt it is being investigated now by people who are more qualified than I.

Although that July event wasn't a week-long retreat in a remote area (and this one was a bargain at "only" $4,000), it was nonetheless very intensive and apparently involved fasting and other techniques to jar people's consciousness. The participant's suicide occurred during a "group field trip" that was part of the event. While his flock was at the mall, James was happily Tweeting away about the life-changing experience they were having (click on pic to enlarge).

And then a few days later he was tweeting about his excitement over an upcoming trip to Peru. Meanwhile, a family was grieving.
Here's the link to a comment about this matter on CBS' 48 Hours "Crimesider" blog.

Colleen Conaway's death is also being discussed on Rick Ross' forum.

There's always another side...and another. Meanwhile, according to an article by Glen Creno in the Arizona Republic, James Ray's publicist has been making snide remarks about the local authorities (and media) who are trying to "tar" his beleagured client.
Howard Bragman, a Los Angeles publicist, Friday criticized the decision by Yavapai County investigators to reclassify what had been an accidental-death inquiry to a homicide investigation. He said it was a "purposely incendiary" move by Sheriff Steve Waugh.
"I think they are trying to tar my client," Bragman said. "Somebody must be running for re-election in Yavapai County."
Waugh wasn't available for comment Friday, his spokesman Dwight Develyn said.
Bragman said there was too much "finger-pointing" going on too early in the investigation. He said Ray remained committed to his schedule of motivational events, including one in California this weekend.
"He's trying to help people," Bragman said. "That's what he does."
Okay. On the one hand, I understand how the justice system can sometimes be stymied when a case is "tried" in the media and the proverbial "court of public opinion," especially before formal charges have even been filed. I am also well aware of the problems that can occur when law enforcement is too willing to talk to the media.

Ron and I learned far more about this issue than we would ever have wanted to know when we were doing research for a nonfiction book about a grisly murder that made international headlines a few years back. In that case there was evidence of significant malfeasance on the part of law enforcement investigators, who not only made numerous blunders in their investigations, but also did a lot of grandstanding for the media. Inevitably, this fueled public opinion against the accused, and arguably resulted in the person being wrongly convicted and sent to death row. (And, yes, in light of the evidence we studied, both Ron and I do believe it was a wrongful conviction.) 

On the other hand, I am not by any means trying to give James Arthur Ray a pass, or letting him off the hook for any of his routinely snarkworthy stuff, and certainly not for any of the atrocities that may have occurred at his events. And I am not for a moment accusing the Arizona authorities of malfeasance or grandstanding. From what I have read elsewhere, it appears to me that the upgrade in the investigation was justified. My point is only that we all need to keep in mind that "justice" entails careful consideration of all sides of this story.

And I am also painfully aware, as I am sure the families and friends of the deceased are, that nothing any of us can do or say will bring back Kirby Brown and James Shore, whose memorial services will be held today, while James Ray holds forth at yet another wealth seminar, The World Wealth Summit, in San Diego. I wonder if he'll get another standing ovation.

Addendum, 18 October: The news is out, and I'm sure most of you have heard it by now: a third person, 49-year-old Minnesota resident Liz Neuman, died yesterday in a Flagstaff, Arizona hospital. She had been hospitalized in critical condition, suffering multiple organ damage, following James Ray's sweat lodge disaster. The body count is growing for James "Death" Ray. Of note, Ms. Neuman was reportedly part of James Ray's "Dream Team" and one of his staunchest supporters.

Meanwhile, it still seems to be business as usual in James Ray land. The show must go on, although it seems there are a few sour notes. I haven't had a chance to verify this information, but according to Terry Hall on the BizSayer blog, several of the other speakers scheduled for James' October 16-17 San Diego wealth seminar were "no-shows." Could it be out of respect for the dead, and a desire to dissociate themselves from JAR? I can only speculate at this point. In any case, here's the link to Terry's post mentioning this item. And here is Terry's post about the death of Liz Neuman, and the need for New-Wage gurus to be more accountable to their followers.
More in a while.

Addendum, 19 October: Some of you might be thinking that this blog post has gone on quite long enough, and that perhaps I should consider starting a new post about this topic. But I continue to add to this one, originally begun on October 9 the moment I heard the news about the James Ray sweat lodge tragedy, because we have a pretty good discussion going here and I don't want to break it up. So I guess you'll just have to take the suggestion I made at the beginning, and keep checking back on this post.

The first thing I want to do is thank everyone for the comments and links you continue to send in response to this piece. I haven't responded to the most recent ones yet because I took yesterday off for the most part (it was a resplendent Texas October Sunday, and the outdoors beckoned), and I only took the time to publish the remarks. I will try to catch up today. But do know how much I appreciate each and every contribution.
And now on to business:

Cassandra explains it all (and it makes a lot more sense to me now): I have heard back from blogger Cassandra Yorgey, who said she thought she had answered my question about how/why she got front and center in the James Ray sweat-lodge story. (See my October 17 addendum, above. Also, for those not familiar with this matter, here's the link to her first story about the phone call James made to survivors of the tragedy, and here's the link to her second piece on eyewitness accounts.)

Cassandra's involvement appears to be a direct result of her personal interests, not only in mind control (which is related to her interest in speculative fiction), but also in her role as an advocate for troubled teens. But that still raises the question of how this particular story arrived at her door step. And she has now explained that to my satisfaction. I will take the liberty of quoting her email to me (and if you follow the link she provided, you will understand more about her perspective):

I did not go seeking out this story, but I have made no secret of my interests in these subjects. Back in August I had even specifically requested info on wilderness therapies - which can use some of the same behavior modification techniques that James Ray does. Everyone that has requested anonymity has made initial contact with me. I did, however, contact Tom McFeeley, family member of deceased Kirby Brown because he is acting as spokesperson for the family and I found his name in other news sources. I assure you, I find it as weird as everyone else that all of a sudden the news happens to be related to things I have been babbling on about for over a decade. I've been following these types of abuse stories since the late 90's when there was heated discussion about regulating wilderness programs for troubled teens.

And so, while the authorities continue their investigation into what really happened, and the talking heads in the mainstream media scramble to cover the story, information continues to flow via more unconventional channels. The blogosphere is on fire with this topic now, and it's up to all of us to try to sort the accurate from the not-so-accurate. In any case, Cassandra seems to have taken all of the caveats and disclaimers about her work in stride. And whatever other motives one might ascribe to her, I think that she is doing her part to make sure the truth about what happened in Sedona comes out. The information she has shared certainly paints a truer and more poignant picture of the real price of New-Wage/selfish-help/McSpirituality than, say, James Arthur Ray's profound utterances in The Secret. And in my book, that's a good thing.

Find another excuse, Bragman: LA publicist Howard Bragman, who is James Ray's hired propaganda gun, recently made snide remarks about the motives of Arizona law enforcement officials who have spoken to the press about the ongoing investigation. Among other things, he speculated that the local sheriff must be running for re-election. He further stated that his client James is in the business of "helping people," and is continuing to bravely go forth and do that despite the public outcry. Well, as blogger Terry Hall wrote in a recent post on Bizsayer:

And by the way, Yavapai County Sheriff Steve Waugh was reelected last year. So you’ll have to figure out a better angle for why that are trying to stop you from “helping” people, maybe like – public safety!

The die-hard optimists speak up: There's a lot of buzz now about Barbara Ehrenreich's new book, Bright-Sided: How The Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America (the link leads to the Google Books preview). And I imagine that in light of recent events, the buzz will only grow louder. I just checked on Amazon, and Bright-Sided is currently in the top 100 in Books (all genres). The reader reviews are coming in now too. I'm always more interested in reading the bad reviews than the good ones, and because I love this author's work, I am sorry to report that the bad ones outweigh the good so far. The last time I checked, there were 21 customer reviews, of which 9 are one-star, 2 two-star, and 2 three-star.

Of the one-star comments, the only one that appeared to be real criticism was a complaint that Ehrenreich's book was superficial and that she did not adequately cover the history of "positive thinking" in America. Not having read the book yet, though I plan to as soon as possible, I can't offer an opinion either way. But most of the other critics accused the author of being full of anger, lacking love in her life, not having something good to believe in, and so on. Some offered anecdotes about how they or a loved one were saved by positive thinking. And some griped because Ehrenreich always writes about problems and doesn't offer solutions. 

As it happens, these are many of the same criticisms my friend Steve Salerno has fielded since the publication of his 2005 book, SHAM: How The Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless. (For that matter, these, and worse, are some of the same criticisms I've received for my mostly snarky little blog.) Addressing the issue of this type of criticism in the comments section on a recent SHAMblog post, Steve wrote:
Ehrenreich's critics--like mine, four years ago (!!)--have fallen back on that patented tactic favored by purveyors of all forms of New Age nonsense, including alternative medicine and the various "be happy" programs: They insist that we prove (literally) a negative. They throw the scientific method out the window and make it seem as if it's our burden to demonstrate why this stuff is b.s., instead of their burden to show how and why it's valid.
But really, when people have pitched their tents (again literally) around the idea that all of life reduces to attitude and mindset, how can you expect them to react differently? This is a religious cause for them, in the deepest sense. Even if the gurus are venal and mercenary, and don't really believe in what they're selling, so many of their followers clearly do; indeed, they depend on LoA [Law of Attraction] and all this PMA [Positive Mental Attitude]-based nonsense to get them through the day. How can you expect them to ever wave the white flag of surrender on the point? So when a book like "SHAM" or "Bright-Sided" comes out, it's like a stake to their hearts, a challenge to everything they believe in, everything in which they've invested their minds and souls (not to mention thousands upon thousands of dollars, in many cases). They can't just let it be. They can't be seen as dupes and fools, least of all in their own eyes.
Amen, Steve.

The Post toasts Ray, and the investigation heats up: Finally, this short piece (with a somewhat snarky headline) from The New York Post summarizes some of the atrocities that have taken place at James Ray events.
And here is a good comprehensive report, published on October 19, of the incident and the investigation so far. (Thanks to my friend "Disillusioned" for pointing this out to me.)

Addendum, 21 October: The AP story that's all over the Internet today details an eyewitness account that is considered a breakthrough in the ongoing investigation of the James Arthur Ray sweat lodge case. The "breakthrough" part has to do with the fact that it's the first time a participant has spoken out publicly about the events leading up to the deaths. But if some of the details sound familiar, it's because we read them last week in accounts by blogger Cassandra Yorgey, who broke some of these stories while everyone was still speaking anonymously. Also sharing graphic details last week was Sedona resident Shawna Bowen, who showed up at the scene at the time things were really getting bad, and who did several media appearances, including a 90-minute radio interview. Anyway, here's the version from the AP article:

Texas resident Beverley Bunn is the first participant in the tragic incident to speak out publicly about the events that led up to the deaths. The 43-year-old told the AP in a series of interviews this week that by the time the sweat lodge ceremony began, the participants had undergone days of physically and mentally strenuous events that included fasting. In one game, guru James Arthur Ray even played God.

Within an hour of entering the sweat lodge on the evening of Oct. 8, people began vomiting, gasping for air and collapsing. Yet Bunn says Ray continually urged everyone to stay inside. The ceremony was broken up into 15-minute "rounds," with the entrance flap to the lodge opened briefly and more heated rocks brought inside between sessions.

"I can't get her to move. I can't get her to wake up," Bunn recalls hearing from two sides of the 415-square-foot sweat lodge. Ray's response: "Leave her alone, she'll be dealt with in the next round."

By that time, Bunn had already crawled to a spot near the opening of the sweat lodge, praying for the door to stay open as long as possible between rounds so that she could breathe in fresh air.

At one point, someone lifted up the back of the tent, shining light in the otherwise pitch-black enclosure. Ray demanded to know who was letting the light in and committing a "sacrilegious act," Bunn said.

The account marks a significant revelation in the investigation because it portrays Ray as driving participants to stay in the lodge despite signs all around him that the situation had gone horribly awry. Until now, few details had surfaced about Ray's actions inside in the sweat lodge.
Here's the link to the CNN Radio segment where Dr. Bunn first publicly spoke out about the incident.

In any case, it would seem that James Ray's buddy Joe "Mr. Fire" Vitale has even less cause to claim, as he snappishly did to blogger Duff McDuffee in a recent conversation on Joe's blog, that nobody really has any idea of what went on in that sweat lodge. It sounds like Duff isn't the clueless one here...

More tomorrow.

Addendum, 22 October: A few snippets..
Duff confronts the Death Ray: My new pal Duff McDuffee (see links below) happens to have been one of the two men who stood up at a James Ray public event in Denver on Tuesday night, October 20, and confronted James with questions about the sweat lodge incident and Colleen Conaway. Duff and his friend were politely but firmly escorted from the room by James Ray staffers. This confrontation made the New York Times, sort of. Duff tells me that he was slightly misquoted in the article, which reads in part:
Mr. Ray, who is based in Carlsbad, Calif., did not respond to requests for comment. At a public seminar in Denver on Tuesday, he was interrupted by two men who shouted, “Tell them the truth!” and: “You control people! You stood in front of the door and refused to let people leave.”
The men were escorted from the meeting, and people burst into applause for Mr. Ray. “I, too, want answers and am cooperating with authorities,” he said. He asked for a moment of silent prayer for those who had died.
According to Duff, he actually said, "You controlled people," and he asked James, "Did you block the door of the sweat lodge as reported on" But I quibble.

To me, what's most notable about this is that the crowd was still cheering for James instead of the dissenters. At any rate, Duff will be putting his own story up on his site soon, and I will link to it when he does.

Cosmic Connie's "View": The sweat lodge tragedy was a "Hot Topic" today (October 22) on ABC's The View. Host Whoopi Goldberg said repeatedly that she couldn't understand why the folks who were suffering didn't just get up and leave. Elisabeth Hasselbeck seemed to have a bit more insight about the way participants might be pressured into pushing their limits. The discussion mainly seemed to center around people's need for a guru/parent figure. (You can probably watch the whole thing on The View web site at At any rate, I tried to send an email to The View but it wouldn't go through; apparently there was a glitch in the system. Or maybe my email was too long, but I didn't get a message indicating this. Anyway, for the record, here's what I tried to tell the ladies of The View:

Re the James Arthur Ray sweat lodge deaths: I know y’all have scads of hot topics to cover every day, so perhaps you weren’t able to really research this one, but I want to make a few points:
  1. Whoopi’s advice to just get up and leave sounds sensible and is, in theory. But the truth is that it’s rarely so easy to do that when you start feeling bad during these marathon retreats & workshops. These so-called gurus (and their trained staffers) are skilled in mind control; it’s no exaggeration to say they use some of the same tactics employed in torture – including forced sleeplessness and near-starvation, as well as more mundane "motivational" techniques such as bullying people to "push their limits," etc. In theory this is all in the name of getting folks to have a "breakthrough" but more important than that, it is a powerful manipulative tool to get them "motivated" to sign up for even more intensive & expensive events. The sweat lodge participants had been on a 36-hour fast, were sleep-deprived, & were on the last day of a grueling week of activities. I think Elisabeth, being a veteran of "Survivor," came closer to getting this than anyone else during your discussion this morning.
  2. Please do not ever forget that James Arthur Ray was part of "The Secret," for which Oprah, Larry King, Ellen and numerous others in the mainstream media gave such glowing endorsements. Many other self-help gurus such as Deepak Chopra are routinely given a pass as well. Moreover, most of the people who go to these marathon retreats, and, for that matter, most consumers of self-help literature and products, are well-educated, middle-class or affluent folks (mostly female) – your target demographic, in other words.
  3. There are critics who have been railing about the absurdity or even harmfulness of self-help culture for many years, but the pro-self-helpers and positive thinkers are the ones who get the most media attention. It’s too bad it takes a tragic incident like Sedona for the media to wake up to the dark side of the new age and self-help.
  4. The Sedona tragedy is not the first time James Arthur Ray has been associated with deaths and injury. Here’s a link to a brief New York Post piece on the matter.
I’m sure you’ve already received a ton of other messages about this issue, but thanks for taking time to read this.
Connie L Schmidt
author of "Whirled Musings" blog
Steve Salerno on how self-help can hurt: My friend Steve Salerno at SHAMblog, who has written several posts on the Jame Ray debacle, just had a superb short piece published in the Wall Street Journal, "Self-Help Doesn't Help—And Often Hurts." Here Steve describes James Ray's dubious credentials:
Mr. Ray draws on random elements of New Age and other psychobabble, hoping to make himself sound cosmically plugged-in. Here he is establishing his bona fides in a promotional video: "I've been initiated into three different Shamanic orders. I've studie[d] in The Mystery Schools." Which is fitting, because when it all blows up in his face, he may well be the most mystified guy in the room. He probably never thought that far ahead.

Here's the link.

Addendum, 23 October: A few more bits...

Survivor speaks to CBS: Not to be outdone by CNN Radio, CBS' Early Show aired a poignant interview with Dr. Beverley Bunn, the aforementioned participant in the James Ray sweat lodge disaster. Dr. Bunn, who was the late Kirby Brown's roommate during the retreat, was the first to speak out publicly about this incident. According to her account, she was one of those struggling to help her fellow attendees, while James Ray reportedly did nothing. Here is the link to the CBS interview.

Not surprisingly, James' publicist Howard Bragman hastened to do damage control after the first interview with Dr. Bunn was released. At that point, according to the October 21 AP article linked to in the previous sentence, he was still saying that many people had "amazing experiences" at the Spiritual Warrior Retreat, that we should not be so quick to rush to judgment, and that Beverley Bunn was "only one person out of many at this point." Mr. Bragman, I imagine your job is becoming increasingly more difficult as more damning information about your client comes to light. You'd better cash those checks from him while you can.

"Do these suits make my guilt look too big?": As you may know, the family of Liz Neuman, James Ray's "Dream Team" member and the third person who died in the ill-fated sweat lodge, had previously announced they were planning to file suit against James Ray. Another participant, 59-year-old Sidney Spencer, has also announced she is suing him, saying she nearly died from kidney and liver failure as a result of her time in the sweat lodge. I imagine we'll be reading about many more lawsuits against James Ray in the weeks to come. His legal team is probably even busier than his propaganda team.
From buck-toothed nerd to charismatic "Death Ray" ~ a true American success story: This article from today's site has a pretty good profile of James Ray, and it also quotes a couple of my buds, SHAMblog's Steve Salerno and Americans Against Self-Help Fraud's John Curtis. (And by the way, the bit about the buck teeth and nerdishness in my sub-head are from James' own self-description. The "Death Ray" appellation is not.)

The Droid does it again: My friend and fellow blogger Salty Droid has been obsessed with the haunting story of Colleen Conaway, the 46-year-old Minnesota woman who jumped to her death from a third-floor mall balcony during a July 2009 James Ray event. The Droid went off in furious pursuit of this story and was able to speak with Ms. Conaway's sister. Droid's blog post not only reveals some of the unsettling effects that James Ray's well-oiled manipulation machine can have on followers (persuading them to spend money they don't have is only one result), but also the outrageous way his organization handled things when they discovered Ms. Conaway was missing in action. Here's the link. (Thanks to faithful reader Yakaru for alerting me to this piece.)

Addendum, 24 October: Still more links to make ya think (as if you weren't already)...

Scientist Bob defends the Death Ray: A friend of mine pointed out an October 22 LA Times story by Scott Kraft, which I'd overlooked in my customary haste. This one almost seems to paint James Ray as a hero. And, like the New York Times piece I linked to the other day, it illustrates that there are still a lot of people in denial. Here's the bit about those "hecklers" in Denver (one of whom is my fellow blogger Duff McDuffee):
Ray was interrupted in Denver by a man who stood and shouted: "Tell people the truth, James. You are being investigated for murder." A man next to him added, "Tell them what really happened in that sweat lodge." The hecklers were shouted down by others in the audience, who told them to "go home," while Ray repeated, "This is not a press conference." After about two minutes, the men left the hotel conference room, trailed by two security officers...
...Though shaken by the deaths, Ray has quickly returned to the road, teaching his secrets of success even as he uses them to cling to his own.
"I've taught that we're all going to have adversity and we can't run from it," a somber, teary-eyed Ray said Tuesday night at the beginning of his free recruitment session in Denver. "I've certainly learned a lot in the past 10 days."
Some weren't aware of the Sedona deaths until Ray addressed it. But Lyle Guthmiller, 44, a heating and air conditioning technician, said it didn't dissuade him from considering signing up for one of the retreats. "When you're pushing the limits, unfortunately, things can happen," he said. "I'd rather live that life than be a couch potato."
You tell 'em, Lyle. My guy Ron read that and commented, "Better a couch potato than a baked potato."

According to this article, one of my favorite snark targets, "Scientist" Bob Proctor, has offered his opinions of his former protege.
Among Ray's early mentors was Bob Proctor, a veteran of the self-help circuit and author of "The Science of Getting Rich."
"James is a good person who has helped a lot of people and is dedicated to helping people," said Proctor, 75, who has been in the business for 41 years.
The cloud over Ray's work caused by the Sedona deaths is "a terrible thing," Proctor added. "It will definitely change his life and, hopefully, it'll be a learning experience."
Yeah, Bob, you have a few clouds over your head, too, and maybe some day some of those will come to public attention as well. Hopefully, it'll be a learning experience.

James Ray ~ the missing links: Yesterday I discovered a new Twittermate who goes by the name Rachelle (RWRenfrew). Rachelle's usual beat is politix, but she is also on the Death Ray/Sweatgate story, and has provided some excellent resources that give a glimpse of the arc of James Arthur Ray's career. F'rinstance:
  • James Arthur Ray's 1996 website:
  • James Arthur Ray's website archive - alpha index of links from 1996 -
  • Online archive of James Arthur Ray's website since 1996 Is he still using some pics from mid 1990s?
  • James Arthur Ray's 2001 MLM Network Marketing Business Quiz
  • James Arthur Ray, the GodSpirit and that mustache - @jamesaray's website in 2004 (re sweat lodge)
  • James Arthur Ray Mass head shaving pics @ Spiritual Warrior '07 are too cult-y disturbing re: sweat lodge sedona
  • Intense James Arthur Ray job description for Sales Person/"Certified Harmonic Wealth® Coach" NO Salary-Just Commission
  • James Arthur Ray's Participant Guide for the 2009 Spiritual Warrior retreat re: sweat lodge deaths sedona.
Another Twitterer I discovered through Rachelle is Plastic Shaman, who provided a couple of links that give an idea of how James Ray's prices have skyrocketed over the years.
RNRenfrew James Ray charges a lot more for his products now. Must be inflation. Then: Now:
Plastic Shaman also helpfully provides a link to a Wikipedia page explaining just what a "plastic shaman" is. The only thing missing is a photo of James Arthur Ray.

Addendum, 25 October: I keep thinking I should just let this go for the time being and turn my focus to something else. But the links just keep coming in...

An opinion not everyone shares... Christine Whelan's opinion piece in the Washington Post today has some people, such as Joe "Mr. Fire" Vitale's buddy Pat O'Bryan, grousing that Ms. Whelan is using the James Ray sweat lodge tragedy to indict the entire self-help industry. I say, if the shoe fits...

Duff versus the Death Ray, continued: More details about Duff McDuffee and friend's attempt to confront James Ray at his recent Denver event – as well as what happened after they left the room – can be found here

"What needs to die...?" Speaking of Duff, he provided a link on Twitter to what he describes as a hilarious and intelligent commentary by lofinikita on the James Ray sweat lodge debacle. I highly recommend the video – here's the link. I only have a couple of quibbles: (1) The commenter said the sweat lodge tragedy happened on October 12. Actually, it happened October 8. (2) He also cited James Ray's much-quoted Tweets about death and dying, mentioning that James was Tweeting while the debacle was unfolding. This implies that James was blithely Tweeting away while people were sick and dying around him. Actually, the Tweets in question were written days before the tragedy. 

Apart from these few factual glitches, I think the video is spot-on.

Larry King: what a difference a few years (and a few deaths) make: Nearly three years ago, so the story goes, Larry King's producer fell under the spell of The Secret. She got Larry all excited about it, and the result was a months-long love affair between Larry and the hustledorks who starred in the world's most famous New-Wage moviemercial. James Ray was one of those who got a pass on King's own multi-part infomercial for The Secret – a two-parter in November of 2006, and another segment in March of 2007. The March 2007 segment was called, "The Secret: Is It For Real?", and included, besides James, Joe Vitale, Bob Proctor, Lisa Nichols, and John Assaraf. Here you can read the transcript of that show, and if you want to watch the show, you can do so here. James' segment, in which he is interviewed remotely while at one of his events in Phoenix, is here. To see James' blog posts about his appearances on Larry King Live, including the November 2006 segment, click here. As you can see by the triumphal copy, he was really flying high in those days.

Well, times have changed, and on Monday night, October 26, at 9:00 PM Eastern Standard Time on CNN, Larry will be delving into the dark side of The Secret as he interviews the family of Kirby Brown, one of the women who died at James Ray's sweatfest in Sedona. According to a bit on the Anorak News web site, this is particularly interesting because back during the honeymoon phase of The Secret, Larry's producer was also shopping James to a Hollywood production company to host James' own show, which was supposed to be based on The Secret.

But apparently that was unsuccessful, due in part to James abandoning the prospective project when Oprah's people told him they were interested in producing a show starring him, and based on his teachings. Alas, those talks broke off too, leaving James without a TV show of his own after all – not that this hampered his ability to make a living in any way. Says the Anorak reporter, "So the big question is, Will King go easy on Ray's actions during Monday's show...or will he be out for blood?" It should be interesting.

By the way, the Anorak site itself is pretty interesting, in a gossipy sort of way. Here's a link to a piece on James Ray's "sweat mansion" in Beverly Hills. And here's a piece about some consumer complaints against James Ray's business practices.

Addendum, 26 October: Just a couple of updates...

Watch Larry King tonight (and send in your questions and comments now). I just wanted to remind y'all that tonight at 9:00 PM Eastern Time on CNN, Larry King Live will feature an interview with the family of Kirby Brown, who died in the sweat lodge incident in Sedona. According to the blurb on the Larry King Live web site, the family thinks the deaths were not accidental, and they want answers. The show will also feature all the latest information on the ongoing investigation. There's a link on the LKL site for you to email your questions to the show. Here's hoping that Larry will finally be as tough on the selfish-help guru business, or at least on the selfish-help guru now in the spotlight, as he wasn't back in 2006 and 2007. Naturally, I'll provide a link to the segment as soon as I can.

[10:30 PM] "How do you live with that?": Here's a link to part of the Larry King Live show in which Kirby Brown's mother speaks about James Ray's "generosity" to her family. One point that was painfully clear to me is that despite her grief she shows a lot more concern for the survivors of this tragedy than James himself has displayed thus far. Legal issues aside, this one segment is more damning of him from a moral standpoint than just about anything I have seen.

Addendum, 28 October: And the saga of Sweatgate continues. Here are a few more bits and pieces that have been in the news over the past few days...

We're from the government, and we're here to self-help: On Tuesday, October 27, US Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) asked for both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the U.S. Justice Department to take a close look at James Arthur Ray and the ill-fated Spiritual Warrior retreat, and, it appears, at similar selfish-help gurus and events. This is from the Shakopee Valley (Minn.) News:
In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Klobuchar urges the Justice Department, in addition to any ongoing state investigation, “to review Mr. Ray’s “Spiritual Warrior” program, determine whether any federal laws were violated, and take any appropriate action.”
In a letter to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, Klobuchar asks the FTC “to take a close look at the marketing and advertising practices of Mr. Ray’s ‘Spiritual Warrior’ program and similar activities offered by other individuals and companies.”
Klobuchar also told the FTC that, “Consumers should not be lured into purchasing unsafe and potentially deadly products or services based on false or misleading claims.”
As you may know if you've read previous posts on this blog, I'm somewhat of a libertarian who generally shrinks from the idea of the government getting its nose any further into private businesses. That's why I've always been a little ambivalent about my friend John Curtis' campaign to force the self-help industry in the U.S. to conform strictly to FTC fair-advertising regulations. I am generally sympathetic with the libertarian (or, dare I say it, conservative) viewpoint that more people need to take personal responsibility, and that we do not need to create more of a "nanny state" than we already have. 

But I also know how susceptible most of us are to manipulation. Even those who would never dream of spending ten grand to be starved, dehydrated and bullied could, given a clever and skillful (and perhaps deceptive) manipulator, be coerced into doing some very unwise things. And I have to admit that, given the information I have seen of James Ray's business operation and his own personal arrogance, a big part of me is cheering Senator Klobuchar on. In particular, when a hustler's actions result in people dying, said hustler should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. When we get into the area of consumer law, however, particularly false advertising, things become more tricky, as so many of the promises the hustledorks make are too abstract and nebulous to really pin down. On the other hand, shady business practices (e.g., irregularities in billing or deceptive refund policies) might be easier for reformers to pursue.

One more point: I think that if the New-Wage hucksters are allowed to ply their trades more or less unimpeded, their critics must also be allowed to engage in open discussion without being threatened by the hustledorks' high-priced legal teams. Fair's fair, after all. 

Good call, Hyperion: As you may have heard, Hyperion Publishers announced last week that it is postponing the publication of two works by James Ray: the paperback version of his bestseller, Harmonic Wealth: The Secret of Attracting the Life You Want, and a new book, The Seven Laws of True Wealth. The link in the previous sentence is to the Publishers Weekly online mention of the news. For some interesting opinions on the matter, here is Women Who Run With The Wolves author Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Although her writing in this piece is a bit rough around the edges, and although she apparently had some trouble at first with James Ray's middle name, Dr. Estes offers some good insight into (among other things) Hyperion's probable agenda.

I'm sure James is disappointed with Hyperion's decision, but I'm also sure that's the least of his worries now (although I wouldn't be surprised if he tried to sic some of his legal team onto the publisher anyway, for breach of contract or some such thing). I suppose he can always self-publish, but then again, if he's contractually obligated to Hyperion, he might run into some difficulties with that.

If you're too smarmy for your own publicist, you're pretty smarmy. No offense to publicists, but you know what I mean. Anyway, my pal Mojo, in her latest comment, was the first to alert me to the fact that James Ray's publicist, Howard Bragman, is no longer working for him. Here it is in black and white, within this article from the Minneapolis-St.Paul Star Tribune web site. Thanks to Yakaru for confirming this and providing the link both here and on The Droid's latest JAR blog post (the usual caveat applies if you follow the Droid link: if "salty" language offends you, stay away).
BitterTweets: One of the best ways to keep up with news and views on the James Ray Death Lodge is...where else?...on Twitter. Here's the link to the "Death Lodge" page. And if you have anything to add to the conversation, be sure to follow your Tweet with #deathlodge.

That's it for now. More later...and who knows, I may eventually get around to actually blogging about something else. Meanwhile, thank you as always for your comments and contributions to this ever-expanding post.

Addendum, 29 October: Sweatgate, Day 22...
Death Ray vows to get to the bottom of it all: The big news is that James Ray has finally cried, "Uncle!" and has, as he tells it, decided to cancel the rest of his appearances for 2009. As he puts it on his blog...
In the days following the terrible accident, I struggled to respond in the right way. This is the most emotionally wrenching situation I've ever faced, and it's now clear I must dedicate all of my physical and emotional energies to helping bring some sort of closure to this matter. That means helping the authorities and the families get to the bottom of what happened.
I'm committed to devoting all of my time, for as long as it takes, to achieve this goal...
I know you probably can't resist comparing this to OJ Simpson's vows about fifteen years ago to "find the real killers," so go ahead. 

Now, looking at it from James Ray's point of view, this is a very touchy situation and could very well be one of those damned-if-he-does-and-damned-if-he-doesn't deals. No matter what he does, he's going to get criticism from someone. But in this case, since people did die on his watch, after all – not only at Sedona but in San Diego last July – I think he is (finally) doing the right thing by canceling the rest of his appearances – although rumor has it that he might have been inspired to make this decision only after venues started canceling on him (see Cassandra Yorgey's piece on the mysterious cancellation of James' "Quantum Leap" event at a tony Las Vegas venue).
Still, I can't help but wonder if he's plotting a way to go into hiding completely. I am picturing him leading the police on a low-speed chase to his four million dollar Beverly Hills swankienda, upon which James will jump out of his car, rush into his house, slam the door and yell out, "Too late! Door's shut!"

Anyhow, here's the link to James' blog post announcing the cancellations. That's his story, and he's sticking to it. Until he comes up with a better one, that is.

Nightline goes "beyond the sweat lodge": If you can, watch ABC's Nightline tonight (11:30 EDT, 10:30 CDT) Martin Bashir is will anchor a segment on "James Ray's Inspirational, Controversial World." Once Nightline gets hold of it, you know it has hit the mainstream. James, my boy, you're truly famous now.

Speaking out for another James ~ James Shore: I stumbled across this poignant blog post today from someone who is mourning for James Shore, the man who lost his life in Sedona. The blogger also has a few other posts about the topic.

Bragman out, "Master of Disaster" in: I mentioned yesterday that James Ray's former publicist, Howard Bragman, has split. Here's a little more about Bragman's departure and Ray's hiring of a new PR guy who's known as "The Master of Disaster."

Holosync, or sinkhole? Besides promising participants in the now-infamous 2009 Spiritual Warrior retreat that they would learn the ways of the warrior and all kinds of other traditional indigenous secrets, James Ray also promised to teach them cutting-edge scientifical stuff such as how to open up new neural pathways in order to reach a whole new realm of consciousness. Towards this end, as you may know if you saw the participants' guide, there were a few prerequisites to help get participants ready for the retreat. Required reading ahead of time was The Holotropic Mind by transpersonal psychology pioneer Dr. Stanislav Grof', the inventor of a technique called Holotropic Breathwork. Yet, as intrepid blogger Cassandra Yorgey pointed out in an article last week (I know I keep linking to her, but she's really on this story), James Ray himself is not certified in Dr. Grof's methods. Cassandra spoke at length with Dr. Grof, who said he had had never even heard of James until this tragedy happened.

Participants were also required to "invest in Holosync technology," which purports to teach you how to meditate like a holy man in no time at all. A friend of mine speculated that this could be because of an unholy alliance (otherwise known as a joint venture) between James Ray and Bill Harris, owner of Centerpointe co-inventor of the Holosync scam. The evidence is right there on James' blog. I haven't really blogged about Bill Harris (yet), but sources who know him have indicated to me that he is about on the same par, ethically speaking, as James Ray and numerous others in the selfish-help biz. And that's all I'm going to say about that right now, other than to point you to this video where Bill Harris completes the cycle of mutual masturbation with James Ray. Be sure to wash up thoroughly after watching.

Whatever you may think of holotropic or holo or holistic anything, it does seem that these techniques have some effect on the psyche, and in some cases could actually be harmful to a person who is unstable or unhealthy in any way. Given these possibilities, it appears that James Ray was egregiously under-qualified to be teaching or administering any of these techniques. But hey, anything for a buck, or a half million bucks, as the case may be...
I'll have more soon.

Addendum, 3 November: It's been a while since I've added to this post, but as you know if you've been following the James Arthur Ray "Sweatgate" story on the Internet, events continue to unfold.
The first two lawsuits against James Ray were officially filed last week: a wrongful death suit by the family of Minnesota resident Liz Neuman, a longtime supporter of James Ray and member of his "Dream Team"; and another suit by an Arizona woman, Sidney Spencer, who was badly hurt and nearly died. Sidney has also accused James of failing to return some $10,000 worth of jewelry that she removed for the sweat lodge ceremony... shades of Byron Katie of The Work fame.

The mainstream media have also taken this story and run with it; as I mentioned a few days ago, ABC's Nightline aired a pretty damning report on James Ray. And on November 2, Psychology Today just published an article about this real-life "horror movie." (The link in the previous sentence was to Part 1 of the article. Here's Part 2.)

The blogosphere is still abuzz as well, and, of course, they're still Tweeting on Twitter about the story. Once again, here's the link to the #deathlodge thread. You'll find not only snarky observations but also links to all the latest news and commentary from the mainstream media and the blogosphere.
Now, I hate to blog and run, but I have a Russian wish-dolly matter to attend to. Oh, yeah, and work, and a life... But I'll have more updates soon. Meanwhile, I hope you'll keep the comments coming. And don't worry if you don't see your comment when you first follow the link to the "comments" page. After the comments to this post hit the 200 mark, it rolled over to another page. So scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on the "newer comments" link. Thank you as always for your participation and support.

Addendum, 4 November: A couple of items...
Remembrance show: I just received an email from another friend of James Shore, one of those who died in the James Ray sweat lodge tragedy in Sedona. The header indicated that the email came from Raven Woods, but the email was signed Alexander Raven, so in truth I don't know if the sender's name is Raven or Alexander. In any case, here's the message:

James Shore was my friend.
I've helped a DJ friend in Albuquerque with a small remembrance show about James and losing someone.
I don't know what he will include from all the information and music I have given him.

You can hear the show live and it will be archived and available to listen to or save.
Broadcast Thursday, Nov. 5 from 1:30 to 4:00 PM Mountain time.
The dj is Travis Parkin.
KUNM-FM is a public radio station. The remembrance show does not currently seem to be listed on their home page, but that of course is subject to change. Check back frequently on the link above for updates.
JAR downsizing?: They're already joking on Twitter about Death Ray moving from the big house to the Big House. Although no charges have been filed (yet), his big (7,234-square-foot) Beverly Hills mansion is now on the market. He bought it for a cool four mil this past March, but it is currently listed for $5,495,000. (In this still-stagnant housing market? What...does he think his special magickal Ray-rays added nearly 1.5 mil in value to the place?)

Addendum, 12 November: As many of you are probably aware, a third lawsuit has been filed against James Arthur Ray. Dennis Mehravar, a Canadian real estate agent, has joined the civil suit filed by Arizona resident Sidney Spencer. According to Tucson attorney Ted Schmidt ( no relation to Yours Truly), Mehravar passed out in the sweat lodge, was hospitalized, and still has pain and dizziness. As you may also recall, a separate civil lawsuit was filed by the family of Liz Neuman, a Minnesota woman who died in the incident.

The criminal investigation is still underway, but so far no charges have been filed. Yavapai County Sheriff Steve Waugh recently stated that investigators are working diligently on hundreds of interviews, and they expect to forward their report to prosecutors next month.

Meanwhile, James Ray's only public statements about the case continue to remove anything remotely resembling blame or responsibility from himself. He's gotten a lot of flak not only about that but, in recent days, about the regular "Thoughts of Power" messages that continue to be sent out on his behalf. What some people may not be considering is that the latter could just be one of the balls that got dropped during the chaotic flurry of activity that must surely characterize James Ray International these days. In other words, it's not something James is doing himself. Even so, it seems pretty crass, all things considered. As an anonymous commenter to RumorRat's blog post about this matter wrote today:
These are posted automatically, but you would think that someone would have stopped them. This has been one of JAR’s problem for the past several years. He has inexperienced staff who have been focused on propping him up and telling him that he should be a “rock and roll star” and JAR just laps that up. That is why most of his clients (supporters) are fans. His downward spiral into arrogance and greed has been his undoing.
Isn't that almost always the case with these New-Wage hustledorks?
By the way, for those who are new to this story, here's a handy and fairly current timeline on "Sweatgate."

And then there's always the Twitter page for "Deathlodge."
Meanwhile, here are Steve Salerno's latest comments on the James Ray "debacle-in-the-desert" (and the free pass that the selfish-help gurus have gotten for so many years).
More soon...

Addendum, 14 November: A few items...
An URL to remember: The Sweatgate investigation continues, and one arm of it even has its own web site now, sponsored by the law firm handling two (so far) of the civil cases: There's also a handy contact form if you have James Ray experiences of your own to share.

One nation stands up: The Lakota tribes of North and South Dakota have officially filed suit against James Ray, the owners of the Angel Valley Retreat Center, the state of Arizona, and the United States. Here is the PDF of the complaint.

Whoremonic Wealth... Lawsuits, schmawsuits; you can't keep a good hustledork down! James Ray's latest promotional email blast reveals that even though he has canceled the rest of his events for 2009, 2010 is a whole new year. As of now, at least three Harmonic Wealth events are scheduled. Here are the details on his main web site.

Those of you who are considering attending one of these pricey (but not as pricey as the infamous Spiritual Warrior) weekends, but are wondering if it's truly a worthwhile expense, will be glad to know that James offers an iron-clad money-back guarantee. There's only one itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny stipulation:
Come to the Harmonic Wealth Weekend. Soak up everything I have to share with you...learn all of my most powerful success secrets...I mean everything. And if, at the end of the weekend, you don't believe that Harmonic Wealth is everything I say it is...if you're not absolutely thrilled with your decision to attend, I'll give you your entire tuition back. It's just that simple.
But there is one little (quite reasonable) condition... You must attend and participate fully in the entire program. This guarantee is void if you skip sessions or don't participate in the exercises.
Also, you apparently only have a chance to get your money back at the very end of the weekend. There's nothing about a six-month guarantee, or some other reasonable time period that would allow you to determine if the workshop really did make a difference in your life. Most people who stay for such a grueling weekend are going to be so full of endorphins, feel-good workshop vibes, and new-friendship highs immediately following the event that they'll be very unlikely to demand their money back.

Well, most folks who aren't dead, that is. If you die while participating in exercises during a James Ray Harmonic Wealth Weekend, is there an iron-clad guarantee you'll get your life back at the end of the weekend? Now, that would be something.
Stay tuned; more soon.

Addendum, 8 December: A couple of items...
NEWS FLASH: The media turn their attention from Tiger Woods' wandering willy for a few brief moments! Well, it has been exactly two months since the Death Lodge tragedy in Sedona, and James Ray has yet to speak out publicly about the incident, other than the insipid messages on his web site, the most recent one (as of today) being on November 30. In that post-Thanksgiving missive, he said once again that his people are cooperating with the authorities in order to determine what happened, etc. etc. etc. Yawn.

But there's a new spate of media coverage as of today. ABC's Good Morning America had a piece this morning (if you follow that link you'll see a link to the video), and there will be more tonight on the ABC show Nightline (11:30 PM ET). Another whistle-blower has come forth: Melinda Martin, a former employee of James Ray International, who attended the deadly ceremony and says she was fired several weeks afterward.

According to Melinda, James Ray did nothing to help the people who had collapsed, but just stood there. She says he neither stopped the ceremony nor tried to help afterward as she was performing CPR on the dying. In response to her comments, James Ray's company told ABC News that James did try to help people, "according to information the company collected from employees and event participants during its private investigation." The JRI version of the story goes that James was simply stunned but did what he could to assist.

Now, I have to admit that my personal impression, my gut feeling, when watching the ABC video of Melinda was that she seemed to be kind of enjoying her fifteen minutes, maybe a little too much. To tell the truth – and this is in no way a defense of Death Ray, so please don't think I've gone over to the dark side – I can't decide if I find her absolutely positively 100% credible or not. There's just something I can't quite put my finger on. On the other hand, her account does seem to be in sync with other eyewitness accounts (although I'm sure that JAR's defense could easily tear that point apart just by virtue of the fact that those other accounts were made public weeks ago). However, as a former employee of JRI, as well as an eyewitness to the event, she's certainly worth listening to.

Obviously, there's a lot to sort out here. And despite my slight reservations about Melinda Martin, I have seen far too much damning information on James Ray for me to believe that he should get off scot-free (quite the contrary). I'm just saying that this story is probably a bit more nuanced than either side might normally like to present it. And since this is such a sensationalist story, people are going continue to come forward with their two-cents' worth, either as eyewitnesses or experts of some sort, and some who do so will be self-serving. (I'm smelling a lot of book deals and maybe a movie deal or two.) And the journalists and reporters will be trampling each other (as well as a few intrepid bloggers) in the race to get their "exclusives." If all of the publicity serves to make a real difference in our culture, if it wakes people up and inspires more folks to exercise their critical thinking faculties, I'm all for it. And at least the new wave of criticism of the industry provides a balance to all of the crap that's out there. But at this point it's hard to predict the long-term results of this incident.

By the way, the GMA video also contained a segment on Colleen Conaway's suicide last July during a James Ray Harmonic Wealth weekend in San Diego. We've discussed that a little bit here, and my fellow blogger Salty Droid, who has become quite a crusader against New-Wage scoundrels, has written some excellent posts on that tragic case as well. Here's the link to one of his posts.
CNN's Anderson Cooper has also turned his attention on James Ray again. The link to a short video, which focuses on Colleen Conaway, can be found here, and there will be a full report tonight on AC360° at 10PM ET.

There's still a lot of speculation going on about just exactly what James Ray International is cooking up with "Mr. Fancy Pants," as another fellow blogger, Cassandra Yorgey, likes to call James' new high-dollar PR guy, Mark Fabiani, aka "The Master of Disaster." Will James himself finally start doing media interviews, under the careful guidance of Mr. Fancy Pants? Perhaps he will if the news whores ask him the right questions. Cassandra says that if any mainstream media types want some information about James that he might prefer to keep to himself, they can come to her.

Meanwhile, in Oz... Although this is not about James Ray, it is about the larger matter of accountability (and credentials) in the selfish-help industry. One of my regular readers/participants sent me a link to the latest developments in the tragic Rebekah Lawrence case, which I blogged about this past September. Rebekah was a 34-year-old Aussie woman who took all of her clothes off at work and leaped out of an office window to her death shortly after taking a personal-growth course called The Turning Point. Before that she had never displayed any sort of psychosis. The tragedy happened in December of 2005, and as a result of the investigations into Rebekah's death (as well as other deaths associated with The Turning Point), the self-help industry in Australia will come under intense scrutiny and, more than likely, strict new legislation.

Do we want this for the U.S.? I've often said I think there's too much government interference in our lives as there is. On the other hand, individuals as well as companies have a tendency to try to do whatever they can get away with in order to make a buck. At the very least, workshop leaders should be held accountable when real harm is done.

Later: I just saw the Nightline piece on Sweatgate, featuring an extended interview with Melinda Martin. (Here is a link to the video. And here is the summary on the Nightline web site.) Whether or not she's enjoying her fifteen minutes, as I speculated above, I have to admit, after watching this extended conversation, that Melinda does paint a pretty credible picture of James Ray as a freakin' sociopath with an ego the size of California. One point I found interesting was that employees of James Ray International were not allowed to address James directly, a rule that apparently wasn't that much of a challenge to enforce, as he was rarely in his office, being so busy trying to live the life of a Hollywood star and all that. Also noteworthy: Melinda's graphic description of the death scene, and her claim that the paramedics at first thought it was a mass-suicide scene (a la Jonestown or perhaps Heaven's Gate). Melinda also described the "breathwork" participants had to do, which led them to altered states characterized by screaming and twitching like madmen and women. (The interviewer acted as if this was the most bizarre and unheard of thing, apparently not realizing that this kind of stuff goes on a lot at New-Wage workshops.)

The Nightline segment also covered Colleen Conaway's story, for which Melinda provided her perspective as well, since as an employee she was at the San Diego event in July. Even though I'd already read most of the information about Colleen on the Droid's blog (sadly, his name wasn't mentioned on Nightline, and nor for that matter was Cassandra Yorgey's), I was appalled all over again by the way James and gang initially tried to brush Colleen's death aside (as they did the Sedona deaths months later). The official story to be told to anyone asking about Colleen was, "She's fine. She decided not to return to the event." And then, of course, as Droid originally reported, all of the surviving participants just partied on into the night.

Well, you know me and my mood swings. One moment I'm bending over backward to try to be fair and balanced and see the nuances of the story, while declaring that I don't really believe James Ray belongs behind bars even if he's found guilty, because he's not a violent criminal. The next moment I find myself gritting my teeth and saying, "UNDER the jail!" I have to admit that my thoughts after Nightline were more towards the under-the-jail end of the mood spectrum again. (I know what those mainstream-media-hating nutcases will say: "That's what they WANT you to believe, Cosmic Connie.") Whatever.

Addendum: 9 December
Truth is stranger than...
Speaking of Cassandra Yorgey, she published an excellent piece yesterday comparing aspects of a speculative-fiction classic, Frank Herbert's Dune Trilogy, to what's going on in the New-Wage/selfish-help/McSpirituality biz (particularly in regard to the death-lodge incident). My guy Ron pointed me to this piece; he's long been a fan of the Dune books.

Before you dismiss Cassandra's premise as trivial, sniffing that "after all, Dune is just fiction," I would ask you to remember that spec fiction has a lot to teach us, particularly since many of its authors have been great students of human consciousness as well as keen observers of social, political, and cultural trends.

Even if you haven't read Dune and have no plans to do so, you might find Cassandra's piece to be provocative. One point she seems to be making with which I disagree: She appears to be clearly convinced that James Ray had murderous intent, and until I see more evidence to convince me, I think that's too far-fetched. But her other points about the process of mind control and the systematic creation of followers/worshipers hits way too close to home. But enough jabbering: Here's the link to her piece.

Addendum: 29 December: The investigation of the James Arthur Ray tragedies continues, and not only the mainstream media but several of my allies in the blogosphere have been keeping up with it. Please don't think I've lost interest in this story; far from it. I'm simply no longer attempting to share every link or bit of breaking news, since others are doing so well tracking the developments. However, I will continue to pop in now and again with a few highlights.

Another damning document? The affidavit prepared on October 23, 2009 by Detective Ross Diskin of the Yavapai County (Arizona) Sheriff's Office has finally been released to the public. Late last week, at the request of Phoenix's NBC affiliate Channel 12 (KPNX), a Yavapai County Superior Court judge unsealed the search warrants and witness statements.

My friend Dave Cook, a fairly frequent contributor to the discussions here and on other blogs, commented on one of my more recent threads: "I have to say, after reading the affidavit...that I feel much better about justice prevailing. The good detective has a very clear perspective on the pattern of negligence that led to the three deaths in Arizona. This may turn out well for the victims' families after all." After reading the document in its entirety I think there's a possibility that he may be right. Here's a link.
The document contains the results of interviews with eyewitness accounts. Most of these won't come as much of a surprise to those who have been following this story in the media. There is also additional information about trouble at previous sweat lodge ceremonies led by James Ray. There are also details of injuries at some of James' other events, as well as a summary of Colleen Conaway's death at the July 2009 event in San Diego.

One of the parts I found interesting was the long list of items that Detective Diskin requested to search. An item that caught my eye was "#1038 ~ Miscellaneous folders, 'Stock Lawsuits,' 'Ken Browning,' 'Shawn Lawler,' 'Charity,' 'Tim Doyle'." These items were found in a file cabinet in the James Ray International offices, and at the time of the affidavit, it was thought the folders might reveal "other possible victims of James Ray." It might be interesting to follow up on some of those items and see if any of these names have surfaced in reports anywhere.

If you don't feel like making your way through the 28-page document, here's a link to a story summarizing the matter, originally published in the Arizona Republic. You will notice if you read this story (or if you read the entire affidavit linked to above) that there are differing accounts of James Ray's behavior during and immediately after the 2009 sweat lodge incident. Some say he was completely indifferent, and some say he did make some efforts to help out once he realized something was wrong. Some say he pressured people to stay in the sweat lodge, while others say he didn't. And, of course, one of James Ray's attorneys stressed that the material tells only part of the story.

But it's a pretty damning part of the story. If you just want the highlights of the document, hop on over to my pal Salty Droid's blog post about the matter. The Droid has really been keeping on top of James Ray's troubles (as well as those of other hustledorks, particularly if they have anything whatsoever to do with Internet marketing).

Droid cites some of the more disturbing events summarized in the affidavit, such as an incident that occurred after the fourth round in the sweat lodge. One participant feared he was having a heart attack and kept saying, "I don't want to die, I don't want to die." Rather than summon medical aid, James Ray went all faux-Native American warrior on him and said, "It's a good day to die."

James Shore, who ended up dying before it was all over, reportedly helped others get out to safety and then went back in himself. When he tried lifting up one flap of the tent so those in the back could get more oxygen, James Ray called the act "sacrilegious." He said the same thing to a woman who later tried to open the tent flap to pull out two of the victims.

So even though there are some conflicting reports about just what James Ray did or didn't do, and when he did or didn't do it, things aren't looking too good for him right now. And if you don't believe it (or even if you do), read Cassandra Yorgey's long and detailed summary.

Meanwhile, business is booming in Sedona. This piece, from the news blog of the alt-weekly Phoenix New Times, speaks for itself. The self-help business, particularly in Sedona, is booming despite (or perhaps even because of?) the sweat lodge tragedy. One organizer of an upcoming personal-growth workshop in Sedona has said that business is better than ever, adding that she's had registrants from Switzerland, Norway, and Canada. "That's never happened before," she said. As the author of the New Times piece, James King, wrote, "Apparently cooking three people to death in a makeshift sweat tent is a tourist-grab – who knew?" Also noted in the article: James Ray's colleague and co-star in The Secret, John Assaraf, has said that despite the tragedies, James held the event out of "loving" and "caring." So that's what they call greed these days.

Spam for the holidays. It seems apparent that no one has tended to the James Ray International spam machine, judging from the fact that a few names have still not been purged from the database. According to this post on Dan Collins' blog, the widow of Sedona victim James Shore (a close friend of Dan's) received this email on December 21 from the James Ray's organization.
From: James Arthur Ray <>
Date: Mon, Dec 21, 2009 at 5:36 PM
Subject: Happy holidays
To: [email address]

Happy holidays to all my friends and loved ones…
I just wanted to send out a quick message during this season to remind you to take time from all the typical rush to keep in mind the true value of what the holidays represent; to connect with your family; to count the many blessings you have in your life; to celebrate all your accomplishments for the year, whether great or small; to remember all the wonderful lessons you’ve learned, even if they came disguised as challenges; and to maybe most importantly take some time for yourself and reflect upon your dreams, intentions and values for the new year.
Happy holidays,

James Arthur Ray
James Ray International, Inc.
This message was sent from James Arthur Ray to [email address]. It was sent from: James Ray Intl, 5927 Balfour Court, Suite 104, Carlsbad, CA 92008. You can modify/update your subscription via the link below.
On the other hand, it is the recipient's responsibility to purge himself or herself from the database. I suppose we can't expect James Ray's people to do it, especially since there probably aren't all that many of them left.
On a more poignant note, Dan's post served as a reminder, for those who might need it, of the impact that the sweat lodge deaths have had on those who knew and loved the victims.
James’ youngest – his son, D, fell fast asleep knowing that in the morning he would know the truth of Santa Claus… He told Alyssa [James' widow] that if Santa was real, he would surely bring his father back (especially given how well-behaved he's been these past couple months.) He tucked himself in early, so excited was he that his father would be returned to him when he awoke. Who will give him his childhood back?
Surely not the same person who took it away.
Stay tuned; more to come.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
* I began this post with a couple of quotations from James Ray, expressing his excitement about the Spiritual Warrior retreat. For more of his unwittingly prescient Tweets and comments (which he made before the tragedy but has now deleted from his own sites), see Duff McDuffee's blog post on the incident. There's also some good discussion about the whole break-you-down-to-build-you-up/extreme-enlightenment phenomenon.

Also see Duff's excellent article on James Ray and the you-can-have-it-all mentality that has made millions for James and his fellow Secret stars. (Duff doesn't just snark and snipe like I usually do; he actually proposes some alternative ways of thinking that might lead to more happiness for more people.)

And as a special added bonus... a friend of mine pointed me to another blog post by Duff, outlining seven proven steps to becoming a New-Wage hustledork.

* * * * *
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Anonymous said...

I am outraged. Beyond livid.

What possible therapeutical benefits can be derived from "sweating" in the name of a spiritual experience?

How can these idiotic promoters fail to take into account that people rapidly dehydrate in such conditions? Well, they failed big time!

What measures were taken prior to the retreat to ensure that the participants had no underlying medical conditions? Nothing was done - except a waiver.

There were no external factors determined by the Sheriff's department, like monoxide poisoning. It HAD to be dehydration.

Worst still, the organisers KNEW these sorts of things happened in the past (sick tribal elders, people with heart conditions).

Are they insane?

The actions of these promoters in my view are quasi-criminal in nature, at least. I hope the Sheriff's department recommends charges against those that received the victims money for this most horrendous retreat. I hope they shut down this company and permanently ban James Arthur Ray from operating in the field of self-help. My feeling is though, his reputation is not going to be so squeaky clean after this.

Idiots. Absolute greedy idiots.

Duff said...

Excellent take on this situation.

James Arthur Ray has an opportunity to be a "spiritual warrior" and take 100% responsibility for this (predictable) tragedy.

Instead, he is already covering his tracks, having deleted all of his tweets about the event. Luckily they appear in, and I have captured them here:

Cosmic Connie said...

Abalance, as you probably know, the current sweat-lodge craze, which began in earnest with yuppie "Wild Men" in the late 1980s, is part of the New-Wage fascination with traditional Native American spirituality. I honestly thought the sweat-lodge fad would die out but apparently it's still going strong in some circles.

And as you also know, this isn't the first sweat-lodge incident resulting in deaths. I don't know what it is that drives some people to push their physical limits in such ridiculous ways, but maybe that's because I'm spiritually unevolved and have a tendency to go out of my way to avoid any kind of extreme physical discomfort.

One part of me feels outraged and the other part just feels sad for the families of the people who died. I imagine the incident will put a damper on James Arthur Ray's Harmonic Hustling enterprise.

Cosmic Connie said...

Duff, I imagine James Ray's legal people advised him to delete those Tweets. I would like to think his conscience is bothering him somewhat, though.

Cosmic Connie said...

Oh, and Duff, thanks for providing James Ray's unwittingly ironic Tweets.

In another bit of Law Of Attraction irony, I recall James as being one of those whom Joe "Mr. Fire" Vitale implied was so good at using the Law Of Attraction (as taught in "The Secret") that James' home and office, as well as the homes of a couple of other stars of "The Secret," were spared from the San Diego wildfires about two years ago.

In a now-infamous October 2007 blog post Joe wrote:
"Instead of wondering why they attracted a fire, it might be wiser to wonder how they *didn’t* attract a fire."

He got so many nasty comments to that post that he ended up deleting all of them.

Anyway, that good ol' Law Of Attraction is always working...

disillusioned said...

'I would like to think his conscience is bothering him somewhat, though.'

The man is blinded by greed, not insane, just allowing his greed to take priority over sensible safety measures and the normal checks and balances.

I doubt his conscience is working as hard as his rational mind and his lawyers to rationalise all responsibility for this forseeable tragedy far, far away from himself and his actions.

Dave said...

Hey Connie, I don't remember if I found this link originally on your site or somewhere else, but it's got some interesting factoids and statistics on how this kind of stuff results in real harm.

I searched for the sweating topic and couldn't find it, so I sent them an e-mail recommending they add a topic for Self-Help Gurus, as those seem to be missing entirely from their site.

The site certainly gives a sobering perspective against those who say we should just leave all of the wacky stuff that goes on out there alone, as people make their own choices, and what's the harm of letting them think something they believe in/do works, when there is no basis in reality for it.

Anonymous said...

64 X $9,000 = $576,000

To these hustle-dorks, it's all about "attracting" money. And they don't care who dies to "live."

mojo said...

It's too sad for words. Many a New Ager will tell you that people should ignore their doctors and listen to their own body's needs. Perhaps that philosophy should be extended to include ANY so-called authority figure, regardless of their doctoral degrees (whether real or fake), regardless of their spiritual advancement compared to your own, and regardless of their sincere, smiling, charming insistence that they have your best interests at heart. If someone tries to talk you into doing something your body or your brain or your gut is CLEARLY telling you you shouldn't be doing, ignore the peer pressure and RUN LIKE HELL.

Of course the whole LGAT experience is constructed to convince you that your instincts are dead wrong--"your instincts are what brought you to this sorry state in the first place"--so such warnings will usually fall on deaf ears. And blame will ultimately be placed on (sadly) deafer ears; it is my unscientific observation that many in the "personal responsibility" advocacy crowd seem quite adept at avoiding it once things head south.

It will indeed be interesting to see how the LOA folks spin this one. I also wonder how this will affect the sort of "just sign here; it's nothing really, just a formality" cavalier treatment both buyers and sellers seem to have regarding waivers and disclaimers. I'm no lawyer, but I'm pretty sure such statements are not always the "get out of jail free" card some people seem to think they are. (The FTC seems to agree with me on this, given their recent crackdown.)

Our hearts go out to the victims and their families. This is just awful, for all concerned. I usually don't comment on the posts regarding some of the nastier elements you wade through--broken marriages, or evil creeps getting laid (eeeuuuwww--that's just plain *squicky*), etc--because I find it just SO depressing. But this goes beyond that--it's ... just ... awful.

mirele said...

If the Verde Valley News is to be believed, there was a lack of oxygen in the sweat lodge and that was probably a contributing factor to the deaths/illnesses. The whole article is definitely worth a read, as it's the most complete accounting I've seen so far:

Things I learned were:

* The lodge/tent was 30 feet across and shoulder-high (can't stand up in it unless you're a Little Person, obvs). It was covered over with plastic tarps.

* There were 48 participants and six admin types, but there may have been up to 68 people in the tent. If 48 people paid full fee, that was $431,760 to James Arthur Ray, excluding lodging. (That would be an extra $76,800 minimum to Angel Valley--48 x $1,600)

* Twenty-one people getting sick like this in the middle of basically nowhere....If you've lived in the eastern US all your life, you don't have a sense of how EMPTY the West can be. This is a fairly empty area and it's not equipped to handle an emergency of this sort. Fire officials were sending people to Flagstaff and Prescott for medical assistance. *And*, if it turns out, it was something fundamental as a "lack of oxygen" that caused this tragedy, James Arthur Ray's going to have a hard time escaping liability. After all, even the Breatherians realize we need oxygen.

Personally, I think the James Arthur Ray brand is somewhat tarnished. I wonder if he'll show up in El Lay on Tuesday for the next "free" suck-em-in event he's supposed to have.

Oh yeah, one of my friends says, "New age rhymes with sewage."

Cosmic Connie said...

Disillusioned wrote (4:32 AM):

"I doubt his conscience is working as hard as his rational mind and his lawyers to rationalise all responsibility for this forseeable tragedy far, far away from himself and his actions."

I'm sure you're right, Dis.

Perhaps (notwithstanding those disclaimers his participants signed) he can plead ignorance. After all, he's not a biologist or a medical doctor; he's a quantum physics expert, like so many of the other scientifical types who were in "The Secret."

And if you don't believe James is a quantum physics expert, just take a look at this:

Cosmic Connie said...

Dave, thank you for the link to this informative and well-organized site, created by an Atlanta software engineer named Tim Farley.
(Everyone, here it is again:)

And for good measure, here's the FAQ page.

Much as I'd like to take credit for your own discovery of this site, I don't remember mentioning it on my blog previously, so you must have found it somewhere else. I'm glad you sent Tim a "nudge" to add sweat-lodge stuff to the site.

I confess I still vacillate between dismissing New-Wage/selfish-help/McSpirituality stuff as mostly harmless snark chum, and focusing on the very real damages some of this stuff can do to some people. That's why, although Whirled Musings was created as a humor/snark blog, and remains so for the most part, I can't turn my back on the "dark side" either.

Thanks again for the link.

Cosmic Connie said...

Anon 8:58 AM wrote:

"64 X $9,000 = $576,000

"To these hustle-dorks, it's all about 'attracting' money. And they don't care who dies to 'live.'"

Make that 63, since James Arthur Ray was one of those in the sweat lodge.

(Also see "Mirele's" 10:33 AM comment for adjusted figures.)

The fee for the 2010 Spiritual Warrior retreat -- assuming it even happens, after all of this -- is even higher (closer to $10,000.00).

More than two and a half years ago I wrote a blog post in which I listed what was then James Arthur Ray's workshop lineup, including fees.

The cheapest on the list was the Harmonic Wealth weekend; at least I am assuming it was the cheapest, though no fee is actually mentioned. I speculated at the time I wrote my blog post that it might be the famous $997 deal I'd heard about, but I never was able to substantiate that and was too lazy to do any further research. It could be that the Harmonic Wealth Weekend is free or terribly cheap with aggressive upselling.

The most expensive Ray event on the list guessed it...

"Spiritual Warrior: 'You owe it to the rest of your life to get to Spiritual Warrior as quickly as you can. The investment is ONLY $7695 per person.'"

That was in March 2007, and as you can see, James Ray's prices have risen steadily since then.

That may help 'splain why he was able to afford a four-million-dollar home in Beverly Hills, which he bought in March of 2009:

In all fairness, I don't think hustledorks are completely callous about these things (at least, I do not see how they can be). I still like to believe there's at least a twinge of conscience somewhere.

So often tragedies happen precisely because people don't EXPECT them to happen. Certainly the hustledorks don't expect them, fear them, or focus on them. That would be negative, you see. They do manage to get the legal disclaimers out of the way, and then it's full speed ahead, focusing on "the positive."

OTOH, they always teach that you get what you focus on. LOA and all that. So something doesn't add up somewhere.

Or wait...maybe the people who were harmed brought it on themselves because they still secretly *feared* they would be harmed. That seems to be the line of thinking of some hustledorks, anyway.

Either way, it's a sad story all around. Maybe this incident will help wake more people up.

Cosmic Connie said...

Mojo, there's a book's worth of wisdom in your comment. Particularly this:
"It is my unscientific observation that many in the 'personal responsibility' advocacy crowd seem quite adept at avoiding it once things head south."

That really seems to be the case, doesn't it? Or if they assume some "responsibility" they do it in such a way that they are not actually admitting they did anything really BAD (or actionable). Generally it seems that they assume just enough "responsibility" to provide an illusion of accountability, and, in some cases, to polish their images as bold heroes in the fight for truth. Otherwise, especially when tragedy strikes, they shove it off as just one of those "unavoidable" incidents, and say that their hearts and thoughts and prayers or whatever go out to the families of the fallen, etc., etc., etc.

See my 11:37 AM comment above for a little speculation on how the LOA folks will spin this one.

Cosmic Connie said...

Mirele, thanks so much for the clarifications and updates. Everyone else, here again is the link to the article Mirele mentioned:

I think you're right that the James Arthur Ray brand may be tarnished a bit... but I wouldn't count him out of the game yet. Never underestimate New-Wagers' ability to rationalize.

Anonymous said...

We who live in Sedona know there are protocols for having a sweat lodge. These include small groups, cooling breaks and not charging those who attend. Few locals attend sweat lodges on a regular basis.
This tragedy happened when an uninformed group came to our town and rented space.

Remember that when you think of us, please.

Anonymous said...

Not only is he a selfish new age promoter, he consciously uses and read black magic books on how to manipulate peoples emotions to gain financial control.

He puts in hooks and uses powerful hypnotic spells that can have an effect on people who aren't aware.

This guy does not have a clean record, and the lords of karma are coming down on him now.

Anonymous said...

I think when one takes a sacred tradition and exploits it for profit, one is asking for trouble.

I have sat in sweat lodges also, conducted by a Navajo spiritual leader, for the purpose of cleansing, and spiritual understanding.

It is very good for this sort of thing, as long as the tradition is respected, and conducted by someone who is part of that tradition.

This farce was conducted strictly for profit, and I think James Ray will pay dearly for it.

Cosmic Connie said...

Anon 12:30 PM said:
"We who live in Sedona know there are protocols for having a sweat lodge. These include small groups, cooling breaks and not charging those who attend. Few locals attend sweat lodges on a regular basis.

"This tragedy happened when an uninformed group came to our town and rented space.

"Remember that when you think of us, please."

Anon, in no way do I think the responsibility/blame rests on the people of Sedona or even on the owners of the retreat center. It's clearly a James Ray deal.

Although the sweat-lodge ceremony has never appealed to me (nor have any of the other risky practices such as vision quests and the like), I recognize these things as being part of some Native American spiritual traditions. If non-Natives want to take part in these traditions (under carefully controlled conditions such as you listed above), it may be no different from, say, a Presbyterian sitting in on services at a synagogue.

But it seems clear that James Ray's version of a sweat lodge was more in the spirit of improving his bottom line than of honoring anyone's spiritual traditions.

Cosmic Connie said...

Anon 12:50 PM said...

"Not only is he a selfish new age promoter, he consciously uses and read black magic books on how to manipulate peoples emotions to gain financial control.

"He puts in hooks and uses powerful hypnotic spells that can have an effect on people who aren't aware.

"This guy does not have a clean record, and the lords of karma are coming down on him now."

Well, Anon, I'm not qualified to even venture an opinion on the lords of karma and whatnot, nor do I necessarily buy into the "black magic" bit, but I do know that some New-Wage hustledorks love to advertise that they are experts in the use of "hypnotic" techniques to get people to do their bidding. Of course, they sell products that will supposedly enable you to become equally hypnotic.

At the same time, some of them ALSO sell products that supposedly teach people to be totally "awakened." So if large numbers of people buy these products, and become totally awakened as a result, does that mean that they can no longer be hypnotized into buying trances and such? In that case, haven't the people who bought the how-to-be-hypnotic products in fact wasted their money?

I guess the hustlers are banking on each prospective buyer's belief that s/he is the ONLY person to buy and use both the "how to be hypnotic" and "how to be awakened" products.

So I am thinking there must be a bunch of New-Wage consumers running around trying to hypnotize everyone else while laboring to stay awake and in control themselves.

It seems there's some conflict in there somewhere... (And yes, I know we've probably discussed this here before, but it's been a while.)

Cosmic Connie said...

Anonymous 2:17 PM said...

"I think when one takes a sacred tradition and exploits it for profit, one is asking for trouble.

"I have sat in sweat lodges also, conducted by a Navajo spiritual leader, for the purpose of cleansing, and spiritual understanding.

"It is very good for this sort of thing, as long as the tradition is respected, and conducted by someone who is part of that tradition.

"This farce was conducted strictly for profit, and I think James Ray will pay dearly for it."

Anon, see my comments above in response to Anon 12:30 PM (the Sedona resident who wrote about sweat lodge protocols).

Regarding James Ray, you may be right. Meanwhile, he will probably do everything he can to *avoid* paying dearly.

Lana said...

What a tragedy. And 100 percent avoidable if people had used common sense.

I hope Ray is held responsible for his recklessness.

To correct a misconception about the remote location -- I've lived in this area. Verde Valley Medical Center is in Cottonwood, about 9 miles away.

Cosmic Connie said...

Thanks for clearing up the geographical confusion, Lana. Yes, the tragedy was avoidable. As for whether or not James Ray will be held accountable, that's anyone's guess. So far there's no criminal investigation, according to an article by Lisa Irish in the Prescott (AZ) Daily Courier. The initial reports I read yesterday said Ray was questioned by investigators, but according to the Prescott Daily Courier article, James Ray didn't actually talk to the investigators.

This is from the article:

"Right now there are no criminal charges pending, and we do not know at this point if there ever will be," Lt. David Rhodes of the YCSO criminal investigation bureau said at the press conference. "We haven't encountered anything like this before."

[Yavapai County Sheriff Steve] Waugh also said Ray, who led the sweat lodge ceremony, refused to talk to investigators on site and returned to California.

"We will at some point in time schedule another interview with him," Waugh said.

"I do not know why he chose not to speak with us," Rhodes added. "Everyone else we have spoken with has been very forthcoming with information."


Here's the link:

Cosmic Connie said...

Also worthy of note is that when you type "James Arthur Ray" into Google now, the "news results," featuring the sweat-lodge tragedy, appear pretty far up on the first page. Last I checked, Google said there were 1,061 related articles. And counting...

mirele said...

It's not that the area is remote, it's that it's sparsely populated and the local hospitals can be easily overwhelmed when 21 people need emergency treatment right away. That's what I was trying to get across. It's not like this happened in Phoenix.

I feel very sorry for the people who lost their lives and those who may have been injured by this incident. I looked at the waiver that Ray had his attendees sign. I suspect that since anoxia (lack of oxygen) will kill anyone regardless of medical condition, that "hold harmless" waiver won't hold up in court. Then there was the publicity waiver--I wonder how much taping of this thing Ray was doing and what he planned on doing with it? Not only did you pay him $9,000, but you also waived your right to compensation if he used your image and likeness. I suspect the next time that video footage is seen, it'll be in a court case.

Cosmic Connie said...

James Arthur Ray's recent Tweets on Twitter:

"I'm shocked & saddened by the tragedy occuring [sic] in Sedona. My deep heartfelt condolences to family & friends of those who lost their lives"

"I also offer my strongest prayers for a speedy recovery for those who were taken ill. There are more questions than answers at this time"

I am spending the weekend in prayer and meditation for all involved in this difficult time; and I ask you to join me in doing the same."

Well, then. That makes it all better.

SpacePastry said...

Saw this on a site you've mentioned frequently here, Powerful Intentions:

"I have participated in a sweat lodge ceremony and personally find anything sauna-like to be extremely physically uncomfortable. And certainly you always have the option to leave the lodge... apparently some choose to use it as their exit from this particular life experience."

Certainly the participants bear some responsibility, but I think the comment about this being a choice to exit this life is preposterous.

And given what I know of these types of gatherings, did anyone really have a choice to leave the lodge?

Cosmic Connie said...

Mirele, thanks for clarifying *your* point. Those county and regional medical centers are often small compared to the big city centers. In any case, Lana's an Arizona resident too so I know she knows what you're talking about.

Those publicity waivers have always made me uneasy too. I'm so glad I got out of the New-Wage workshop frenzy years before the age of nonstop video-ing and recording and other electronic exploitation. I think it's a friggin' invasion of privacy if nothing else. In many cases people are spilling their guts and opening up some of the most intimate secrets of their lives at these events, and immortalizing it all on video or even audio just seems creepy to me.

In the James Ray sweat lodge case, though, maybe it's a good thing if the session was recorded on video. But I wouldn't be terribly surprised if that video 'disappeared' or it turned out that the recording device had somehow 'malfunctioned' and failed to capture the salient moments.

Cosmic Connie said...

Thanks, SpacePastry. That remark on the PI forum has to be one of the most ludicrous I've seen in a while. Ironically, the Facebook and Twitter remarks James Ray was posting before the tragedy (but which have since been removed) were all about how something in you has to die in order to create new life, etc., etc., etc. There was also something about the true Spiritual Warrior being able to conquer death.

As of now, you can still see those Tweets on Duff's blog:

Anonymous said...

I can't wait for the authorities to charge him (James Ray), and I'd love to be in the civil courtroom for the opening arguments when the victims and their families sue him for all he's worth.

I've waited a long, long time to hear of a Secret star finally being held accountable for their actions. Hopefully I won't wait much longer!

Of course, I know that true justice isn't going to be easy. As in the case of Rebekah Lawrence, the denials by both the promoters and instigators of these events are going to rely on those waivers, and / or try to put it down to 'pre-existing medical conditions' (in the case of Rebekah Lawrence, they argued her biological clock and her marriage was responsible for her psychological condition). I'm half expecting James Ray and his lawyers to pull something similar out of the new-wage-liability-magic-hat.

Lastly my most sincere prayers go out to the victims and their families, and that the injured make a speedy and healthy recovery.

In fact, my prayers go out to everyone who's lives were affected, afflicted, or damaged by the introduction of "the Secret" and it's likes into their lives.

Cosmic Connie said...

I'm with ya all the way, Abalance.

Lana said...

It's common to read that someone isn't a suspect or hasn't been investigated or charged with anything. And it's technically true. Wait a few days and see what transpires.

Re the comment on PI -- they have to think these things to stop the cognitive dissonance.

It will be interesting to see all the explanations coming from the LOA and ACIM crowd.

mirele said...

The Verde News is doing fabulous work covering this incident. Here's another article with a lot of detail:

The two who died have been identified as well. One was a man from Wisconsin, the other a woman from New York. I anticipate we'll be finding out more about these people in days to come.

The authorities aren't sure if there are going to be charges, as this is something that hasn't happened before.

Cosmic Connie said...

Lana...agree with you about the "cognitive dissonance" bit. And I think this incident might actually cause some believers to re-think this whole Secret-style LOA thing...

Cosmic Connie said...

Thanks for the link, Mirele. This is one story that's not going to go away soon.

Anonymous said...

I am outrages, Beyond livid!

What possibly will happen next before SOMEONE makes these people be held accountable? There is not other job that allows people to manipulate the vulnerable like the personal development industry. We have seen so many scandals and so many shocking things happen in the name of "I'll do ANYTHING to make you line my pockets."

It is disgraceful and a shame to humankind. Are they insane? Yes I believe they just may be. There was that guy in Australia who is now preaching God and Jesus probably because thats who he thinks he is. He is just another of the myriad of fools who are using their personal self given power to cheat, steal and con people into doing things that suit them. They are all nothing but GREEDY fools and nothing they do will ever make up for the wrong they do to other peoples lives.

Steve Salerno said...

Connie, I woke up, heard about this story and was about to send you the link when I came here and realized that, as usual, you're all over it. Great job.

This reminds me somewhat of that whole "rebirthing" fad some years back, which finally got its comeuppance when that guru and her group of mad disciples basically smothered that girl to death. Remember that one?

Criticism of self-help and this whole culture of Mindless Positivity has now gone mainstream--finally--and that trend is sure to accelerate with this event (look for a Dateline or 20/20 that uses this tragedy as a springboard for a wider look at SHAMland) as well as Barbara Ehrenreich's new book. Still, I take pride in the fact that we were all once voices in the wilderness, crying out in the name of sanity against a collective delusion that had hijacked American thought.

SpacePastry said...


I hope you are right that believers will change their minds. Meanwhile, more stuff from PI, as found at, for now anyway.

My favorite:

Wake up....

Nothing - absolutely nothing is as it seems.

James is a highly spiritual being - media stories are created for you to buy into them.....don't look at the event....

But ask yourself - is it true?

And then ask yourself - why am I getting involved in other people's drama? What is my intention of spreading drama?

Get out of the Fear -

All is Well


Mike O. said...

Just another "Spiritaul Thief" making money off New Agers. Native culture is you don't pay to go to church so why pay to "sweat"? It's a belief.... when will people wake up?

Cosmic Connie said...

Anon 2:17 AM: Thanks for mentioning the guy in Australia; I assume you're referring to David Schirmer, yet another Secret star, who is accused of bilking investors out of large amounts of money. And yes, he is really playing on the Christian shtick these days, setting himself apart from the other Secret stars because he has been "saved" by accepting JC into his life. Still, he's not above exploiting the Secret connections as well.

Cosmic Connie said...

Steve, thanks for stopping in. Yes, I remember the "rebirthing" debacle a few years back. That raised a bit of a stir, but I have a feeling this incident will raise even more of one, since it involves two deaths, many illnesses, AND a star of the mega-hit The Secret. And yes, I have no doubt that all of the major networks are scrambling to be the first to do an exposé via one or more of their newsmagazine shows.

You wrote:
"Still, I take pride in the fact that we were all once voices in the wilderness, crying out in the name of sanity against a collective delusion that had hijacked American thought."

I feel the same, although part of me wishes that a hefty paycheck came along with this pride. The irony is that WE probably won't be the ones who end up getting the big bucks from our criticism of New-Wage/SHAM stuff. If there is money to be made in this criticism, the big bucks will probably end up going to the very same mainstream media types who once eagerly embraced crap such as The Secret.

Cosmic Connie said...

Oh, SpacePastry, that PI link is priceless. It is at once funny and very, very sad. One of the saddest things is that most of the participants seem more concerned about poor James Arthur Ray than about the people who were actually harmed by this incident.

The post you chose to quote is a gem, but so is the one above it, from "Giovani":


Thanks, for the opportunity to send some good vibes to some people who'll appreciate them! :O)

Aw, come on, though! "Scam?" How does one figure? Isn't it interesting how much people value a means of coming together with spiritual intent? Didn't everybody know there were risks in this, as with all else?

I prefer outright steam baths to saunas of any kind, but the sweat lodge is an ancient & honorable practice. What a wonderful way to go, if you ask me! In the midst of blissful open focus in the company of others who value this, as well. How powerful those two [who died] are!

More ventillation? Good idea. That way, those who intend to live through this will be a bit more comfortable--notice how eight out of the ten intended to live. Clearly, their will means they'll be fine in no time. I recognize the freshness within them. Let's not be like those who know nothing of the Law Of Attraction & who morn [sic] and panic over such a thing.

All is clearly well with the Universe--this not even resembling an exception! :D

Sunshine & Blessings,

I admit I had to read that one twice. The first time I read it I smiled because I thought the guy was being sarcastic. Good one, Giovani, I thought.

But I fear he may be serious. After all, this is the Powerful Intentions Forum.


Cosmic Connie said...

Mike O., you asked, "When will people wake up?" Well, perhaps the "awakening" is beginning...

Cosmic Connie said...

Could this be Joe "Mr. Fire" Vitale's way of indirectly addressing his buddy James Arthur Ray's current woes? This is from his Oct. 11 blog post, 'The Shocking Truth About the Law of Attraction':

"A few of the teachers in the movie The Secret have had life challenges broadcast by the media and made public. Does that mean the Law of Attraction doesn’t work, or does it mean each had some unconscious programming even they weren’t aware of that got attracted into reality?

"Don’t be too quick to judge.

"Each of us has limiting programming in our unconscious mind."

'Course I'm just speculating, but I would think that Joe has to have heard about the incident by now, despite his practice of generally remaining in his own little "ignore the mainstream media" bubble. I'm sure he's getting lots of emails about this from anxious fans asking what he thinks, or from detractors pointing to this as proof that LOA doesn't work.

If (and remember I say, "if," because I am just speculating here) his "Shocking Truth" post is indeed an attempt to address this tragedy in a roundabout way, it would seem that it is yet another version of the "official" LOA believers' credo.

While some LOA believers (such as those on the Powerful Intentions forum, quoted above) apparently would like to believe the people who died consciously chose to do so, others (such as Joe, I speculate) will posit the existence of "counter-intentions" or other subconscious muck that the victims (and James Ray himself) were not aware of.

Maybe Joe can try to sell some of his products to James to help James clear those nasty "counter-intentions" that caused the tragedy. And maybe he can create a whole new product line for ordinary New-Wage followers and consumers to help them clear harmful counter-intentions before attending an extreme retreat.

There's money to be made, even in the midst of tragedy.

Lana said...

You've probably written about how some people will refuse to accept anything that doesn't support their beliefs. In the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, they'll retrench even deeper. So I'm sure we'll see people going to great lengths to remain congruent.

Cosmic Connie said...

That's it in a nutshell, Lana.

Cosmic Connie said...

Regarding Steve Salerno's point above (and my agreement with him), that criticism of New-Wage/SHAM-ish stuff is finally hitting the mainstream, I would still hesitate to deem this latest tragedy to be the tipping point. After all, New-Wage tragedies have happened before. (Similarly, religious-cult tragedies have occurred before, with large numbers of people actually choosing to kill themselves, or being killed (either purposely or accidentally) by others.) The news media jumped on these tragedies, stayed for a while feeding off of them, and then jumped on the next big story.

And yet, people still flock to New-Wage stuff *and* religious cults -- the same beliefs, organizations, paths or whatever, with different names. ("Oh, but MY group isn't like THOSE people...")

Moreover, if there is a lot of network TV attention on the James Ray sweat-lodge matter, it will likely be focused primarily on the sensationalism (e.g., people DIED), simply reinforcing the old "if it bleeds, it leads" rule of journalism. Secondary focus may be on details such as safety issues (e.g., the sweat lodge was covered with plastic rather than built like a traditional lodge; too many people were in it and they stayed in it too long, etc.). And the take-away message presented may very well be something much tamer (or lamer) than a warning that it's best to stay away from New-Wage hustledorks and their overpriced workshops, seminars and retreats.

Of course I realize the purpose of true journalism is (or should be) merely to report, and not promote a certain point of view. Still, I think it's a shame that the LARGER message -- that New-Wage stuff is often wacky and that New-Wage gurus seem to be far more focused on raking in money than on the real-world results of the crap they're peddling -- will more than likely be glossed over once again.

And, while James Ray's enterprise may suffer, I wonder how much of a hit the industry as a whole will take.

After all, as Lana pointed out above, the people who really want to believe -- and there seem to be many -- will simply dig in their heels and work even harder to rationalize.

Anonymous said...

My personal opinion is that most of the people included on that pathetic hype of a movie are criminals and should be exposed for who they really are FREAKIN GREEDY BASTARDS!

Exconvict said...

"There's money to be made, even in the midst of tragedy."

That is the biggest evil or them all!

Blatant blind GREED.

Steve Salerno said...

I feel the same, although part of me wishes that a hefty paycheck came along with this pride.

Amen, Connie. "SHAM" did OK, but it certainly didn't change my life (or checkbook) in any meaningful way. And you're right, too, about the media. Like a malfeasant stockbroker working a big-money account, they "churn" the events of the day, making a killing on all ends of the deal, arranging spectacle on behalf of the "wonders of the New Age!" (as when the morning shows feature Deepak and the gang, with their latest bit of whimsy) and then turning right around and, in the very next breath (or media moment), hyping a "special investigative report" that exploits the dark side of the story, to air later that same evening.

Yakaru said...

This article from the normally very new age friendly huff post has some interesting information.

"One of those victims was a close family friend. In her late 50s and in good health, she collapsed at some point during the ceremony and has no idea how long she was unconscious in the hot lodge before someone noticed her. She was intubated at the scene and rushed to a local hospital where she spent two days in the intensive care unit with liver and kidney malfunctions from severe dehydration. The nurse on duty said she was one of the lucky ones, her daughter told me."

I hope Ray is at least charged with some form of criminal negligence. His twiiter comments might come back to haunt him if participants report him making similar statements and encouraging them to "go past their personal boundaries" and stay in the lodge - a poorly constructed deathtrap with no adequate medical supervision.

Anonymous said...

Well if you paid $9000-$10000 for anything with any one of those secret wannabes you would want to die once you realise what you get for your money. Wasnt that Aussie guy doing the same thing, charging ridiculous prices for nothing much and he got exposed so why shouldn't all the others. They are a freakin disgrace to our society and thats why they all run to God hoping for forgiveness in advance of the justice they know they are going to get. Idiots and all of these people should be investigated by the authorities and required to pay a license fee and have qualifications in all of the areas they want to work. These people rarely have any qualifications (except the ones they give themselves by way of fluffy titles) and their egos cause them to charge people a fortune for crap. I'm all for justice and accountability, its about time it happened everywhere to save people from these fools.

Fabien said...

Line up everyone included on that secret movie and force them to provide a commitment statement which they personally have to sign off on to every single client BEFORE they are allowed to take anyone's money. We've seen from Mr Schirmers case in OZ that greed and promises had no other end result but to expose the very worst in people of which it appears he was KING DICK.

Cosmic Connie said...

Anonymous 4:40 AM said...

"My personal opinion is that most of the people included on that pathetic hype of a movie are criminals and should be exposed for who they really are FREAKIN GREEDY BASTARDS!"

Anon, while I don't go so far as to call The Secret stars criminal (though some apparently are), I completely agree with your description of The Secret as "a pathetic hype of a movie."

Cosmic Connie said...

Exconvict said:

"That is the biggest evil [of] them all!

"Blatant blind GREED."

As I said to Lana above...that's it in a nutshell.

Cosmic Connie said...

Steve Salerno wrote:

"And you're right...about the media. Like a malfeasant stockbroker working a big-money account, they 'churn' the events of the day, making a killing on all ends of the deal, arranging spectacle on behalf of the 'wonders of the New Age!' (as when the morning shows feature Deepak and the gang, with their latest bit of whimsy) and then turning right around and, in the very next breath (or media moment), hyping a 'special investigative report' that exploits the dark side of the story, to air later that same evening."

You got that right, Steve. And, thinking back a bit further to the time when The Secret first hit the mainstream (and before the first big waves of criticism), Larry King and Oprah and Ellen and the like positively gushed over James Arthur Ray and some of his fellow Secret stars. Now I wonder which of these folks or their colleagues in the TV-talk-show biz will be the first to do a show exploiting this tragedy as an example of "the dark side" of enlightenment...

Cosmic Connie said...

Yakaru, thanks for the link to the HuffPost article. Everyone, here it is again:

You also added:
"[James Arthur Ray's Twitter] comments might come back to haunt him if participants report him making similar statements and encouraging them to 'go past their personal boundaries' and stay in the lodge - a poorly constructed deathtrap with no adequate medical supervision."

That's a distinct possibility. And even though those comments have since been deleted from his Twitter page, they live on elsewhere.

Cosmic Connie said...

Anon 4:06 PM said:

"These people rarely have any qualifications (except the ones they give themselves by way of fluffy titles) and their egos cause them to charge people a fortune for crap. I'm all for justice and accountability, its about time it happened everywhere to save people from these fools."

I think a lot of people agree with you on that one, Anon.

mirele said...

This just makes me shake my head:

"Arizona sweat lodge where 2 died lacked permit"


However, this might indicate a way that the investigation could be going. Still, it seems really banal to reduce the deaths of two people to "the sweat lodge didn't have a building permit."

Anonymous said...

So sad...

I will be very interested in how James and his friends e.g. Joe Vitale explain this tragedy using the LOA framework. All I have heard fropm them for years since the Secret is 100% personal responsibility. How can it be not, when they claim that we are 100% respponsible for attracting stuff into our lives!

Cosmic Connie said...

Mirele, I completely agree that reducing the story to something as mundane as a building permit, or lack thereof, completely overlooks the larger story. And it seems to place more of the burden of blame on the resort owners and perhaps a little less on James Ray. I am sure his defense team is eating that up.

We get a hint of that in this bit from the story you linked to:
"Ray's spokesman, Howard Bragman, declined to comment on the permit but said the resort's staff was under contract to build a sweat lodge to accommodate up to 75 people."

Yeah, those resort people were to blame, you see?

(By the way, isn't it fitting that the spokesman for an egotistical New-Wage hustledork would have the name, "Bragman?")

I do think we need to keep in mind that the journalists are simply reporting every aspect of the investigation as they get wind of it, in order to keep the story alive. I guess it's good that we're being kept informed of every detail. Today it might be a building permit, tomorrow they might really discover grounds for charges of criminal negligence.

Everyone else -- here again is the link Mirele sent:

Cosmic Connie said...

Anonymous 3:29 AM wrote:

"So sad...

"I will be very interested in how James and his friends e.g. Joe Vitale explain this tragedy using the LOA framework. All I have heard from them for years since the Secret is 100% personal responsibility. How can it be not, when they claim that we are 100% responsible for attracting stuff into our lives!"

Anon, I think Joe has already addressed this issue, without naming names, in a paragraph in his recent blog post on "The Shocking Truth About the Law of Attraction"

He mentions stars of The Secret whose life challenges have been publicized in the media. Joe's take on it is that there could be subconscious stuff -- counter-intentions, old programming, etc. -- that make the bad stuff happen despite good intentions. Fortunately he sells products to help conquer those unconscious saboteurs.

For more of my own speculation on this issue, see the Oct. 12 addendum to my blog post.

Yakaru said...

His twitter posts have been reproduced by newspapers, so they certainly will be something police will look at.

A few more thoughts.

Anyone who pays $10,000 for a group is going to use that as motivation to push themselves to go beyond their normal limits. They will of course assume that they are being properly cared for while they do that. That is exactly what they have paid for - that they can focus on their own process, rather than whether or not the sweat lodge was safely constructed.

I also wonder how many participants he had in the past for this group. I can't help but wonder if he got triple the amount he expected and didn't bother thinking through the necessary changes.

Cosmic Connie said...

Good points, Yakaru.

But it also makes me wonder how all of these folks were able to afford this, given the recession and such.

Cosmic Connie said...

OTOH, Yakaru, regarding the speculation that James Ray got far more participants than expected, on Sept. 28 he wrote on Facebook and Twitter:

"Counting down the days to Spiritual Warrior in Sedona! On Saturday 60 people will enter the desert and 60 new people will exit 5 days later."

It seems there might have been some time to make proper arrangements for a group of that size.

Yakaru said...

After posting that last comment, I read a few articles saying he told the resort owners to construct a sweat lodge for 75 people. The police have said they still think Ray's staff built it.

One article I read said that some of the injured- er sorry- some of those who have "taken ill" paid $10,000 but didn't have medical insurance. That sounds like exactly the kind of thinking The Secret tricks people into.

The Secret isn't a cult - a cult can be held accountable for what happens to its members.

Cosmic Connie said...

No medical insurance, and yet they found $9-$10,000 to go to this stinkin' seminar? Yup, that sounds like Secret-type thinking, all right. Well, I suppose they rationalized that the Spiritual Warrior weekend was an "investment" in themselves. In any case, I am beginning to think that at the very least James Ray's organization should cough up for all of the medical expenses, as well as funeral expenses for the deceased.

Anonymous said...

and now for some comedy relief:

Anonymous said...

Good one on Self Improvement and it helps a lot.

Karim - Positive


disillusioned said...

I was pleasantly suprised by the Horizons writer making such obvious good sense despite being a devotee of the disembodied Abraham. I do appreciate some sense along with the craziness.
For me the telling quote was from Ray:

'Desperation is a self-fulfilling cycle of doom guaranteed to create more of the same.'

As a salesman Ray knows that the easiest sale is to a desperate person--but he seems to have overlooked his own desperation to be the man with all the answers for any question you can come up with.
'Hubris' is a good old fashioned term, or 'hoist on his own petard' if you are feeling a twinge of pleasure--as I am-- at seeing his chickens come home to roost.

None of this helps the victims of course but I can't stop my lip curling in disgust when Ray et al talk about the life challenges and testing they are suffering as a consequence of their behaviour---not anywhere near as life-challenging or testing as that behaviour proves to be for their devotees.
No sympathy from me I'm afraid.

mojo said...

Not being a lawyer or anything, but I figure any criminal negligence blame will be placed on whoever constructed the lodge and (my guess as to what happened) whoever got the bright idea to cover it with plastic tarp in the first place. Which probably wouldn't be JAR personally--he'd be too busy and important for such minutiae--but a staff of underlings and/or volunteers, or a subcontractor.

I think we can all expect a protracted fight over who did what and when--probably with enough rancor that I suspect JAR will need to find a new place to hold his retreat next year.

I hope, if there was any sort of email discussion involving the building of said lodge, no one deletes said emails as lamely as Ray handled his Twitter messages--which, let's face it, could have been acknowledged much more diplomatically and respectfully than by a silent mass delete. Email Rule #1: Always Assume It's Going to be Made Public. Email Rule #2: If You Forget Rule #1, Remember Your ISP Will ALWAYS Keep Months and Months of Backups of ALL Your Emails, Even if You Delete Them, And Said Archives Can Be Subpoenaed By The Authorities If You Attempt an Ultra-Lame "Ooops, I Deleted Them--Sorry" Defense.

Any civil suits will be a different animal entirely. And I assume that's where the real money, if any, will be.

It's good to know, for future reference, that one requires a building permit before cramming a large group of paying customers into what appears to be the equivalent of a heated plastic bag for two hours in the middle of what appears to be the desert. (Forget about building permits...what ever happened to plain ol' common sense?)

Thus far when I have done similarly stupid life-threatening things (yeah, once or twice) the only one to suffer any consequences has been myself. I hope that always remains the case--both for myself and for any potential victims of my potential idiocy.

I think everyone here has stupidly overlooked something incredibly obvious at some point in their lives--just not usually with such horrific consequences. It's a bad case all the way around... :-(

disillusioned said...

The anon who provided the comic relief you tube clip has also pinpointed those really responsible for Joe Vitale's scapegoat, the counter-intentions- the real cause of this event according to LOA. Starts at 3.10 minutes.

Cosmic Connie said...

Anon 12:10 AM wrote:

and now for some comedy relief:

Thanks, Anon! I'd seen that one before, and it's one of the funniest Secret parodies around.

Cosmic Connie said...

Disillusioned, "Hubris" is a perfect word to describe the situations the New-Wage gurus "attract" with their greed and arrogance.

Once again, your intrepid blogger was prescient, as indicated by this post from 21 December 2006 (in particular see picture number 3):

Cosmic Connie said...

Mojo, I imagine heads are already rolling at the James Ray empire. LOA aside, CYA is the principle by which so many of these gurus are increasingly having to conduct their affairs.

You wrote:
"It's good to know, for future reference, that one requires a building permit before cramming a large group of paying customers into what appears to be the equivalent of a heated plastic bag for two hours in the middle of what appears to be the desert. (Forget about building permits...what ever happened to plain ol' common sense?)"

New-Wage/selfish-help/McSpirituality is a huge banquet, but unfortunately, people rarely remember to set a place at the table for common sense. Common sense has to hang out in the kitchen with the help and the naysayers.

Cosmic Connie said...

Disillusioned (12:00 PM) wrote:
"The anon who provided the comic relief you tube clip has also pinpointed those really responsible for Joe Vitale's scapegoat, the counter-intentions- the real cause of this event according to LOA. Starts at 3.10 minutes."

OMG,'re right. Talk about unwittingly prescient...

Yakaru said...

Connie, just for the record, the statement about victims not having medical insurance was on the Huffington Post article I quoted from earlier. It has since been revised, and now the paragraph I quoted (where the author wrote of acquaintances of hers who were among the inured) has also been removed.

Cosmic Connie said...

Thanks for clearing that up, Yakaru. I thought I had seen that bit about medical insurance in the HuffPost article, but since I have perused so many articles about this matter, I was no longer sure if that was indeed the one. In any case, you're right; the article appears to have been altered from what I originally read. Whether this was because the deleted information was false or unsubstantiated, or for some other reason, I really don't know.

Anonymous said...

theres a good discussion about this guy and his idiot mate David Schirmer from Australia going on on another blog here

Cosmic Connie said...

Anon, thank you so much for that. The Droid does it again, and he doesn't mince words like I do. I'm gonna have to add yet another link to my main article...

Anonymous said...

Here's a particularly glowing review of "The Secret" that you should read, Connie. It will really open your eyes:

Cosmic Connie said...

Thanks for reminding me of this one, Anon 9:39 PM. I wrote about it back in January (last item, "Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage...")

"Ari" has written one of the most eloquent testimonials I've ever read about "The Secret's" power to change lives.

Xanadu Xero said...

This piece is awesome Connie, NYT worthy, if they ever printed anything this good.

You close every loophole (thank you). The culpable have no escape. And you do it, as always, with compassion, decency and - last but not least - elan.

Yakaru said...

Uhuh, so the fire dept was already called out to Angel Valley when someone passed out during 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."

And Schirmer thinks Satan is responsible. Funny how Satan wasn't mentioned in The Secret, but suddenly gets wheeled out in a time of need. But then, "crisis" is also "opportunity" and Schirmer knows which side his bread is buttered on.

Some of those twitters sound really dangerous - one about "which parts of you need to die in order for something new to be born" (or something like that) seem based on a very questionable psychology.

"Letting go of" or "moving beyond" parts of ones psyche is one thing, but telling people parts of their psyche "need to die" is a very strange approach. Especially when people are undertaking potentially live threatening activities.

And especially when the teacher doesn't even know the basics of the technique and doesn't know how to keep a minimum level of safety.

Anonymous said...

Oh Cosmic Connie this blog is priceless! Checked out all the said WANKERS and feel the need to puke. I have never met a person more up themselves than that David Schirmer or Australia. I believe he IS satan because he makes such a pathetic mess of contradictions between what he's publicly stated in the past and what he's now claiming. It was HE who somewhere put down someone who was driving their ordinary car to work while he sat is a fat dream fat office at home ... or a trail of pathetic upmanship crap to that effect.

abalance of hope .... these people are so brainless they need saving from themselves its that serious.

AbsolutelyAppalled said...

The self help industry has gone too far, manipulated too many people and cost the public an absolute fortune while lining the pockets of a few greedy selfish and untrustworthy individuals. These people are shameless and will be treated with the disgust and contempt that they deserve and have been asking for for a very long time. No matter what explanation they give they can never be excused from the despicable events that take place for the purposes of self promotion and greed. Send them all to a sweat camp and lock it up and see who survives and how they feel then.

Steve Salerno said...

Connie, I hope we didn't all get scammed here, but I just posted with regard to a conference call Ray supposedly had with the survivors of the tragedy.

Cosmic Connie said...

Xanadu, thank you for your kind comment. The New York Times has already picked this up, as have all the other mainstream media. Now their journalists and talking heads are front and center with their "exclusives" and in-depth investigations and such, and most seem to be acting as if they're discovering these New-Wage atrocities for the first time. Oh, who knew these terrible things were going on? Well, some of us have known for a very long time. I've been blogging till I was blue in the face (yeah, that explains it) for over three years, and poking at New-Wage/selfish-help/McSpirituality in both silly and serious ways for nearly twenty years.

And, as I've noted in response to remarks by my pal (and SHAM author) Steve Salerno in this forum, many of the media types who will be frowning over this latest tragedy are the VERY same ones who gave "The Secret" a pass just a couple of years ago, fawning all over the "stars" of that rubbish, including James Arthur Ray. But that's their job. They go where the stories are. And they get paid for what they're doing, while I don't. (Then again, that's my own fault, so I can't blame anyone but myself.)

Anyway, XX, I appreciate your continuing support.

Cosmic Connie said...

Yakaru (6:55 AM): So, contrary to previous reports that there had never been any trouble with James Ray's sweat-lodge retreats, it now comes to light that there was a medical emergency at one of his 2005 events. (I am just speculating here, but I imagine that the incident inspired James to tighten the waiver forms for subsequent events.) I shouldn't wonder that his people have no comment at this point.

I am sure that James Ray regrets those Tweets and Facebook updates now. While most people will understand that he was talking metaphorically about death, it still looks bad.

As for Schirmer, well, I don't know how much of that Satan stuff he actually believes. But since he has glommed onto that evangelical prosperity-Christianity church he's involved with, he's talking the talk. He knows what side his bread is buttered on, after all. Besides, Satan has always been a convenient scapegoat for him regarding his own troubles.

And I imagine that the born-again stuff is also a branding effort, to help set himself apart from all those other Secret stars who cling to heathen beliefs and practices. And now, given the James Ray tragedy and the bad light it must be casting on all of the Secret "stars," I bet he's a little relieved that they never really accepted him into their fold. That way it will make it easier for him to distance himself from them if the sh--t really hits the fan.

Cosmic Connie said...

Anon 7:00 AM wrote:

"It was HE [David Schirmer] who somewhere put down someone who was driving their ordinary car to work while he sat is a fat dream fat office at home ... or a trail of pathetic upmanship crap to that effect."

I remember that well, Anon; it was in spring of 2007 (or autumn, Down Under). You could hear the triumph in David's voice as he compared his situation to that of the ordinary-car driver. And just a few days later, the first of many exposés from A Current Affair hit the media.

Hubris, indeed.

Cosmic Connie said...

AbsolutelyAppalled wrote:

"The self help industry has gone too far, manipulated too many people and cost the public an absolute fortune while lining the pockets of a few greedy selfish and untrustworthy individuals."

You're right, AA, and this has been going on for a very long time. Whether this latest situation becomes a turning point in the public's attitude or not is anyone's guess. "Anti-self-help" sentiment may surge for a while in the wake of this tragedy, but it could be just be another passing fad, till the next clever huckster promising miracles comes along.

But at the very least, perhaps this incident will give a few more people who were wavering a clearer perspective on the greed, narcissism and ultimate vacuousness of the entire "Secret" franchise. I'm only sorry that people have to die in order for some folks to wake up.

Cosmic Connie said...

Steve Salerno (8:48 AM) said...

"Connie, I hope we didn't all get scammed here, but I just posted with regard to a conference call Ray supposedly had with the survivors of the tragedy."

Yes, Steve, I got an email from our pal John Curtis about this. It is interesting to be sure, though a couple of flags raised for me too, the first of which was the fact that speculative fiction is the normal beat of the piece's author, Cassandra Yorgey. And, as you did, I also noted that Cassandra has a distinct point of view, and, more importantly, that the source seems kind of "iffy" and we're never told whether or not this is actually a verbatim transcript. But I agree with what you said in your blog post: It SOUNDS like James Ray. That may turn out not to be good enough, though, so you were right to add all of the disclaimers.

Yakaru said...

Here's an interesting piece. James Ray did a conference call with surviving participants, and one of them recorded it and sent it to a newspaper.

Especially interesting is the way he's trying to get them to "turn to each other" for support, as if they are a special group, with special knowledge, like a candle of peace in a chaotic world that doesn't understand them. That is, trying to stop them reflecting on the possibility they've been had, and should be demanding their money back and talking to the police.

"Next it’s important to surround yourself with healthy harmonic minded individuals who support you and love you. Hopefully you’ve connected with support, and if you haven't please, please do because this community is coming together like never before and there is lots of support around the world. I’m sending [unclear] to all those who took ill and also those that transitioned and left this physical life....."

"Send out to all those how have taken ill for their rapid healing and breakthrough for new level..."

So, after making it clear who is responsible for their illness, an assistant, Barb, explains exactly what was behind the deaths: “of the two that had passed and they left their bodies during the ceremony and had so much fun they chose not to come back and that was their choice that they made.”

Cosmic Connie said...

Thanks, Yakaru. A couple of other folks have sent me that link too. If it's legitimate, it's not surprising at all (though beyond outrageous). However, for reasons I noted in my 11:41 AM comment to Steve Salerno above, I am still not completely sure the story is legit. I'm keeping my eye on it, though.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if any had any idea just how evil and twisted and greedy people would become as a result of being exposed to the secret. It surely is a con and or the worst possible kind in my view. These people are so greedy they are evil.

Cosmic Connie said...

Anon, I don't think The Secret created greed and narcissism as much as it nurtured the greed and narcissism that was already rampant in our culture. What The Secret did, and did so very well, was simply to provide a veneer of spirituality and mysticism that ended up fooling many people.

Nate said...

Time for another update! Just a few hours since your last one, and the story has evolved even further. The deaths are now "being investigated as a homicide," with warrants being served at Ray's offices, etc. Check, and pretty much everywhere at this point . . .

Cosmic Connie said...

Thanks, Nate. The Law of Attraction in action? Or inaction? Either way, it doesn't look like good news for James Ray and friends.

mirele said...


Apparently there is a transcript of a James Ray phone call that has a provenance and it comes from Tom McFeeley, who is the family representative for Kirby Brown.

Here's an AP article about it:


A woman identified as Barb told the callers that a channeler at the retreat last Friday said the deceased had an out-of-body experience during the sweat lodge ceremony and "were having so much fun that they chose not to come back."


"We find it offensive that anyone would classify their death as a choice," McFeeley said. "We don't believe she chose to suffocate in a sweat lodge. We don't think she chose to fast for 36 hours without food or water and then have improper nutritional care. She did not choose to have improper medical care on site."


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

It's my considered personal opinion that James Arthur Ray is a scumbag, but people are still giving him money. Unbelievable.

Cosmic Connie said...

Thanks, Mirele. Things are beginning to look worse for Mr. Ray. And apparently he and his staffers are also now saying they had nothing to do with building the sweat lodge.

Let the lawsuits begin...

Anonymous said...

Connie, normally I love your stuff.

But in this case you were waaayyy too naive off the top.
These guys like James Ray know they are hurting people. They know people are even dying as a result of their abusive seminars.

If you want proof, just read their disclaimers and release of liability. Search Google for

James Ray Waiver

people were sick, they were dehydrated for days on end. they don't do this to people for fun or enlightenment.
Its an old school and very effective brainwashing method, to break people down.
no sleep, no food, no water, its worse than GITMO ever was.
and these guys are clever enough to charge people a fortune.

and people who get hurt, sometimes get paid off, and then signed to gag orders so you don't hear about it.

so don't be too naive when it comes to these types of characters. They are way beyond hustledorks.
some of them are very dangerous malignant narcissists, and they know all to well they are harming people. They know people are even dying from the extreme stress at the seminars.
they don't care what happens to others, for real.

Cosmic Connie said...

Anon 12:46 AM, you are probably right. Even though I'm a snark, I also sometimes try to bend over backwards in the name of what I consider to be fairness. Contrary to the way things often might appear on my blog, I do try to give people the benefit of the doubt, sometimes way beyond what they might deserve.

In this case, my erring on the side of "fairness" may indeed be an error. The very fact that there had been at least one previous sweat-lodge medical crisis at a James Ray sweat lodge retreat -- and apparently nothing was done to prevent a recurrence -- is a HUGE red flag.

At any rate, a quick Google of "James Ray waiver" yielded this result immediately -- not surprisingly, on the Rick Ross cult education forum.

Here is the link:,77450,77484#msg-77484

It's pretty repulsive.

Unknown said...

Wonderful article. Loved the way you have pulled all the information together. As a former employee of James Ray International, I can assure you that this tragedy was a result of the arrogance of Mr. Ray. One of the attendee's was told that relief from from the crisis was just outside the door of the tent and when asked why he didn't just leave, he said that James accused him of being a "wimp" and not playing "full on", a phrase used at all his events. I am glad that this fraud has been exposed but sad that two people gave their lives in the process.

Cosmic Connie said...

Thanks for your "insider's" perspective, Olivia.

JAR apparently doesn't take his own advice to play "full on," judging by the fact that he immediately left for California after the tragedy occurred, instead of staying and trying to comfort the survivors. That phone call he made to them a few days later (in which, if reports are true, he apparently tried to manipulate them further) does not count as "comfort" in my book. He ran away from the scene, probably huddled with some of his PR people to regroup, and is now apparently playing the role of the grieving leader.

And he called people who were only looking out for their own survival "wimps"?

I know that in the US people are innocent until proven guilty, but as I noted to Mirele above, things are looking worse and worse for Mr. Ray.

Cosmic Connie said...

Unbidden, a contender for a future "Top 10 Questions James Ray may be asking himself" list popped into my head:

1. "Does this orange jumpsuit make my ego look fat?"

Sorry. Now back to my regularly scheduled attempts to be fair and reasoned.

Yakaru said...

I can't find where I read it anymore, but one report said that Ray was sitting next to the door of the sweat lodge. If it is true that he was basically intimidating people into staying inside, it will indeed be even more difficult to wriggle out of it.

Of course, he is doing his "own investigations", and will no doubt find a way to wriggle out of it, but in the meantime, I wish him as much trial by media as possible.

The waiver is unbelievable - even forgoing privacy and confidentiality??? What game is this creep playing?

Cosmic Connie said...

Thanks, Yakaru. And there's still more... Reportedly a woman named Colleen Conaway died at a James Ray event earlier this year.

A friend of mine sent me a link to an October 12 comment on the 48 Hours Crimesider blog:

by parkrapidsmn October 12, 2009 8:39 PM EDT
This is not the first time someone has died at a James Arthur Ray seminar.

On July 26 of this year Colleen died during a James Arthur Ray Creating Absolute Wealth Seminar in San Diego. She had been emotionally broken down, starved and kept awake ungodly amounts of time. During a group "field trip" to Horton Plaza Mall she plunged to the floor from a third level railing.

Colleen was a happy and successful woman. Prior to her death she had absolutely never given any of her friends and co-workers any signs of suicidal thoughts/intentions. She was making future plans...had a positive outlook on life...and was completely healthy.

Colleen was brainwashed. She fell victim to Large Group Awareness Training. I believe James Arthur Ray and his company completely covered up their involvement in her death.

There must be others who have been injured etc. by James Arthur Ray either physically, financially or mentally...please, please, please contact officials and tell your story. This must be stopped before more people are hurt!

Here's the link to that comment...;contentBody

And here's a blog post from my pal Salty Droid, with more links...

The matter is also being discussed on Rick Ross' forum.,77450,77607

Disclaimer: I have not chased all of these sources down to verify if they are correct. I am reporting what has been published because it seems relevant and credible in light of what I know about James Ray and similar New-Wage "leaders." (FYI, the seminar attendee's actual date of death was Saturday, July 25, not July 26 as the commenter quoted above wrote.)

At any rate, it looks as if James Arthur Ray might have even more 'splainin' to do.

Cosmic Connie said...

More unintentional irony, courtesy James Arthur Ray and The Secret:

Sheesh. But as James himself said, the Universe Genie delivers what you ask for.

Yakaru said...

A commenter at Salty Droid's linked to this, from the woman who published the phone transcript. The next installment, a participant's account of events leading up to the deaths.

The guy is really a sicko. He should be locked up.

"People are flailing in seizures; others are vomiting violently, or foaming at the mouth. Bodies are lined up unconscious, some are blue from lack of oxygen, but for some it is too late, they are already dead. Survivors that are barely able to stand struggle to help the others, they have had almost no food or water for nearly three days, even longer without sleep. It looks like a war zone, but for the incongruent figure of James Arthur Ray...He is not concerned with the medical emergency going on full swing around him....he and his team urge people to stop taking care of others and focus on their own journey, assuring them they are fine and only “purging”. Someone finally realizes James Ray is not in control of the situation and calls 911."

"He not only encouraged participants to stay and push past physical discomfort, he also actively dissuaded people that wanted to leave. The phrase “push through your threshold” was repeated often by James Ray. If participants didn’t make it to the door fast enough they had to wait for the next round. James Ray would slam the tarp shut shouting “Too late! Door’s shut!” and as he was sitting directly next to the door he was escalating it into a physical confrontation (not to mention he was the only one getting reprieve from the heat. Others could not feel a thing when the door was opened) – playing off something we are trained from birth to avoid. Throughout all this, James Ray is speaking words of encouragement. He speaks of how throwing up is good and actually purging (it isn’t. it’s actually a sign of dehydration and many other bad things), and explains that passing out is common (it isn’t). He encourages people who find it too hot to bury their faces in the dirt, because it was cooler."

Cosmic Connie said...

Thank you, Yakaru. If this is even a reasonably accurate recounting, it's looking worse all the time for JAR.

(I read previously, however, that even though there had been a 36-hour fast, people were given an opportunity to avail themselves of a large breakfast buffet earlier that day. Small detail, but I did want to point it out.)

Yakaru said...

Yes, if he was indeed "preventing" people from leaving the sweat lodge, and worse, instructing people not to attend to the sick and dying, and unaware that it was an emergency, and if it was left to participants themselves to end the process and call the authorities, he's in trouble.

It would explain why he disappeared so quickly rather than "comfort" the victims - he was avoiding the possibility of any confrontation.

These methods sound like they would even be in breach of the Geneva Convention, were they not "voluntarily" entered into. When the military cooks or freezes people, though, they are trying to keep the person alive, for information gathering purposes. They monitor their victim's condition to bring him back from the edge of death.

But then, the military usually still wants something from the victim. Ray already had the cash, so why bother.

It's also clear that he is using these techniques to build an emotional dependency on him. Trauma throws people back into a childlike state, where they want to bond with a "parent" figure. The whole structure seems to be skewed towards casting him in this god-like, superhuman saviour role.

Sorry if I'm raving, but I see more and more why The Secret made my skin crawl from the first moment onwards. Soemone should make a follow up, showing what its stars have manifested for themselves in these last three years.

Cosmic Connie said...

Yakaru, rave away. I'm with you. As for the stars of "The Secret," a true exposé would have to go back more than three years, revealing some of the stuff these hustledorks were getting away with long before "The Secret" was even a gleam in Rhonda Byrne's third eye. That creepy crawly feeling you had about "The Secret" from the beginning was spot-on.

Anonymous said...

hey Connie, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that Cassandra Yorgey is not the NYT.
Her writing style is not overblown, it seems to just be her age and how she is reacting to something so serious.

Most likely, she has a personal or family friend who was a victim of this, like a few other early responder bloggers.

Even the police have said getting information about what happened was hard as very few people would say what happened. Why? They are afraid, they have been conditioned/brainwashed to cover it up by James Ray.
The people at this event were some of his most indoctrinated followers.

So it seems a few of them are speaking out, but only in private.
This is some heavy shit going down.

Cassandra probably has 10 news people at her door, so she is going to have to try and figure out how to manage this, and she is obviously a bit young.
So good for her for having the stones to speak up.

The homicide stuff might take years.
At least a few of the victims are speaking out.
They might break the ice a bit for others.

But people in these deep "cult" situations have their minds very screwed up.
And James Ray is trying to keep control of his them.

But obviously a couple of them are "moles" and they leaked his phone conversation.
You think James Ray doesn't want to find out who did that?
What do you think he would do to that person?

They are afraid of him, and they should be. He is a dangerous man.

So Cassandra is being very smart and brave so far. She is under no obligation to possibly risk the life of someone who is spilling the beans.
She cannot probably reveal any info about her sources yet.
Those people are shitting bricks.

The homicide stuff will play out, but it will take many years.
Cut her some slack, people can see its someone close to the situation, just breaking the ice.
The facts may come out later, but believe it, James Ray is going to try to suppress the facts by all means.
All means.

Cosmic Connie said...

You make some good points, Anon 12:54 PM. Maybe I should clarify my own points, though. I personally don't expect the average blogger to be the NYT or any other established news outlet, and I don't imagine that most of my readers expect that either. And I do think I am cutting Cassandra some slack, all things considered, though it may not appear that way to some. Moreover, I have taken her youth, and her giddiness at having her first "big story" dropped in her lap, into consideration.

Even so, there are certain basic standards of reporting and writing that I think bloggers should abide by...but maybe that's just me.

In any case, I have said and will continue to say that the material Cassandra has shared *sounds* credible. I will continue to link to her work, even though I accompany my mentions with qualifiers and disclaimers. It's not a slap at her; it's just my own way of exercising caution.

One more important point for the record: I never asked Cassandra to reveal sources or do anything that would compromise anyone's safety. I would never do that. She could have simply answered my question by saying, "I went out looking for the information and found some people who would talk to me," OR, "They came to me because I am such an authority on the issue of cults and mind control that I was the obvious first choice." Or something like that. This would have compromised nobody.

But of course she was under no obligation to satisfy my curiosity either, and you may very well be right in your implication that in the big scheme of things, how or why she got the information doesn't matter all that much.

Finally, I am not sure I would go so far as to call James Ray a "dangerous man," though admittedly I do not know him. (I'm not saying his events and his manipulative tactics are not dangerous. But is he personally a danger to critics, whistle blowers, moles and other people who are not under his spell?)

Granted, he is probably a very scared man now, and I am sure he is gathering a huge defense team. So caution and discretion are certainly understandable.

But do you honestly think that the moles' and whistleblowers' *lives* are in danger? James Ray is not some black-op or evil government entity. He's a friggin' New-Wage hustledork. It seems to me that there's plenty of drama in this situation without adding more.

Or am I once again giving him too much of the benefit of the doubt?

Anonymous said...

numerous people ending up dead and in intensive care is pretty dangerous.
the first hand accounts coming out so far are about as bad as it can get.

as far as any danger, does James Ray want to go to the slammer or lose everything?
a life being in danger, could refer to anyone speaking up getting hit with a massive frivolous lawsuit from the guy with the millions to burn.
they could lose everything.

and for people deeply involved with him, they could be very afraid of what's happening. the evidence is showing his teachings are obsessed with death.

what happened was not an accident. the fuzz moved to homicide for a reason.

and James Ray is not afraid yet, he's probably very certain he can beat the rap, if he can control his own people.

if the public were more attuned to dangerous men like this, less people would get hurt. and some of the most dangerous men are very charismatic, especially to the ladies.

this guy is such freaking bad news, its unbelievable.

Cosmic Connie said...

Anon 3:02 PM: Okay. I see what you mean by dangerous. Thanks for clarifying. (I am not being deliberately dense; I am just trying to be clear about definitions. :-))

If he's not scared at this point, maybe he is a sociopath after all.

Yakaru said...

I agree - I find cassandra's info credible - even highly credible, as whoever said those words attributed to Ray was a skilled manipulator. It's too clear, long winded and detailed to be a fake.

Just to gather up a few details from various links already mentioned in the comments:

A woman called Colleen Conaway committed suicide a few months ago during a Ray event. She had no ID on her, and it seems like it may have even taken two days for police to identify her. Familiy members believed her suicide was directly related to the exercises she was doing in the group.,77450,page=6

Completely bizarre is that at least one, maybe two group participants witnessed her jump from a third level of a shopping mall, yet didn't realise it was a fellow particiant. One blogged later about what he witnessed

and even twittered about it:

It seems like Ray never at any stage told the group that one of the participants had died. Obviously, also he never came forward to the police with any information, even though he had already taken her ID from her (as with the other participants).

As Droid notes, his twitters also very suddenly fall silent shortly after the time of death, and remain silent for 4 days.

Shelley said...


We've seen two people exposed so far, who is next? I would like to see them all investigated, their qualifications (real qualifications) revealed, their business account forensically investigated and exposed and their victims interviewed and justice slapped on these people accordingly.

Too long have they been playing GOD with other peoples lives and getting away with it.

Cosmic Connie said...

Thanks, Yakaru. In my October 17 addendum to my ever-growing post, I also added some information and links about the Colleen Conaway case, including the link to the Rick Ross discussion. I also inserted a graphic with a snapshot of James Ray's "Tweets" around the time of the fatal weekend.

I know it may seem to some that I've been overly picky about Cassandra's work. But I think we are all in agreement about the basic points here, and one of those points is that things are looking very bad for James Ray right about now.

Cosmic Connie said...

Some evidence that it's business as usual in James Ray land can perhaps be found in AP article, published this past week. No doubt most of you have seen this. But I looked more closely at it again today and shook my head in disgust.

The article summarizes the tragedy, mentions the medical crisis at the 2005 event, mentions that some people think James Ray is a huckster, and on and on...but ends on an upbeat note:

Linda Jackson of Brentwood, Calif., already is looking forward to an event Ray has scheduled in the San Francisco Bay area later this year. The 59-year-old says Ray has a rare gift that coupled with charisma, power and a "walk the talk" attitude only helps mankind.

Only God knows whether the recent tragedy will help or hurt Ray, she said. "Maybe it was necessary because he has to be cautious about something."

Ray has no plans to slow down, said his spokesman, Howard Bragman. He’ll continue conducting seminars and be a leader, educator and mentor to the thousands who seek his help.

"One of his messages is about dealing with adversity," he said. "He’s very clear and his team is very clear that we’re going to continue his important work."

Well, Linda Jackson of Brentwood, I would suggest that you wake up before it's too late.

And as for Howard Bragman... well, he's getting paid to say that crap.

Anyway, here is one of hundreds of links to this story:

Cosmic Connie said...

Shelley said...


"We've seen two people exposed so far, who is next?...

"Too long have they been playing GOD with other peoples lives and getting away with it."

Indeed, Shelley, "The Secret" is turning out to be a real rogue's gallery. But some of us have known that all along.

Former employee said...

I was an employee of James Ray International (25 people) and can assure you that no one was told about Ms. Conaway's "accident" at the event in July. I also know that on the Friday after the sweat lodge tragedy, the employees in the office in Carlsbad were sent an email saying that "some participants had taken ill" and that if anyone called and asked, that is what they were to say. The employees of this company are as blinded to reality and as easily manipulated by James Ray as the clients are. I was interviewed by the police yesterday and I believe that there will be justice for all responsible.

Cosmic Connie said...

Thanks, Former Employee. Shout it from the rooftops.

Everything I've read of the Colleen Conaway tragedy in July seems to be in line with what you stated: that nobody at the event was told that one of their fellow attendees had died. Ironically, as is fairly widely known now, at least one of the other participants at that July event actually witnessed Ms. Conaway's jump. Judging from what this person wrote, he had no idea that the suicide victim was one of his fellow Absolute Wealth seekers.

One detail I can share is something I witnessed which certainly proved to be the lowlight/highlight. I was wandering around San Diego alone, wondering what I was going get from the weekend; what did I need to learn most? I spotted a woman standing outside the railing of a balcony on the third level at a mall. I thought it was some sort of stunt because ComicCon was going on. She jumped. It wasn't a stunt. I was the only witness who had the vantage point to know it was intentional. I gave statements to the police and mall security. If you know anything about me, you know suicide is about the biggest button I have to push. Later, I found myself standing where she jumped from, it had only been about a half-hour but the blood stained concrete was cleaned up and the t-shirt kiosk the woman landed on was once again selling "I Love San Diego" shirts to tourists. It was so surreal to see how quickly life moves on.

I couldn't understand why she would do it. Why anyone would do. And I cried. Tears of joy - joy for being alive. That was HUGE for me. And while standing there, I noticed Lori walk into the scene below - first time I've seen her all day. Very wild. In fact all weekend, starting at the airport in Boston, people were commenting about what a great couple we were, how cute we were together, how much in love we were.... it was like I was trapped in some bad romantic comedy.

The whole weekend was horrible and fantastic at the same time. A real roller coaster of tears and laughs. But I'm so glad I went and wish you the same opportunity. If you aren't growing, you're dying.

The blogger added that he is planning on going to another James Ray event, "Quantum Leap," in November.

For everyone who hasn't seen it yet, here again is the link to his "Tweet":

And here's the link to the blog post:

In the wake of the recent news, the blogger has received a couple of pointed comments but has yet to respond to them. Even if he decides to remove the post, it is immortalized on the Rick Ross forum.,77450,77607

As for the earlier mention (by Yakaru) that the woman had no I.D. on her at the time she ended her life, that was apparently because James Ray had taken all of the participants' I.D.s, cell phones, wallet, purses, money, and other personal effects, and had set them loose in the streets of San Diego so they could experience what it was like to be homeless. Apparently these "homeless exercises" are done all the time at certain LGAT events.

Cosmic Connie said...

Terry Hall at bizsayer has a few interesting blog posts about James Ray. Of particular interest, I think, are some of his thoughts on James' possible legal strategies, as well as his business strategies in light of his latest troubles.

Former employee said...

It makes my skin crawl to read the post written by the witness. His statement speaks volumes to the mind control used at these events. That he would describe what a cute couple he and his girlfriend were while describing how some jumped (fell) to their death is outrageous. I know someone from the James Ray team who was at that event (she is no longer employed for James Ray and for obvious reasons) and she feels that sometimes, the participants have an emotional experience and that none of the James Ray team is equipped to handle the situation. She is certain that this woman was having such an experience and was all alone at the time. Too bad these people who are such sheep couldn't be rounded up and given to really positive input that truly would make their lives better. Maybe when James Ray has gone to prison, they will find their way.

Cosmic Connie said...

It is a creepy blog post, Former Employee.

And James...well, he's going to have a lot to answer for, apparently.

Lana said...

I just read that the hospitalized woman, Liz Neuman just died. Very sad.

Here's her Amazon review about Harmonic Wealth, which she calls a "manual for life":

5.0 out of 5 stars

Not your Ordinary Self Help Book - it's a Manual for Life!
April 21, 2008
By Liz Neuman

I found myself reading the book in one hand and journaling the answers and exercises in a notebook in the other. James Ray poured his Heart and Soul into this book. I consider it an autobiography and a testament to his ability to be an effective Teacher. He leads by example and is always very open and candid with his life experiences and more importantly, the lessons that he has learned from those experiences. I can read about his experience, embrace the learnings and apply it to my life. I highly recommend this book, and ask you to take the time to do the work as he has laid it out in the book. Doing so will absolutely give you a bigger ROI and ultimately change your life!

Anonymous said...

I hope authorities will charge JAR will something for these people's deaths. Negligence, homicide -- something. I feel bad for the families who's loved ones have been affected.

Yes, people should take personal responsibility. But when someone is willing to pay $9,000-$10,000 for a retreat to follow/listen this man, he(she) is not his(her) right mind. They believe and been brainwashed in some sense. They've all had problems or hopes to achieve what they want from this expert. What greedy bastard.

Anonymous said...

What the people in the secret movie claim to be experts of is very dangerous. Who actually has any qualifications of any sort? My opinion is that they use manipulation to get people to buy their programs and use promises to justify the prices they charge for those courses and then use excuses to cover up why they don't deliver on promises. Then they blame and accuse and lie and lie until it becomes so obvious what they have done and are doing that they trip themselves up in their comments. Qualified? Like hell.

mirele said...

A third person, Lizabeth Neuman of Minnesota, aged 49, has died.

She'd been in the hospital since the "incident."

Three dead, in just this incident alone, and this guy is still out there??? You hear that, *Bragman*? Three dead? James Arthur Ray needs to explain to the world why three people died in this "incident" and why another woman died in July.

I read the description of the incident as written by cassandra and one side of me hopes to God it's not true, that James Arthur Ray isn't as callous as he comes across. On the other hand, I have this sinking feeling he is as callous as this indicates.

Nate said...

A third person has died, R.I.P. Lizabeth Neuman, age 49. If the reports that Cassandra Y. is posting on her blog are even close to accurate descriptions of the scene*, I don't see Ray avoiding some genuine prison time for this. The only real question now is whether or not any of his employees or Angel Valley employees will go down along with him.

*I completely understand all of your caveats about her posts, and don't disagree with them in principle. I think it's most likely that one of the survivors either knows her, or knows someone who knows her, and they thought of her as a potential outlet/platform to get their story out without bringing the media frenzy right to their own doorstep. Speculation, I know, but it seems pretty probable.

Yakaru said...

Connie, I thought your caution about Cassandra Yorgey's information was well justified. A lot depends on how many sources she has, and how reliable their perceptions were. And of course that it's still labelled under her "speculative fiction" heading is a bit strange, even if it's a formality. But until it's in some way confirmed by the police, I think you're right to keep emphasising it's tenuous nature.

As an anonymous commenter though, I'm happy to shoot my mouth off and say it rings true to me.

Also the sad case of Colleen Conaway sounds like the equally sad case of Rebekah Lawrence, which you reported on earlier. I commented there that I wondered how many other such cases there are which don't make it to the newspapers.

I haven't seen this referred to so much, but the blog radio interview with Shawna Bowen -
(scroll down)

- has some interesting eye witness stuff, which corroborates Yorgey's information.

Bowen had agreed to assist with running the sweat lodge, but came later. She was met at the gate by another assistant who was crying and saying "something went terribly wrong". Bowen went to lodge and saw "...people kind of lying in the dirt around the sweat lodge with other people bent over attending to them....and I came upon one of the people who was pronounced deceased later..."

She saw the group assistants "trying to get a woman into a golf cart to get her back to her cabin because she was really cold. She started to speak in a really bizarre way and had a blank look in her eyes."

Bowen realised it was serious and told them to turn around and take her to the ambulances.

".....she would just hold on a word or a phrase and just say it over and over again. She had no pupils in her eyes, she also started to contort her body, in a way that looked like a seizure, she also had a little bit of foam coming out of her mouth. I was very, very, very concerned. So we got her to the ambulance, we got her out of the golf cart, got her on the ground. I was holding blankets around her and she was thrashing around a lot and saying things that didn't really make sense....paramedics came to put an IV into her....I spent an hour or two just basically trying to hold her down so that she didn't hurt herself.....Once she got into the ambulance and was taken away, I went back to where some of the others were. They were looking really traumatised - we're talking maybe two hours later - they were still in blankets and just shivering. I've never experienced anything like that when I've come out of a sweat lodge. It seemed there was some serious physical trauma going on with body temperature. So I sat with a few women. One woman had told me her story that she had actually passed out in the sweat lodge....She was in the back of the sweat lodge...They had said that most of the people with very severe trauma were in the back of the sweat lodge...

"There were still people who were throwing up water, and I kept encouraging them and giving them another glass..."

Bowen also reports a man had told her he got out on the 5th door. "He said he wasn't playing full on, and....I know this phrase from James Ray's seminars, and he had kind of shamed himself into thinking that because he left on door five and didn't stay for door six that he wasn't playing full on. And I kind of got the impression that he felt he had let James Ray down, or let the retreat down. I said, "Wait a minute, you took care of yourself, you knew your limits and you questioned the authority figure, good for you". And he kind of received that and said "you know what, thank god I did that because I was well enough to carry the other people out."

Yakaru said...

[Connie, I hope it's ok that I keep posting this stuff. I won't mind if you don't post it if you want to present the info more efficiently.]

A F Grant, the blogger who unwittingly blogged the suicide of a fellow participant has just posted a comment:

"I had no idea who the woman was until I read the links posted here. I searched San Diego newspaper and police websites when I got home for info on her, but never found anything. I'm now certain it was indeed Colleen.
I wonder if anyone with James Ray even realizes she was part of the seminar? I spoke to many staff members that day about what I saw, even James himself. It seems the seminar was over before she was identified - which makes complete sense because none of us had ID on us that Saturday afternoon. All CAW participants were roaming around downtown San Diego alone that afternoon. A security guard at the mall told me the jumper left her daughter behind on the balcony (that must have just been a bad rumor) but was one of many reasons why it never even dawned on me that should could have been part of our group.
I do not doubt that it was a suicide, but the fact that she was part of the seminar is certainly disturbing.
I'm sorry for your loss. I honestly had no idea who she was."
Stranger still - he even spoke to Ray about it. What would be worse - that Ray hushed it up, or that Ray didn't know?

I hope anyone close to Ray, especially former employees who are courageous enough to come forward, take good care of themselves.

Anonymous said...

The feeling of power (these people worship me type) and 60 (or however many were squeezed into the death camp) x $10,000 (or whatever he charged) seemed far more important to James Ray than the lives and needs of his victims. Has he refunded everyone their money yet? I bet not, I bet he's run like hell with it because he knows he going to freakin need it now? Seriously how do they justify such massive prices for things like that? Could it be possible that people like Ray and Schirmer poke their finger in the air and say lets charge $10,000 those suckers will pay it? Because they don't seem to have any qualifications or experience to support the price tag (which set alarm bells going for me after I did my research very very loud).

I am visualising James Ray in jail and his idiot supporter dude David Schirmer cringing in terror as they face the rug being pulled from under their self built pedestals yet again. Schirmer has made the incredible decision to come out and support Ray totally clueless and deluded about the whole situation. How can anybody support someone when people have lost their lives? Can he read his mates freakin mind? I doubt it and I reckon they'd screw each other over in a heartbeat if they had a chance they are all such weird characters. They are so freakin greedy and some freakin Christian that souless bastard Schirmer is.

Power rules these guys and no-one has been holding them accountable for wielding that power to threaten and intimidate people into submission. They are extremely dangerous people who must face responsibility for the lies and deceit they have been selling for years.

anonymous on sunday said...

Go to to obtain the corporate email address for James Arthur Ray. email him and tell him what you think about his sweat lodge.

Anonymous said...

AF Grant has posted a response on his blog.

he says he searched the internet for info on the suicide when he got home.
but if anyone searches Google for something like

--- San Diego suicide horton plaza

all of the links come up right away
she was identified July 27 in the paper.

by July 28, 7:50 AM , someone named Jamie has brought up the James Ray seminar.

if the James Ray seminar had her ID and phone, how did they give it back to the family or the police? What happened to her personal belongings?

its seems clear that the police on the scene were not told she was with the James Ray seminar when she died.

doesn\'t add up.

Cosmic Connie said...

Hey, everyone: I'm hoping to catch up on my responses to comments today. I took most of yesterday "off" -- only publishing but not responding to comments. Thank you so much to everyone for the insights and links; I really appreciate your contributions.

Yakaru said...

Looks like one of my earlier comments got swallowed by the "blogger" comment system again.

I'd transcribed a bit of the Shawna Bowen interview on blog radio, which was also posted on Cassandra's last story.

Bowen was describing what she saw when she arrived at the sweat lodge, expecting to help run the ceremony but instead found a mass emergency.

Ray was standing there looking confused while people were running around attending to the sick and dying. She attended to one woman who was alternately having seizures and babbling incoherently for two hours. Others were still throwing up, two hours later, each time they tried to rehydrate.

At one point she saw man who was ok, but looked really distressed. He said he had "let the group and Ray down, by leaving before the end of the sweat". He said he hadn't been "playing full on" - which, Bowen notes, is one of Ray's favourite phrases.

He was really down on himself, but Bowen told him he was courageous in standing up to an authority figure and had done the right thing. He was surprised to hear that, and let it sink in. Then he said, maybe you're right, because it meant I was healthy enough to carry people out.

...That shows how deep the effect of the program was - he was even saving peoples lives, yet still thinking he was bad for letting Ray down.

Anonymous said...

Colleen Conaway death in the news October 19, 2009,77450,77728#msg-77728

Yakaru said...

AF Grant (blogger mentioned earlier) just responded that there were 300 people doing the group when Colleen Conaway died.

Presumably that means there were 300 people wandering about in the city being "homeless". Doing such an intense and dangerous process with so many people is insane.

Even with all that cash coming in, it's just asking for trouble. And this scumbag reckons he "knows how the universe functions".

I hope the police are up to the task of understanding what a freaking demonic lunatic they are dealing with.

disillusioned said...

Found a very comprehensive round-up of where the investigation is to date:

The first commenter on the piece is Cassandra who verifies the content.

Yakaru said...

A couple more updates....

Within an hour of entering the sweat lodge on the evening of Oct. 8, people began vomiting, gasping for air and collapsing. Yet Bunn says Ray continually urged everyone to stay inside.

"I can't get her to move. I can't get her to wake up," Bunn recalls hearing from two sides of the 415-square-foot sweat lodge. Ray's response: "Leave her alone, she'll be dealt with in the next round."

At one point, someone lifted up the back of the tent, shining light in the otherwise pitch-black enclosure. Ray demanded to know who was letting the light in and committing a "sacrilegious act," Bunn said.
Another "survivor's story",

...which includes this information:
"Liz died of multiple organ failure, which is consistent with lack of oxygen and being held without appropriate oxygen."
That seems to confirm that a poster at Rick Ross was on the right track when he suggested the plastic covering was placed on the lodge not by mistake or accident, but deliberately to induce a high through lack of oxygen. I hope this aspect is properly investigated.

It also turns out that third victim, Liz Neuman was signed into hospital under the name Jane Doe - just like Colleen Conaway a few months earlier.

"Neither Mr. Ray nor anyone from his organization contacted our family after the tragic incidents of October 8. We only learned of the occurrence through family in Arizona and through media coverage." The family was eventually able to locate Ms. Neuman over 24 hours after she was admitted to Flagstaff Medical Center. She had been admitted as a "Jane Doe," no one was available to make an identification of the patient upon admission to the hospital. She had suffered multiple organ damage and eventually fell into a coma before passing away from her injuries . The family had not heard from James Ray International until Sunday the 18th, after Ms. Neuman had already passed away- ten days after the sweat lodge event in Sedona had taken place.

Cosmic Connie said...

Yakaru, Disillusioned, Mirele, Lana, and the various Anons... Thank you all so much for continuing to send in comments and links, which have been invaluable in helping me to keep this post current. (And Yakaru, you were right that one of your previous comments got "swallowed" in Blogger after you first sent it, but it did eventually come in, and I published it.) Alas, I was unable to keep my commitment to make individual responses to all of the comments that have come in the last few days; I was too busy with other matters Monday, Tuesday and today. But I wanted to thank everyone anyway, and at least make a stab at jumping back into the conversation.

Cosmic Connie said...

As more and more facts and details emerge about the James Ray sweat lodge tragedy, as more participants come forth with their own descriptions of the event, you'd think I would get a bit hardened to all of this stuff. But I still find my jaw dropping when I read the latest description of how, even after it was clear that things had gone terribly wrong, James was still trying to get people to continue the deadly exercise and ignore the cries of their fellow participants who were obviously in trouble.

I was (I admit it!) surprised yet again when I read Joe "Mr. Fire" Vitale's snappish remark to Duff McDuffee on Joe's blog today. Joe had written a review of Barbara Ehrenreich's new book, "Bright-Sided: How The Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America."

As you might imagine, Joe had some issues with Barbara's new book, and he talked about how his own brand of positive thinking and right action helped him when he had a cancer scare a couple of years ago. What he didn't emphasize was that he never actually had cancer, like Barbara did -- only a cancer SCARE. The growths he had feared might be cancer turned out to be residuals of a previous infection.

(The above link is to a post on Joe's old blog on Blogger, "Beyond Marketing.")

Anyway, Duff wrote what I thought was a reasoned response to Joe's book review, and then he added a short remark, to which Joe replied.

Duff October 20, 2009 at 3:30 pm
I would also like to add that positive thinking can be delusional at times, leading people even to die under the guidance of a charismatic leader, as in the recent James Arthur Ray sweat lodge deaths. If anything, this is a clear example of the problems of overly positive thinking.


Joe Vitale October 21, 2009 at 9:02 am
You have no idea what went on in that sweat lodge. It’s not a clear example of anything until the story is put together with the facts. Jumping to conclusions is exactly the kind of thinking that doesn’t help anyone.

I wasn't going to get involved in this discussion, but I felt compelled to send in a response to THAT, which has not yet been published as I write this. I'm sure Joe will publish it but just hasn't done so yet because he's too busy promoting his new book. Here's what I wrote:

With all due respect, Joe, there are numerous eyewitness accounts, and reports from people who WERE in that sweat lodge, and it’s looking pretty bad for James Arthur Ray right now. So…in what way was Duff “jumping to conclusions?”

Yes, the details are still being sorted out. But what is known is this: Three people who
were in that sweat lodge are now dead. A woman who participated in a July James Ray event in San Diego is also dead, as a result of jumping off a third-floor mall balcony during a James Ray “homeless” exercise. Numerous others have reported injuries at James Ray events, and in one case Ray’s organization settled for an undisclosed sum. In all cases,
James Arthur Ray was supposedly in charge. Meanwhile, HIS adventures continue, and he is apparently still avoiding responsibility.

I've heard from Duff, who also sent in a response to Joe's remark...and it hasn't been published either. Again, I'm sure Joe has every intention of publishing it, but is simply too busy at the moment. ;-)

Anonymous said...

What the movie the Secret did was pick out the most delusional, dishonest, untrustworthy, pathetic liars handpicked from around the world to be exposed to the world as the people NEVER to get involved with. Take it as a lesson peoples.

Cosmic Connie said...

I guess the bad stuff coming out of the James Ray investigation is really getting to
Mister Fire.
Addendum to my comment above...

I guess the bad stuff coming out of the James Ray investigation is really getting to Mr. Fire. A recent Tweet:

"Turn off the news. Its not real or relevant."

As many may know, this isn't the first time he's given that advice; he's harped on the awful mainstream media before.

But the advice does sound a bit like the warnings that some of the most notorious mind-control gurus like to give their followers. I'm just sayin'...

Anonymous said...

lettuce know if the Joe unVitale posts those comments. He might not.

Vitale is a con, a huckster, a salesman who could sell aluminum siding to the elderly.

but he is buddies with guy like James Ray.
once doesn't get the sense that Vitale is as sadistic as Ray, but Vitale is very ruthless as well in terms of business.

on top of all that Joe Vitale is the worst writer on earth. so bad it laughable.
not so laughable is that some people do buy junk from that guy.

sure turn off the news, close your eyes, don't think, don't face reality.
then you can end up dead broke, or dead too.

Anonymous said...

Oh no Schirmer is worse than Vitale, hes the biggest crap artist in OZ in fact so big that even Vitale won't have anything to do with him. Proctor wiped him and it appears all the secret contributors don't seem to want anything to do with him. I suppose it might have something to do with the fact that he screwed a bunch of people over to feed himself which goes against every single thing the guy was trying to teach people. Even his traders never saw any proof of his ability and I doubt they have to this day. He sells on promises and basic bullshit apparently. Oh I did see some proof on a website somewhere where he lost about 80% of a guys money and that was when he was running those trading seminar things around the country. These guys are so deluded and greedy that they would sell their own mother if it gave them a fix for a while. Never to be trusted and due their comeuppance.

Jason E. Savage said...

After reading about this story for over a week now, I might as well weigh in too.
I had been a huge believer in new age ways of thinking, and was a staunch defender of the Secret. Long story short, it stopped making sense to me, and I dropped it (actually tried getting back into it for a bit earlier this year, but it didn't stick).

If this whole thing had happened a couple years ago, and if I had the money, I could have very well been one of those carried out of James Ray's "Black Lodge".

I have been thinking a lot about this whole thing, and several notions have hit me (how valid they are is up for debate).

1. Those who will still defend Ray are not really defending him, but what he represents to them; their own beliefs about life itself. It is the same as telling a Christian that Jesus was not real. A belief is SO ingrained in the mind, that doubt in it can be devastating. Ray represents their faith. If he is shown as a devil, then they begin to question the whole system.

2. A few people are going so far as to say that the people who died "attracted it" to themselves, by the very nature of what the Law of Attraction dictates.
By this logic, James Ray must have attracted this experience to himself, of having people die at his event. If the Law of Attraction were real, would that not make him a murderer?

I feel bad for those who died and those who were close to them. These people probably just wanted to find a spiritual home, but instead ended up in a nightmare.

My theory is that Ray is still conducting his seminars right now, because he know he will soon need all the money he can get with court costs, lawyers and civil suits.

Heading off to California right after the incident shows extreme cowardice. I feel somewhat close to this whole story, simply because I used to believe in him and what he and his kind were selling.

Jimmy boy, if you are reading this, stay out of Portland.

Yakaru said...

A few updates I just found...

Article about two participants who are speaking out -

Sidney Spencer, apparently, "has a good reason for having (her lawyer) do the talking… her speech was affected by neurological damage resulting – allegedly – from the conditions inside the sweat lodge."
The reports of Ray having a nurse are true, but not quite like it sounds-
“There was not a nurse on staff,” explains Richard. “There was someone who used to be a nurse there that also just happened to be at the event as a volunteer. She was not ‘hired’ to be there as a nurse.”
Cassandra has an interview with a person with experience in some of the techniques Ray uses. He notes-

James Ray tried to duplicate some of these techniques to gain greater sway over the most financially capable, intelligent, powerful, and transformative people he could find. It’s not just that he failed to safe-guard them in any capacity...but that James Ray twisted and warped valid techniques and amazing experiences with his own subtle messages.
Beverly Bunn gives a more harrowing account than she did in the news articles, to CNN.
People were already dragged out unconscious but the sweat lodge continued. Bunn was asked if Ray said anything to participants about this. She answers:
"He made one comment and they did say "She's passed out, I don't know if she's breathing" and he said "The door has now closed and this round has begun, we'll deal with that at the end of this round"

She was asked what she saw later when she left the lodge.
"I saw all of these people lying around with mucus coming out of their nose and mouths and guy'S eyes were- all the blood vessels were burst and there was just people lying around everywhere, unconscious and everything. And then I saw them doing CPR and I told them I know CPR, I can help one of the "dream teamers". I told them about ten times, and one of the dream teamers said "I know it's Kirby over there and I can help" and they would not let me. They would not let me go over there and help. And that's one of the hardest things I have to deal with, cause I...I didn't do this....I didn't do this"

Anonymous said...

James Ray and his bloody idiot supporters like that creapy fool from Australia Schirmer should be locked up and the key thrown away. They are control freaks who justify their existance by charging huge sums of money for what amounts to nothing more than a bunch of promises and crap and they force people to sign their lives away to get it. Has anyone ever had any permanent results that can be directly attributed to what these people have said and done for them? This is a total embarassment to anyone who is genuine about their desire to help their fellow man. How greed can destroy people from the inside out and isn't it so damn ugly.

Kalachakra said...

When Native Americans go on a "vision-or-death" Vision Quest they know that one common result is DEATH!
How can these wimp newagers be surprised that people DIE during DEATH-defying activities? The specific way that Vision Quests work is by creating near-death conditions and risking death to make the experience so severe that a vision is experienced.
Shame on Ray, but also shame on the foolish participants.

Yakaru said...


I can better understand why people didn't get out of the sweat lodge than I can understand why anyone would want to even be in the same room with any of the Secret creeps.

They paid 10K to do the group and were using that as a motivation to push their limits and ignore their pain. If you pay that much, it's reasonable to assume that basic safety measures covered.

They didn't know Ray was prepared to risk asphyxiating them in order to try and induce a "high" (hence the plastic on the roof), to say nothing of the fact that he told them it was normal for people to pass out, that vomiting was purging etc etc.

Further, the whole group process was aimed at basically dismantling their personalities, and usual defences. They didn't die because of the normal dangers associated with being alone in the desert or fasting for 36 hours. They died because they were fooled into thinking they were doing a process which was aimed at their growth. It wasn't. It was aimed at creating submission and dependency on Ray.

He is not interested in their well being, just their money. Colleen Conaway, who killed herself during Ray's earlier group, had already paid to do this one.

Droid has the details:

Comeon said...

If you thought James Ray was a freak his mini me from OZ is even weirder. He says he has an office in Austin and will be on his merry fat way to the US of A next year, 2010 he says, he just fails to say when in 2010 but he does say this:

"I have a feeling that the events in the US will be God inspired! ;-) I will be primarily focusing on building wealth."

The first question that comes to mind is ........ How the hell can Schirmer know what Gods inspiration will be IN F-----G ADVANCE? WEALTH FOR WHO? HIMSELF!!!!!! Is that premeditated or what? Is he hoping to get a free ride with the church to the US to do his own business? I can't believe the freak, what a user. He has no shame and I guess that's why he came out and supported JR because it takes one to know one.

Adele Wang said...

Very sad. This really struck a nerve in me. And the narcissism of Mr. Ray is so hard to's that New Agey, "It's all good, man" thing that drives me bananas. From Mr. Ray, there doesn't seem to be any sense of personal responsibility or accountability in any of this. Certainly, the participants gave up their personal power as well, but in this case, I hold Mr. Ray just as responsible for what happened. Instead, the noise that seems to be coming from that direction is that somehow all of this maybe was supposed to happen. For all we know, Mr. Ray actually thinks he was doing God's will by allowing these people to die. As if he did them a service, on some cosmic plane. It certainly doesn't sound like has any sense that he had anything to do with their deaths by the simple fact of not knowing what he was doing...

Yep, those folks must have WANTED to die a horrible death in the lodge.

And it's as if now he thinks the whole thing happened to "test" him with adversity. I'm sure he is sorry people died. But he seems more concerned with himself and making it thru this "test". I wonder if part of his test for handling adversity is hiring the best lawyer his money can buy.

It's such a twisted spiritual logic. No learning, no accountability, no apology, no responsibility. Is this the New Age Spiritual Warrior way??

I was so bothered by this incident that I wrote a post about it in my blog. Reading out here, I see I'm not alone in my upset over this. Indeed, whatever happened to sanity, responsibility and common sense? Are they not in vogue in spiritual growth anymore??
James Ray Sweat Lodge Tragedy


Yakaru said...

Nicely put, Adele. The "spiritual community" needs to wake up and find better responses to this than the ones you have highlighted.

It's not just Ray's character and methods that have been exposed here, it is also the way so much "spiritual" philosophy is specifically designed to be immune to criticism, and to insist that spiritual teachers magically deserve to be judged according to different moral standards than the rest of us.

I think it's worth repeating, that Ray seems to have used plastic on the sweat lodge specifically to induce a "high" through lack of oxygen, and to raise the heat dramatically. Usually, the roof of a sweat lodge is porous and the escaping heat creates a small flow of air, bring fresh oxygen and reducing the heat.

Ray deliberately chose to endanger lives in order to artificially provoke changes in consciousnes. Participants were not aware of this extra danger he had placed them in.

So people keep asking why they didn't get out, and Ray is certainly not speaking up for them. The spiritual community needs to speak out and explain that these people were courageously trying to face their fears and personal limits, and they were duped into a situation much more dangerous than they could have known.

Anonymous said...

This is a very long blog but well worth every inch. I find it very tragic that people had to die so that one person could get rich. James Ray should have refunded every single person their money and apologised professionally and publicly if he had anything to do with the deaths. he didn't have to admit it if he didnt genuinely believe he was wrong but he owes it to his clients to feel that way. It is shocking that the focus of these individuals is all about money. What have we come to?

Anonymous said...

I have just listened to the interview with Larry King and my heart bleeds for that family. James Ray is obviously smitten with the same disease that many of those so called teachers are, a total obsession for money greed and power. It is sad, very very sad and perhaps James Ray doesn't even realise what he is doing. I think he should co-operate and as Bob Proctor said let this be a lesson. I hope for James Ray's sake that he makes amends before he meets his maker because I would hate to be him and I think if he co-operated people would view him very differently.

Anonymous said...

I just got a comment in to my September 1 blog post about the Rebekah Lawrence tragedy in Australia. I published it there but want to post it here too, since it refers to the James Ray sweat lodge tragedy. This is from The Lazy Vegan

Be careful about generalizing too much re: those of us who believe in the Law of Attraction. I've been an informal "student" of it for years (and *all* of this info can be had for free, gratis, no charge, and absorbed through self study, reflection, and introspection, no gurus in sight). You said, IIRC (paraphrasing), that we believe these people either consciously or unconsciously attracted their own deaths. If someone were being reckless, I'd say that were possibly true. But I don't believe for a moment these people courted their own deaths purposely; they did not go into the sweat lodge anticipating that they would be in physical danger. I only find it sad that they so disrespected themselves, apparently, that they placed someone else's opinion of them ahead of their own lives.

They were gullible and wanted quick answers, hence turned their power over to a charlatan who promised he had those answers (for the low, low price of $10K). Because of his carelessness and arrogance, they lost their lives.

This was a "cult" that used LOA as its center, but that doesn't mean LOA is a crock any more than any belief system is. The idea of it *can* be misconstrued and abused by those evil and charismatic enough to twist it to their own purposes, of course. We see this often with so called "Christian" cults that are anything but Christian in the way leaders treat members and others.

A "true" guru or leader in this situation would have always been tapped into people's physical, mental and emotional well-being, and would have encouraged them to honor themselves first and foremost -- even if it meant disregarding the leader's "authority." LOA is truly about self-empowerment, and nothing more.

But that self-empowerment does *not* include disrespecting others, and it doesn't mean one is narcissistic, either. "Self" empowerment doesn't mean you leach energy from others parasitically, or that you try to control them. It means you find your footing, your place in the world, your sense of self, FOR yourself, even as you recognize and respect that others will do the same for themselves.

The Lazy Vegan said...

Thanks, Connie, for posting my comment. I did indeed put it with the wrong blog piece.


Kim (The Lazy Vegan")

Yakaru said...

So he told Kirby Brown's mother he was co-operating with the authorities. And sent her 5 grand???

This just gets more and more pathetic. No doubt he's already contacted Richard Bandler to find out how to deal with tricky situations like these.

(Note, although it was Bandler's gun, and although he makes flippant jokes about murdering people and had clearly threatened several people with it, it isn't clear who pulled the trigger.)

Anonymous said...

CornyJoe said...

Oh dear god the aussie secret superwanker Schirmer has done it again and got himself yet another sidekick (Just checking the video again but is that a ring I can see up his nose, not sure, maybe its just love drool from sucking up to his new MATE). Get this though, they are going to offer to the whole world hope and enlightenment through what could only be described as the biggest holistic bullshit offering ever, espousing their incredulous life experiences all in one sitting - whoa. God help us friends, when you felt like you had reached the bottom of the crap pile when these people kept telling you that you weren't doing anything right you get the biggest wakeup call yet, there is more. You realise now that you know less than anything you know so little that you don't even know you know nothing so you better rush out and buy everything that these guys have to offer NOW! Be assured it will be the best in the world, the greatest, the biggest, the mostest, the wealthiest, the richest, the most spiritual, the most god inspired, the most stratospherically brilliant for your relationships and wealth creation it will make you so filthy rich you will be kissing their arses forever. As if the world needs any more crap from this guy or anyone else but least of all this guy. What a wanker that guy is for hooking up with Schirmer.

mojo said...

As Chandler Bing might have once said, could this guy *BE* any more tone-deaf? What is he, someone's great uncle who's not all there anymore and thinks two dollars is still a swell birthday gift? I don't know whether to laugh or cry at this. It's all just horrible, and JAR seems to be determined to make it even MORE horrible.

Just when I thought amscraying the instant everything hit the fan and deleting his tweets was not a wise PR move. He's starting to sound like Monty Burns on the Simpsons: "Smithers! Dismember the corpse and send the widow a corsage!" Except, of course, Mr. Burns is a PARODY, not a ROLE MODEL (much as I personally adore the character).

Note to self: when your hired PR guns ("I'll say anything with a straight face so long as you pay me enough!") start ABANDONING you, you're prolly in a whole lotta trouble. The whole rats and sinking ships thing. Just thought I'd mention that. Assuming the rumor is true, of course...

Anonymous said...

Just checked out the video of Schirmer and his sidekick.

Sounds like they're trying to tap into the christian market.

We've seen "The Secret to Teens", dare I say we'll see a "The Secret to Christians" anytime soon?

Why stop there? Why not a "The Secret to industrial espionage" or "The secret to lesbianism"?

I'm sure that if Jesus popped back into the world anytime soon and saw what these two jacked-up crackpots are up to (I don't know what was in those coffee mugs, but those two sure looked like they had some kind of prohibited substance in there) he'd surely have something to say.

Yakaru said...

mojo, it seems to be true:

"Howard Bragman, who had been Ray's spokesman, said Wednesday that he no longer worked for Ray."

Droid also has some info which makes it look even worse.

Anonymous said...

On the subject of James Ray, I also have something to say at this point in time.

While I am saddened at the deaths in Sedona, and pray for them and the recovery of the injured as well as their families, I am also glad that the truth is coming out. I especially like how the entire 'new age' techniques employed are finally starting to make their way into mainstream media and questions are raised as to what is acceptable and what is not acceptable within the self-help industry.
Unfortunately the new-age practices have, of late, incurred too many deaths that could have easily been prevented. Whilst some pro-spiritualists will say that many people have gone thru these courses successfully with no harm, it's also countered by the fact that other areas in society, such as the motor vehicle / transport departments in the world, view one or two deaths on roads as 'un-necessary' and 'avoidable', regardless of how many people travel on the roads each day.
The only way to show that the Sedona deaths are unacceptable is to prove negligence at the hands of the event organisers.
Maybe that will spur some sort of regulation within the self-help industry. My feeling is that it's inevitable at this stage.

Thank you, Cosmic Connie, for relaying this entire issue as it happens. Your weblog is the only of it's kind on the web reporting these sorts of important events!

Josephine A said...

I think this is terribly sad and the people from the secret movie who are pushing harder than ever to make money out of this should be absolutely ashamed of themselves. David Schirmer claims to be a christian yet he is pushing the hardest to make money out of this stuff. It is very sickening and I think these people are psychologically very sick individuals. I am sure karma will take care of them but it is awful.

mojo said...

I should point out that not all PR firms are equal. Most of 'em exist just to send out happy-happy press releases. They plain aren't equipped, either mentally or legally, to deal with a crisis of this magnitude. I'm guessing this might be the case here, since just about EVERYTHING JAR has done post-accident has been positively *atrocious* from a PR standpoint (above and beyond any other considerations, of course).

His tweets, his blog posting, his "brave" endeavor-to-persevere continuation of his Glorious and Important Work (aka "shillinars"), and the send-a-check-with-the-sympathy-card have all been so UTTERLY and predictably disastrous. It's like he actively WANTS people to hate him. I can't believe any reasonable PR person--even one not all that experienced in damage control--would read these things beforehand and not try to SLAP HIM OUT OF IT.

Perhaps they did, and JAR posted them anyway--or posted them without getting them vetted first--and the PR flack just quit out of frustration. Or maybe they just recognized they're not equipped to handle something of this magnitude and gracefully bowed out. Or maybe they're just sick of stuff--if a client gets to be too problematic to spin in a good light, it's easier to just dump 'em, and let someone with a stronger (cast iron!) stomach take them on.

Cosmic Connie said...

I just wanted to pop back into the conversation for a moment and once again say thanks for all the comments

I'm sorry about not replying to each individually right now, but Mojo's latest remark inspired me to qualify my own rather snarky snippet about Howard Bragman's admission that he no longer works for James Ray. I have a couple of good friends who are publicists, and I recognize that a good publicist can be worth his or her weight in gold, so I didn't want to seem as if I am smearing the entire profession.

Although I have snarked about some of the remarks Mr. Bragman made in the wake of the sweat lodge disaster, I realize that we also have to consider (as Mojo pointed out) one big factor: Look what Bragman had to work with. It's a challenge even for the best PR person to defend the indefensible, and when you have a client who consistently engages in appalling behavior I imagine it gets to a point where anyone with any sense of ethics will start feeling dirty about earning money this way. Yes, there *are* sleazy PR people, but this doesn't necessarily mean that Mr. Bragman is one of them.

I realize that any number of circumstances could have been behind the separation. The first one that comes to mind is that Howard Bragman has a conscience and just couldn't deal with this stuff any more. It's possible that James Ray International had to let *him* go because of a sudden budget crisis. It's possible that Bragman left of his own accord for other reasons (perhaps long-term dissatisfaction with Ray as a client). And it's certainly possible that Bragman did indeed advise Ray against some of those foolish post-tragedy actions, and Ray ignored it. (As someone who has worked with authors who sometimes ignore good advice, to the detriment of their books, I can well understand those dynamics.)

Anyway, I'll keep snooping around the Net as time allows, while keeping my in box open for the great tips all of you have been sharing, and I'll publish either here or on the "front page" as new stuff comes to light.

Cosmic Connie said...

Oh, and not to get too far off-topic, but here's some "dish" on Howard Bragman:

The Lazy Vegan said...

>It's like he actively WANTS people to hate him.

He's a fake, and he knows it. Many who follow what I believe to be LOA's *true* focus would say that what's happening to him now is a manifestation of just that.

In short, you can't say one thing and do the opposite if you REALLY believe in LOA. If you believe in LOA AND you expect success, happiness, etc., to truly be yours, you can't lie, be a charlatan, be disingenuous, or otherwise dishonest. He was all of those things (and is now also a murderer), so either he never believed that to begin with and just wanted to jump on this popular bandwagon as a pretense, to swindle people out of $$, OR he believed in LOA in general but thought it somehow didn't apply to him because he was above it. (And that would also make sense, given his apparently overwhelming ego.)

While I don't believe he ever intended to actually kill anyone, his own ego and bloated (and fake) sense of self-worship led him to also believe that he could "play god," with this as a result. His attempt to "be" god failed, of course. So, how could he not hate himself despite all of the dancing to try to fake people out? *That* is honesty, and hence is really what LOA attracts. (IMO.)

Lana said...

I really like your take on all this, Connie. I'm Libertarian-leaning as well -- and part woo, as you know! Hey, I'm a Liberoo!

I've written just one blog post about Sweatgate (love it, add that to our lexicon), believe it or not. And I linked to your blog as Recommended Reading. You're doing the heavy lifting. I might as well write another post that simply says, "What she said." LOL

Actually, I'm working on a post about why people seek "enlightenment" and transformation.

Word verif: thoir

Yakaru said...

So after venues started cancelling events for him, he puts out a press release saying he has cancelled them himself.

After claiming the victims were enjoying an out of body experience so much they decided not to come back, he's now talking of a "horrible accident" and "we didn't build the sweat lodge".

After talking of the LoA, it'S suddenly turned into the CYA (cover your ass).

It shows that unlike the people who died trying to achieve personal transformation, he never believed in the philosophy he was teaching.

But then, The Secret was never really about sincerity or sensitivity to others, was it.

Also, according to

Death Ray has hired Clinton's former PR disaster strategist. He still hasn't given a statement to the police, though, of course. Priorities.

Yakaru said...

Also, his repeated whining about how this is the "hardest thing he's ever faced" may finish up falling even flatter if the story of Colleen Conaway's death gets media coverage.

It's clear that the "challenge" he is referring to is the PR disaster, not the deaths. He was clearly (and demostably) unmoved by Conaway's death - his staff left a message on her cell phone (which they knew they had taken) saying they were looking for her, several hours after her death, and then a day or two later handed it to the police. I guess they destroyed her private journal from the group.

Ray has never contacted her family.

Karen P said...

I'm all for having goals and keeping focused on them but these guys have made a business out of manipulating people for their own purposes. That has become their goal and that is all they now know. It is frightening to see just how greedy and inhumane people can become when they get overtaken with mindless self promotion and feed on it. It will be interesting to see the outcome of this entire thing and I surely hope that someone takes some action. I do think Mr Ray should do some time with respect for the people who have paid him and suffered. I also think that other personal development teachers should expect complete scrutiny from now on and they should be ousted immediately they attempt to threaten anyone for saying something about them. That has been the problem all along they only want people to have one opinion and that is their opinion and people have been blinding playing follow the leader because he said so. It has become so deluded and dangerous that nobody seems to know what is truth, fact or fiction any more. Sadly it has taken people to die for the authorities to sit up and take notice to what people have been begging for for years. Lets home good comes from this and all these people are forced to be qualified and to maintain those qualifications by law. That way they could at least earn some respect, as they are they have none left.

mojo said...

I'd like to think JAR's crying "Uncle" and canceling for the rest of the year might have been at least partially at the insistence of his new PR guy. I agree with you--I feel it's the first thing he should have done, along with altering the front page of his site. Of course, as others have pointed out, a lot of hotels were apparently proactively canceling him anyway--the liability insurance for hosting him has no doubt gone through the roof.

I commented this over on the Droid's blog but thought it bears repeating. Ray's actions have been so repulsive on so many levels, it's getting hard to catalog them all, so it strikes me that THIS aspect is lamentably getting a bit lost in the shuffle:

The Lakota people wrote and passed a "Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality" back in 1993.

The very first resolution states, "We hereby and henceforth declare war against all persons who persist in exploiting, abusing and misrepresenting the sacred traditions and spiritual practices of our Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people."

Jason E. Savage said...

I just watched (actually the video would not load, so I listened to) the Nightline piece.

Clearly they brought the rope to hang JAR, you could tell just by the inflections in the host's voice. Bias journalism for sure.

I say this in no way to defend Death Ray. He deserves to have his empire crumble around him.

I am wondering if he will be charged with anything. It;s my guess that the authorities are making sure they have their ducks in a row, since this is a high profile celebrity case, and the world is watching. If there are formal charges brought up, I wonder if it will be negligent homicide or manslaughter.

I did not know he was a judge for the Miss America pageant. That alone should have clued people in to how phony he is back then.

People still believe in him though. He will have followers to the end.
People are so desperate for rock solid answers in life, that they will cling tightly to anyone who is charismatic enough and says they know it all.

I had thought that the "They were having so much fun they decided not to return" quote was actually a hoax. Looks like it was real. It takes a truly wretched person to say something like that period, but saying it so soon after the event is beyond cruel.

The Lazy Vegan said...

>and, for that matter, most consumers of self-help literature and products, are well-educated, middle-class or affluent folks

Hey Connie:

I'm just working my way through your long James Ray-related post and had to address this. (The above snip is from your email to The View.) I just have to say, both you and Steve get a lot wrong about the so-called "self-help" community, as you lump us all together.

First of all, we're not all mindless sheep, and you seem to think so. In fact, I would suspect most of us are not, which is precisely why we pursue *self* help. As one central example, yes, James Ray was a millionaire (and probably won't be for much longer), but at some $5K in income per true follower in a year, let's say just for illustration, that's still only about 1800 people out of what? 300 million in the US alone? Not huge. By contrast, Christianity, with its insistence on surrender to and belief in a faceless, nebulous, omnipotent "father," boasts something like 2 *billion* followers worldwide, or about a third of the world's population.

Point being, it's called *self* help for a reason. That is, most of us know that we, ourselves, are always the ones in charge when we're looking for answers, when it's done right (IMO).

Now, over probably 10, 12 years, I've read a lot of authors. Among my favorites have been Marianne Williamson, Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, and yes, Esther Hicks (whom I know is a sore spot for you).

Here's my point: I've gotten something from *all* of them, but I have never agreed fully (or even much, sometimes) with any of them. And again, done right, they as "teachers" recognize that that is exactly what should happen; they're just presenting information, for you to accept or not as you wish. So be careful about the generalizations you make.

One other thing: Most of us are also not particularly affluent and don't just mindlessly drop hundreds or thousand of dollars on materials. Most of this info can be had for absolutely free on the Internet or through that old dinosaur repository of information, your local library. And again, I would wager that that is how most of us pursue this, with self-study and reflection as our central focus in how we handle learning, not actively being "taught" by anyone.

Dangerous folks like James Ray get the attention because they are sensational, commanding and outrageous. But watch (really *watch*) Chopra or Williamson sometime, for example. They are gentle and self-effacing in their presentations, not over the top. They fully recognize, again, that theirs is just one "take" on the world, out of many, and they expect to be disagreed with by many as a matter of course. And again, it's because it's about *self* help, not acquiescence to some external authority.

Thanks for listening.

Yakaru said...

Weirder still:
"Ray stood by the only entrance, alternately speaking in tongues and encouraging participants to persevere as some of them vomited and fainted.",,20316327,00.html

Speaking in tongues while controlling the air supply and the exit. And he wants to find out what went wrong???

Cosmic Connie said...

Once again, thanks to everyone for the latest rounds of comments -- Yakaru, Lana, Mojo, Abalanceof hope (good to see you here again!), Lazy Vegan, Savage71, Adele, Comeon, KarenP and various Anons...

I did want to address Lazy Vegan's latest comment regarding my own remark about the demographic makeup of self-help consumers. I really appreciate your input, LV, and you made me think about what I wrote, but I think you may have misread my intent. Given my general snarkiness, I can see how this is possible. However, talking about demographics does not automatically translate to calling the members of a particular demographic "mindless sheep." All of the information I have read indicates that the majority of consumers of self-help materials *are* female and relatively well-educated. They are affluent in the sense that they have money and time to spend on improving their lives rather than scrabbling to keep their heads above water. And this is pretty much the same target demographic of "The View." My point was that I didn't see how the hosts of "The View" could be so apparently disconnected from their audience as to be flabbergasted by the fact that people follow self-help gurus. My other point to them was that they and their colleagues promoted (enabled, if you will) JAR and his ilk for a long time.

And do you really think James Ray is such an extreme case -- that he's so different from many of the other stars of "The Secret," for example? I don't. I could give you at least half a dozen examples of his colleagues with egos as big as his, and bank accounts as big or bigger, and dirty little secrets that just haven't become fodder for "Nightline" yet because, so far, there haven't been deaths during their seminars. But their massive egos, propensity for embellishment, nonstop manipulation and aggressive marketing strategies put them easily in the same category as James Arthur Ray.

When fame, money and ego get in the way, which it does more often than not, any "truth" often gets lost in the shuffle. And even Deepak Chopra, who wasn't in The Secret (but I mention him because you did), has a pretty big ego, I hear tell. Stardom can do that to a person. Not to mention some of the dicey "science" he promotes. Read Orac's "Respectful Insolence" blog for more on that.
One example:

Regarding the self-effacing presentations of people such as Chopra and Marianne Williamson: in the New-Wage biz, boastfulness versus self-effacement is, in my observation, more a matter of style than of substance. If you listen carefully you'll see that even the big blustering egotists in the industry rarely try to present themselves as having the ONLY answer. They at least pay lip service to the fact that you have to find your own truth and your own path, and that their way of looking at things is just one way. Then, of course, they spend all of their time and energy trying to persuade you that they possess so much wisdom that you'd really be missing out on something if you didn't hang on their every word. While by contrast Chopra and Marianne Williamson may be more subtle, they still have their passionate followers, and that doesn't come from self-effacement but from a knack for self-promotion.

I have to conclude this in a separate comment, because Blogger is imposing its "4,096 character" limit again, for some reason...

Cosmic Connie said...

OK, here's the conclusion of my response to Lazy Vegan's last comment...

That said, it might surprise you to learn that I have a few books by Chopra and by Marianne Williamson, and by numerous other folks I've snarked about. And yes, I've gotten something from all of them besides just snark chum. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that I think Marianne is an eloquent and poetic writer. Often it seems she's not saying much, but I enjoy her writing. I even met her years ago, and found her likable.

I get your point about self-help, Lazy Vegan, or rather what self-help *should* be, but let's be honest: the survival and growth of the self-help industry, as well as the careers of self-help authors and speakers, depends upon repeat customers as well as new ones. In that sense, it depends upon making consumers dependent, if you will, on continuing to consume these products.

In any case, I thank you for taking the time to share your view, LV. (And believe me, I'm with you all the way when you point out that self-help is small potatoes in comparison to traditional religion.)

The Lazy Vegan said...

>But their massive egos, propensity for embellishment, nonstop manipulation

That's not just true of these few folks. I dare say that if quite a percentage of the public had the opportunity to put themselves in such a light (look at all those "get rich quick" schemes on the Internet now, but around "forever" since the beginning of time in other mediums) as a means to make a few (or more than a few) bucks, they'd do it. Should these guys be doing that? Of course not. We're agreed there. But this is an example, unfortunately, of many in the human condition at large, not of the self-help industry alone. We all would like things to be "quick and easy," even if most of us at least have the sense to neither endanger ourselves nor take advantage of others in that way.

In such situations, if we take responsibility for ourselves, we may get taken a time or two before we learn better, but it *is* our responsibility, each of us, to "learn better" and approach all supposed "authority" with skepticism and a sense of restraint. And while yep, I'm sure some of these folks are charlatans, there are also many who are not. Just don't dispense with the entire self-help industry at large because there are some true charlatans who *only* want your money and will do anything to get it. That's true in any industry.

>because, so far, there haven't been deaths during
their seminars.

James Ray is getting smacked (as he well should) because he refused to see that people were in trouble and were literally physically dying in front of him as a direct result of his carelessness and arrogance. That would be true no matter who was running that event. That said, those same people who were his victims were absolutely as responsible as anyone for letting themselves get *to* the point where they could actually be that controlled by someone else, that they would literally ignore their own well-being to the point of death.

Look, I'll bet there's not a one of us where life hasn't been so "sucky," so awful that we just wanted someone to make it better, already. "Make it better for me, Mom or Dad, I don't want to/can't deal with it." 'Course, with most intelligent adults, returning to actual childhood is not an option. Hence the fact that indeed, you can set yourself up to be taken if you don't act like an adult and give someone else parental control, in essence. Well? Learn from that experience, and you won't get taken again. Or keep blindly following. Your choice, your responsibility.

(There's more, but I have to split this into parts; I'm getting the "character limit" warning, too.)

The Lazy Vegan said...


to mention some of the dicey "science" [Deepak Chopra] promotes

I can't speak to what his ego is or isn't (never met the man), but I think what he says about science makes a lot of sense. For one, he's actually a medical doctor with that background *and* explores this "dicey science" besides, so he's not just talking out of his ear.

What I'm trying to say is that it's *your* opinion that it's dicey science, nothing more (and nothing less, BTW). Same here. I don't think it is, and this is "just" my opinion, too. Both have merit, and neither should be discounted. He's not pushing you to believe in that "dicey science," though, if you don't. Easily ignored.

>Then, of course, they spend all
of their time and energy trying to persuade you that they possess so
much wisdom that you'd really be missing out on something

Again, I think the "over the top" guys like Robbins and Ray probably do that (the "preacher-like" folks with the evangelical zeal), but I don't see that with the quieter folks like Williamson or Chopra. They're quieter, so it's easier to ignore them, which is exactly the point of self-help: "Stay out of my way unless I want you; if I want you, I'll come find you."

>but let's be honest: the survival and growth of
the self-help industry, as well as the careers of self-help authors and
speakers, depends upon repeat customers as well as new ones. In that
sense, it depends upon making consumers dependent, if you will, on
continuing to consume these products.

Well, but that's true of anything, any business. You could even say the same of Steve Salerno with his book. In its own way, that's a "self-help" book too, in this case against the industry.

I'm *not* trying to be snarky (to borrow from you) with that comment, either. I'm simply saying that Steve with his "expertise" wrote a book about what he saw as a problem, to dispense information as he saw it and provide some solutions, similarly. He probably expects (hopes?) that it will become popular, and that he will make money from it. Why wouldn't he? He deserves it. (And why else write a book for publication and thus at least some monetary gain or, (hell, let's just say it) a LOT of monetary gain? No problem, no dishonesty there.)

And if, should that book be popular, he's asked to write another, are you saying he shouldn't? And if he does, he's bound to get repeat customers if they liked and agreed with the first book. (They may even become avid followers, oh, my. ;-) ) No problem, right? I certainly don't see any.

And as I've been saying, some people will probably also think it's bunk and not buy another. Their choice, right? So why, then, is it somehow different with these other authors? It shouldn't be, IMO. In the end, it *all* boils down to personal choice and responsibility.

>In any case, I thank you for taking the time to share your view, LV. (And believe me, I'm with you all the way when you point out that
self-help is small potatoes in comparison to traditional religion.)

Thanks! And thanks for taking on such a long post. :-)

Yakaru said...

Lazy Vegan,

Generally I agree with what you write, butI have to respond to this statement from you about Deepak Chopra:

"it's *your* opinion that it's dicey science, nothing more (and nothing less, BTW). Same here. I don't think it is, and this is "just" my opinion, too. it's *your* opinion that it's dicey science, nothing more (and nothing less, BTW). Same here. I don't think it is, and this is "just" my opinion, too."

This might seem like an irrelevant nitpick, but Deepak Chopra's ignorance about science isn't a matter of opinion, it's a straight forward matter of fact. I suggest you check out the link Connie provided, and maybe these ones too--

He is ignorant of basic concepts of high school biology. It's not that he interprets information differently, or has a spiritual perspective, it's that he doesn't understand it.

If any other doctor displayed this kind of ignorance and stupidity, they'd be considered dangerous. But Chopra is "spiritual", so he gets a free pass to spread misunderstanding.

We don't know how many people have died in misery after failing to get proper treatment because they believed his unfounded fantasies about health. They of course don't make the press.

Maybe you might like to read this -

Hulda Clark, author of "The Cure for ALL Cancer" got cancer herself. Could she cure it?

And incidentally, Louise Hay, another of Oprah's success stories, took the precaution of not even having cancer before she "cured" it. How much suffering have these fake doctors caused?

Yakaru said...

PS, Lazy Vegan, when I read my comment back, it sounds much heavier than I intended. Any heaviness was aimed at making a general point, not aimed at you. All your other points, which I didn't comment on, I agree with.

Cosmic Connie said...

That's what I like about forums like this. We can disagree about some points and still be civil. Thank you, all.

mojo said...

Hey, Lazy Vegan et al--

This is a great discussion you've started, and I thank everyone for making such eloquent and thought-provoking points.

Yes, any idea can be abused and twisted and suited to fit the purposes of some folks who might not have other people's best interests at heart. And yes, this is true of any product or industry throughout time.

I came here originally because I was so utterly horrified and repulsed by the manufactured popularity of The Secret, I was searching for the very few voices in the wilderness crying against the juggernaut. (I'm not so much against the message of LOA itself--which I can take or leave (I view it as an anecdotal phenomenon that can't really be proven either way)--but rather the blatantly cynical re-branding of what I thought was a pretty common philosophy. The name "Secret" itself is an out-and-out LIE, for example--a marketing ploy to denote scarcity and exclusivity. I mean, jeez, I was learning LOA stuff when I was ten years old reading my grandparents' Claude Bristol books--it just wasn't called LOA back then! But I digress.)

One of the reasons I continue to come here is, if you haven't noticed already, behind the amusing snarkery, Connie's pretty darn fair. (I find the Droid actually is, too--he just hides it behind a lot more salt.) And one of the charming things that makes Connie so darned fair is, she'll publish just about any response, even those that rip her to shreds and call her all sorts of nasty names. Some of her correspondents have been nasty, nasty, nasty. And she'll do her best to answer them respectfully and honestly, which is a breath of fresh air in this increasingly polarized demonize-the-opposition sort of world.

I maintain it is this ability to embrace criticism and listen to opposing viewpoints that separates the Real McCoy from the many, many poseurs out there, regardless of the industry in question. Connie has documented--and I myself have witnessed, usually while following her links--countless times where, on some guru's forum or blog, uncomfortable questions are blipped out of existence, memberships are blocked and canceled, and people who don't *believe* are branded as "negative" or "jealous" or whatever. In my limited experience, such insularity and close-minded "groupthink" is almost always the hallmark of No Good, no matter what laudable ideas they are publicly promoting.

The "critical" part of critical thinking is not blanketly screaming "That sucks!"--which is what many folks critical of critical thinking (!) will have their followers believe. It's not being the Evil Destroyer or Art and Creativity and All That Brings Joy to the World. Far from it. It is critical in the sense of critical care in a hospital: life-giving, no less. Critical thinking can keep yourself alive by asking questions like, "Hmmmm--Do I really want to drink this Kool-aid Jim Jones is handing me?"

People are free to disagree, of course, but I maintain thinking about things, asking questions, disagreeing and back-and-forth is GOOD for the soul, good for the brain, and entertainment along the journey. And it's nice to see others who seem to think the same way... (Ahhh! Ahhh! Groupthink! Must.... resist...)

The Lazy Vegan said...

>Deepak Chopra's ignorance about science isn't a matter of opinion, it's a straight forward matter of fact.

Well, I confess I haven't read anything of Deepak's that could be construed in the least "medical" since "Quantum Healing" or "Ageless Body, Timeless Mind," really. I stand corrected. At one time, he was a pretty impressive endocronologist, and those books clearly demonstrated that grasp of then-current medical knowledge; so I was thinking back to those times and tomes when I said that.

By all appearances, it appears he's completely given up medical science to wander around in the ether completely unfettered, which is a shame. If he applied himself, he just might be able to make some inroads into just what could make alternative medicine (like Ayurveda) a complementary and sometimes superior option to allopathic medicine, which can be utterly barbaric in its so-called "treatment" of cancer and other diseases it doesn't really have an answer for.

The Lazy Vegan said...

>PS, Lazy Vegan, when I read my comment back, it sounds much heavier than I intended. Any heaviness was aimed at making a general point, not aimed at you.

I realized that, Yakaru; no offense taken at all.

>All your other points, which I didn't comment on, I agree with.

>Thank you!

The Lazy Vegan said...

>but rather the blatantly cynical re-branding of what I thought was a pretty common philosophy.

Yep, well, they wanted to jump on the bandwagon and get their $ while the gettin' was hot. (Never read or seen the Secret, BTW, and don't plan to.)

If you read around the various forums about LOA, one of the most popular at least 10 years or so ago was Abraham-Hicks (a la Esther Hicks [sorry Connie]). And "back then," LOA to me was a novel, truly exciting concept that really made sense to me and that I felt I could really understand and work with to just plain make life better. It's remained so.

Anyway, the point of saying that is that it was on one of these Abraham lists or forums that someone said, "Hey, you do know this isn't new, right? Go read X books (The Power of Positive Thinking was one I remember, by Norman Vincent Peale)." So for awhile, I read everything I could get my hands on that even hinted of that.

Anyway, there are those proprietary folks who want to pretend that *they* have all the answers or that they're the "wise" ones, but that usually doesn't last long. Fragile egos don't generally stand up to scrutiny. ;-) And if you're in that and you *do* just intend to take people for a ride ... as my brother says, "Karma's a bitch."

>Connie's pretty darn fair.

Agreed there.

mojo said...

Lazy Vegan wrote: Yep, well, they wanted to jump on the bandwagon and get their $ while the gettin' was hot. (Never read or seen the Secret, BTW, and don't plan to.)

Awww, you should try--for the entertainment and instructional value alone. If you can stand it, that is. It's rather like watching a slow-mo train wreck of narcissistic greed; kind of awesome in its tendrilly creepiness, very cynically (and, I think, cruelly) disguised as happy-happy-joy-joy. I just sat there with my mouth open for an hour and a half.

And until I found Connie's blog, it was like I was all alone in my horror. My immediate reaction was, "OMG, this is pig filth" and everyone around me was skipping through it, insisting it was chocolate. I ended up going back to watch it a couple of times, trying to parse what was going on. If you're curious how words and pictures are used to persuade people (like with advertising), or how a charismatic preacher very deliberately sucks in the flock (think Marjoe what's-his-name) it can be quite enlightening, though not in the intended way.

I tried to get my Favorite Husband to watch it, but he couldn't get halfway through before he left the room in disgust. He missed the last part, which I think is the BEST in a sheer stupidity sort of way--they just have each and every "teacher" quickly go through their drunk-a-log "rags to riches" stories, cut cut cut cut cut from one to the other to the other. It just goes on FOREVER. When you watch it, you realize every one of these hucksters uses the EXACT SAME SHTICK--"I was down and out, rock bottom, then I discovered this magical thing! My friends all laughed at me and tried to discourage me, but I believed and I persevered, and poof--now I'm a GAZILLIONAIRE!"

Which is, like, the oldest gimmick in the book. But apparently still very effective.

Cosmic Connie said...

In my continuing efforts to participate in this conversation, at least sporadically :-), I wanted to add a few more thoughts to the recent discussion among Mojo, Lazy Vegan (Kim) and Yakaru. Actually I have a lot of thoughts, which I may need to post in two or more parts if Blogger is doing its “character limitations” thing again.

I think the one point on which we're all pretty much in agreement here is the matter of personal choice/responsibility, which Kim has emphasized throughout her comments. While some might think she is overestimating self-help consumers’ rationality, and some might think that I am underestimating it, I think that we’re in agreement on the important points. In fact, the whole personal-choice thing is the one overriding factor preventing me from joining the camp that insists the self-help industry should be much more tightly regulated, and all of its practitioners licensed in something or other. I say, "No, no, and NO again." And this is where I part company somewhat with my pal John Curtis of Americans Against Self-Help Fraud; even though I think he’s doing a great job exposing the liars and crooks in the biz – and some of my fellow bloggers and I have done my part to help him in his efforts – I draw the line at more government intervention.

My opinion is that we do not need more laws and government agents deciding what authors can and cannot write (or deciding when and how we take our Vitamin C supplements, for that matter). We *do* need protection under existing laws when gurus do reckless things that result in deaths or injuries. We *do* need to be able to engage in open discussion and criticism of these gurus without their legal teams rattling their sabers in the background and hollering that every criticism is “actionable.” (Of course, critics must be responsible with their criticism and not hurl unfounded accusations at their targets.) What we do NOT need is to have our hands held by Big Brother, guiding our every decision.

As much as I snark about New-Wage gurus and some of their followers, in essence I agree with Kim that most people, in ordinary circumstances, are capable of making rational choices where self-help stuff is concerned. “All appearances to the contrary!” I hear some of you snort (and I’ve been one of those who snorted this)…but hear me out. The mere fact that a person buys a lot of self-help books or other products does not mean that she or he is a mindless member of the herd, just waiting to be marched into a death lodge. (I’ve never said or believed that, but I understand how some of my writings might be interpreted that way.) More than likely the person who buys the latest “seven breakthrough steps to whatever” product is simply an ordinary consumer – perhaps a compulsive buyer, but still within the realm of normal – who buys a product simply because of the buzz. Now, I realize and have even argued that self-help products are different in essence from most consumer products such as beer or perfume or automobiles, because the typical self-help product earnestly promises to make authentic improvements to your life and increase your happiness in one way or another. It makes these promises in such a way that many of us fall for it time and again – whereas most of us don’t literally believe that drinking a certain beer or wearing a certain fragrance will make a real difference in our lives.

[Oops! There's that character limitation thing...continued next comment]

Cosmic Connie said...

[continued from previous comment]

Even so, I think it’s possible that many consumers buy self-help products as much out of curiosity as out of some vague or specific desire to make their lives measurably better. My guess is that a lot of folks who are book lovers like me may compulsively buy a book when they see the author on TV or hear him/her on the radio. They'll thumb through the book, read the table of contents, the introduction and a couple of chapters, and then put it on their shelf to gather dust along with a few hundred others they've bought over the years in similar circumstances. But that doesn't mean that they take everything in it to heart or become a worshipful follower of the author – even though they may very well buy the author’s next book when they hear about it on “Good Morning America.”

As may be apparent by the above paragraph, especially to those who have read some of my other writing on this blog, I vacillate between thinking that overall, what I like to refer to as New-Wage/selfish-help/McSpirituality is basically harmless, and fearing that maybe I’ve underestimated its potential harmfulness. I’ve come right out and declared the latter on Steve Salerno’s SHAMblog on a recent discussion. Right now, with the James Ray “Sweatgate” tragedy looming over us, it’s much easier to see the potential harm in all of it. And yet I remain somewhat in the middle. I don’t think most of it is helpful, but I don’t think most of it is necessarily harmful. I certainly haven’t gone over to the “it’s all evil!” camp yet, and I don’t expect to. (Anyone who wants that can pay a visit to the Crack Emcee at The Macho Response blog. But be prepared….)

Besides my devotion to the principles of freedom of choice and personal responsibility, there’s another factor that keeps me marginally more moderate in my views re New-Wage, etc. It is simply this: I’ve taken heat from believers and skeptics alike. I’ve been on both sides of the issue. As Mojo mentioned, I’ve been torn apart on occasion, mostly by Secret fans or followers of some of the individual Secret “stars” who have been my snargets (snark targets. Hey, another word to add to our lexicon. :-)). But I’ve also gotten some flak from skeptics and critics of self-help. Most recently it happened on the above-mentioned SHAMblog. On Steve’s Oct. 26 post, he gave space to a guest columnist who recounted his experience with the LGAT scheme, The Landmark Forum (whose origins are in the infamous 1970s est). After suffering through the training, the former Landmark participant really only took away a couple of lessons worth retaining, most notably the importance of keeping one’s word.

As you’ll see if you read the column and the comments (and there are only five comments to date, so it won’t take that long), I briefly shared my own experiences in a similar LGAT, and said that my sole take-away lesson was pretty much the same as Steve’s guest blogger: the importance of keeping your word. I noted that I could have gotten the same advice from a book.

[to be concluded (finally!) in next comment]

Cosmic Connie said...

[continued from previous comment]

Then another commenter piped in: “What I wonder is why some of these commentators (and the author of the piece you published) need a seminar or book to get them to keep their word? It's like they're saying, ‘Oh, yeah, I should be responsible and do what I say I'm going to do. Wow! Great idea! You're a genius for thinking that one up, and you should market that concept. And then, if I PAY for your wisdom, maybe I'll follow through and be a better person.’ Seems you'd have to be somewhat of a cretin to need that advice in the first place, and somewhat infantile to need to have spent money being told to be trustworthy in order to do so. Didn't your parents already teach you that nugget?”

Naturally, I had a response to that.

I admit it did take me aback a little to be snarked like that (even though my name was not mentioned, it was clear that I was one of those targeted), especially since I thought it was pretty clear that I am not currently a self-help follower or fan of LGATs, and that the experience I shared happened long ago. As is the case with many if not most people who go to LGATs – at least for the first time– I had some problems in my life that I really wanted to work on. I had never tried anything remotely like the LGAT, preferring instead to drink my problems away in private, and going to a public event was a huge step for me. That it was ultimately ineffective I don’t blame on the LGAT, but I did learn a lot about self-help culture (and cultism) from that experience. In any case it was a bit annoying to be called cretinous and infantile by a drive-by commenter just because I tried to do something that at one time I thought might improve my life.

Then again, I snark about other people, so I should be able to get as good as I give. :-)

The point is that I know what it’s like to be a snarget. There was another incident early in 2007 where I took some heat for not being enough of a skeptic and critical thinker. (My guy Ron caught some flak too.) I wrote about it on my blog:
(BTW, I’ve since made peace with the main blogger in question. Besides, he wasn’t the one who was being abusive; it was some of his readers.)

Well, this comment has gone on long enough. So I’ll just add one more thing, for those of you who might be kind of new here and have seen mainly the snarkish side of my Whirled. Here are a couple of my “I just don’t know” pieces:
[Speaking of Deepak Chopra… :-)]

That’s it for now… I must hasten over to the “Russian wish-dolly” conversation. ;-)

PS ~ Mojo, if you think "The Secret" was painful, try watching "What The Bleep Do We Know?!?"

mojo said...

Hah! "What the Bleep!" Been there, done that, bought the magical Cafepress t-shirt. I'm pretty sure I saw it a few years before "The Secret", along with the Favorite Husband. We both tried to be open-minded about it (a lot of "Ummmm, okay, we'll defer discussing THAT until we hear them out"), but the howler about "The natives of North America couldn't see Columbus' ships at first because they couldn't perceive of a ship that big" just about KILLED us.

And that was before we were aware of all the Ramthra backstory, which just added to the fun.

I think it was around that time that you linked to physicist Gerard 't Hooft's Theoretical Physics page, a link I have bookmarked to this day:

Corey James said...

Its quite sad when these peoples ego gets to the point where all the money they have suckered off people is then spent putting out the fires. When it gets so big the cost of killing the flaming inferno does them in. What is the point in it all? And why did it happen in the first place? Probably because one mans greed spread like a cancer, it got fed by people foolishly giving a man admiration, and it fed his ego and overtook him to the point where he saw nothing other than the $'s and the good life he could have from it all. I think this is a brilliant lesson to anyone who gets involved with the personal development business. I also know for a fact that many people who once were genuinely involved in promoting it have turned their backs and almost decry it now. It has gone too far for too long.

The Lazy Vegan said...

>Awww, you should try--for the entertainment and instructional value alone. If you can stand it, that is. It's rather like watching a slow-mo train wreck of narcissistic greed

I told one acquaintance that if the Secret ever hit the bargain bin for $2.95, I might watch it just for the entertainment value. ;-) (She's one, BTW, who jumped on that bandwagon, briefly. However, she's now gone back to evangelical Christianity.)

>I was down and out, rock bottom, then I discovered this magical thing!

Yep. Every snake oil salesman in the book, pretty much, uses that to sell. That kind of hyped selling has always been a turnoff for me, though (and I expect for a lot of folks), so that's a reason for me *not* to buy, rather than the opposite.

Cosmic Connie said...

By the way, in homage to "Sweatgate," I just added two more verses to my "I've Gotta Find Me A Scam" lyric. (They appear just before the last verse.)

The Lazy Vegan said...

>We *do* need protection under existing laws when gurus do reckless things that result in deaths or injuries. We *do* need to be able to engage in open discussion and criticism of these gurus without their legal teams rattling their sabers in the background and hollering that every criticism is “actionable.” (Of course, critics must be responsible with their criticism and not hurl unfounded accusations at their targets.) What we do NOT need is to have our hands held by Big Brother, guiding our every decision.


I agree with you there, Connie.

>Now, I realize and have even argued that self-help products are different in essence from most consumer products such as beer or perfume or automobiles, because the typical self-help product earnestly promises to make authentic improvements to your life and increase your happiness in one way or another.


Well, but I'd like to address that, if I may. They not only *make* those promises, they deliver, when it's done right (IMO), unlike other products like, say, that new car that promises you'll suddenly be sexier if you buy it -- and before you jump all over me on that, hear me out, okay?

Here's what I mean by that. Some self-help folks such as those we've been talking about were charlatans from the beginning who just wanted to dupe people so that they could make money, doubtless. But I would wager that what is more probable for most of them is that they really *did* discover something that made sense to them and that worked for them, and they wanted to share it (and hey, make a little money at the same time, why not?), such as Steve Salerno is doing with his book.

And folks like me have benefited from that knowledge with the caveat that, as Mojo alluded, critical thinking should *always* be turned on so that we don't surrender so much to someone else that we can't even think for ourselves.

(Must continue this with another post; I'm getting "character limitation" messsages, again.)

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