Mar 2, 2011

James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 2

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

Well, if I wanted to write about the Casey Anthony trial, I'd have plenty of fodder. Yes, infanticide makes better television than a killer sweat lodge. That probably goes without saying. Of course it may also be that in day 2 the James Ray trial is bogging down over issues like what is the best and least prejudicial way for the state to mark and display evidence. Pretty dry. I'm just disappointed at how little of yesterday's opening arguments are being shoehorned in during breaks in the Florida trial.

So far, between what I've been able to find in articles and what of the prosecution's opening argument I've been able to see when the Casey Anthony trial has been on breaks, I have grokked that the prosecutors intend to use Ray's own words to hang him. After audio of the 911 calls -- always disturbing -- prosecutor Sheila Polk played long excerpts from Ray's recorded speeches to his "spiritual warriors."

Much of it is repetitive and nonsensical gibberish. But even in these snippets there are some major red flags.

Welcome to spiritual warrior. Time is short. Time is short. If you're not going to die, it is. Some of you went to bed last night. That's okay. Time is short. Tick tok, tick tok, tick tok, tick tok. It's getting shorter. Better clean it up while you can. You don't have a lot of time left. A spiritual warrior. From the time they were born until the time they exited this particular lifetime, they were told and trained and prepared for the ultimate battle. It was their purpose. It's why you're here. So the battle is coming. That's why you're here. You didn't choose it. The choice has already been made. You were born and that's who you are. And between the time of birth to the exit in the final battle, the ultimate battle, you either live an honorable life, you live with impeccability, you devote yourself with 100% of every ounce of energy you have to the perfection of all that you are involved with, or you exit dishonorably. So the question is not whether or not you are going to physically die. You are. The question is how did you live? How did you live?

Notice here that he is building a sense of urgency; subtly raising the fear and threat level. He also seems to be getting in a dig at people who slept the night before. (???) Sleep deprivation is a hallmark of cult programming. Sleep deprived people are more suggestible. And, as we know, later on there was food and water deprivation; something else that will make people suggestible. I also find it interesting that in addition to fluids being made available in time for the sweat lodge, there has also been much mention of watermelon. Watermelon is full of electrolytes and great for hydration. It's also full of something else: sugar. Going from near starvation to sugar shock is another classic cult snapping device.

Just listen. I'm not asking for your agreement or disagreement right now. I'm just giving examples of what we do in our life. We say that things are good or bad, right or wrong, black or white. But the fact is, that's not the actual truth. And what I'm going to get you to, if you allow me to take you there. I can't do it for you, but I can show you the door, is I am literally going to facilitate your expansion and enlightenment this week. And I told the dream team yesterday when we met, I said this is the most the noble thing you could ever do because where else on the planet could you say that you spent five days accelerating people's enlightenment. [emphasis added] Really. Because the more, again, you source from actuality and you live into reality, sourcing from actuality, and then you act instead of react. You work from vision versus sight. The universe is at your disposal and you are unlimited. You're absolutely unlimited. And one of the main reasons you're not creating the results you want financially right now, relationally, mentally, physically, spiritually is this very thing. You have decreased your magnetism because you don't want to embrace the darkness within you.

Okay... actuality, reality, blah, blah, blah... But the statement that really jumped out at me was the one I've bolded above. Where else on the planet?! Seriously? A James Arthur Ray seminar is the only place in all the world where people can become enlightened?

We also practice altered states which are the only things that have been empirically demonstrated to evolve you onward and upward. Altered states.

Huh? How has "onward and upward" ever been empirically demonstrated. It's completely subjective and I would venture to say that there has never been a double blind study on what "evolves" people "onward and upward." Secondly, there has been very little research on altered states and most of it is in the margins of science. Which is not to say I doubt the validity. Rick Strassman's research on DMT comes to mind. But I think we can safely say that his criteria was not what evolved people onward and upward.

But I don't think Ray was experimenting with hallucinogens that week. I'm sure we would have heard by now if any 'shrooms or ayahuasca had been recovered along with his stash of steroids. The altered states I believe he was promising here had to do with holotropic breath work developed by Stan Grof. The Holotropic Mind was required material for the seminar. The problem is that according to Stan Grof, Ray is not certified in holotropic breath work.

For instance, did you know that Dr. Grof started a certification program for Facilitators through Grof Transpersonal Training? The purpose of this is to promote professional and ethical practices governing Holotropic Breath work. When Dr. Groff and his wife retired, the management of the company was taken up by Cary Sparks and her husband Tav. Interestingly enough, I spoke with Cary and she says James Ray is absolutely not certified in use of their techniques. This again raises questions about his training, education, and legitimacy to be practicing and combining these techniques.

While some of Dr. Grof’s early work could be considered controversial due to the use of LSD, he has complied with legal guidelines and discontinued study when the substance was outlawed. I asked Dr. Grof if he had ever had any charges of unethical use brought against him and he stated he had not. In fact, he had never even heard of James Ray before this disastrous retreat. Its funny how many experts in the various fields that James Ray has bastardized have never even heard of him.

The prosecutor also played audio recordings of the "Samurai Game." This was the game in which Ray played God, with the power over life and death. During this game, and throughout the vision quest that followed, no one was allowed to speak. Here is a description from ABC news.

On the fourth day of the event, the group played a game inspired by the Tom Cruise film, "The Last Samurai,'' in which Ray played the part of "God." He was dressed in a white robe. No one was permitted to speak with him. His staff played Angels of Death, in black lipstick and grim reaper costumes.

But in the courtroom, jurors got to hear Ray explain in his own words:

Once again, no one can talk to God for any reason, except a priest. And I... Am... God! (long pause) If you talk to God for any reason, you die.

. . .

If death comes upon you, there is only one noble way to die and that is you fall immediately to the floor wherever you are. And, of course, because you're dead, you cannot move a muscle... ever. You cannot open your eyes because you're dead. You cannot scratch your nose or shift your body in any way because you're dead.

Polk clarified that those who were "dead" were not only immobilized. They were not able to use the bathroom facilities or join the living for dinner.

After the game of life and death, the still silent participants moved directly into the next segment: the vision quest.

You'll be taken out in pitch darkness. You may have no flashlight. You may have no watch. You may have no cellphone or electronics of any kind. You can have no water, no food, or snacks. The only thing you might bring which is really not traditional but I'm taking it easy on you. [emphasis added] You can bring your sleeping bag, clothes that you have on your back, your journal and something to write with.

Notice that Ray, here, also conveys himself as a bestower of mercy and reprieve, when he's not actively trying to break people down with physically and emotionally humiliating experiences. I still can't think of a reason other than humiliation for the homelessness exercise that Colleen Conaway was participating in when she apparently committed suicide. It's hard to miss the parallels between that and the vision quest that followed Ray's imitation of a capricious God.

Polk explains that during the vision quest, participants were directed to draw a small circle for themselves in which they were to stay for 36 hours. This means, among other things, that even if they had to eliminate, it had to be in that small circle. One participant asked Ray if it would be better to play "full on" and not sleep and Ray said, yes:

Because, again, many great opportunities and experiences can be stole by sleep.

So here we have a perfect storm of food, water, and sleep deprivation. Of course for those who "died" in the Samurai game -- like Kirby Brown -- the period without food, water, or bathroom facilities was substantially longer than those 36 hours.

Again, In Session still has not played all of the opening arguments. I have seen some other of the excerpted statements by Ray in other coverage, and some of it is truly shocking. Here's a round-up:

Prescott Daily Courier:

"I've been in a lot of lodges before," Ray said on the tape, which Polk played for the 18-member jury, "but there's no lodge like my lodge.

"You will feel like you're going to die. I guarantee it."

AZ Family:

“You must surrender to survive,” Ray reportedly said.

AZ Central:

The sweat lodge was not the "weenie-ass lodge like everyone else," Ray told the group in those audiotapes.

Ray talked a lot about death, using it as a metaphor for personal growth.

Repeatedly, he said, "It's not a question of whether you're going to die. You are. The question is: How did you live?"

On Oct. 8, 2009, as he prepped the lodge participants - there were 49 clients and eight volunteer aides - he said, "You have to get to a point where you surrender, and it's OK to die."

It's not just that all the references to death, however metaphorical, sound ghoulish in retrospect. It's that he repeatedly tells people that although they will feel like they are dying, they aren't. Think about that for a minute. A leader in whom they'd placed their trust was telling them not to listen to their own bodies because their own senses would be lying to them -- that he knew better than their own survival instincts what was actually happening to them.

Opening argments for the defense were made by Luis Li. He attacked what he called "the State's adults can't choose theory," and argued that participants signed waivers and were there of their own free will. He made the point that some people did leave the sweat lodge and that some -- even a burn victim -- went back in. These things seem contradictory to me. Why did they go back in when they were ill and injured if not because they thought what was expected of them was that they "play full on?" According to the prosecutor, the burn victim was invited back in by Ray.

Another thing Li made clear, that I don't think helps the defense, is that there was a volunteer who was a nurse. He also admitted that she was not specifically put in place for that reason. She just happened to be a nurse. He also claimed that some volunteers were trained in CPR, but it's unclear at this time exactly how they were staged and used when things went to hell. Beverley Bunn, a participant, claims that Ray would not let her perform CPR on her dying friend Kirby Brown. And volunteers, like participants, would be free to leave at any time. They're volunteers, not employees. Why weren't people with health credentials hired if this was going to be so physically rigorous? And this argument could backfire for another reason. Why would Ray be so willing to depend on volunteers for such an important function? For the same reason that he expected people to continue with the sweat lodge. Because of their fealty to him.

Li compared the event to a marathon, saying that Ray "knew it was gonna be tough, like a marathon." Now that's a piece of information that could really backfire. Marathoners train for weeks, generally twelve, before a marathon. This was a five day event from which people left their ordinary lives in office jobs and the like. Some of them, including Kirby Brown, were quite active and fit but even the very fit train extensively for a marathon. And the night before a marathon, no athlete goes 36 (or more) hours without sleep, water, or food. Quite the contrary.

The defense also argued that it was not the heat that killed Kirby Brown, James Shore, and Liz Neuman, but that there may have been toxins in the wood or blankets, which were apparently stored in the same shed as rat poison. So they are disputing the official findings of heatstroke and hyperthermia.

I hope there will be fuller coverage on In Session in the coming months. It's shaping up to be a very interesting trial.

All information on the trial comes from news articles with provided links or live courtroom footage on TruTV's "In Session" or CNN's live feed. All quotes and paraphrased statements that are not linked to a source document are my best attempt to transcribe material from live broadcasts.

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