Dec 13, 2009

The Secret, a Sweat Lodge, and STILL MORE Tragedy

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

If you missed the Nightline coverage of James Arthur Ray's sweat lodge gone wrong (originally covered here), it is available for viewing on the ABC website. I didn't think I could be more shocked and horrified by this story than I already was. I was wrong. Now we learn that there is a pattern of gross negligence on the part of this self-styled guru -- whose appearance in The Secret catapulted him to fame -- and his company JRI. The death toll is even greater than the three who died as a result of that abomination of a sweat lodge. An earlier death at a James Arthur Ray seminar has now come to light.

Colleen Conaway plunged to her death, an apparent suicide, during a bizarre exercise, in which people who paid thousands of dollars to JRI, were dressed up as homeless people, stripped of their money and identification, and dumped in downtown San Diego. No one interviewed seems to know quite what they were supposed to learn from this experiment, in abject poverty, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it wasn't compassion. I say this, in part, because so little compassion was extended to Colleen Conaway or her family. Just as would later occur with Liz Neuman, the third sweat lodge participant to die, the family was not notified, by JRI. Both Liz Neuman and Colleen Conaway spent time listed as Jane Does; one critically ill in a hospital and the other on a slab in the county morgue.

Colleen Conaway's family has asked the San Diego police department to reopen the investigation into the death.

The family wants to know what role Ray's event may have played in her death. Conaway's sister, Lynn Graham said, "It could have been brainwashing. He's been known for heavy-handed tactics. She went from someone excited about life to someone who was completely alone in a span of two days. You can't put people in such an emotional state and then just dump them."

. . .

One detail the family is concerned about is that the event bus picked up everybody, but left without Conaway. It would be seven hours before Ray's group reported her missing.

So James Arthur Ray, and his staff, left a bunch of people in downtown San Diego with no money or identification, dressed in rags, like some of the most vulnerable people in the population, and did not bother to notice that one was missing, for seven hours.

The portrait of Ray that emerges from this story is very unappealing. He comes across as self-absorbed, egomaniacal, and completely lacking in empathy. In the Nightline piece, former employee Melinda Martin describes his behavior during the sweat lodge debacle, which was so horrible that paramedics, when they were finally called, assumed it was a "mass suicide."

Martin said she wanted to call for help, but Ray's staffers told her no.

"They told me that that wasn't something that would be done, because in the past, 911 had been called, and James got very, very angry at the person who called 911, so that had already been quashed. So I was in the mode of taking care of people," she said.

. . .

Martin said that while people were being dragged out from the tent in front of him, Ray made no mention of stopping the ceremony. She said she was on the side of the tent when Ray exited the sweat lodge and saw the pandemonium outside.

"He came out, and he stretched his arms up, and everybody hosed him off, and he's like, 'Hey, thanks,'" Martin recalled. "I just stopped and I said, 'How can you walk out of there with all of these people are down and they're -- they looked near death, and you guys can walk out there looking like you just spent the day in the spa?' It was incredible to me."

. . .

As Martin performed CPR on a dying woman, she said her boss simply stared.

So, what does this have to do with The Secret, other than James Arthur Ray's association with the popular book and film? Unfortunately, I think the mindset encouraged by The Secret sets the stage for such tragedy, for a number of reasons. The Secret encourages denial of negative experiences and focus on only "the positive." This can cause us to miss crucial, red flags like, say, people begging for water, and so delirious that they are wandering into red, hot coals.

More to the point, The Secret indulges the ego. Again, I want to be very clear that I'm talking about The Secret, not necessarily Science of Mind or similar disciplines, of which The Secret is derivative. In most of these disciplines we learn that when we are stating intention, we must caveat that it be "for the highest good of all." Shakti Gawain, for instance, teaches this phrase:

This, or something better, now manifests for me in totally satisfying and harmonious ways, for the highest good of all concerned.

If such a caveat was referenced in The Secret, I don't recall it. Any such concept, if even mentioned, was dwarfed by the relentlessly consumerist focus. It's all about what we want, want, want, and satisfying the impulses of the ego. In The Secret, we learn from Joe Vitale, that the universe is a great big catalog where we can order up the experiences, relationships, and "products" we desire.

In her November 25 broadcast, on the subject of gratitude, Christina Pratt discussed the Quechua concept of Ayni; a philosophy and practice in which we recognize the interconnectedness of all life. There is no way I can do justice to her entire explanation, and I highly recommend downloading the podcast, but I will attempt to transcribe her explanation of the contrast between pop new age techniques for manifestation, and a shamanic practice of manifesting in "right relationship" with the world.

One of the things I see, in a more, I don't know... new age, for lack of a better word, kind of practice today, where people are busily focusing their intention to manifest what they want... Well, the problem with that is there is no conversation with your soul and spirit in that, because most of us identify with ourselves from an ego/personality place. And that all we're doing is using spiritual principles of intention and focus and prayer and manifestation, to make manifest what we want. What if what you want would bring the downfall of mankind, in 10 generations? Would you maybe change what you want right now?... This is what I mean by using shamanic skills to make better quality decisions.... So that when we start to use these powers of manifestation and focus and prayer, that we're doing it in a way that has taken our place in the fabric of everything into consideration. So we're doing it from a place of all the spiritual principles; not just that one single spiritual principle that you can manifest your destiny -- that you can manifest whatever you want. I mean that by itself is grossly dangerous.

For all his use of native practices, I doubt highly that James Arthur Ray was very focused on how his work would reverberate, in the world, for future generations. He remained completely oblivious to how it was affecting participants, in the here and now, when their lives were imperiled. He did not consider how their families would be affected by being left in the dark as they died. That none of this demonstrated "right relationship" with the world, is fairly obvious.

Such tragedies occur when we are so invested in our egos that we think the universe is here to serve us, like a great big catalog of riches, rather than considering how we serve the universe, by bringing our light into the world.

In general, I think the idea of using the so called "law of attraction" to manifest, demonstrates a shallow understanding of the universe. I've explained fairly thoroughly why I think that. But, The Secret is the shallowest of the shallow. It requires no application of universal principles to manifest what you want if you're driven, ruthless, ego-centered, and are willing sacrifice people along the way. People have been manifesting their wants that way from time immemorial, and look at where it's gotten us. James Arthur Ray has amassed a lot of wealth, and according to numerous accounts, he has done so through the application of incredible arrogance. No one can avoid "attracting" that dark reflection, of our shadow nature. There are consequences to everything. James Arthur Ray may soon be coming face to face with exactly what he's manifested.


  1. On twitter, someone has turned up a tweet by a James Ray employee who twitted that he *saw* Colleen commit suicide. Yet JRI pretended that they didn't know about this till hours later. very very fishy. Check it out:

  2. Thanks for the info, hotmudbath. It looks like this Greg Hartle did not realize it was one of the seminar participants. Still, if you knew you had a bunch of people wandering around the downtown with no money or identification, that your organization was responsible for, and you saw that something horrible had happened, wouldn't you check to see that none of your charges were involved, or in danger? It just seems like none of these people had any sense of awareness that they were putting people in potentially dangerous situations. It's just remarkable carelessness.

  3. I'm so happy that I finally found someone saying real words of integrity about The Secret.


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