Mar 11, 2011

James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 9

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

Beverley Bunn

When prosecutor Bill Hughes interviewed Beverley Bunn today, he touched on the issue that has been bothering me regarding the waivers. That is to say, he asked her when she had paid for the event and when she received the packet containing the waivers. Indeed, she had paid months before obtaining the information packet; half up front at another event and the second half about a month later. My point: If she had looked at that waiver and had a sudden concern for her health, that money would have been forfeit. Asked if she knew when she registered what the events were going to be she said, "No." The brochure had pictures of people hiking and the details were left deliberately vague, "'Cause they told you that they didn't want to disclose any of it because they didn't want ruin any of it for you." She did not know at the time she paid that there would be a sweat lodge. She only learned that there would be a sweat lodge a few hours before the sweat lodge.

It occurs to me that telling participants that they didn't want to disclose too much about the activities beforehand could have had the effect of discouraging them from looking too closely at the waiver and ruining those surprises for themselves.

She signed the waiver when she arrived. She was late and she was rushed through the signing process and told get into the dining hall so as not to miss dinner.

Some of the most painful moments in Bunn's testimony came when she was asked about shaving her head. As Jennifer Haley, hair styling expert, said in her testimony, shaving off all your hair, especially for a woman, is emotionally challenging. And, not for nothin,' but I think that was the reason Ray wanted them to do it. That becomes clear in some of the statements Bunn ascribes to Ray regarding shaving, who she said always encouraged them to shave. Said Ray, "Are you hiding behind your hair?... Does that have to prove your identity 'cause you really need to know who you are on the inside; not just the outside."

"I struggled with the decision all week," said Bunn. She had long talks with Kirby Brown who had done it on Monday. Ultimately, she made the decision to shave off all her hair an hour before going into the sweat lodge. In this part of her testimony, Bunn became visibly uncomfortable and looked several times like she was struggling to keep from crying.

Hughes: Do you recall why you finally made the decision to shave your head?

Bunn: [Long emotional pause and looking as if she might cry] Because it was part of playing full on. And I didn't want to be perceived as a person that wasn't fully participating in the event.

Hughes: Was playing full on a component of spiritual warrior?

Bunn: Yes.

Hughes: Can you tell us to what extent it was a component of spiritual warrior?

Bunn: It was every component. It was, you had to meet or exceed all the rules and regulations that James was telling us to do every day.

Hughes: Doctor, after you shaved your head did you have a conversation with Mr. Ray about that.

Bunn: No. I had a conversation prior to. I had a conversation on Tuesday with Mr. Ray about shaving my head. Mr. Ray had asked me during the course of the week to work directly with him.

. . .

Hughes: Did you have a conversation with Mr. Ray about shaving your head.

Bunn: I did.

Hughes: Can you tell us what day if your remember that conversation took place.

Bunn: Tuesday.

Hughes: And what did Mr. Ray say to you? [Bunn again looks as if she might cry and doesn't answer.] What was the conversation.

Bunn: I don't give a fuck what you do. [fighting back tears] Shave your head. Don't shave your head. Doesn't really matter. [emphasis added]

Hughes: Was that something Mr. Ray told you?

Bunn: Specifically to me.

Bunn was told by Ray, on the first night, that she needed to work with him directly instead of one of the Dream Team volunteers. At first she thought it would be helpful but then found herself on something of an emotional roller-coaster because there was a lot of what she called a "tough love situation,"

She also described the "recapitulation" journaling in which people were supposed to, basically, take an inventory of their issues, "black bags," and limiting beliefs. There was also an intense focus on sexual history. Said Bunn:

We were told to write about how we learned about sex, every sexual experience that we'd had, um, every person that we'd had sex with and how that made us feel and...

The defense objected at that point, as to "relevance."

Ray told them to do the writing "all night long... every night." When asked about sleep, Bunn recalled, "He told us right at the, from the beginning that we could sleep next week." She says she got 3-4 hours of sleep per night.

On the Samurai Game, Bunn testified that Ray reviewed the game, after vision quest, three or four hours before going into the sweat lodge:

He was so appalled and had never seen a group of people play the game worse than us.... We were so worried about dying that we forgot to live. All of us had died.... No matter how you played you died.... And then our assignment was after that is to write I'm not sure if it's your obituary or your eulogy as to what would be said about you, um, as the kind of person that you were pertaining to how you played the game.

That seems like kind of a demoralizing thing to hear after 36 hours without food and water and right before going into a fiery inferno.

Ray told participants that the sweat lodge was the "pinnacle event." He also introduced them to the fire keeper who was heating the rocks. He said this man had informed him that this was the hottest fire ever and that the rocks were hotter than any other year. So it was hot. Bunn says that as the sweat lodge progressed the heat level increased to the point that "there was no relief." There was no fresh air, even when the flap was opened.

Bunn heard Ray say many times during the sweat lodge, "You're better than this. You're stronger than this." But after round four, Bunn started to doubt her strength and betterness and began to crawl on hands and knees towards the door. She had reached the point at which she was concerned about even having the strength to crawl out.

Hughes: Do you recall if the defendant said anything to you as you crawled towards the door?

Bunn: I do.

Hughes:What did Mr. Ray say to as you did that?

Bunn: He said, "Beverley, especially you are stronger than this and you know you can get through this and you can endure this. It's mind over matter." [emphasis added]

. . .

Hughes: Could you see the light outside at that point?

Bunn: Yes.

Hughes: And what did you do when Mr. Ray told you that?

Bunn: I made a decision to stay and I crawled to the west side of the tent.

Hughes: Would you tell us why you made the decision to stay?

Bunn: [long painful pause] I felt that I had a lot of stuff that I was dealing with and trying to get over and maybe it would a bit to get through it and Mr. Ray obviously knows better than I do... Having been through these sweat lodges before. And I specifically was working with Mr. Ray throughout the whole entire week so maybe he knew I needed a little more help or I needed to stay there a little bit longer and I also didn't want to let him down.

Bunn also gave a somewhat different version of events regarding the person who crawled out from under the tent wall when the light came in, which has previously been discussed as having been misinterpreted as a flashlight. She describes the man who rolled out as yelling, "I can't take it. I can't take it. I have to get out of here. I can't take it anymore," before lifting the flap and got out.

Bunn: Mr. Ray seemed confused about it because he said, "Where's the light coming from? Where's the light coming from?" And at that point in time someone said that you know that the flap is up at the back and I don't know if someone thought there was a flashlight or something in there, I'm not quite sure, but he said what was going on and then someone said somebody just went out the back of the tent. And then Mr. Ray poked his head out the door and said, "Close the back of the tent. Close the back of the tent." And then he also started reprimanding everybody, "Understand that that was a sacrilegious act that has just taken place. That you know you are supposed to come and go from this door when this door is open and only when this door is open. [emphasis added] And you must exit and enter through, in this tent, only through this door and go only in a clockwise direction." And those were specific directions that were yelled out to us at that time.

Hughes: How did that make you feel?

Bunn: That I pretty much knew what the rules were at that time.

There were many attempts from the prosecutor to ask Bunn what Ray's views on following his rules were but there were many objections from the defense.

Ray apparently told a man who needed to "relieve himself" to do what he could do right there, which seems to mean that he gave a man permission to urinate inside the sweat lodge. So rolling out from under a the tent wall was a sacrilege but pissing on the floor, not so much.

I hope they run the rest of her testimony on Monday because the CNN feeds were taken up for almost the entire day with this Japan quake and resulting tsunamis... as well they should have been.

A traditional sweat lodge is not an endurance challenge. This very important point was finally made by the In Session talking heads, a number of whom participated in a sweat lodge themselves, on camera, to gain insight into this case. I was not optimistic when they first started showing footage of the event, because for me these ceremonies are so sacred and so meaningful that when they are turned into pop phenomena it turns my stomach. Here, I'm not talking about sweats, specifically, with which I've had limited experience, but with Native American and other non-traditional rituals and ceremonies across the board. Television venues tend to cheapen these experiences to a degree that is painful for me to watch. And some of the discussion of their experience, I've found cloying.

Today, however, I really listened to their discussion and I have to say that a number of them seem to have been very affected by the experience. Ryan Smith, in particular really lights up whenever the subject comes up. But today, I was glad to hear that they've actually started to talk about, not only the difference in heat and duration between their experience and what is being testified to by witnesses, but the difference in tone and intention. They seem to be grokking the difference between the idea of opening up to spirit and powering through a challenge. They heard the difference between what they were told and what James Ray said in his 45 minute introduction to the event, which was played the other day in court. (The Salty Droid has that posted in its entirety: Death Ray Lodge 101-103) Christi Paul recognized the difference between a test of "endurance" and having an "experience." Good for you, Christi Paul. Yes, there is a big difference. And I have never heard of a sweat lodge being presented as an endurance challenge, ever. But my husband pointed out to me today that he has... exactly once. And it was in a very bad movie called Best of the Best 2.

Landham says that he’s one of three people in the world that can teach our boys to defeat Brakus. The fact that this is mentioned without explanation of why there are three people with this knowledge or who the other two are is an example of how god damn spectacular this movie is. I love it. Anyway, the point is there are training montages, stick fighting, and a sweat lodge scene where Landham guilts Roberts into not giving up by saying “Brakus would stay.” I’d like that to become a common saying to try to pressure somebody to stay out late or whatever. Or those guys on the street who are always trying to get me to stop and talk to them about saving the children or the environment, if they said “Brakus would stay” I’d have no choice but to listen to their shpiel.

How much you wanna bet James Arthur Ray -- warrior/martial artist wannabe -- saw that movie?

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.


  1. The author Henry Miller said, "No man is great enough or wise enough for us to surrender our destiny to. The only way in which anyone can lead us, is to restore to us our belief in our own guidance." In the search for enlightenment these people gave up their belief in their own inner guidance and their personal power to a man who was no wiser or enlightened than they themselves. And some paid dearly for this mistake. Worrying more about what Ray and the others thought of them was more important than listening to their own inner guidance.

  2. I've never been a Henry Miller fan but that's a great quote. And it's always alarmed me how many spiritual teachers will conflate surrender to spirit with surrender to their guidance and doing whatever it is they want you to do.

  3. to arvel: You are so right. I hadn't heard that quote. Thanks.


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