Mar 14, 2011

James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 10

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

James Arthur Ray "Just Standing There" in Court

Monday is not an actual trial day. It is a good day, however, to recap and catch up on testimony that wasn't aired last week... or was preempted on the live feed by the unfolding horror in Japan. Today In Session ran the rest of Beverley Bunn's direct questioning by prosecutor Bill Hughes and the very beginning of her cross examination by Tom Kelly.

Beverley Bunn appears to me to be traumatized. She struggles to maintain an icy control as she recounts events that still reduce her to trembling voice and tears. What I keep ruminating on as I watch her is that this was the woman who James Ray wanted to work with one on one. Something that she disclosed to the group the evening the seminar began was serious enough to demand the leader's personal attention. My hunch is that what Ray saw was a beautiful, intelligent, powerful woman with an Achilles heel; a gaping vulnerability that he could exploit. He proceeded to insult her, to hurl profanity at her, and to keep her on the kind of emotional roller-coaster any survivor of a cult or abusive marriage can relate to.

In the testimony aired today, Bunn continued to break down the course of events during the sweat lodge. In round six, all hell broke loose. Or, to use Beverley Bunn's words, everything "kinda went pretty crazy." Everyone was yelling. Someone was screaming "She's passed out. She's passed out." People started calling out each other's names. In other words, there was panic and mayhem. At the end of the round a woman was dragged, unconscious to the door and past Ray who completely ignored it. Even after she was dragged out, there was still panic and people yelling for one another. That got a reaction from Ray:

"Quiet down. Quiet down. I'm in charge here. Everyone needs to be quiet right now." And that's when we were told to not say anymore.

And that's when [unintelligible] said, again, "I can't get her to move. She's not moving. She's not breathing."

And he closed the door and he said, "The door is now closed. This round has now begun. And we'll deal with that at the end of this next round."

So a woman, who Bunn learned was Sidney Spencer, was out cold and not breathing... but it could wait.

After Ray's outburst, everyone was pretty quiet through the seventh round. And after the seventh round was over, despite Ray having said that he would "deal with that" at the end of the round, he never did inquire after Spencer's condition. He just took some extra time between the seventh and eighth round to "invite" everyone who had left to come back in.

After the end of the ceremony, Bunn helped move another unconscious, unresponsive woman out of the tent. In doing so, she passed a woman whom she recognized as roommate Kirby Brown. She described a gurgling noise coming from Brown.

Outside, orthodontist Bunn teamed up with Jean Armstrong, who she learned was also a doctor, and they began to react to what they were realizing were multiple medical emergencies. They tried to revive Sidney Spencer, who was hot to the touch but shivering, and completely unconscious. They pinched her skin, applied compresses and blankets, but she did not regain consciousness. Bunn then moved onto Stephen Ray, who was responsive but whose eyes were a mass of burst blood vessels. Both had mucus coming from the nose and mouth, as did others.

Bunn broke down as she recalled seeing, amidst the chaos, that her friend Kirby Brown was still inside the tent, unconscious but breathing, and lying next to James Shore.

There were no medical personnel, nothing but a tupperware container of basic first aid materials, and James Arthur Ray was still doing nothing to assist. She also knew of no medically trained personnel among the JRI staff. So, apparently, she also had no idea who the nurse was.

As Bunn took in more of the scene and realized how many people were in distress, she saw a Dream Team member named Aaron and asked him, "Is this normal? Is this normal? What goes on... I mean this is crazy. Do you understand that people are really in trouble here?" And he stood there "like a deer in headlights."

When she looked to the other side of the tent, people were performing CPR on James Shore and Kirby Brown. She offered multiple times to assist with CPR but was turned away by a Dream Team member.

Six to ten feet away from where Brown and Shore were receiving CPR was James Arthur Ray; "just standing there." Bunn describes staring at his face waiting for some reaction, but there was none.

Bunn also saw the woman who was having a fit, flailing, yelling out profanities, and calling out, "James Ray. James Ray."

So while people who paid to participate in a seminar jumped into service, drawing on their skills as doctors, nurses, and hair stylists, to try to save people's lives, James Arthur Ray just stood there.

As a medically trained orthodontist, and one-time Grand Canyon hiker, Bunn knew that there were concerns about people with medical conditions like high blood pressure, obesity, and other conditions in high heat environments. She also knew there were precautions about long-term exposure to heat in saunas, steam baths, and the like. (I had a similar thought last week and hit the google, but more on that later.) But Bunn swallowed her concern because she was there as a participant, not as a "rule maker." Like both Nell Wagoner and Jean Armstrong, Bunn had not been public about her medical credentials. She was not there in that capacity. She was there to get help, not to to work. She trusted in Ray's experience and purported study with "Native Indians." When asked why she had enough trust in Mr. Ray to ignore her own health and safety concerns, she explained:

I didn't question Mr. Ray at this time....You learn through the course of the week that you don't question Mr. Ray on anything. You do, you know what the rules are. He tells you what the rules are. Things are not optional. As you go through the week, you learn that [long pause] there's consequences or reprimand or something for you to be called out in front of all the people that you're there with if you question Mr. Ray or you don't do as he says or you don't play full on.

This is the kind of admission that evokes the findings of Stanley Milgram's research. Like so many of Ray's students, the subjects in the Milgram experiments were normal folks, some of them very accomplished and educated, and they ALL deferred to authority. And the more authority the clinician directing the research conveyed -- wearing a lab coat, holding a clip board, standing over the shoulder of the subject -- the more submissive they were and the more they were willing to do things that went against their own ethical make-up.

On cross, Tom Kelly tries to make the point that her testimony now is more comprehensive than in her previous interviews, including one with Shauna Williams. The implication is that her current testimony has been embellished by other press accounts. She responds that the finished article was edited down from a nearly two hour interview.

Kelly also whips out the waivers, once again, and presses her on having signed with knowledge of the "high risk" activities. When she points out that it lists the activities but does not include the phrasing "high risk" he blows right past her point and insists that as an orthodontist with a doctorate she knew what she was signing, she agrees. But the fact is, I have a pdf of the documents and the phrase "high risk" does not appear.

When asked if they were told throughout to "hydrate, hydrate, hydrate," she disagreed, pointing out that they could not hydrate when they had no food or water on the vision quest.

I think the defense's whole grown-ups who can make their own decisions tack is starting to backfire. When Kelly presses Bunn about how other people begged off of certain activities, she says she only learned about that later. He presses on. 

Kelly: I mean you're a educated, professional woman, who has a doctoral degree, and has been to a university, and runs a private business. You're capable of making your own decisions correct?

Bunn: I am

Kelly: And you made the decision to participate in the yoga activities in the morning.

Bunn: It wasn't optional.

When he tries to remind her that Liz Neuman opted out of the Holotropic Breathing (which James Ray isn't certified to teach) and the yoga, Bunn responds that she wasn't aware of Neuman's actions and points out that Neuman was a Dream Team assistant; not a participant.

But, yes, she made a choice to participate when some others did not.

Beverley Bunn is a highly educated, intelligent woman, who was very obviously intimidated by Ray's anger, his authority, and his role as a one on one facilitator in her process. She was a grown-up who wanted to "play full on."

Unlike Beverley Bunn, James Shore does not appear to have been terribly invested in James Ray... at least not emotionally. Cody Jones, friend of the late James Shore, spoke to In Session's Ryan Smith. He described James Shore as someone who had a passive interest in James Arthur Ray, but was not "a follower." He was interested in self-improvement and trying to quit smoking. (The irony.)

Shore called Jones a couple of days into the retreat and seemed disenchanted and "skeptical" of James Ray and of the kinds of exercises and teachings he was experiencing.

It is Jones's understanding that Shore had tried to cancel beforehand. He had paid for half up front but had reconsidered and tried to cancel and get a refund. He found that he could not do so. Rather than forfeit his down-payment, he went ahead with the seminar.

But like so many paying participants, James Shore jumped in and tried to help when events in the sweat lodge started to go awry. He rescued one unconscious woman, then returned to the sweat lodge to try to assist others. It is Jones's assessment, after speaking to Shore and learning his views on the proceedings, that he would not have returned to the sweat lodge for any reason other than his awareness that it was a "death trap." Said Jones:

I can't believe James Ray just stood there and watched everybody die and didn't do one thing to help anybody. Didn't participate in CPR, didn't assist with any participant to console them or help in any sort of way. He just stood there and watched.

In another segment today, Matthew James was interviewed, by In Session's Vinnie Politan, in his capacity as one of James Arthur Ray's former teachers. This was a training he did in Hawaiian Huna shamanism. His comments were very illuminating and echo concerns and observations that I and others have found disturbing; a focus on endurance rather than a deeper, more internal learning process.

Well, James Ray as a student would absorb the information, would be able to recall it with some pretty well, some good accuracy. But he also did begin to really push the boundaries, even as far back as before he was on The Secret... At one point, after having done a few trainings with us, we got word from the hotel where we conduct our trainings and we were told, again I probably wouldn't be able to confirm this, but it was enough for us to approach James Ray. We were told that he was beginning to add things and beginning to teach what we had shared with him from our Hawaiian Huna lineage. And he was adding things to it and almost creating a hybrid. And when we approached him and he said was gonna continue to do that, we cut all ties with him....

Well, there's a bunch of sacred ceremony, there are meditations, and all of these things are meant to be very calm, very safe. You know, ancient traditions, there's this safety. And it seems that people including James try to make it into endurance, try to make it into this pushing the boundaries. And according to some of the Hawaiians that worked at the hotel, he was adding alcohol into one of the meditations that we do. And when she approached us and said your student is doing this, we immediately contacted James.

So he was terminated as a student and the university even pressed the hotel to think about whether he should be staying there. He was not surprised by any of what he became aware of in terms of what James Ray was doing and was dismayed that he was using some of what they had taught him about Huna.

James goes on to describe how in their workshops they offer alternative activities for people who can't do some of the more rigorous events like hiking across the volcano. Says James:

It's not about pushing yourself past your limits. It's about finding that centeredness inside you. And I think as a trainer, when you don't have that, you try to push to the extreme and that's not what these teachings are about, whether it's native teachings or even modern teachings in psychology.

When he heard about the sweat lodge deaths, his heart went out to the victims and he thought "this was completely avoidable." He really saw Ray's "pattern of not finding the absolute beauty in the simplicity of some of these ceremonies" and how he really pushed the limits it even as a student.

Long story short, we can add Huna teachings to Holotropic Breathwork, on the growing list of things James Arthur Ray was not certified or authorized to teach.

So, as promised, back to the eternal waiver question:

The sweat lodge is described as having "sauna like" conditions. I've used a sauna or two. They're nowhere near has hot as what has been described in a James Arthur Ray not "weenie-ass" sweat lodge. But it occurred to me that I remember seeing warnings outside of saunas I've used for people with heart conditions and the like, so I did a little googling. I found a number of very similar warnings on sites that sell saunas. Here's an example from Wowshopper:

Caution: Sauna Tips And Warnings

The main risk of a sauna is staying in too long and fainting from overheating. People who are most susceptible to this are those with heart disease or who have been drinking alcohol. It really isn't a good idea to combine drinking with a sauna.

  • Don't drink alcohol, as it works as a depressant, where the blood is moving slowly and the nerve endings are literally shutting down, and counteracts the benefits of the sauna.
  • Older people need to avoid or limit their time in the sauna.
  • People with heart ailments or respiratory diseases need to avoid the sauna, and anyone with chronic ailments needs to check first with his or her doctor.
  • Don't eat prior to the sauna.
  • Avoid drug use and the sauna - tranquilizers, stimulants, and other prescribed drugs alter the body's metabolism and could produce dour effects in the heat.
  • If you experience dizziness, problems with breathing, or a general feeling of ill health, leave the sauna immediately.
  • If you do decide to use the sauna, start gradually. Stay in only as long as you are comfortable, increasing the time with each visit.

DISCLAIMER: If you are pregnant, have high blood pressure or heart disease, you'll want to be cautious and consult a doctor first before starting a steam therapy program. [All emphases added]

So a home goods retailer called Wowshopper offers more thorough health guidance than James Ray. And they offer it on the website before you buy it. That way you're not buying an unreturnable sauna and then finding out that there are some health risks.

And finally, Mel Gibson has reached a plea and will not do jail time... I'm watching way too much In Session courtroom broadcasting.

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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