Mar 15, 2011

James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 11

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

Beverley Bunn

As Tom Kelly's cross examination of Beverley Bunn continued today, he asked her, in her professional capacity as an orthodontist and Grand Canyon hiker, about heatstroke. (Later, on redirect, she explains that she's not really an expert on heat related illnesses and that it wasn't part of her training.)

He made the point that Ray had endorsed them from the beginning to "hydrate, hydrate, hydrate." Well, except for the vision quest. He'll concede point.

But James Ray definitely told them all about hydration on day one.

Kelly: You're in the desert, correct?

Bunn: We're in the hall.

Kelly: Remember, here's the question is, remember him saying, "I'm going to share some information with you. You're in the desert. You're going to be doing a lot of energy work. I think it takes about a gram of salt to hold three grams of water. Or it may be vice versa." [emphasis added]

So James Ray is very knowledgeable about hydration. And they were all issued with a backpack, water bottle, and salt.

Kelly went on to discuss how everyone was provided a microphone to state their intentions on their way to being paired up with a mentor. He begins repeating, if slightly paraphrasing, Bunn's words from that evening to her and asking her to affirm that they were in fact her statements.

Kelly: You said that you're a private person, correct? 

Bunn: Correct.

Kelly: Committed here, and we're talking about the Spiritual Warrior, to finding my purpose. My desire is to do it without giving my power away, correct?

Bunn: Correct.

. . .

Kelly: Committed to finding myself, being good to myself, and not allowing others' opinions, lifestyles, and comments bring me down, correct?

Bunn: Correct.

Kelly: I need to take care of myself the way that I take care of others, correct?

Bunn: Correct.

Kelly: And I'm implying there that as an orthodontist you take care of other people, correct?

Bunn: Correct.

Kelly: And perhaps in your personal life as well, correct?

Bunn: Correct.

Kelly: And then you say you will not allow him to manipulate me anymore. I will draw boundaries with men, correct?

Bunn: Yes.

. . .

Kelly: And, Dr. Bunn, it was after making that commitment that Mr. Ray said, something to effect, I wanna work with you directly, correct?

Bunn: He chose to be my mentor.

Kelly: Yes. So, most of these folks, when they stood up to state their intentions, would then be paired up with various Dream Team members, correct?

Bunn: Mr. Ray would make the choice of who would mentor them.

Kelly: But it would be with Dream Team members, correct?

Bunn: Correct.

Kelly: And in your situation you worked, uh, directly with Mr. Ray, correct?

Bunn: Correct.

Kelly: And you weren't the only person who worked directly with Mr. Ray, but you know for a fact that you paired up with him, correct?

Bunn: He paired up with me.

Kelly: Okay. Well, he didn't... Remember we had this whole discussion about freedom of choice, correct?

Bunn: I didn't choose him. He chose me.

Kelly: You chose to accept his decision, correct?

Bunn: After he chose me, I accepted his decision.

I find it interesting that the defense has taken to telling witnesses that they made their own choices instead of, you know, asking them... or accepting their answers when they say they didn't.

More than that, I find it very interesting that Ray's decision to mentor Bunn directly was, as I suspected, because she exposed a useful vulnerability. She is clearly wrestling with codependency and boundary issues, particularly with men. Yes. That is exactly what I'd suspected was the case.

She goes on to answer questions about the journaling. When Kelly insists that she was journaling about issues she identified as her personal issues and journaled them, she said that, no, the topic was her sexual history.

Bunn: That was what I was told to journal on.

Kelly: You just do everything you're told to do.

Bunn: Mr. Ray promised a life changing experience and I was told to do what I was, and I did so that I would actually obtain or achieve what was promised by Mr. Ray if I followed the rules and followed his instructions throughout the event that I probably could meet what my intentions were, find my purpose and have a life changing experience.

It went on like that, with Kelly insisting that everything she did was a free choice and Bunn insisting that she was doing what she was told to do. And it continued to backfire.

Kelly: So if Mr. Ray would have said, Dr. Bunn, You, with a doctoral degree and your own private practice in Dallas, Texas, I want you to climb up on the top of that mountain and dive off you would have done it. Is that your testimony, ma'am?

Bunn: [long pause] Mr. Ray's supposed to be an expert...

Kelly: It's a yes or no question. And I want this jury to know, if that's your interpretation of my client, that he could force you to climb up on top of a cliff and dive off head first, because that's what they said they should do at this seminar, would you have done it?

Bunn: And you're not gonna die.

Kelly: With a doctoral degree, would you have believed him that you were not gonna die, with your medical background?

Bunn: I didn't think I was gonna die in the sweat lodge.

Kelly also confronted her about her prior testimony on a woman who missed yoga. He read from a transcript. Bunn asked him to read from the transcript of when he found out who it was instead of the more generic passage he'd read. Kelly tried to press for a yes, no answer, but Bunn pointed out that this wasn't the passage she was referring to.

On redirect, a recording of this statement was played.

It's absolutely important and you gotta get started. You've played around for way too long. Now I'm not. She knows who I'm talkin' to. You haven't played full on yet. You were more out of the room than in the room at Practical Mysticism. You don't show up for yoga. That's a pattern. You're not seein' things through. And you're not doin' it in your life either. And if you wanna be successful at what you're tellin' me about you need to dig in right here. 'Cause you always show up as you. Play half-assed here, you're playin' half-assed in other areas of your life. So get started. You spent a lot of time and money to be here. Take advantage of it.

Bunn said she was never called out publicly like that. She became visibly emotional as she answered that it's something she would not have wanted to have happen. It took her a while to regain her composure after hearing the recording and sounded like she was choking back tears throughout several, fairly innocuous questions. I have to say, especially after reading the reveal that compelled Ray to work with her privately, that he knew exactly what buttons to push on this woman. And she's still very affected by hearing criticism by him, even it's criticism of someone else. That's my read, anyway.

In a particularly ugly chapter, Kelly tried to blame Bunn for failing to help Kirby Brown, by misstating where she was sitting at the time of Kirby's distress and invoking her credentials as a doctor. She pointed out that she was a orthodontist. I have to say that I don't think Kelly came off well here. He came across as being abusive to a grieving woman and misstating the facts as already presented in evidence. It was transparent because there were so many attempts by Bunn and the prosecutor to correct him on the testimony to which he was referring. Mostly he looked bad because she broke down in tears. And it made Ray look bad because he was in charge and he did far less. He could have stopped the ceremony. He didn't. So I don't really know what he'd hoped to accomplish. I know his job is to poke holes in her testimony but I think he really just made her look like a more sympathetic character.

Stephen Ray

With his impish, Pee Wee Herman, good looks, and gentle sincerity, Stephen Ray had my heart breaking by the end of his testimony.

Sheila Polk started her questioning by reading segments of the information packet that participants received at the beginning of the seminar. She read chunks of the text and I was struck, anew, by what meaningless doggerel it is. But at the same time it's pernicious. Just how pernicious became clear as Stephen Ray repeated the well-worn phrasing.

He shared, as if they were original ideas, that he took the seminar because he was looking forward to "pushing himself to the limit," "having breakthroughs," and "becoming more successful."

In cult studies, repeated buzz words are called "thought stopping" maxims or jargon. This was something the world saw in shocking detail when the Tom Cruise video went viral; with all his SPs (suppressive persons) and KSW (keep Scientology working).

As Polk read from the text, Stephen Ray nodded at the familiar ideas like a beloved catechism and proceeded to drop the same phrases repeatedly throughout his testimony.

But repetitiveness aside, the ideas Polk read for the court are painfully absurd. "It's well known in esoteric thought" that you must release at 51% of your black bags to achieve spiritual mastery, or words to that effect. I've been studying "esoteric thought" for most of my adult life and I've never even heard of black bags. Where have I been?

Most of the text is comprised of every conceivable way a person can say you're going to want to quit, but don't.

It explains that physical movement and stretching were necessary to clear cellular memory. This, of course, refers primarily to the morning yoga. Explicitly stated in the text: "This is not optional." Maybe that's where Bunn got the idea that it "wasn't optional." She does have unusually strong recall, after all.

Polk played a few of James Ray's recorded, lecture excerpts, starting with this one.

And this is a big one in the Toltec tradition. It is an awareness of an impending, who knows, death. (You've been following me on Twitter haven't you.) And awareness of impending death. You see most of us tend to live as if we have a contract to live forever. You don't. You don't. Not in this body and in this lifetime. Most of us act as if we have a contract to live forever. Well, I push the threshold a little bit farther later. I'll take that risk a little later. You know, I've got plenty of time. I'll do that when I'm a little bit older. No.

You know, the Toltecs state that death is over your left shoulder every single moment of every single day with its finger poised like this. And it's just ready to tap you out. Now see, in Western culture we don't wanna talk a lot about death. We think that's morbid or whatever. But see, this is a very, very powerful principle properly understood. Because if you understand that death is right here. Just ready. I mean it's fingers are like that close, just ready to tap you out. Then it means, man you gotta squeeze the juice out of this moment, right now. You gotta do everything. You gotta be bold. You gotta go for it. You gotta be big. Because this might be the last thing you ever do. Really a really cool way to live because as you see I mentioned to you earlier, the question in life is not whether you're gonna physically die. You are. The question is how did you live? Howe did you live? Did you live with tremendous bravado and gusto? Did you do the things that made you uncomfortable for the juice of it? Did you take the risk? Did you get on the edge? If you're aware that you've got about that much time left, then it makes life oh so precious. You with me?

Ancient Toltec teaching, huh? Calgon, take me away! So, according to the Toltecs, death wants us all to be Type T personalities?

As Psychologist Frank Farley of the University of Wisconsin tells it, many of the world's daredevils, doers and delinquents share a common personality, Type T (for thrill seeking). Whether scientists or criminals, mountain climbers or hot-dog skiers, says Farley, all are driven by temperament, and perhaps biology, to a life of constant stimulation and risk taking. Both the socially useful and the socially appalling Type Ts, he says, "are rejecting the strictures, the laws, the regulations — they are pursuing the unknown, the uncertain."

Ray's envisioning of the Toltecs is Castaneda on steroids. The whole "death over the left shoulder" thing is pure Castaneda and there is no evidence at all that it has anything to do with the actual Toltecs. But, Ray is a kind of Type T wannabe, pushing everybody's limits but his own. This is his own thing. He can't even blame Castaneda for this. But we can all blame Castaneda for the endless, tedious repetition of the word "impeccable."

Today's testimony also included the voice of James Shore from beyond the grave. S. Ray found Shore's statement very moving; he thought it was "beautiful." But the words are pure James Ray and Shore is repeating them by rote, like a homework assignment he's been forced to read. It starts, "I am Samurai James Shore." From there, it was just a lot variations on the many ways he was being impeccably impeccable with his impeccability.

Polk played another lecture excerpt of Ray's:

Impeccability and honor. Impeccability and honor. Is your word law? Are you playing full on or are you falling into the trap of indulging your ego... Now the question is, are going to be impeccable with that. Many people you know say that they want a better life but they're not willing to do what it takes.... Many of you made a lot of commitments... The true spiritual warrior is willing to do what it takes even when it's uncomfortable.... That's impeccability. When you say you're gonna do something you do it. If you're not sure, say you're not sure... Be honorable enough to honor your own commitments.

As Stephen Ray explains how he went through with events and tasks he didn't really want to do, the buzz words, or "thought stopping" phrasings start tumbling out of his mouth again.

He wrestled with the decision to shave his head. He was worried about what family and friends would think. But, in the end he chalked it up to an "unhealthy attachment" to how he looked and the hair went. He wanted to "play full on."

He didn't want to do the sweat lodge either. He'd done one before, elsewhere, and didn't care for the experience. He had felt claustrophobic. He was afraid to go into Ray's lodge, but he wanted to "play full on." He wanted to know where the fear was coming from and how it related to the "results in his life." So he did the sweat lodge that he knew from experience he'd hate because he wanted to "take himself to the next level." It was about "living a courageous life." He knew from Ray's introduction that he would feel like he was going to to die, but he knew he could "push through it."

He knew all references to "impending death" were metaphorical. Besides, he trusted that James Ray knew what he was doing. And he so admired Mr. Ray's "impeccable attention to detail."

Polk asked him, were your beliefs based on what Mr. Ray had taught you? "Yes."

By that point, this was painfully obvious.

He participated in the Samurai Game, the purpose of which was "to reveal how we show up in life"

During the game he participated in a competition where they were required to hold out their arms to either side while books were placed their hands. The objective was to see how long they could hold the weight. He found the experience "very powerful" and learned that he didn't have to be tricked by his mind into thinking he needed to drop those books and put his arms down. His physical endurance surpassed his limited thinking. That is, until he pulled a muscle in his shoulder and the books plopped on the floor. Then Mr. Ray directed him to die. He had to repeat it several times because the idea did not register at first. Then he died. Angels of death carried him somewhere and covered him with a blanket.

Polk asked him if anyone had addressed the injury to his shoulder. No. Neither God nor the angels of death tended to his wounds.

But Stephen Ray continued to "play full on." Was it optional? Everything is optional. It's a choice. He wanted to "test his limits." He wanted to see what he could learn about himself. He participated in every activity and followed all the rules. He took no food or water on the vision quest. He stayed within his medicine wheel until they came for him. He made his seven tobacco pouches. He wrote his own epitaph. He did every "optional" activity with gusto. But had he known there was a sweat lodge coming, would he have abstained from water for 36 hours? No, because he would have thought it was "stupid."

Well, he says he wouldn't have complied but there's really no way to know, now is there. He didn't know the sweat lodge would follow on the heels of the vision quest so there's no way to know how far he would have pushed his fealty to James Ray.

As it is, the sweat lodge did come and he "pushed through" his "threshold" and did it. He knew he wouldn't die because Ray had said, "You might feel like you're gonna die, but you're not."

When he entered the lodge,  he "was healthy." He wasn't feeling sick at all. But he didn't like the way everyone sat "uncomfortably close together." From the first blast of steam he felt like he "couldn't even breath." He was surprised at the level of heat and covered his face with his T-shirt. The first round felt like it was forever but he didn't feel the need to leave at the end of it. He became aware that some people were leaving. Greg one of Ray's employees left saying, "I have to get out of here."

But Ray tried to stop Greg saying, "You're more than that."

He recalls that James Ray "heavily encouraged" Greg to stay but Greg left anyway. The "encouragement" continued even after he was outside. "Honor your commitment," said Ray. So Greg did eventually come back in. Ray told him he would have to stay an "extra round" to be honorable.

Then Stephen Ray heard that someone had passed out and thought, "wow, someone's passed out already."

Ray said, "we'll get to them after the round is complete."

He was aware of several people being taken out. Like so many of the witnesses so far, Stephen Ray was convinced that you could only leave between rounds, when the flap was open. Even when Lou Caci "stumbled and fell into the rocks and seemed to burn himself," he's pretty sure he had to wait until the round was over to get out.

He recalled someone yelling about a heart attack, "I can't breath. I can't breath.... I feel like I'm having a heart attack." But he did not see Ray react. The rounds continued without interruption. Was he surprised? Well, yes. He was surprised that Ray wouldn't stop to take care of some of these people.

As the sweat lodge continued, it "simply got hotter." He thinks the number of rocks brought in increased in later rounds.

At some point Stephen Ray needed to get out. He thought it was towards the end of all the rounds, because he was counting rounds and the number seemed high. He can't remember what round it actually was.  He had "no real concept of time."

He felt himself getting weak and felt something was "really wrong, physically." "I gotta get outta here," he thought. But he heard, "You're more than that." He wasn't sure sure if it was Ray because others had adopted that particular thought stopping -- and sweat lodge exit stopping -- phrase. But in spite of all that, and even though it was during a round, he knew he had to get out. His self-preservation instincts had finally kicked in. "I felt like I was in serious trouble," he explained. He couldn't breath. He was really weak, a sensation he'd never felt before. He started crawling and feeling his way... but, then, he passed out.

Stephen Ray doesn't know long he was "in there roasting." The next thing he remembers was waking up in the hospital. He doesn't know how many days later he woke up. He thinks he was in intensive care. His tox screen was negative.

Why didn't he leave sooner? He felt like he was doing okay and he was just "hitting the wall" like when he was a long distance runner. He had regret over not completing some marathons on the past. He "trusted that I was in good hands... [Ray] wouldn't let me get hurt" He had seen things that made him question that? Seeing people carried out, concerned him. But he stuck out his "commitment" for as long as he could because, "I didn't want to be a failure.... I want to have a better life."

Stephen Ray has a few lingering effects: no sense of taste or smell, ringing in his ears that comes and goes, headaches, trouble sleeping, trouble with his thinking, and trouble recognizing people he knows. Sometimes he needs to hear the voice because the faces don't register.

So, Stephen Ray didn't like the sweat lodge. It was a little different from the previous one he'd hated. The ceremonial part was different; less chanting, more intention and looking inside yourself and healing. But the major difference? He could leave that one without anyone trying to stop him. Not said but implied, the other sweat lodge hadn't left him permanently harmed.

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 comment:

  1. Excellent commentary! I enjoy reading your take on things!


Opinions and ideas expressed in the comments on this page
belong the people who stated them. Management takes no
editorial responsibility for the content of public comments.