Jun 7, 2011

Oprah, James Ray, and the Cult of Victim Blame

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

A link to this bit of sheer insanity was posted on Connie Joy's Facebook page the other day. Someone called patharding riffed on Oprah's commentary from her sign-off as follows:

Posted on May 27, 2011 5:40 PM

I'm curious what you people think of this:

“Time and again the theme that kept showing itself in our early
years on the show was PEOPLE MAKING BAD CHOICES…and then blaming
everybody but themselves for the state of their lives…”

“Nobody but YOU is responsible for YOUR LIFE! It doesn’t matter what
your momma did. It doesn’t matter what your daddy didn’t do. YOU are
responsible for YOUR LIFE!…”

“…you are responsible for the energy that you create for yourself
and you are responsible for the energy that you bring to others.”

–Oprah Winfrey (from her final show)


I just had to share this from my personal recording of the final
Oprah Winfrey show because of how it applies to the James Arthur Ray
trial. Those people knew beforehand that the 2009 warrior workshop was
going to be tough. THAT’S WHAT THEY PAID FOR!!! If they read the
liability waiver, sent to them beforehand, THEY KNEW that there very
well may be a sweat lodge involved. If they didn’t read the liability
waiver before they signed it THEY ARE RESPONSIBLE for not reading what
they signed before they signed the liability waiver, NOT MR. RAY!!!

Those people who went back into the sweat lodge when they KNEW they
could not handle it have no one else to blame besides themselves for
whatever bad things may have happened as a result. If I was there, went
into the sweat lodge and felt I could not properly breathe it would
have been MY RESPONSIBILITY to get out of that sweat lodge and STAY

To echo and paraphrase the words of Oprah Winfrey, on her last show:
Certain people at the 2009 Sedona Warrior Workshop made bad choices and
want to blame others for the the state of their lives as a result of
those bad choices

Nobody but YOU is responsible for YOUR LIFE! It doesn’t matter what
your momma did. It doesn’t matter what your daddy didn’t do. IT DOESN’T

YOU are responsible for YOUR LIFE!…”

A just court of law will force you adults to take responsibility for
your actions at that workshop. Liz, Kirby & James Shore should have
told people they needed help. Instead they said they were fine and paid
for that lie with their lives. THEY HAD NO ONE TO BLAME BUT THEMSELVES


Get it? Probably not

Oh well….

It can be easily proven that the 2009 Angel Valley sweat lodge was
NOT A SAFE STRUCTURE!!! James Arthur Ray had nothing whatsoever to do
with the construction of the 2009 Angel Valley sweat lodge. If you want
someone to pay for those three deaths then go after the real culprits:


So James Arthur Ray is not responsible for the deaths in the sweat lodge he conducted because James Shore, Kirby Brown, and Liz Neuman were responsible for their own lives. Yet, somehow, Angel Valley is responsible for the whole fiasco. Get it? You're responsible for your own death even if someone deprives you of food and water for more than a day and then super-heats you into delirium. But you're not responsible if the structure is bad. So poor tent architecture is now the single exception to the "YOU are responsible for YOUR LIFE!!!" meme.

The dizzying illogic and internal contradictions of patharding's comment are their own fascinating study. Such cognitive dissonance is not atypical of "law of attraction" true believers I've encountered. But I don't want to take a lot of time examining the thought patterns of someone who is most likely Lee Kuan under one of many pseudonyms. Kuan is well known amongst followers of James Ray's catastrophic fall from grace. Were I James Ray, I'd probably think long and hard about Stephen King's Misery when it comes to some of these hardcore fans.

I think this merits discussion because it's Oprah herself who puts this sort of insanity in play with woefully irresponsible commentary like the above. I didn't watch her sign-off show. I haven't watched Oprah in years. I lost interest in the format after years of job-related immersion in it. Mostly I lost interest in sound-bite answers to complex questions and, sadly, that's Oprah's stock in trade.

I'm happy for Oprah that she managed to put the poverty, racism, and abuse, that marked her early years, more or less, behind her. I'm happy for her that she made peace with all that and created a spectacular life for herself. But to suggest that the sort dimestore psychology she dispensed on her show should put such issues to rest for everybody else is vanity.

Hey, you bunch of losers! It's not about what your momma, or your daddy, or your priest, or that IED did, that left you emotionally and/or physically damaged. Buck up. Suck up. And read The Secret.

Whether Oprah realizes it or not, she's propounding a kind of Social Darwinism. It's a common trope. People can achieve whatever they want against all socio-economic odds. Just look at this exceptional, poor, black person who rose from poverty and became a multimillionaire! Now just never you mind that people in positions of power are, to this day, disproportionately white, male, and affluent. You can do anything, I tell you. Anything! And if you can't, you have no one and nothing to blame but yourself.

It's a very convenient way to excuse any form of social injustice. And it's an equally convenient way to excuse horrific abuses at the microcosmic level. In the case raised by Lee Kuan/patharding's post, James Arthur Ray. But it's not just Ray's apparently loony fan. It's an attitude that's been echoed across the media (see In Session), the public discourse and, more to the point, by Ray's attorneys.

Defense attorney Thomas Kelly repeatedly clashed with participants over whether they were free to leave. Some agreed they were, but jurors also heard extensive testimony from others who said they felt obligated or even bullied to stay. Nearly all said they had trusted Ray's assurances that they could make it through all the rounds.

There's a central, if somewhat philosophical, question raised by this trial about the nature of free will itself. Is a man free if he doesn't know or understand that he is free? And there are more germane questions about how free a person is under various forms of mental manipulation. Witness after witness has testified that to this day they don't really understand why they didn't leave. Most pointedly was Dennis Mehravar, who admitted that he probably would not have saved a dying Luis Li because it might have upset Mr. Ray.

Over and over defense attorneys have cajoled and lectured witnesses about their free will and extracted some concession that, yes, they could have left... even if they were still baffled, even tortured, by their own inexplicable inaction. They have brandished those concession trophies in court with other witnesses and even, in legal arguments before Judge Darrow. Laura Tucker said she wasn't in a cult. Therefore, no one was manipulated by Ray, reasoned Li.

The members of Heaven's Gate also scoffed at the idea that they were victims of cult brainwashing, as Glnody did in her "exit statement."

Many humans assume that if you live privately and do not put down roots, then you must have something to hide -- like a drug dealer or other criminal, or might be, at the very least, a part of a "dangerous cult."

As Steven Hassan points out in Releasing the Bonds, members of that group all proclaimed some version of having freely chosen their deaths in a mass suicide.

Members of the Heaven's Gate cult took turns making video-taped farewell statements that explained why they had decided to leave their "vehicles" behind and commit suicide. All of them claimed that they were exercising their own free will, and that they were happy to perform this radical act of dying.

When former member Steven Hill spoke to the Washington Post, his version of events spoke to the time and distance from his immersion in Applewhite's teachings.

The story Steven Hill tells of life inside Heaven's Gate has little in common with the serene testimonials of other former cult members. Hill offers no assurances that the tidy suicides were acts of enlightened free will. He does not believe the departed have reached a Mother Ship. The cheery "farewell video" sickens him.

Although Hill says he feels some responsibility for bringing Yvonne McCurdy-Hill with him into the orbit of cult leader Marshall Herff Applewhite, he maintains that she was ushered to her death by a self-styled messiah he had come to recognize as "a cold, calculating, manipulating" hypocrite.

. . .

Dependence on the cult was total. "There was choice to leave," Hill says. "But there was a lot of pressure" to stay.

A "choice to leave" but "a lot of pressure" to stay... Sound familiar? It should to anyone who's been following the James Ray sweat lodge trial.

I'm not saying that James Ray and his students constitute a full-blown cult like Heaven's Gate, or Hare Krishna, or the Moonies. But the similarities should make us all a little nervous about the influence of charismatic leaders, from the religious to the political, and the very nature of our "freedoms." I'm also not saying that such manipulation is or should be illegal. There are definitely "slippery slope" issues raised regarding the free speech and freedom of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment. Moral culpability and legal culpability are sometimes, necessarily, quite different. (Personally, I think Ray is legally responsible for far more pragmatic reasons some of which will probably be hashed out today in court as the defense argues for a directed verdict. Here are the defense's request and the prosecution's response.)

Increasingly, here in the United States, our "freedom" has been equated not with our right to have a free mind but with our "God-given right" to buy stuff. We are strongly influenced by politicians and advertisers alike. How dare anyone try to interfere with our right to buy gas guzzling SUVs and take out variable rate mortgages on more house than we can afford?! Now, take a good hard look at your credit card bills and ask yourself, am I free?

James Ray pitched his events as "investments" in themselves and told participants that such "investing" in themselves was good even if it meant maxing out their credit cards. In keeping with the central message of The Secret, he assured people that the state of the economy wouldn't affect them if they just got their thinking in order. And, as Connie Joy explained in her recent interview, he persuaded people to rack up massive debt just as every economic indicator was heading south. Strangely, despite their investiture in Ray's teachings, many of them now find themselves under water.

True believers in The Secret would tell you it's still their own fault because they're just not doing it right and they need to buy still more of their products and lectures to perfect their ability to press the universe into their service.

The message we get over and over from adherents of The Secret and similarly simplistic spiritual teachings is that YOU created YOUR problems with YOUR thoughts. You, you, you... It's a road map to distancing ourselves from the problems of the world and from the attendant responsibility. All those bad things that happen to other people? THEY created it. I don't need to worry about any of it because I know how to control my own thoughts and my own reality. See ya later, suckas!

As Christina Pratt explained in an episode of Why Shamanism Now? devoted to The Secret, this completely misses the point. We're not all just creating our own, individual, discrete reality. We are part of a collective reality that we are constantly co-creating. She calls this "the big dream." Says Pratt:

Do not think that you can use this idea that we are dreaming our reality to bludgeon other people who are suffering. In other words, if there is a drought-ridden country somewhere, you can't just go, "Oh well those people dreamt up that drought." Not only is that, um, ignorant, and not remotely compassionate, but you're missing the point, entirely, which is that we are dreaming. We, the entire family of humanity is dreaming life as we know it. And so the drought over there is most likely the manifestation of a dream that is dreaming excess somewhere else. That the dream -- because, we are never not dreaming -- but we have not been trained the responsibility of being a dreamer. We've not been trained to dream well; to dream with maturity for easily, oh, two thousand years or more. And so, consequently, we are dreaming constantly pollution, toxicity, excess, deficiency, and what results then in disease in our human lives into the dream. Because we are not disciplined, we are not even aware, that we, every moment, we are contributing to the dream. And so The Secret says, you know, every moment you're manifesting your life. Well, yes, you are. Every moment you're also manifesting mine and I'm manifesting yours.

Another point that Pratt makes early on is that not everything can be simply thought in or out of existence. She addresses this in terms of our physical health but I've found this to be true across the board.

The body is an amazing creature and there are some deep-running currents that affect our health that we cannot change by thinking or feeling differently. There's soul loss. There is power, energy, and theft. [sic] There is the healing of the unresolved energy of the ancestors. You cannot think that into difference. You have to go do that work. And there's also a shaman's illness. There are some illnesses that are the very transformation we are longing for to take us to where we are meant to be. And so health: bad health, good health, health is not always what it seems to be. 

So what's important here is that if we continue to focus on what I want in the moment and what I think will make me happy in the moment and disregard the innate wisdom in the moment in the world around us and learn to engage, instead, with the world as a teacher, versus learning to impose my will on the world.

Where there is soul loss, power theft, energy theft, ancestral wounding, unresolved past life issues, and the like, healing has to be done at that level. And where there is significant mental and emotional damage, some long-term therapeutic process is may be in order. It's not as simple as changing your thoughts, feelings, or even your actions.

I mention this because it speaks to one of the specific problems with Oprah's formulation. You can't  just change your attitude or feelings, forgive and forget -- none of which is remotely simple -- and start recreating your life. Where there is significant damage, injury, and loss, at any level of our being, none of the tools offered by The Secret work very well.

What many of us who undertook those positive affirmation and visualization tools found -- long before The Secret brought a whole new popularity to these ideas -- is that they were effective for a while and up to a point and then we hit roadblocks. In some cases, we started manifesting unintended and unfathomable catastrophes. And the response from "new thought" proponents was, Well, you're doing it wrong. You're not "positive" enough. You don't really "want" to change. You're still caught up in your "story." Lather, rinse, repeat.

The truth, though, is that sometimes you find that you have significant healing work to do and a magnificent process of discovery to undertake. And the universe, in its infinite wisdom, far from bringing you your every vain wish, brings opportunities to heal on a deeper level so that you truly can manifest your piece of that "big dream."

In truth, the universe cannot do otherwise because the universe is us -- all of us; not just the parts we like and want to cultivate. We will invariably see ourselves reflected all around us: people, events, experiences, nature, everything. So the only question is, are we willing to accept the challenge of healing the world we observe by healing ourselves. Shutting down around big pieces of it, ignoring it because it's "negative" and we want to focus on the "positive" will not work. That kind of myopia has lead and continues to lead to incredible destruction.

As much as we might want to put the problems we see before us "over there," we can't because those problems are reflections of us. They are the result of our constant, collective dreaming.

Saying YOU or THEY created their own problems ignores the fact that there is no you or they. There is only oneness. In LaK'ech Al K'in, as the Maya say, "I am you and you are me." My former teacher, Cherokee Mystic Virginia Sandlin puts it this simply, "There is only one person here."

To the mystical thinker, the question is not, "Why did YOU manifest that for YOURSELF?" The question is, "What is MY piece in this? Why am I seeing this particular reflection that is expressing as you?" That's what we ask ourselves when we are truly taking responsibility at a spiritual level for all that we manifest.

Note: I recommend listening to Christina Pratt's entire show "The Secret or The Big Dream." It can be found in the show archives here or downloaded from iTunes. As I have previously mentioned, I have known Christina for years and recommend all aspects of her work very highly.


  1. Social Darwinism: "People can achieve whatever they want against all socio-economic odds.You can do anything, I tell you. Anything! And if you can't, you have no one and nothing to blame but yourself."

    LV: "It's a very convenient way to excuse any form of social injustice. And it's an equally convenient way to excuse horrific abuses at the microcosmic level."

    Yes...so true

  2. That one's own consciousness is the base for "knowledge" becoming "know how" is what the faux teachers like James Ray need themselves.

    The challenges of the body experience is for the reason we have it....to experience that we are consciousness and expressing a point of personal hu-manifestation.

    People like Joe Dispenza are bridges for this time. Personal experience leads to reality that transcends programing......

    "I am interested in what makes human beings tick, but I got run over by a truck in a triathlon back in 1986 and broke six bones in my back and the diagnosis was that I would probably never walk again. I had multiple compression fractures of my thoracic spine and I had bone fragments on my spinal cord.....

    ....My belief at the time and still is, is that the power that made the body, heals the body.

    I decided that if I could take some time and begin to connect or develop a relationship with that power, that intelligence, if I could begin to give it some instructions, give it some orders, to give it a template and then create an idea or a picture what I wanted and then surrender this condition to this mind and ask it to begin to do the healing for me that maybe it might work. So I decided to not let any thought go by unchecked, a thought that would be connected to the possibility of never walking again or any other fears or anxieties that people typically have.......

    .....Because I didn’t have a surgery they told me that it would take six months to a year to walk again and I’d have to wear this big body cast. I was back on my feet in nine and a half weeks and back to training in around 11 weeks and back in my office in 12 weeks so.......

    ....... when my body started to respond in ways and pain levels were going back, and feeling was coming back, and movement was coming back I was pretty excited That was a feedback I needed because the brain learns by feedback. In other words, when we see some observable change, we can correlate what we did inside to produce that effect. (http://suprememastertv.com/ss/?wr_id=82)"

    Awareness and attention (the energizing of thought) causes material effect from "the field" of possibilities. This makes sense to me. The apparatus being physical, has a lawful way of addressing the workings. Lining the "brain" and the "heart" up in coherence as a learned "meditative" practice makes sense. Coherence felt as peace makes sense to me. The body expresses the consciousness: all that we experience calling it environment.

    Common people do the uncommon by learning what it "feels like" to be coming from the field of possibility. From the context of knowing oneself as consciousness (not in abstract), one then may be aware outside the programmed context. The problem has been that we have become addicted to the patterns we set up through life experience.

    Old "teachings" may actually disconnect us from our inner being as it seems only lofty monks or special people have "the right" to claim I AM. One must feel that inner being some way to depend on I AM.

    We know that the NOW is the moment of power to create a new future but many of us have no connection to what it "feels" like to be outside the brain twirl.

    As people know that the body can change, circumstances can change, that miracles are not for the special and that each of us has been "just an addict" to thinking from a repetitive pattern and can change, IMO EVIL will not be able to maintain itself apart from aLIVE.

    Fear and loathing from the idea that all that we "see" is permanent leads to a feeling of nihilsim IMO. It is believed that we must battle with what "was" and overcome others in a "given". Instead of refreshing change we have deadly sameness we actually recreate. That is IMO Evil as opposite of Live.


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