Whirled Musings

Across the Universe with Cosmic Connie, aka Connie L. Schmidt...or maybe just through the dung-filled streets and murky swamps of pop culture -- more specifically, the New-Age/New-Wage crowd, pop spirituality & religion, pop psychology, self(ish)-help, business babble, media silliness, & related (or occasionally unrelated) matters of consequence. Hope you're wearing boots. (By the way, the "Cosmic" bit in my moniker is IRONIC.)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Hello, dolly!

Well, Dear Ones, I bet you thought I was never going to let up on that James Arthur Ray "Sweatgate" story. And I haven't entirely, of course – the conversation is still alive and kicking on my Whirled – but I felt it was time to share a little bit of positive news. As you may know from reading a couple of my recent pre-Sweatgate posts on this blog, our friend Joe "Mr. Fire" Vitale, (who also happens to be one of James Ray's friends and co-stars in The Secret), recently went to Russia to spread the good news to the Russians about the Law Of Attraction. He had scads of adventures and misadventures there, but one really good thing that happened to him was that he discovered an amazing Russian magic doll that has been kept a secret for centuries, until now.


And what better place to find a centuries-old secret than Russia? Russia, as Joe 'splains it, is "a land of wisdom and mystery, magic and miracles. It holds more secrets than you or I could ever imagine." I happen to agree with him on that point, and I even wrote a scholarly, meticulously researched piece about the mystical wonders of Russia. Actually, though, Joe says that his magic dolly may not have originated in Russia. He says it may very well have Buddhist roots, and since Joe is the Buddha of the Internet and all, I imagine he knows what he's talking about when it comes to anything about Buddhism. (Well, except when he doesn't.)

Joe's first wrote about his little doll, called Hochun or Hoshun (from the Russian verb, "I want") on his blog shortly after he got back from Russia. Hoshun can help make all of your wishes come true. Okay, the truth is that a single Hoshun can only help make one wish come true, and if you want help on another wish you have to buy another doll, and then if you have yet another wish you have to buy yet another doll, and so forth. [Note: See November 4 update below. ~CC] But that's no problem because Joe, who is always looking out for your well-being, has made special arrangements to help bring the magic of Hoshun into your life. He has teamed up with his buddy Pat O'Bryan to sell you as many dolls as you could possibly want. (If you follow the link to the magic dolly site, you have to watch the video. You just have to.)

But wait, there's more! You can, according to the PPS on the site, also buy "Hoshun Secret Clothing," coffee mugs, and more, "at a secret site you'll get when you order Hoshun." Hoshun's image is apparently so powerful that it works whether it's in the form of a dolly or a two-dimensional image on a mug or a piece of Secret Clothing.

Now, you may be wondering why Joe teamed up with Pat O'Bryan for something like this. After all, as Joe puts it, "Pat tends to be skeptical. He doesn't swallow woo-woo or spirit guides easily, if at all." And I'm pretty sure that's true, since Pat is normally a purveyor of strictly scientifical products such as (yes, you knew I was going to mention this, didn't you?) the amazing Psychic Demand method. But as it turns out, there is no contradiction between the magical aspect of Hoshun and Pat's hard-nosed skepticism. Pat, being the science guy he is, "saw the value of Hoshun as a 'brain tool' to install your intention in your mind." I know that may be a little too complex and technical to most of you, as it was to me, but you just have to trust these guys because they know how your mind works.

But how does Hoshun work? Well, again, it's pretty technical, but I will try to explain it in plain English. Hoshun doesn't have any pupils in his eyes when you first buy him, which means he is blind. But he is longing to see, and he'll do anything for the person who helps him see. That's you. You draw one of his pupils in – but just one, mind you – and you tell him your wish. Then with that one functional eyeball Hoshun watches you as you work to make your wish come true.

You also get some "breakthrough audios" with your Hoshun, created especially for you by Joe and Pat to support you in your efforts. I'm thinking it might behoove you to watch that video of Joe on the magic dolly site again, and there might be added benefits if you let Hoshun watch the video with you. Of course, with just one eye Hoshun's depth perception might be compromised, but it shouldn't pose much of a problem since there isn't all that much depth to perceive, if you catch my meaning.

Once Hoshun has his working eyeball and you have begun taking inspired action on your wish or goal, you're supposed to take your dolly with you as a constant reminder of that goal or wish. He will serve as an inspiration, silently cheering you on. Joe says Hoshun is working on a "psychological level, a mystical level, an energy level, and a metaphysical level." But I can't help thinking of that creepy wind-up doll in the commercial for the prescription antidepressant Pristiq. The depressed woman takes Pristiq and gets better, but apparently she still has to take the doll with her everywhere, even on family picnics. I find that pretty disturbing. (Here's the link, in case you haven't seen it. And if you're getting a bit of deja vu here, it's because I already discussed the Russian dolly a little bit in the discussion following one of my previous blog posts, and in my comment I also mentioned the Pristiq doll.)

So on you go about your business, working to reach your goal, while Hoshun peers at you with his single eyeball. I suppose it's up to you if you want to let him watch you shower or perform other private activities. If that's how you get your thrills, go for it. Once your wish is granted or your goal is reached, you draw in Hoshun's other pupil so he can really see your triumph. Then you think up another wish, buy another Hoshun (or print another picture of your Hoshun dolly, as the case may be), do the pupil-drawing ritual, listen to the audios, work on your wish by taking inspired action, and so on. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I am not sure what you are supposed to do with your first Hoshun once you bring another one into your home, or how you handle it if the Hoshuns get jealous of each other and start secretly plotting to cancel out each other's work on your behalf. Maybe Joe and Pat could sell a magic Hoshun harmonizer to help all of your Hoshuns work in concert for you.

Now, I know you may be thinking, "Gee, Cosmic Connie, this sounds pretty good, but it's unproven technology. Does this magic dolly really work?" I'm glad you asked. Joe says it does work, and he 'splains why:

Here are three reasons this secret genie works:
1. For one thing, just using him to help you be clear about what you want was eye-opening. He forced me to be clear. This alone is priceless. As you know, you can't have what you can't articulate.
2. For another, having Hoshun sitting near me was a great mental trigger. He constantly reminded me of my intention, or wish. I knew this was working on my unconscious mind. I also knew this was sending my wish into the 'well of the universe'. As you know, being reminded of your intention is how you get your hidden powers to attract it to you.
3. Finally, even if you are so skeptical that you think a "secret genie" is nonsense, then at least consider the power of the placebo. Studies prove that belief in a pill can help cure any disease. Think about that. There are centuries of built-up belief in this secret Russian wish maker. Even if you don't actually buy it right now, the hundreds of thousands of people who have believed in it have infused it with the power of a diety [sic].

Wow. That last item contains an absolutely amazing explanation of how the placebo effect works. Who knew?

I'm sure that by now you're almost convinced to buy at least one of Joe and Pat's dolls. But you might still be wondering, "How much of an investment am I going to have to make?" Once again, here's Joe:

When you consider that this secret genie will do anything you want in order to get his eyesight, he's probably worth thousands of dollars to you.

After all, anything that can help you attract what you want is clearly worth a lot of money, right?

How much?

I think we should sell Hoshun for $997.

But considering most people are worried about the economy right now -- I think they should get Hoshun to fix it -- we decided to offer you Hoshun for a very low, fair price.

You can have a Hoshun of your very own for only $39.99.

Considering this is like having a genie to do your bidding, I think the price is a steal.

After all, what's a secret magic genie worth?

"What's a secret magic genie worth?" asks Josef. I realize his question might be rhetorical, but I am thinking that maybe we should try to answer it anyway. Perhaps Joe's buddy James Arthur Ray could shed some light on that one.

If you follow the link on Joe and Pat's site, you can get your Hoshun magic right away via download.

I suspect that even though I have taken the time to patiently explain how the magic Russian dolly works, some of you may still be skeptics. In fact a friend of mine, upon hearing about Joe's newest scheme, wrote, "Just when I think he couldn't surprise me any more, he pulls something else out of his ass."

Little did he realize that where Mr. Fire is concerned, that may be more than just a figure of speech. But maybe we'll save that one for another time.

Update, 4 November: Although my contributors and I have kept this story (such as it is) pretty well updated via discussions in the "Comments" section, I'm bringing the highlights up to the front page.

The most important point, in case it isn't obvious from all of the discussions whirling around the Net (and here on my Whirled, for that matter) is that the Hoshun dolly picture that Joe and Pat are selling is not the actual Hochun doll that Joe says he was given by a Russian fan. (And apparently the person who gave it to him was indeed a fan of his, but by presenting the Hochun dolls to him she was also earnestly seeking a business partnership with Joe. At least that's what the linked message in the previous sentence would indicate. I'll have an update on that as verifiable information comes to me.) In any case, what Joe and Pat are selling is not the doll but a two-dimensional image of the Hochun figure. Moreover, at some point between the time I first wrote this blog post and now – one follower tells me it was the day after my post was published – Joe and Pat changed their offer, so your forty bucks will now give you the right to a "lifetime supply" (that is, unlimited printouts) of your wish-dolly figure. What a bargain, huh?

Yet even with this lifetime bargain addition, there has been a flurry of criticism about the dolly, prompting Joe and Pat to take corrective marketing action via emails and Tweets, including rare backup from Joe's sweetie, Nerissa (here and here, so far). There's even another blog post from Joe himself, defending the idea behind Hoshun; click here for that post. I know Joe's Superman defense will convince you beyond a doubt that the Hoshun scheme is indeed profoundly scientifical.

Finally, there is the issue that more than one person has commented on, which is that Joe and Pat are spelling the name of their dolly, "Hoshun." Some have speculated that this is merely a branding effort, while some think it's a short-term memory problem on Joe's part, and others think it could be a calculated attempt to avoid sticky issues with the Russian makers of the Hochun doll. In any case...well, behold the power of words and their deeper meanings. Is the operative syllable here, "shun?" Judging from the fact that there has been such an outcry against this scheme, and that even some of Joe's friends and admirers (e.g., Mr2020) think it is absurd, maybe words do carry more power than we think.

On the other hand, there's that first syllable...

PS added 13 November: Mr. Fire has discovered yet another money attractor, this time in Poland. And this one manages to be both idiotic and potentially offensive. Here's an analysis of the scheme from a new blog called MrFire'sPyre.

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Friday, October 09, 2009

Sweat lodge deaths: is the heat on Secret star?

"Counting down the days to Spiritual Warrior in Sedona! On Saturday 60 people will enter the desert and 60 new people will exit 5 days later."
~James Arthur Ray, on a September 28 Facebook entry*

James Arthur Ray is still in Spiritual Warrior... for anything new to live something first must die. What needs to die in you so that new life can emerge?
~ James Arthur Ray, on an October 8 Facebook entry *

Note: I've added quite a bit since I first published this piece on the afternoon of October 9. In fact, this post is becoming more and more like a big ol' rambling house that the occupants keep adding on to. It started out as what Wikipedia would probably call a "stub," and I've been steadily slapping on addenda as new items come to my attention. Check back frequently; you never know what you'll find.
~CC

A tipster just sent me a link to this news bit. A man and woman are dead (see first "Addendum" below), and at least nineteen other people were hospitalized, having collapsed after a two-hour-long sweat-lodge session at a "Spiritual Warrior" retreat in Sedona, Arizona yesterday (Thursday, October 8). [Note: As of October 18, a third person, a 49-year-old woman, has also died. See October 18 addendum below.] The host of the retreat? None other than Secret star and "Harmonic Wealth" hustler James Arthur Ray, whom you may have encountered on this very blog a few times before (here and here, f'rinstance). And here (scroll down to, "It's because the Universe likes greed, Michael").

Some participants paid between $9,000 and $10,000 US to attend the retreat, which James has held at the same location previously.

According to early reports there were 64 people in the "sweat dome," including James, who was questioned by detectives and then "left the facility."

But I have a feeling the investigations are far from over. It should be noted that
participants apparently had to sign a lengthy waiver of liability form [see more information below], which acknowledged that some participants might "suffer physical, emotional, financial, or other injuries." I imagine such waivers are S.O.P. for retreats of this nature, though how binding such things are when actual deaths occur at an event, I couldn't say. In any case, as a spokesperson for James Ray said (see link to news article above), at this point there are more questions than answers.

At the very least, James may be inspired to re-think having sweat-lodge sessions in next year's "Spiritual Warrior" retreat. Sweating for enlightenment is not among the most risk-free of activities. In fact, extreme enlightenment activities can be pretty hazardous to your health, as participants at a past Burning Man event in the Nevada desert could probably testify.

You can keep updated on this story by clicking here.

One more point: Lest anyone think that I find the deaths of New-Wage workshop participants in any way humorous, I don't. That's not what this post is about. Rather, it is one of those "dark side of enlightenment" pieces, which, alas, seem to be getting more frequent of late.

Addendum, 12 October 2009: As of this morning, the "Google news results" for the sweat-lodge deaths appear as the number-one search result for "James Arthur Ray." At the moment I am writing this there are nearly 1,400 related articles, and the number grows by the hour. And as many of us expected, the more sensationalist "newsmagazine" shows, such as 48 Hours, have jumped on the story, as evidenced, for example, by this piece from the "Crimesider" blog, which bills itself as "The True Crime destination from the producers of 48 Hours Mystery." [Addendum 14 October: Also take a look at comments by some of the defenders of James Ray (e.g., "januaryguy" and "thousandoaks"), as well as responses by critics (e.g., "aconscience").]

Not unexpectedly, there's a lot of buzz about possible criminal negligence charges in this incident, although I think that some of the news reports' description of the Sedona retreat as a "crime scene" seem a bit overblown. Granted, the area where the incident occurred had been cordoned off with yellow crime-scene tape, but it's not as if it was a bloody murder scene such as those we routinely see on CSI. And despite my long-time criticism of James Ray et al., I doubt that there was any criminal intent on the part of James or his staff.

Of course, none of this lets him off the hook, as far as I'm concerned, and, more importantly, as far as investigators are concerned. And, all potential legal liability aside, it does seem clear that a fierce profit motive on James Ray's part
played a major role in this tragedy, coupled, of course, with that well-known phenomenon of workshop euphoria, which often causes participants to suspend anything resembling reason and common sense. (And, as one of my commenters in the discussion following this post pointed out, if they've paid thousands of dollars for the workshop, they will be more willing to push themselves to the limit, ignoring any warning signals from their bodies.)

There is, indeed, something about the "workshop high" or "workshop hypnosis" that occurs during an event (as well as what I can only describe as "workshop addiction" in general), that can cause even the relatively young and strong to get in way over their heads. For instance, the woman who died, 38-year-old New Yorker Kirby Brown, was an avid surfer and hiker who was reportedly in top physical shape. (Here's a link to a Fox News video and story about her family's reactions.) She was also described as a person who took self-improvement very seriously. Obviously she did, if she had attended previous James Ray events and was willing to pay between nine and ten grand to attend this one.

Which brings me to another important point: whenever there is discussion about the negative aspects of selfish-help/New-Wage stuff, and particularly, it seems, when tragedy strikes, there is invariably discussion about how we shouldn't place all of the blame on the gurus or leaders; the followers should bear some personal responsibility as well. I agree. Even so, as I said in a recent post about another New-Wage workshop-related tragedy, in which an Australian woman took off all of her clothes and leaped out a window to her death (and please forgive me for quoting myself, but I'm too lazy to paraphrase):
I'm all for personal responsibility. But one problem with these seminars and just about everything else in the New-Wage/selfish-help industry is this: While the [legal] disclaimers are whispered out of one side of the mouth (or written in fine print on one page of the web site), what comes out of the other side are the loud (or large-point-size) proclamations that THIS technique or path or technology or course or workshop or whatever will improve the quality of your life and deliver miracles – whoever you are, and no matter what your problem is. Add a bunch of poetic marketing copy, and throw in a few filmy trailers with mystical music and special effects interspersed with ecstatic testimonials from "graduates," and you have a very powerful emotional cocktail.

The manipulation doesn't stop once the marks have signed up and paid; in fact, it's just beginning. There's manipulation to get participants to spend even more money for additional products, "graduate" classes, and other next-level stuff. But there's an even bigger problem, and it is the crux of the present controversy: the one-size-fits-all therapizing, which is conducted all too often by unlicensed, under-qualified facilitators/leaders/teachers/gurus.
Indeed.

One of my first thoughts upon reading about the Sedona incident was to wonder how fans of The Secret and stalwart believers in the Law Of Attraction would spin this story. As a matter of fact, we've been discussing that, among other matters, in the "comments" section following this piece, but I thought I'd bring a few of the points up here to the front lines. So far it seems that there are two main schools of thought among the LOA believers and New-Wage-guru fans who want to continue believing and being guru fans. I realize I am over-simplifying a bit, but this is a starting point, anyway (and for a third school of thought, though one that's not nearly as popular amongst the New-Wagers, see the second October 14 addendum below) :
1. The "conscious-choice" believers: These are the people who are speculating that the folks who died or were injured in James Arthur Ray's sweat lodge tragedy consciously chose to have that experience. For example, take a look at the scintillating conversation on the Powerful Intentions discussion forum (which is officially blessed by The Secret enterprise and is brought to you in part by the ebullient Marcy From Maui). If the Powerful Intentions link doesn't work (which may be the case if the thread is ultimately removed by site administrators, as has happened in the past with controversial threads), you can see a couple of the more ludicrous remarks here and here. One of the more noteworthy, though I suppose not surprising, aspects of this discussion was that some folks seemed more concerned with James Ray's well-being than with that of the affected participants or their families. I am not suggesting that James Ray is unaffected emotionally by this, nor am I suggesting that he is undeserving of our compassion, prayers, or good thoughts. I just don't think it is appropriate to make this story all about "poor James." And I think it's unfeeling at best and idiotic at worst for the participants to respond to this tragedy by repeating what has become a tiresome New-Wage platitude: "All is well."
2. The "unconscious-factors" believers: This is the faction that speculates unconscious factors or "counter-intentions" on the part of James Ray and/or the retreat participants may have been responsible for the tragedy. One example: Although James' name and the incident are not mentioned directly in this blog post about "the shocking truth about the Law of Attraction" by James' buddy and fellow Secret star Joe "Mr. Fire" Vitale, I strongly suspect the post was written, at least in part, as a response to this incident. I base that on the fact that Joe mentions in his post that some stars of The Secret have had some troubles that the media have picked up on. (Fortunately, he just happens to have some products and services he can sell you so you can avoid being tripped up by "counter-intentions" in your own life.)

Here's a discussion on Steve Pavlina's "Personal Development for Smart People" Forum. Steve, as you may recall, was recently at an exclusive hustledork conference in Bermuda, the Transformational Leadership Council (TLC), of which James Ray is a founding member. The James Ray/sweat lodge thread on Steve's forum was initiated by a forum member, though as of now, Steve himself has apparently not yet weighed in on the matter. He did, however, interview James Ray in 2007; here's a link to that interview.

Then there's this article by Horizons Magazine publisher Andrea de Michaeles, who says the Abraham-Hicks vibrational-resonance theory explains the deeper reasons behind the tragedy ("Whatever we experience, we experience because we are vibrationally in tune with it"). As you probably know, I'm no fan of Esther and Jerry and their imaginary pals, but I have to say that Andrea does do a good job of making James Ray's words come back to haunt him. And as Andrea wisely notes,
"Teachers have a responsibility to correctly assess whether a student is prepared to take their teaching. Not just financially able."

And here's a more mainstream discussion, with strong opinions from both defenders and detractors, on Anitra's Spa Blog on About.com.

Addendum, 13 October 2009: For those of you not on James Arthur Ray's mailing list, here's the email blast he sent out today (and also posted on his blog):

For All Those Affected by the Tragedy in Sedona

I am shocked and saddened by the tragedy that occurred at Spiritual Warrior in Sedona, Arizona, Thursday evening. I wish to express my deepest heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of those who lost their lives as well as offer my prayers for a speedy recovery for those who were taken ill. Because there are so many more questions than answers at this time I believe it inappropriate to comment further until we know more.

Out of respect for the deceased and their loved ones and for those who have taken ill and for whose speedy recovery we pray, we will not be replying to individual postings. Instead, we thank you for writing, and we hope you will share in our continued wishes of support, strength and comfort to all those impacted by this tragedy.

We also want everyone to know that a friend has been at the hospital monitoring the condition of those still ill. Our love and warm affection is with all who mourn and with all of you in this time of grief, sadness and challenge.

One wonders how much of the "love and warm affection" will translate into James Ray taking real responsibility (including but not limited to legal and financial responsibility) for this sad affair.

Addendum, 14 October 2009: My friend John Curtis of Americans Against Self-Help Fraud sent me a link to a good article on the Belief.net web site. Granted, the author, Deborah Price, is a life coach (a "financial-crisis coach," as she describes herself), so she is also in the self-help business. But she does have some excellent points about telling the difference between a real guru and a charlatan. She doesn't actually come out and call James Arthur Ray a charlatan, but the implication is clear.

One point she makes is one that should be obvious to everyone, and is particularly poignant in this time of recession: Many people go into debt to attend overpriced New-Wage/selfish-help workshops (and reportedly, some of the people treated after the Ray sweat lodge incident did not have medical insurance. I'm still checking up on that.). For some who go to these pricey wing-dings, it may be their way of "refusing to participate in the recession." For others, it's a way of refusing to participate in life.

Anyway, here is the link to Deborah Price's article.

"Satan did it!" Yet another 14 October addendum: Someone just pointed me to my pal Salty Droid's very salty blog post about the James Ray sweat lodge debacle. The Droid has never been known to mince words or err on the side of decorum, and he does not disappoint on this post. He lets James have it with both barrels. (Warning: If colorful language offends you, avoid this link.)

One of the things that makes this post so special, apart from the Droid's own trenchant observations, is the link in the comments section to a video comment on the tragedy by Aussie Secret star David Schirmer, aka Saint David of Victoria, aka the Mini-Madoff of Melbourne, whom you've met on this Whirled more than once. David begins with what he seems to feel is one of the most important messages: His beliefs are different from most of the Secret stars, because he's a born-again Christian, and he doesn't believe that purification rituals such as sweat lodges are at all necessary if you've accepted Jesus H. Christ as your personal savior. Then David goes on to say that nevetheless we should all be sending our thoughts and prayers to his friend James Ray and everyone else who was affected by the tragedy. He goes on a bit about the wicked media and how they will be jumping all over this, as he knows from his own experiences. And then he gets to the meat of the matter, 'splaining why the whole sorry thing happened despite so many people trying their best to attract good things via LOA. Have you guessed the culprit? Yes, Dear Ones, it was... Satan!... who, as it happens, has also been responsible for Saint David's travails. Here is the link. (Warning: it may be full-screen, so be prepared for a very large mug of the Wanker of Oz.)

The good stuff just keeps coming: "Persuasion expert" Dave Lakhani just published a very excellent blog post about the James Ray tragedy, and, more importantly, about why so many people get sucked into doing dangerous and stupid things in the name of personal growth. Do not miss this one. (According to a recent Tweet, the LOA fans and the Christians are getting after Dave for this post.) Read it now.

James Ray himself now seems to be publicly grieving, and reportedly received a standing ovation for expressing his grief at a recent seminar. (The seminar had been scheduled weeks in advance and James chose to show up to it because he said people were counting on him.) But, as the aforementioned Dave Lakhani wrote in the post linked to above:

His behavior afterward has also bordered on Narcissistic, his statement at another event that he conducted only days after the deaths demonstrate that. His focus is on himself and how he'll cope much more than an outpouring of concern and support for the families and others injured at his event.
Imagine...a selfish-help guru focusing on himself. I know...big surprise, eh?

And still another addendum ~ 15 October, 2009: The article that has really caused a buzz today is this piece on the Examiner.com web site from blogger Cassandra Yorgey, whose regular beat is speculative fiction. Cassandra wrote that an anonymous tipster who claimed to be one of the sweat-lodge victims sent her a transcript of a conference call that took place on the evening of October 14 between James Ray and the surviving participants of the ill-fated Sedona retreat. The purpose of the phone call was "to bring closure to the retreat and to give James Ray a chance to interact with everyone." Although I have published a couple of remarks about this article in my comments section, I've hesitated to publish this link up on the front page because I wasn't sure if the story was legitimate. And I'm still not entirely certain; although it seems clear that James did call the participants (as was verified by AP), I am not sure if the "transcript" (or paraphrase thereof) is legit. Granted, it sure sounds like James Ray and his followers, as you'll no doubt agree if you read the article. But as my pal Steve Salerno wrote on his SHAMblog post today, we have to be careful here. Journalists have been fooled before by hoaxes and false tips.

If it turns out that this story can be verified, then my hat is off to Cassandra Yorgey for helping to further expose the manipulative tactics of New-Wage gurus and the muddled "thinking" they actively seek to foster in their followers.

One point has come out in the past couple of days, and has been noted in more than one article (such as this one, f'rinstance, which I linked to yesterday): Contrary to previous claims from the James Ray camp that he has conducted similar retreats at the Angel Valley Resort for years without incident, it turns out that there was indeed an "incident" four years ago.

Fire department reports released Tuesday show the incident wasn't the first involving a sweat lodge ceremony at the resort, the Angel Valley Retreat Center. Verde Valley Fire Chief Jerry Doerksen said his department responded to a 911 call in October 2005 about a person who was unconscious after being in a sweat lodge.

Angel Valley resort owner Amayra Hamilton confirmed that Ray was leading the sweat ceremony during the 2005 event. Ray's spokesman declined to comment.

I can only wonder if the 2005 incident rattled James Ray at all, other than, perhaps, to inspire him to get his legal team cranking to tighten up the pre-retreat liability waivers. I'm certainly not surprised that James' spokesman (I assume this would be the aforementioned Howard Bragman) did not wish to comment. But that's okay; if Cassandra Yorgey's piece turns out to be legitimate, it looks as if James himself is finally saying plenty at this point. I have a feeling, though, that his legal team is kind of wishing he wouldn't.

Update: It's now a homicide investigation:
According to CNN: "An investigation into the deaths of two people who spent up to two hours inside a 'sweat lodge' at an Arizona retreat last week has been elevated from an accidental death investigation to a homicide inquiry, Yavapai County Sheriff Steve Waugh told reporters Thursday [15 October]." Read more here.

Signing your life away? If you're interested in reading the kind of liability waivers that participants in a James Arthur Ray event have to sign, and you haven't done so already, here is your chance. This has been up on the Rick Ross forum since October 10. And here's the link to a PDF on James Ray's site (see pages 11-14 of the document). A
s many of you may know, this is pretty standard stuff at LGAT (Large Group Awareness Training) events.

Addendum, 17 October: While investigators are still sorting out all of the factors that led to the deaths of two participants [now three; see Oct. 18 addendum below ~CLS], and the injuries of numerous others, at James Ray's recent Sedona disaster, it seems abundantly clear by now (at least to me) that the very nature of the retreat – and the manipulative techniques James Ray used – were factors in those deaths and injuries. Numerous accounts I have read said that even though participants were told they could leave whenever they wanted, those who recognized their limitations and tried to exit the sweat lodge were, in some cases, chided by James (he called one guy a "wimp") and they were encouraged to stay and experience the event "full-on."

Comes another piece, published yesterday, from Cassandra Yorgey, recounting eyewitness details of the disaster scene from an unnamed source. It begins with a nightmare scenario:

People are flailing in seizures; others are vomiting violently, or foaming at the mouth. Bodies are lined up unconscious, some are blue from lack of oxygen, but for some it is too late, they are already dead. Survivors that are barely able to stand struggle to help the others, they have had almost no food or water for nearly three days, even longer without sleep. It looks like a war zone, but for the incongruent figure of James Arthur Ray (a contributing author to The Secret) who exits the sweat lodge and stands tall with a big smile, the only one able to stand on his own volition. He is not concerned with the medical emergency going on full swing around him. He is not worried about the health and well-being of his followers who have paid $10,000.00 (tack on an additional 5,000.00 or so if you include flights, room and board, and camping supplies) to attend his retreat. In fact, he and his team urge people to stop taking care of others and focus on their own journey, assuring them they are fine and only “purging”. Someone finally realizes James Ray is not in control of the situation and calls 911.

As did Steve Salerno at SHAMblog, my mention of this piece comes with the same qualifiers and disclaimers as did my previous mention of Ms. Yorgey's work. It's not that I don't think that the substance (of both of her pieces) sounds credible, notwithstanding the somewhat over-wrought writing style and the author's apparent agenda. Furthermore, in light of my own perspectives about the whole New-Wage guru racket, I tend to be more receptive to anti-guru information than to pro-guru stuff. But that is one reason I still feel I have to be so cautious about wholeheartedly accepting Ms. Yorgey's reporting. Is it all true, or do I just want to believe it, since it provides such clear evidence of the things I've long complained about in the New-Wage industry?

I have had some friendly email correspondence with Ms. Yorgey, which she initiated (she thanked me for my help in continuing the discussion about James Ray, despite the fact that I didn't give her my unqualified endorsement). Being as curious in my own way as is Steve Salerno about how Ms. Yorgey landed this story, I asked her if she initially went out seeking the information or if the "sources" came to her. She simply replied that she respects the privacy of the victims and that as she continues to live by her code of ethics, more of them have continued to come forward to tell their stories to her.

However, she did not answer my question. I believe that she could easily have done so in a general way without betraying any confidences or revealing any sources, but she didn't. I really do want to give her points for consistency and effort, as well as for what seem to be good intentions, but my disclaimers and qualifiers will remain, pending receipt of information that will convince me my doubts are misplaced. I am of course always willing to retract when proven wrong.

Should we start calling him "Death" Ray? I thought it was bad enough that there was a sweat-lodge medical disaster at a previous James Ray seminar (as I noted in my October 15 addendum above), but it gets worse. I was recently alerted to reports of a death during another James Ray seminar weekend, Creating Absolute Wealth, this past July. Colleen Marian Conaway, a 46-year-old Minnesota woman who had traveled to San Diego for the seminar, died when she plunged off of the third-level railing at a San Diego mall. Reportedly she was not suicidal before the event and seemed a happy enough person. Of course there may be other factors we don't know about, and perhaps the intensity of the James Ray weekend just set her off. But, as I noted in a discussion on SHAMblog, it's worth investigating, and no doubt it is being investigated now by people who are more qualified than I.

Although that July event wasn't a week-long retreat in a remote area (and this one was a bargain at "only" $4,000), it was nonetheless very intensive and apparently involved fasting and other techniques to jar people's consciousness. The participant's suicide occurred during a "group field trip" that was part of the event. While his flock was at the mall, James was happily Tweeting away about the life-changing experience they were having (click on pic to enlarge).

And then a few days later he was tweeting about his excitement over an upcoming trip to Peru. Meanwhile, a family was grieving.

Here's the link to a comment about this matter on CBS' 48 Hours "Crimesider" blog.

Colleen Conaway's death is also being discussed on Rick Ross' forum.

There's always another side...and another. Meanwhile, according to an article by Glen Creno in the Arizona Republic, James Ray's publicist has been making snide remarks about the local authorities (and media) who are trying to "tar" his beleagured client.

Howard Bragman, a Los Angeles publicist, Friday criticized the decision by Yavapai County investigators to reclassify what had been an accidental-death inquiry to a homicide investigation. He said it was a "purposely incendiary" move by Sheriff Steve Waugh.

"I think they are trying to tar my client," Bragman said. "Somebody must be running for re-election in Yavapai County."

Waugh wasn't available for comment Friday, his spokesman Dwight Develyn said.

Bragman said there was too much "finger-pointing" going on too early in the investigation. He said Ray remained committed to his schedule of motivational events, including one in California this weekend.

"He's trying to help people," Bragman said. "That's what he does."

Okay. On the one hand, I understand how the justice system can sometimes be stymied when a case is "tried" in the media and the proverbial "court of public opinion," especially before formal charges have even been filed. I am also well aware of the problems that can occur when law enforcement is too willing to talk to the media. Ron and I learned far more about this issue than we would ever have wanted to know when we were doing research for a nonfiction book about a grisly murder that made international headlines a few years back. In that case there was evidence of significant malfeasance on the part of law enforcement investigators, who not only made numerous blunders in their investigations, but also did a lot of grandstanding for the media. Inevitably, this fueled public opinion against the accused, and arguably resulted in the person being wrongly convicted and sent to death row. (And, yes, in light of the evidence we studied, both Ron and I do believe it was a wrongful conviction.)

On the other hand, I am not by any means trying to give James Arthur Ray a pass, or letting him off the hook for any of his routinely snarkworthy stuff, and certainly not for any of the atrocities that may have occurred at his events. And I am not for a moment accusing the Arizona authorities of malfeasance or grandstanding. From what I have read elsewhere, it appears to me that the upgrade in the investigation was justified. My point is only that we all need to keep in mind that "justice" entails careful consideration of all sides of this story.

And I am also painfully aware, as I am sure the families and friends of the deceased are, that nothing any of us can do or say will bring back Kirby Brown and James Shore, whose memorial services will be held today, while James Ray holds forth at yet another wealth seminar, The World Wealth Summit, in San Diego. I wonder if he'll get another standing ovation.

Addendum, 18 October: The news is out, and I'm sure most of you have heard it by now: a third person, 49-year-old Minnesota resident Liz Neuman, died yesterday in a Flagstaff, Arizona hospital. She had been hospitalized in critical condition, suffering multiple organ damage, following James Ray's sweat lodge disaster. The body count is growing for James "Death" Ray. Of note, Ms. Neuman was reportedly part of James Ray's "Dream Team" and one of his staunchest supporters.

Meanwhile, it still seems to be business as usual in James Ray land. The show must go on, although it seems there are a few sour notes. I haven't had a chance to verify this information, but according to Terry Hall on the BizSayer blog, several of the other speakers scheduled for James' October 16-17 San Diego wealth seminar were "no-shows." Could it be out of respect for the dead, and a desire to dissociate themselves from JAR? I can only speculate at this point. In any case, here's the link to Terry's post mentioning this item. And here is Terry's post about the death of Liz Neuman, and the need for New-Wage gurus to be more accountable to their followers.

More in a while.

Addendum, 19 October: Some of you might be thinking that this blog post has gone on quite long enough, and that perhaps I should consider starting a new post about this topic. But I continue to add to this one, originally begun on October 9 the moment I heard the news about the James Ray sweat lodge tragedy, because we have a pretty good discussion going here and I don't want to break it up. So I guess you'll just have to take the suggestion I made at the beginning, and keep checking back on this post.

The first thing I want to do is thank everyone for the comments and links you continue to send in response to this piece. I haven't responded to the most recent ones yet because I took yesterday off for the most part (it was a resplendent Texas October Sunday, and the outdoors beckoned), and I only took the time to publish the remarks. I will try to catch up today. But do know how much I appreciate each and every contribution.

And now on to business:

Cassandra explains it all (and it makes a lot more sense to me now): I have heard back from blogger Cassandra Yorgey, who said she thought she had answered my question about how/why she got front and center in the James Ray sweat-lodge story. (See my October 17 addendum, above. Also, for those not familiar with this matter, here's the link to her first story about the phone call James made to survivors of the tragedy, and here's the link to her second piece on eyewitness accounts.)

Cassandra's involvement appears to be a direct result of her personal interests, not only in mind control (which is related to her interest in speculative fiction), but also in her role as an advocate for troubled teens. But that still raises the question of how this particular story arrived at her door step. And she has now explained that to my satisfaction. I will take the liberty of quoting her email to me (and if you follow the link she provided, you will understand more about her perspective):

I did not go seeking out this story, but I have made no secret of my interests in these subjects. Back in August I had even specifically requested info on wilderness therapies - which can use some of the same behavior modification techniques that James Ray does. Everyone that has requested anonymity has made initial contact with me. I did, however, contact Tom McFeeley, family member of deceased Kirby Brown because he is acting as spokesperson for the family and I found his name in other news sources. I assure you, I find it as weird as everyone else that all of a sudden the news happens to be related to things I have been babbling on about for over a decade. I've been following these types of abuse stories since the late 90's when there was heated discussion about regulating wilderness programs for troubled teens.

And so, while the authorities continue their investigation into what really happened, and the talking heads in the mainstream media scramble to cover the story, information continues to flow via more unconventional channels. The blogosphere is on fire with this topic now, and it's up to all of us to try to sort the accurate from the not-so-accurate. In any case, Cassandra seems to have taken all of the caveats and disclaimers about her work in stride. And whatever other motives one might ascribe to her, I think that she is doing her part to make sure the truth about what happened in Sedona comes out. The information she has shared certainly paints a truer and more poignant picture of the real price of New-Wage/selfish-help/McSpirituality than, say, James Arthur Ray's profound utterances in The Secret. And in my book, that's a good thing.

Find another excuse, Bragman: LA publicist Howard Bragman, who is James Ray's hired propaganda gun, recently made snide remarks about the motives of Arizona law enforcement officials who have spoken to the press about the ongoing investigation. Among other things, he speculated that the local sheriff must be running for re-election. He further stated that his client James is in the business of "helping people," and is continuing to bravely go forth and do that despite the public outcry. Well, as blogger Terry Hall wrote in a recent post on Bizsayer:

And by the way, Yavapai County Sheriff Steve Waugh was reelected last year. So you’ll have to figure out a better angle for why that are trying to stop you from “helping” people, maybe like – public safety!

The die-hard optimists speak up: There's a lot of buzz now about Barbara Ehrenreich's new book, Bright-Sided: How The Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America (the link leads to the Google Books preview). And I imagine that in light of recent events, the buzz will only grow louder. I just checked on Amazon, and Bright-Sided is currently in the top 100 in Books (all genres). The reader reviews are coming in now too. I'm always more interested in reading the bad reviews than the good ones, and because I love this author's work, I am sorry to report that the bad ones outweigh the good so far. The last time I checked, there were 21 customer reviews, of which 9 are one-star, 2 two-star, and 2 three-star.

Of the one-star comments, the only one that appeared to be real criticism was a complaint that Ehrenreich's book was superficial and that she did not adequately cover the history of "positive thinking" in America. Not having read the book yet, though I plan to as soon as possible, I can't offer an opinion either way. But most of the other critics accused the author of being full of anger, lacking love in her life, not having something good to believe in, and so on. Some offered anecdotes about how they or a loved one were saved by positive thinking. And some griped because Ehrenreich always writes about problems and doesn't offer solutions.

As it happens, these are many of the same criticisms my friend Steve Salerno has fielded since the publication of his 2005 book, SHAM: How The Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless. (For that matter, these, and worse, are some of the same criticisms I've received for my mostly snarky little blog.) Addressing the issue of this type of criticism in the comments section on a recent SHAMblog post, Steve wrote:

Ehrenreich's critics--like mine, four years ago (!!)--have fallen back on that patented tactic favored by purveyors of all forms of New Age nonsense, including alternative medicine and the various "be happy" programs: They insist that we prove (literally) a negative. They throw the scientific method out the window and make it seem as if it's our burden to demonstrate why this stuff is b.s., instead of their burden to show how and why it's valid.

But really, when people have pitched their tents (again literally) around the idea that all of life reduces to attitude and mindset, how can you expect them to react differently? This is a religious cause for them, in the deepest sense. Even if the gurus are venal and mercenary, and don't really believe in what they're selling, so many of their followers clearly do; indeed, they depend on LoA [Law of Attraction] and all this PMA [Positive Mental Attitude]-based nonsense to get them through the day. How can you expect them to ever wave the white flag of surrender on the point? So when a book like "SHAM" or "Bright-Sided" comes out, it's like a stake to their hearts, a challenge to everything they believe in, everything in which they've invested their minds and souls (not to mention thousands upon thousands of dollars, in many cases). They can't just let it be. They can't be seen as dupes and fools, least of all in their own eyes.

Amen, Steve.

The Post toasts Ray, and the investigation heats up: Finally, this short piece (with a somewhat snarky headline) from The New York Post summarizes some of the atrocities that have taken place at James Ray events.

And here is a good comprehensive report, published on October 19, of the incident and the investigation so far. (Thanks to my friend "Disillusioned" for pointing this out to me.)

Addendum, 21 October: The AP story that's all over the Internet today details an eyewitness account that is considered a breakthrough in the ongoing investigation of the James Arthur Ray sweat lodge case. The "breakthrough" part has to do with the fact that it's the first time a participant has spoken out publicly about the events leading up to the deaths. But if some of the details sound familiar, it's because we read them last week in accounts by blogger Cassandra Yorgey, who broke some of these stories while everyone was still speaking anonymously. Also sharing graphic details last week was Sedona resident Shawna Bowen, who showed up at the scene at the time things were really getting bad, and who did several media appearances, including a 90-minute radio interview. Anyway, here's the version from the AP article:

Texas resident Beverley Bunn is the first participant in the tragic incident to speak out publicly about the events that led up to the deaths. The 43-year-old told the AP in a series of interviews this week that by the time the sweat lodge ceremony began, the participants had undergone days of physically and mentally strenuous events that included fasting. In one game, guru James Arthur Ray even played God.

Within an hour of entering the sweat lodge on the evening of Oct. 8, people began vomiting, gasping for air and collapsing. Yet Bunn says Ray continually urged everyone to stay inside. The ceremony was broken up into 15-minute "rounds," with the entrance flap to the lodge opened briefly and more heated rocks brought inside between sessions.

"I can't get her to move. I can't get her to wake up," Bunn recalls hearing from two sides of the 415-square-foot sweat lodge. Ray's response: "Leave her alone, she'll be dealt with in the next round."

By that time, Bunn had already crawled to a spot near the opening of the sweat lodge, praying for the door to stay open as long as possible between rounds so that she could breathe in fresh air.

At one point, someone lifted up the back of the tent, shining light in the otherwise pitch-black enclosure. Ray demanded to know who was letting the light in and committing a "sacrilegious act," Bunn said.

The account marks a significant revelation in the investigation because it portrays Ray as driving participants to stay in the lodge despite signs all around him that the situation had gone horribly awry. Until now, few details had surfaced about Ray's actions inside in the sweat lodge.

Here's the link to the CNN Radio segment where Dr. Bunn first publicly spoke out about the incident.

In any case, it would seem that James Ray's buddy Joe "Mr. Fire" Vitale has even less cause to claim, as he snappishly did to blogger Duff McDuffee in a recent conversation on Joe's blog, that nobody really has any idea of what went on in that sweat lodge. It sounds like Duff isn't the clueless one here...

More tomorrow.

Addendum, 22 October: A few snippets...

Duff confronts the Death Ray: My new pal Duff McDuffee (see links below) happens to have been one of the two men who stood up at a James Ray public event in Denver on Tuesday night, October 20, and confronted James with questions about the sweat lodge incident and Colleen Conaway. Duff and his friend were politely but firmly escorted from the room by James Ray staffers. This confrontation made the New York Times, sort of. Duff tells me that he was slightly misquoted in the article, which reads in part:

Mr. Ray, who is based in Carlsbad, Calif., did not respond to requests for comment. At a public seminar in Denver on Tuesday, he was interrupted by two men who shouted, “Tell them the truth!” and: “You control people! You stood in front of the door and refused to let people leave.”

The men were escorted from the meeting, and people burst into applause for Mr. Ray. “I, too, want answers and am cooperating with authorities,” he said. He asked for a moment of silent prayer for those who had died.

According to Duff, he actually said, "You controlled people," and he asked James, "Did you block the door of the sweat lodge as reported on examiner.com?" But I quibble.

To me, what's most notable about this is that the crowd was still cheering for James instead of the dissenters. At any rate, Duff will be putting his own story up on his site soon, and I will link to it when he does.

Cosmic Connie's "View": The sweat lodge tragedy was a "Hot Topic" today (October 22) on ABC's The View. Host Whoopi Goldberg said repeatedly that she couldn't understand why the folks who were suffering didn't just get up and leave. Elisabeth Hasselbeck seemed to have a bit more insight about the way participants might be pressured into pushing their limits. The discussion mainly seemed to center around people's need for a guru/parent figure. (You can probably watch the whole thing on The View web site at ABC.com.) At any rate, I tried to send an email to The View but it wouldn't go through; apparently there was a glitch in the system. Or maybe my email was too long, but I didn't get a message indicating this. Anyway, for the record, here's what I tried to tell the ladies of The View:

Re the James Arthur Ray sweat lodge deaths: I know y’all have scads of hot topics to cover every day, so perhaps you weren’t able to really research this one, but I want to make a few points:

  1. Whoopi’s advice to just get up and leave sounds sensible and is, in theory. But the truth is that it’s rarely so easy to do that when you start feeling bad during these marathon retreats & workshops. These so-called gurus (and their trained staffers) are skilled in mind control; it’s no exaggeration to say they use some of the same tactics employed in torture – including forced sleeplessness and near-starvation, as well as more mundane "motivational" techniques such as bullying people to "push their limits," etc. In theory this is all in the name of getting folks to have a "breakthrough" but more important than that, it is a powerful manipulative tool to get them "motivated" to sign up for even more intensive & expensive events. The sweat lodge participants had been on a 36-hour fast, were sleep-deprived, & were on the last day of a grueling week of activities. I think Elisabeth, being a veteran of "Survivor," came closer to getting this than anyone else during your discussion this morning.
  2. Please do not ever forget that James Arthur Ray was part of "The Secret," for which Oprah, Larry King, Ellen and numerous others in the mainstream media gave such glowing endorsements. Many other self-help gurus such as Deepak Chopra are routinely given a pass as well. Moreover, most of the people who go to these marathon retreats, and, for that matter, most consumers of self-help literature and products, are well-educated, middle-class or affluent folks (mostly female) – your target demographic, in other words.
  3. There are critics who have been railing about the absurdity or even harmfulness of self-help culture for many years, but the pro-self-helpers and positive thinkers are the ones who get the most media attention. It’s too bad it takes a tragic incident like Sedona for the media to wake up to the dark side of the new age and self-help.
  4. The Sedona tragedy is not the first time James Arthur Ray has been associated with deaths and injury. Here’s a link to a brief New York Post piece on the matter. http://tinyurl.com/ykxhwd5

I’m sure you’ve already received a ton of other messages about this issue, but thanks for taking time to read this.

Connie L Schmidt
author of "Whirled Musings" blog
http://cosmicconnie.blogspot.com

Steve Salerno on how self-help can hurt: My friend Steve Salerno at SHAMblog, who has written several posts on the Jame Ray debacle, just had a superb short piece published in the Wall Street Journal, "Self-Help Doesn't Help—And Often Hurts." Here Steve describes James Ray's dubious credentials:

Mr. Ray draws on random elements of New Age and other psychobabble, hoping to make himself sound cosmically plugged-in. Here he is establishing his bona fides in a promotional video: "I've been initiated into three different Shamanic orders. I've studie[d] in The Mystery Schools." Which is fitting, because when it all blows up in his face, he may well be the most mystified guy in the room. He probably never thought that far ahead.

Here's the link.

Addendum, 23 October: A few more bits...
Survivor speaks to CBS: Not to be outdone by CNN Radio, CBS' Early Show aired a poignant interview with Dr. Beverley Bunn, the aforementioned participant in the James Ray sweat lodge disaster. Dr. Bunn, who was the late Kirby Brown's roommate during the retreat, was the first to speak out publicly about this incident. According to her account, she was one of those struggling to help her fellow attendees, while James Ray reportedly did nothing. Here is the link to the CBS interview.

Not surprisingly, James' publicist Howard Bragman hastened to do damage control after the first interview with Dr. Bunn was released. At that point, according to the October 21 AP article linked to in the previous sentence, he was still saying that many people had "amazing experiences" at the Spiritual Warrior Retreat, that we should not be so quick to rush to judgment, and that Beverley Bunn was "only one person out of many at this point." Mr. Bragman, I imagine your job is becoming increasingly more difficult as more damning information about your client comes to light. You'd better cash those checks from him while you can.

"Do these suits make my guilt look too big?": As you may know, the family of Liz Neuman, James Ray's "Dream Team" member and the third person who died in the ill-fated sweat lodge, had previously announced they were planning to file suit against James Ray. Another participant, 59-year-old Sidney Spencer, has also announced she is suing him, saying she nearly died from kidney and liver failure as a result of her time in the sweat lodge. I imagine we'll be reading about many more lawsuits against James Ray in the weeks to come. His legal team is probably even busier than his propaganda team.

From buck-toothed nerd to charismatic "Death Ray" ~ a true American success story: This article from today's AZCentral.com site has a pretty good profile of James Ray, and it also quotes a couple of my buds, SHAMblog's Steve Salerno and Americans Against Self-Help Fraud's John Curtis. (And by the way, the bit about the buck teeth and nerdishness in my sub-head are from James' own self-description. The "Death Ray" appellation is not.)

The Droid does it again: My friend and fellow blogger Salty Droid has been obsessed with the haunting story of Colleen Conaway, the 46-year-old Minnesota woman who jumped to her death from a third-floor mall balcony during a July 2009 James Ray event. The Droid went off in furious pursuit of this story and was able to speak with Ms. Conaway's sister. Droid's blog post not only reveals some of the unsettling effects that James Ray's well-oiled manipulation machine can have on followers (persuading them to spend money they don't have is only one result), but also the outrageous way his organization handled things when they discovered Ms. Conaway was missing in action. Here's the link. (Thanks to faithful reader Yakaru for alerting me to this piece.)

Addendum, 24 October: Still more links to make ya think (as if you weren't already)...

Scientist Bob defends the Death Ray: A friend of mine pointed out an October 22 LA Times story by Scott Kraft, which I'd overlooked in my customary haste. This one almost seems to paint James Ray as a hero. And, like the New York Times piece I linked to the other day, it illustrates that there are still a lot of people in denial. Here's the bit about those "hecklers" in Denver (one of whom is my fellow blogger Duff McDuffee):

Ray was interrupted in Denver by a man who stood and shouted: "Tell people the truth, James. You are being investigated for murder." A man next to him added, "Tell them what really happened in that sweat lodge." The hecklers were shouted down by others in the audience, who told them to "go home," while Ray repeated, "This is not a press conference." After about two minutes, the men left the hotel conference room, trailed by two security officers...

...Though shaken by the deaths, Ray has quickly returned to the road, teaching his secrets of success even as he uses them to cling to his own.

"I've taught that we're all going to have adversity and we can't run from it," a somber, teary-eyed Ray said Tuesday night at the beginning of his free recruitment session in Denver. "I've certainly learned a lot in the past 10 days."

Some weren't aware of the Sedona deaths until Ray addressed it. But Lyle Guthmiller, 44, a heating and air conditioning technician, said it didn't dissuade him from considering signing up for one of the retreats. "When you're pushing the limits, unfortunately, things can happen," he said. "I'd rather live that life than be a couch potato."

You tell 'em, Lyle. My guy Ron read that and commented, "Better a couch potato than a baked potato."

According to this article, one of my favorite snark targets, "Scientist" Bob Proctor, has offered his opinions of his former protege.

Among Ray's early mentors was Bob Proctor, a veteran of the self-help circuit and author of "The Science of Getting Rich."

"James is a good person who has helped a lot of people and is dedicated to helping people," said Proctor, 75, who has been in the business for 41 years.

The cloud over Ray's work caused by the Sedona deaths is "a terrible thing," Proctor added. "It will definitely change his life and, hopefully, it'll be a learning experience."

Yeah, Bob, you have a few clouds over your head, too, and maybe some day some of those will come to public attention as well. Hopefully, it'll be a learning experience.

James Ray ~ the missing links: Yesterday I discovered a new Twittermate who goes by the name Rachelle (RWRenfrew). Rachelle's usual beat is politix, but she is also on the Death Ray/Sweatgate story, and has provided some excellent resources that give a glimpse of the arc of James Arthur Ray's career. F'rinstance:

  • James Arthur Ray's 1996 website: http://bit.ly/2Qo5KA
  • James Arthur Ray's website archive - alpha index of links from 1996 - http://bit.ly/rayindex
  • Online archive of James Arthur Ray's website since 1996 http://bit.ly/2GBuFM Is he still using some pics from mid 1990s?
  • James Arthur Ray's 2001 MLM Network Marketing Business Quiz http://bit.ly/321Jyu
  • James Arthur Ray, the GodSpirit and that mustache - @jamesaray's website in 2004 http://bit.ly/3Klxgh (re sweat lodge)
  • James Arthur Ray Mass head shaving pics @ Spiritual Warrior '07 are too cult-y disturbing http://bit.ly/4ffgX3 re: sweat lodge sedona
  • Intense James Arthur Ray job description for Sales Person/"Certified Harmonic Wealth® Coach" NO Salary-Just Commission http://bit.ly/2pbFD7
  • James Arthur Ray's Participant Guide for the 2009 Spiritual Warrior retreat http://bit.ly/1032009 re: sweat lodge deaths sedona.

Another Twitterer I discovered through Rachelle is Plastic Shaman, who provided a couple of links that give an idea of how James Ray's prices have skyrocketed over the years.

RNRenfrew James Ray charges a lot more for his products now. Must be inflation. Then: http://bit.ly/2AKdGb Now: http://bit.ly/hts9I

Plastic Shaman also helpfully provides a link to a Wikipedia page explaining just what a "plastic shaman" is. The only thing missing is a photo of James Arthur Ray.

Addendum, 25 October: I keep thinking I should just let this go for the time being and turn my focus to something else. But the links just keep coming in...

An opinion not everyone shares... Christine Whelan's opinion piece in the Washington Post today has some people, such as Joe "Mr. Fire" Vitale's buddy Pat O'Bryan, grousing that Ms. Whelan is using the James Ray sweat lodge tragedy to indict the entire self-help industry. I say, if the shoe fits...

Duff versus the Death Ray, continued: More details about Duff McDuffee and friend's attempt to confront James Ray at his recent Denver event – as well as what happened after they left the room – can be found here.

"What needs to die...?" Speaking of Duff, he provided a link on Twitter to what he describes as a hilarious and intelligent commentary by lofinikita on the James Ray sweat lodge debacle. I highly recommend the video – here's the link. I only have a couple of quibbles: (1) The commenter said the sweat lodge tragedy happened on October 12. Actually, it happened October 8. (2) He also cited James Ray's much-quoted Tweets about death and dying, mentioning that James was Tweeting while the debacle was unfolding. This implies that James was blithely Tweeting away while people were sick and dying around him. Actually, the Tweets in question were written days before the tragedy.

Apart from these few factual glitches, I think the video is spot-on.

Larry King: what a difference a few years (and a few deaths) make: Nearly three years ago, so the story goes, Larry King's producer fell under the spell of The Secret. She got Larry all excited about it, and the result was a months-long love affair between Larry and the hustledorks who starred in the world's most famous New-Wage moviemercial. James Ray was one of those who got a pass on King's own multi-part infomercial for The Secret – a two-parter in November of 2006, and another segment in March of 2007. The March 2007 segment was called, "The Secret: Is It For Real?", and included, besides James, Joe Vitale, Bob Proctor, Lisa Nichols, and John Assaraf. Here you can read the transcript of that show, and if you want to watch the show, you can do so here. James' segment, in which he is interviewed remotely while at one of his events in Phoenix, is here. To see James' blog posts about his appearances on Larry King Live, including the November 2006 segment, click here. As you can see by the triumphal copy, he was really flying high in those days.

Well, times have changed, and on Monday night, October 26, at 9:00 PM Eastern Standard Time on CNN, Larry will be delving into the dark side of The Secret as he interviews the family of Kirby Brown, one of the women who died at James Ray's sweatfest in Sedona. According to a bit on the Anorak News web site, this is particularly interesting because back during the honeymoon phase of The Secret, Larry's producer was also shopping James to a Hollywood production company to host James' own show, which was supposed to be based on The Secret. But apparently that was unsuccessful, due in part to James abandoning the prospective project when Oprah's people told him they were interested in producing a show starring him, and based on his teachings. Alas, those talks broke off too, leaving James without a TV show of his own after all – not that this hampered his ability to make a living in any way. Says the Anorak reporter, "So the big question is, Will King go easy on Ray's actions during Monday's show...or will he be out for blood?" It should be interesting.

By the way, the Anorak site itself is pretty interesting, in a gossipy sort of way. Here's a link to a piece on James Ray's "sweat mansion" in Beverly Hills. And here's a piece about some consumer complaints against James Ray's business practices.

Addendum, 26 October: Just a couple of updates...

Watch Larry King tonight (and send in your questions and comments now). I just wanted to remind y'all that tonight at 9:00 PM Eastern Time on CNN, Larry King Live will feature an interview with the family of Kirby Brown, who died in the sweat lodge incident in Sedona. According to the blurb on the Larry King Live web site, the family thinks the deaths were not accidental, and they want answers. The show will also feature all the latest information on the ongoing investigation. There's a link on the LKL site for you to email your questions to the show. Here's hoping that Larry will finally be as tough on the selfish-help guru business, or at least on the selfish-help guru now in the spotlight, as he wasn't back in 2006 and 2007. Naturally, I'll provide a link to the segment as soon as I can.

[10:30 PM] "How do you live with that?": Here's a link to part of the Larry King Live show in which Kirby Brown's mother speaks about James Ray's "generosity" to her family. One point that was painfully clear to me is that despite her grief she shows a lot more concern for the survivors of this tragedy than James himself has displayed thus far. Legal issues aside, this one segment is more damning of him from a moral standpoint than just about anything I have seen.

Addendum, 28 October: And the saga of Sweatgate continues. Here are a few more bits and pieces that have been in the news over the past few days...

We're from the government, and we're here to self-help: On Tuesday, October 27, US Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) asked for both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the U.S. Justice Department to take a close look at James Arthur Ray and the ill-fated Spiritual Warrior retreat, and, it appears, at similar selfish-help gurus and events. This is from the Shakopee Valley (Minn.) News:

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Klobuchar urges the Justice Department, in addition to any ongoing state investigation, “to review Mr. Ray’s “Spiritual Warrior” program, determine whether any federal laws were violated, and take any appropriate action.”

In a letter to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, Klobuchar asks the FTC “to take a close look at the marketing and advertising practices of Mr. Ray’s ‘Spiritual Warrior’ program and similar activities offered by other individuals and companies.”

Klobuchar also told the FTC that, “Consumers should not be lured into purchasing unsafe and potentially deadly products or services based on false or misleading claims.”

As you may know if you've read previous posts on this blog, I'm somewhat of a libertarian who generally shrinks from the idea of the government getting its nose any further into private businesses. That's why I've always been a little ambivalent about my friend John Curtis' campaign to force the self-help industry in the U.S. to conform strictly to FTC fair-advertising regulations. I am generally sympathetic with the libertarian (or, dare I say it, conservative) viewpoint that more people need to take personal responsibility, and that we do not need to create more of a "nanny state" than we already have.

But I also know how susceptible most of us are to manipulation. Even those who would never dream of spending ten grand to be starved, dehydrated and bullied could, given a clever and skillful (and perhaps deceptive) manipulator, be coerced into doing some very unwise things. And I have to admit that, given the information I have seen of James Ray's business operation and his own personal arrogance, a big part of me is cheering Senator Klobuchar on. In particular, when a hustler's actions result in people dying, said hustler should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. When we get into the area of consumer law, however, particularly false advertising, things become more tricky, as so many of the promises the hustledorks make are too abstract and nebulous to really pin down. On the other hand, shady business practices (e.g., irregularities in billing or deceptive refund policies) might be easier for reformers to pursue.

One more point: I think that if the New-Wage hucksters are allowed to ply their trades more or less unimpeded, their critics must also be allowed to engage in open discussion without being threatened by the hustledorks' high-priced legal teams. Fair's fair, after all.

Good call, Hyperion: As you may have heard, Hyperion Publishers announced last week that it is postponing the publication of two works by James Ray: the paperback version of his bestseller, Harmonic Wealth: The Secret of Attracting the Life You Want, and a new book, The Seven Laws of True Wealth. The link in the previous sentence is to the Publishers Weekly online mention of the news. For some interesting opinions on the matter, here is Women Who Run With The Wolves author Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Although her writing in this piece is a bit rough around the edges, and although she apparently had some trouble at first with James Ray's middle name, Dr. Estes offers some good insight into (among other things) Hyperion's probable agenda.

I'm sure James is disappointed with Hyperion's decision, but I'm also sure that's the least of his worries now (although I wouldn't be surprised if he tried to sic some of his legal team onto the publisher anyway, for breach of contract or some such thing). I suppose he can always self-publish, but then again, if he's contractually obligated to Hyperion, he might run into some difficulties with that.

If you're too smarmy for your own publicist, you're pretty smarmy. No offense to publicists, but you know what I mean. Anyway, my pal Mojo, in her latest comment, was the first to alert me to the fact that James Ray's publicist, Howard Bragman, is no longer working for him. Here it is in black and white, within this article from the Minneapolis-St.Paul Star Tribune web site. Thanks to Yakaru for confirming this and providing the link both here and on The Droid's latest JAR blog post (the usual caveat applies if you follow the Droid link: if "salty" language offends you, stay away).

BitterTweets: One of the best ways to keep up with news and views on the James Ray Death Lodge is...where else?...on Twitter. Here's the link to the "Death Lodge" page. And if you have anything to add to the conversation, be sure to follow your Tweet with #deathlodge.

That's it for now. More later...and who knows, I may eventually get around to actually blogging about something else. Meanwhile, thank you as always for your comments and contributions to this ever-expanding post.

Addendum, 29 October: Sweatgate, Day 22...

Death Ray vows to get to the bottom of it all: The big news is that James Ray has finally cried, "Uncle!" and has, as he tells it, decided to cancel the rest of his appearances for 2009. As he puts it on his blog...

In the days following the terrible accident, I struggled to respond in the right way. This is the most emotionally wrenching situation I've ever faced, and it's now clear I must dedicate all of my physical and emotional energies to helping bring some sort of closure to this matter. That means helping the authorities and the families get to the bottom of what happened.

I'm committed to devoting all of my time, for as long as it takes, to achieve this goal...

I know you probably can't resist comparing this to OJ Simpson's vows about fifteen years ago to "find the real killers," so go ahead.

Now, looking at it from James Ray's point of view, this is a very touchy situation and could very well be one of those damned-if-he-does-and-damned-if-he-doesn't deals. No matter what he does, he's going to get criticism from someone. But in this case, since people did die on his watch, after all – not only at Sedona but in San Diego last July – I think he is (finally) doing the right thing by canceling the rest of his appearances – although rumor has it that he might have been inspired to make this decision only after venues started canceling on him (see Cassandra Yorgey's piece on the mysterious cancellation of James' "Quantum Leap" event at a tony Las Vegas venue).

Still, I can't help but wonder if he's plotting a way to go into hiding completely. I am picturing him leading the police on a low-speed chase to his four million dollar Beverly Hills swankienda, upon which James will jump out of his car, rush into his house, slam the door and yell out, "Too late! Door's shut!"

Anyhow, here's the link to James' blog post announcing the cancellations. That's his story, and he's sticking to it. Until he comes up with a better one, that is.

Nightline goes "beyond the sweat lodge": If you can, watch ABC's Nightline tonight (11:30 EDT, 10:30 CDT) Martin Bashir is will anchor a segment on "James Ray's Inspirational, Controversial World." Once Nightline gets hold of it, you know it has hit the mainstream. James, my boy, you're truly famous now.

Speaking out for another James ~ James Shore: I stumbled across this poignant blog post today from someone who is mourning for James Shore, the man who lost his life in Sedona. The blogger also has a few other posts about the topic.

Bragman out, "Master of Disaster" in: I mentioned yesterday that James Ray's former publicist, Howard Bragman, has split. Here's a little more about Bragman's departure and Ray's hiring of a new PR guy who's known as "The Master of Disaster."

Holosync, or sinkhole? Besides promising participants in the now-infamous 2009 Spiritual Warrior retreat that they would learn the ways of the warrior and all kinds of other traditional indigenous secrets, James Ray also promised to teach them cutting-edge scientifical stuff such as how to open up new neural pathways in order to reach a whole new realm of consciousness. Towards this end, as you may know if you saw the participants' guide, there were a few prerequisites to help get participants ready for the retreat. Required reading ahead of time was The Holotropic Mind by transpersonal psychology pioneer Dr. Stanislav Grof', the inventor of a technique called Holotropic Breathwork. Yet, as intrepid blogger Cassandra Yorgey pointed out in an article last week (I know I keep linking to her, but she's really on this story), James Ray himself is not certified in Dr. Grof's methods. Cassandra spoke at length with Dr. Grof, who said he had had never even heard of James until this tragedy happened.

Participants were also required to "invest in Holosync technology," which purports to teach you how to meditate like a holy man in no time at all. A friend of mine speculated that this could be because of an unholy alliance (otherwise known as a joint venture) between James Ray and Bill Harris, owner of Centerpointe co-inventor of the Holosync scam. The evidence is right there on James' blog. I haven't really blogged about Bill Harris (yet), but sources who know him have indicated to me that he is about on the same par, ethically speaking, as James Ray and numerous others in the selfish-help biz. And that's all I'm going to say about that right now, other than to point you to this video where Bill Harris completes the cycle of mutual masturbation with James Ray. Be sure to wash up thoroughly after watching.

Whatever you may think of holotropic or holo or holistic anything, it does seem that these techniques have some effect on the psyche, and in some cases could actually be harmful to a person who is unstable or unhealthy in any way. Given these possibilities, it appears that James Ray was egregiously under-qualified to be teaching or administering any of these techniques. But hey, anything for a buck, or a half million bucks, as the case may be...

I'll have more soon.

Addendum, 3 November: It's been a while since I've added to this post, but as you know if you've been following the James Arthur Ray "Sweatgate" story on the Internet, events continue to unfold.

The first two lawsuits against James Ray were officially filed last week: a wrongful death suit by the family of Minnesota resident Liz Neuman, a longtime supporter of James Ray and member of his "Dream Team"; and another suit by an Arizona woman, Sidney Spencer, who was badly hurt and nearly died. Sidney has also accused James of failing to return some $10,000 worth of jewelry that she removed for the sweat lodge ceremony... shades of Byron Katie of The Work fame.

The mainstream media have also taken this story and run with it; as I mentioned a few days ago, ABC's Nightline aired a pretty damning report on James Ray. And on November 2, Psychology Today just published an article about this real-life "horror movie." (The link in the previous sentence was to Part 1 of the article. Here's Part 2.)

The blogosphere is still abuzz as well, and, of course, they're still Tweeting on Twitter about the story. Once again, here's the link to the #deathlodge thread. You'll find not only snarky observations but also links to all the latest news and commentary from the mainstream media and the blogosphere.

Now, I hate to blog and run, but I have a Russian wish-dolly matter to attend to. Oh, yeah, and work, and a life... But I'll have more updates soon. Meanwhile, I hope you'll keep the comments coming. And don't worry if you don't see your comment when you first follow the link to the "comments" page. After the comments to this post hit the 200 mark, it rolled over to another page. So scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on the "newer comments" link. Thank you as always for your participation and support.

Addendum, 4 November: A couple of items...
Remembrance show: I just received an email from another friend of James Shore, one of those who died in the James Ray sweat lodge tragedy in Sedona. The header indicated that the email came from Raven Woods, but the email was signed Alexander Raven, so in truth I don't know if the sender's name is Raven or Alexander. In any case, here's the message:

James Shore was my friend.
I've helped a DJ friend in Albuquerque with a small remembrance show about James and losing someone.
I don't know what he will include from all the information and music I have given him.

You can hear the show live and it will be archived and available to listen to or save.

Broadcast Thursday, Nov. 5 from 1:30 to 4:00 PM Mountain time.

http://www.kunm.org/

The dj is Travis Parkin.

KUNM-FM is a public radio station. The remembrance show does not currently seem to be listed on their home page, but that of course is subject to change. Check back frequently on the link above for updates.

JAR downsizing?: They're already joking on Twitter about Death Ray moving from the big house to the Big House. Although no charges have been filed (yet), his big (7,234-square-foot) Beverly Hills mansion is now on the market. He bought it for a cool four mil this past March, but it is currently listed for $5,495,000. (In this still-stagnant housing market? What...does he think his special magickal Ray-rays added nearly 1.5 mil in value to the place?)

Addendum, 12 November: As many of you are probably aware, a third lawsuit has been filed against James Arthur Ray. Dennis Mehravar, a Canadian real estate agent, has joined the civil suit filed by Arizona resident Sidney Spencer. According to Tucson attorney Ted Schmidt ( no relation to Yours Truly), Mehravar passed out in the sweat lodge, was hospitalized, and still has pain and dizziness. As you may also recall, a separate civil lawsuit was filed by the family of Liz Neuman, a Minnesota woman who died in the incident.

The criminal investigation is still underway, but so far no charges have been filed. Yavapai County Sheriff Steve Waugh recently stated that investigators are working diligently on hundreds of interviews, and they expect to forward their report to prosecutors next month.

Meanwhile, James Ray's only public statements about the case continue to remove anything remotely resembling blame or responsibility from himself. He's gotten a lot of flak not only about that but, in recent days, about the regular "Thoughts of Power" messages that continue to be sent out on his behalf. What some people may not be considering is that the latter could just be one of the balls that got dropped during the chaotic flurry of activity that must surely characterize James Ray International these days. In other words, it's not something James is doing himself. Even so, it seems pretty crass, all things considered. As an anonymous commenter to RumorRat's blog post about this matter wrote today:

These are posted automatically, but you would think that someone would have stopped them. This has been one of JAR’s problem for the past several years. He has inexperienced staff who have been focused on propping him up and telling him that he should be a “rock and roll star” and JAR just laps that up. That is why most of his clients (supporters) are fans. His downward spiral into arrogance and greed has been his undoing.

Isn't that almost always the case with these New-Wage hustledorks?

By the way, for those who are new to this story, here's a handy and fairly current timeline on "Sweatgate."

And then there's always the Twitter page for "Deathlodge."

Meanwhile, here are Steve Salerno's latest comments on the James Ray "debacle-in-the-desert" (and the free pass that the selfish-help gurus have gotten for so many years).

More soon...

Addendum, 14 November: A few items...

An URL to remember: The Sweatgate investigation continues, and one arm of it even has its own web site now, sponsored by the law firm handling two (so far) of the civil cases: http://sweatlodgeinvestigation.com/ There's also a handy contact form if you have James Ray experiences of your own to share.

One nation stands up: The Lakota tribes of North and South Dakota have officially filed suit against James Ray, the owners of the Angel Valley Retreat Center, the state of Arizona, and the United States. Here is the PDF of the complaint.

Whoremonic Wealth... Lawsuits, schmawsuits; you can't keep a good hustledork down! James Ray's latest promotional email blast reveals that even though he has canceled the rest of his events for 2009, 2010 is a whole new year. As of now, at least three Harmonic Wealth events are scheduled. Here are the details on his main web site.

Those of you who are considering attending one of these pricey (but not as pricey as the infamous Spiritual Warrior) weekends, but are wondering if it's truly a worthwhile expense, will be glad to know that James offers an iron-clad money-back guarantee. There's only one itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny stipulation:

Come to the Harmonic Wealth Weekend. Soak up everything I have to share with you...learn all of my most powerful success secrets...I mean everything. And if, at the end of the weekend, you don't believe that Harmonic Wealth is everything I say it is...if you're not absolutely thrilled with your decision to attend, I'll give you your entire tuition back. It's just that simple.

But there is one little (quite reasonable) condition... You must attend and participate fully in the entire program. This guarantee is void if you skip sessions or don't participate in the exercises.

Also, you apparently only have a chance to get your money back at the very end of the weekend. There's nothing about a six-month guarantee, or some other reasonable time period that would allow you to determine if the workshop really did make a difference in your life. Most people who stay for such a grueling weekend are going to be so full of endorphins, feel-good workshop vibes, and new-friendship highs immediately following the event that they'll be very unlikely to demand their money back.

Well, most folks who aren't dead, that is. If you die while participating in exercises during a James Ray Harmonic Wealth Weekend, is there an iron-clad guarantee you'll get your life back at the end of the weekend? Now, that would be something.

Stay tuned; more soon.

Addendum, 8 December: A couple of items...
NEWS FLASH: The media turn their attention from Tiger Woods' wandering willy for a few brief moments! Well, it has been exactly two months since the Death Lodge tragedy in Sedona, and James Ray has yet to speak out publicly about the incident, other than the insipid messages on his web site, the most recent one (as of today) being on November 30. In that post-Thanksgiving missive, he said once again that his people are cooperating with the authorities in order to determine what happened, etc. etc. etc. Yawn.

But there's a new spate of media coverage as of today. ABC's Good Morning America had a piece this morning (if you follow that link you'll see a link to the video), and there will be more tonight on the ABC show Nightline (11:30 PM ET). Another whistle-blower has come forth: Melinda Martin, a former employee of James Ray International, who attended the deadly ceremony and says she was fired several weeks afterward.

According to Melinda, James Ray did nothing to help the people who had collapsed, but just stood there. She says he neither stopped the ceremony nor tried to help afterward as she was performing CPR on the dying. In response to her comments, James Ray's company told ABC News that James did try to help people, "according to information the company collected from employees and event participants during its private investigation." The JRI version of the story goes that James was simply stunned but did what he could to assist. Now, I have to admit that my personal impression, my gut feeling, when watching the ABC video of Melinda was that she seemed to be kind of enjoying her fifteen minutes, maybe a little too much. To tell the truth – and this is in no way a defense of Death Ray, so please don't think I've gone over to the dark side – I can't decide if I find her absolutely positively 100% credible or not. There's just something I can't quite put my finger on. On the other hand, her account does seem to be in sync with other eyewitness accounts (although I'm sure that JAR's defense could easily tear that point apart just by virtue of the fact that those other accounts were made public weeks ago). However, as a former employee of JRI, as well as an eyewitness to the event, she's certainly worth listening to.

Obviously, there's a lot to sort out here. And despite my slight reservations about Melinda Martin, I have seen far too much damning information on James Ray for me to believe that he should get off scot-free (quite the contrary). I'm just saying that this story is probably a bit more nuanced than either side might normally like to present it. And since this is such a sensationalist story, people are going continue to come forward with their two-cents' worth, either as eyewitnesses or experts of some sort, and some who do so will be self-serving. (I'm smelling a lot of book deals and maybe a movie deal or two.) And the journalists and reporters will be trampling each other (as well as a few intrepid bloggers) in the race to get their "exclusives." If all of the publicity serves to make a real difference in our culture, if it wakes people up and inspires more folks to exercise their critical thinking faculties, I'm all for it. And at least the new wave of criticism of the industry provides a balance to all of the crap that's out there. But at this point it's hard to predict the long-term results of this incident.

By the way, the GMA video also contained a segment on Colleen Conaway's suicide last July during a James Ray Harmonic Wealth weekend in San Diego. We've discussed that a little bit here, and my fellow blogger Salty Droid, who has become quite a crusader against New-Wage scoundrels, has written some excellent posts on that tragic case as well. Here's the link to one of his posts.

CNN's Anderson Cooper has also turned his attention on James Ray again. The link to a short video, which focuses on Colleen Conaway, can be found here, and there will be a full report tonight on AC360° at 10PM ET.

There's still a lot of speculation going on about just exactly what James Ray International is cooking up with "Mr. Fancy Pants," as another fellow blogger, Cassandra Yorgey, likes to call James' new high-dollar PR guy, Mark Fabiani, aka "The Master of Disaster." Will James himself finally start doing media interviews, under the careful guidance of Mr. Fancy Pants? Perhaps he will if the news whores ask him the right questions. Cassandra says that if any mainstream media types want some information about James that he might prefer to keep to himself, they can come to her.

Meanwhile, in Oz... Although this is not about James Ray, it is about the larger matter of accountability (and credentials) in the selfish-help industry. One of my regular readers/participants sent me a link to the latest developments in the tragic Rebekah Lawrence case, which I blogged about this past September. Rebekah was a 34-year-old Aussie woman who took all of her clothes off at work and leaped out of an office window to her death shortly after taking a personal-growth course called The Turning Point. Before that she had never displayed any sort of psychosis. The tragedy happened in December of 2005, and as a result of the investigations into Rebekah's death (as well as other deaths associated with The Turning Point), the self-help industry in Australia will come under intense scrutiny and, more than likely, strict new legislation.

Do we want this for the U.S.? I've often said I think there's too much government interference in our lives as there is. On the other hand, individuals as well as companies have a tendency to try to do whatever they can get away with in order to make a buck. At the very least, workshop leaders should be held accountable when real harm is done.

Later: I just saw the Nightline piece on Sweatgate, featuring an extended interview with Melinda Martin. (Here is a link to the video. And here is the summary on the Nightline web site.) Whether or not she's enjoying her fifteen minutes, as I speculated above, I have to admit, after watching this extended conversation, that Melinda does paint a pretty credible picture of James Ray as a freakin' sociopath with an ego the size of California. One point I found interesting was that employees of James Ray International were not allowed to address James directly, a rule that apparently wasn't that much of a challenge to enforce, as he was rarely in his office, being so busy trying to live the life of a Hollywood star and all that. Also noteworthy: Melinda's graphic description of the death scene, and her claim that the paramedics at first thought it was a mass-suicide scene (a la Jonestown or perhaps Heaven's Gate). Melinda also described the "breathwork" participants had to do, which led them to altered states characterized by screaming and twitching like madmen and women. (The interviewer acted as if this was the most bizarre and unheard of thing, apparently not realizing that this kind of stuff goes on a lot at New-Wage workshops.)

The Nightline segment also covered Colleen Conaway's story, for which Melinda provided her perspective as well, since as an employee she was at the San Diego event in July. Even though I'd already read most of the information about Colleen on the Droid's blog (sadly, his name wasn't mentioned on Nightline, and nor for that matter was Cassandra Yorgey's), I was appalled all over again by the way James and gang initially tried to brush Colleen's death aside (as they did the Sedona deaths months later). The official story to be told to anyone asking about Colleen was, "She's fine. She decided not to return to the event." And then, of course, as Droid originally reported, all of the surviving participants just partied on into the night.

Well, you know me and my mood swings. One moment I'm bending over backward to try to be fair and balanced and see the nuances of the story, while declaring that I don't really believe James Ray belongs behind bars even if he's found guilty, because he's not a violent criminal. The next moment I find myself gritting my teeth and saying, "UNDER the jail!" I have to admit that my thoughts after Nightline were more towards the under-the-jail end of the mood spectrum again. (I know what those mainstream-media-hating nutcases will say: "That's what they WANT you to believe, Cosmic Connie.") Whatever.

Addendum: 9 December
Truth is stranger than...
Speaking of Cassandra Yorgey, she published an excellent piece yesterday comparing aspects of a speculative-fiction classic, Frank Herbert's Dune Trilogy, to what's going on in the New-Wage/selfish-help/McSpirituality biz (particularly in regard to the death-lodge incident). My guy Ron pointed me to this piece; he's long been a fan of the Dune books.

Before you dismiss Cassandra's premise as trivial, sniffing that "after all, Dune is just fiction," I would ask you to remember that spec fiction has a lot to teach us, particularly since many of its authors have been great students of human consciousness as well as keen observers of social, political, and cultural trends. Even if you haven't read Dune and have no plans to do so, you might find Cassandra's piece to be provocative. One point she seems to be making with which I disagree: She appears to be clearly convinced that James Ray had murderous intent, and until I see more evidence to convince me, I think that's too far-fetched. But her other points about the process of mind control and the systematic creation of followers/worshipers hits way too close to home. But enough jabbering: Here's the link to her piece.

Addendum: 29 December: The investigation of the James Arthur Ray tragedies continues, and not only the mainstream media but several of my allies in the blogosphere have been keeping up with it. Please don't think I've lost interest in this story; far from it. I'm simply no longer attempting to share every link or bit of breaking news, since others are doing so well tracking the developments. However, I will continue to pop in now and again with a few highlights.

Another damning document? The affidavit prepared on October 23, 2009 by Detective Ross Diskin of the Yavapai County (Arizona) Sheriff's Office has finally been released to the public. Late last week, at the request of Phoenix's NBC affiliate Channel 12 (KPNX), a Yavapai County Superior Court judge unsealed the search warrants and witness statements.

My friend Dave Cook, a fairly frequent contributor to the discussions here and on other blogs, commented on one of my more recent threads: "I have to say, after reading the affidavit...that I feel much better about justice prevailing. The good detective has a very clear perspective on the pattern of negligence that led to the three deaths in Arizona. This may turn out well for the victims' families after all." After reading the document in its entirety I think there's a possibility that he may be right. Here's a link.

The document contains the results of interviews with eyewitness accounts. Most of these won't come as much of a surprise to those who have been following this story in the media. There is also additional information about trouble at previous sweat lodge ceremonies led by James Ray. There are also details of injuries at some of James' other events, as well as a summary of Colleen Conaway's death at the July 2009 event in San Diego.

One of the parts I found interesting was the long list of items that Detective Diskin requested to search. An item that caught my eye was "#1038 ~ Miscellaneous folders, 'Stock Lawsuits,' 'Ken Browning,' 'Shawn Lawler,' 'Charity,' 'Tim Doyle'." These items were found in a file cabinet in the James Ray International offices, and at the time of the affidavit, it was thought the folders might reveal "other possible victims of James Ray." It might be interesting to follow up on some of those items and see if any of these names have surfaced in reports anywhere.

If you don't feel like making your way through the 28-page document, here's a link to a story summarizing the matter, originally published in the Arizona Republic. You will notice if you read this story (or if you read the entire affidavit linked to above) that there are differing accounts of James Ray's behavior during and immediately after the 2009 sweat lodge incident. Some say he was completely indifferent, and some say he did make some efforts to help out once he realized something was wrong. Some say he pressured people to stay in the sweat lodge, while others say he didn't. And, of course, one of James Ray's attorneys stressed that the material tells only part of the story.

But it's a pretty damning part of the story. If you just want the highlights of the document, hop on over to my pal Salty Droid's blog post about the matter. The Droid has really been keeping on top of James Ray's troubles (as well as those of other hustledorks, particularly if they have anything whatsoever to do with Internet marketing).

Droid cites some of the more disturbing events summarized in the affidavit, such as an incident that occurred after the fourth round in the sweat lodge. One participant feared he was having a heart attack and kept saying, "I don't want to die, I don't want to die." Rather than summon medical aid, James Ray went all faux-Native American warrior on him and said, "It's a good day to die."

James Shore, who ended up dying before it was all over, reportedly helped others get out to safety and then went back in himself. When he tried lifting up one flap of the tent so those in the back could get more oxygen, James Ray called the act "sacrilegious." He said the same thing to a woman who later tried to open the tent flap to pull out two of the victims.

So even though there are some conflicting reports about just what James Ray did or didn't do, and when he did or didn't do it, things aren't looking too good for him right now. And if you don't believe it (or even if you do), read Cassandra Yorgey's long and detailed summary.

Meanwhile, business is booming in Sedona. This piece, from the news blog of the alt-weekly Phoenix New Times, speaks for itself. The self-help business, particularly in Sedona, is booming despite (or perhaps even because of?) the sweat lodge tragedy. One organizer of an upcoming personal-growth workshop in Sedona has said that business is better than ever, adding that she's had registrants from Switzerland, Norway, and Canada. "That's never happened before," she said. As the author of the New Times piece, James King, wrote, "Apparently cooking three people to death in a makeshift sweat tent is a tourist-grab – who knew?" Also noted in the article: James Ray's colleague and co-star in The Secret, John Assaraf, has said that despite the tragedies, James held the event out of "loving" and "caring." So that's what they call greed these days.

Spam for the holidays. It seems apparent that no one has tended to the James Ray International spam machine, judging from the fact that a few names have still not been purged from the database. According to this post on Dan Collins' blog, the widow of Sedona victim James Shore (a close friend of Dan's) received this email on December 21 from the James Ray's organization.

From: James Arthur Ray <jamesray@jamesray.com>
Date: Mon, Dec 21, 2009 at 5:36 PM
Subject: Happy holidays
To: [email address]

Happy holidays to all my friends and loved ones…

I just wanted to send out a quick message during this season to remind you to take time from all the typical rush to keep in mind the true value of what the holidays represent; to connect with your family; to count the many blessings you have in your life; to celebrate all your accomplishments for the year, whether great or small; to remember all the wonderful lessons you’ve learned, even if they came disguised as challenges; and to maybe most importantly take some time for yourself and reflect upon your dreams, intentions and values for the new year.
Happy holidays,

James Arthur Ray

President/CEO
James Ray International, Inc.
This message was sent from James Arthur Ray to [email address]. It was sent from: James Ray Intl, 5927 Balfour Court, Suite 104, Carlsbad, CA 92008. You can modify/update your subscription via the link below.

On the other hand, it is the recipient's responsibility to purge himself or herself from the database. I suppose we can't expect James Ray's people to do it, especially since there probably aren't all that many of them left.

On a more poignant note, Dan's post served as a reminder, for those who might need it, of the impact that the sweat lodge deaths have had on those who knew and loved the victims.

James’ youngest – his son, D, fell fast asleep knowing that in the morning he would know the truth of Santa Claus… He told Alyssa [James' widow] that if Santa was real, he would surely bring his father back (especially given how well-behaved he's been these past couple months.) He tucked himself in early, so excited was he that his father would be returned to him when he awoke. Who will give him his childhood back?

Surely not the same person who took it away.

Stay tuned; more to come.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

* I began this post with a couple of quotations from James Ray, expressing his excitement about the Spiritual Warrior retreat. For more of his unwittingly prescient Tweets and comments (which he made before the tragedy but has now deleted from his own sites), see Duff McDuffee's blog post on the incident. There's also some good discussion about the whole break-you-down-to-build-you-up/extreme-enlightenment phenomenon.

Also see Duff's excellent article on James Ray and the you-can-have-it-all mentality that has made millions for James and his fellow Secret stars. (Duff doesn't just snark and snipe like I usually do; he actually proposes some alternative ways of thinking that might lead to more happiness for more people.)

And as a special added bonus... a friend of mine pointed me to another blog post by Duff, outlining seven proven steps to becoming a New-Wage hustledork.

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