Category: New Age

Nightline story on James Arthur Ray

In anticipation of his imminent indictment, former James Arthur Ray employee Melinda Martin dishes on her ex-boss on ABC’s Nightline. She says that employees weren’t permitted to address Ray directly, who kept himself “on a pedestal”; her fellow staffers forbade her to call 911 when things first started to spiral out of control in Sedona. The area outside the lodge looked like a MASH unit, she says, with people projectile vomiting everywhere. Ray emerged from the lodge as fresh as if he’d spent the day in a spa and made absolutely no effort to help any of the victims. In response to ABC’s story, Ray released statements from participants and employees that painted a starkly different picture:

According to the signed statement of one participant, ‘my impression was that James Ray was stunned about what was happening and was attempting to help as many people as he could. I do not feel there was any more James Ray could have done.’ The signed statement of a second participant said that ‘I realize that what has happened is a horrible tragedy, but I do not feel that James Ray is responsible for what has occurred.’ Finally, the signed statement of a JRI employee indicates that ‘the press reports stating that James abandoned the participants that night are completely false.’

Nightline also addressed the Colleen Conaway controversy, which has been simmering in the blogosphere since the events in Sedona but has received little play in the major media. Conaway commit suicide during a James Ray event in San Diego last summer, while she was pretending to be homeless as part of a role-playing exercise. Conaway, according to her family, was $12,000 in debt to Ray. Her parents believe that Ray behaved callously and irresponsibly; Ray’s organization denies any culpability whatsoever.

This Just In: James Arthur Ray’s “Secret” Theory Flawed

From the Christian NewsWire:

Did self-proclaimed personal-success strategist James Arthur Ray reveal a flaw in his teachings on the principles of the The Secret (Rhonda Byrne, Atria Books, 2006) during his “spiritual warrior” spiritual cleansing ceremony at a new-age sweat lodge in Sedona this month where three attendees died, another in critical care, and 19 hospitalized?

“Yes.” says San Diego megachurch pastor and best-selling author Dr. Jim Garlow, author of The Secret Revealed; Heaven and the Afterlife; and New York Times bestseller Cracking DiVinci’s Code.

“Byrne’s The Secret prominently features the teachings of James Arthur Ray, even including him in the ‘Biographies’ section at the end of the book. Many people do not realize how truly bizarre the central theme of The Secret really is,” said Garlow. “They mistakenly think it is just another self-help, positive mental attitude book. It is not!”

“Byrne claims that people can project their thoughts into the universe like some sort of a radio transmitter.” Garlow said “Then the universe is bound, according to The Secret, to give them things based on those thoughts. Succinctly said, this is totally bogus.”

Posted without comment because, well, really–what could I possibly say?

James Arthur Ray cancels events

Until yesterday, James Arthur Ray insisted that he was committed to carrying on, no matter the personal cost:

People are throwing out accusations and disparaging me and our mission. Yet despite that, and despite considerable criticism, I have chosen to continue with my work. It’s too important not to….I promise you I am doing a lot of learning and growing. I have taken heat for that decision, but if I chose to lock myself in my home, I am sure I would be criticized for hiding and not practicing what I preach.

Most of the criticism about Ray that I’ve read (and written myself) revolves around his apparent criminal neglect, his seeming callousness and self-absorption, and his refusal to cooperate with the official investigation of the deaths (homicides, according to the Yavapai County sheriff) that occurred under his auspices. No one has accused him of not practicing what he preaches when it comes to creating wealth for himself.

But yesterday that changed. People who’d enrolled in Ray’s forthcoming Quantum Leap experience at the Green Valley Ranch in Henderson, Nevada for the weekend of November 13-15 (cost: $3995; accommodations and food not included), received word, first from the hotel, then from Ray, that the event had been canceled. Then this announcement appeared 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. For that reason, I’m postponing all the events I had planned for the remainder of 2009. These events will be rescheduled as soon as possible in 2010—once the essential work that must be done on the Sedona tragedy has been completed.

Nothing about refunds, but I’m sure they will be taken care of in due course. No word from the Arizona authorities about the progress of their own investigation, but I suspect there will be soon. Ray’s 2009 schedule has been taken off-line so I don’t know how many other events he canceled; starting in February, his 2010 schedule is quite full.

I read through the Participants’ Guide for the Quantum Leap event, particularly the waiver. A couple of lines leaped out at me:

I am fully aware and understand that I will be given the opportunity by the Company to participate in physical, emotional and other activities during the Event, some of which may take place outdoors, may include very loud music, may involve guided meditation exercises, and/or may include an Arrow Break, an activity in which participants have the opportunity to break an arrow by placing the tip against their body and walking toward an individual who is holding the end of the arrow (the “Activities”)….I also understand that the Company does not purport to offer any medical, psychological, therapeutic, religious, or other professional advice at the Event and that the information provided at the Event is not a substitute for professional psychological or psychiatric care.

Click here, here, here, here, here , here, and here for my earlier posts on Ray.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes on James Arthur Ray, part 2

Was Ray a cultist? He sure acted like one, writes Clarissa Pinkola Estes, in her second post on Ray in The Moderate Voice. Estes has studied cult-formation in conjunction with her therapeutic work; the criteria she lists for a coercive cult are similar to though much more extensive than Robert Lifton’s (which Alice, a commentator on one of my earlier posts, noted were germane to understanding Ray’s appeal. For your convenience, I have listed them below). Ray didn’t make his followers change their names (though he did urge them to change their appearance–click here to see photos of participants in a 2007 Spiritual Warrior retreat getting their heads shaved); as far as we know, he didn’t force them to have sex with him. But in many respects, he fits the profile of an abusive cult leader, or to put it in slightly different terms, provides evidence that the LGAT (Large Group Awareness Training) model of Werner Erhard’s est and Landmark Forum, NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) Seminars, and the programs of many lesser-known groups and individuals, like Byron Katie’s School for the Work and of course Ray’s various events, pose hazards to participants’ psyches, pocketbooks, and in rare cases like this one, to their bodies as well. Rick Ross’s forum has a lot of postings on the subject–many of them from angry people with agendas–also see the blog LGAT Truth.

Here are Lifton’s criteria, as he listed them in a 1981 article in the Harvard Mental Health Letter:
1) A charismatic leader “who increasingly becomes an object of worship”
2) A process of “coercive persuasion or thought reform” (brainwashing, in other words);
3) Economic, sexual, or psychological exploitation of the rank and file members by the cult’s leadership.

Lifton adds that the chief tool of “coercive persuasion” is “milieu control; the control of all communication within a given environment.”

Click here, here, here, here , here, and here for my earlier posts on Ray.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes on James Arthur Ray

The author of the mega-bestselling Women Who Run With the Wolves weighs in on James Arthur Ray in the blog Moderate Voice; click here to read what she has to say. Click here for Publishers Weekly’s announcement about Hyperion’s postponements/cancellations of Ray’s next two books.

Saturday the Arizona Republic posted a profile of Ray (Executive summary: Ray says he grew up in abject poverty, too poor to afford a Cub Scout uniform; the family sometimes slept in his father’s church office. “Even as a child, that son-of-a-bitch was on the make,” an acquaintance recollects). One caution, I noticed that the prices it quotes for various Ray products and services don’t line up–I think it left a zero out of one number; a premium product costs less than its junior version, etc. Proofreading issues, most likely.

Finally, as many sources have noted but I hadn’t, Ray has updated his blog. Click here to read his post, but I’ll give you the condensed version if you’re feeling lazy: he believes that he can best honor the amazing lives and everlasting memories of the dead by carrying on making money for himself. It’s a beautiful sentiment–one that he might have learned at the feet of the Ancient Peruvian sages who taught him about Quantum Mechanics. Ray’s cost structure reminds me a little of L. Ron Hubbard’s, who said, “One can keep doing this to a person–shuttle them along using mystery.”

Why do I keep coming back to Ray? Because people like him infuriate me. Not just his homicidal irresponsibility; his mendacious grandiosity, his gold-plated, pseudo-scientific, get-rich-quick, publicity-driven religiosity…. it’s because he believes that he has all the answers. Cultism is the opposite side of the Conspiracism coin, albeit with a more optimistic tinge. Conspiracists believe that life’s mysteries come down to just one big, bad thing: Someone wicked is out to get me and almost no one knows the truth but me. People like Ray say, “There’s just one big thing that you need to know. And if you pay me enough money, I’ll tell you what it is.”

Click here, here, here , here, and here for my earlier posts on Ray.