Thursday, October 15, 2009

Can James Arthur Ray brainwash his remaining followers? No sweat.

I invite you to take a look at this article, which claims to present salient portions of a transcript of a conference call held between James Arthur Ray and survivors of his recent sweat-lodge nightmare (now being investigated as a homicide). We have to be a little careful here because this is whistleblower-type stuff, written by a woman, Cassandra Yorgey, who says she received the material from an anonymous tipster. We never learn who that source is or whether the "transcript" is, indeed, verbatim. Further, Yorgey has an obvious point of view on all this. Still, much of the verbiage sounds like Ray, andif indeed this is legitthe call clearly represents his attempt not merely at damage control, but at manipulating the minds and even the memories of the bereaved. In presuming to "counsel" the survivorsand as Yorgey muses, why is he doing this instead of referring them to grief counselors or other trained professionals?Ray seems determined to keep a tight rein on things.

Throughout his portion of the call he keeps appealing to his listeners' sense of "community." He stresses the need for them to "surround yourself with healthy harmonic-minded individuals who support you" (i.e., rather than, say, skeptics or investigators who might have a different perspective on what happened at that sweat lodge) and to stay focused on "how we can best support each other" (i.e., let's get out stories straight and circle the wagons).

I also think the phrase "those who have fallen ill" is an awfully benign way to refer to what took place here.

Anyway, again, if this is legit
ifthen it's fascinating reading, and provides a further glimpse into the cultish, brutally self-serving nature of so much of SHAM.


Cosmic Connie said...

Steve, I'm with you all the way on this one. A few flags were raised for me immediately when I looked at the article. Yet it does sound very much like James Ray and his followers. In fact, it sounds like typical New-Wage obscurantism, of the type that I often saw back when I hung around the conspicuously enlightened crowd. Fortunately, I never got into any extreme or tragic situations myself, but I did have to wade through a lot of b.s.

Even so, I think you were right to publish this post with disclaimers. There's something about it that doesn't seem quite right.

RevRon's Rants said...

I can't help but wonder how the late Sam Kennison would have responded to this kind of BS...

David Brennan said...

I linked to one article from the link you provided yesterday. (I don't watch much TV, so I've seen 0 accounts of this event there.) It was weird because there was no cause of death provided.

If they died from heat exhaustion, that makes sense. But what about the dozen (approx.) others that were sick? That makes no sense to me, if heat exhaustion was the event.

I guess what I'm saying is that there's a possibility that there was a virus or some other phenomena causing this. There's no reason to jump to conclusions until the cause of death and the sick peoples' illnesses have all been diagnosed.

(Just for the record, I'm not saying this to be arbitrarily contrarian or critical of the SHAM thesis: I agree with it almost entirely.

Francis Bacon: "The wit and mind of man if they work upon the matter, work according to the stuff, and is limited thereby; but if it work upon itself as the spider works his web, then it is endless and brings indeed cobwebs of learning, admirable for the fitness of thread and work but of no substance or profit."

Stever Robbins said...

"the two that had passed ... had so much fun they chose not to come back" Shudder

I'm sure hoping this transcript is fake. It's rather unbelievable if it's true. My mind is having trouble wrapping around the staff member's quote. An organization just hospitalized 19 people and buried 2 participants for injuries suffered at a workshop, and the reaction is "they were having so much fun" !?!? That's unbelievably creepy.

She seems to be claiming that having fun in an altered state is sufficient reason to abandon your body (i.e. die). If her child were a junkie, would she simply say, "gee, my kid is having so much fun lying on the floor in a stupor drooling, I guess that's just their choice"? Or would she high-tail it to a rehap center and try to help the kid drop the drugs and get their act together.

Steve Salerno said...

Stever: Those are the kinds of quotes that make me nervous about authenticity. But then, we've heard just as bad, if not worse (albeit in a different context), from our pal Joe Vitale re the San Diego fires, and from Rhonda regarding hurricane Katrina, etc.

And you know--though one hates to risk throwing a monkey wrench into this whole analysis--I returned not long ago from a wake/funeral where I heard not dissimilar verbiage from the priest: that the departed, though he died tragically young, was "better off than the rest of us who remain" and "had gone back to his father with a sense of peace" and such. If you think about it, it really isn't that far from Ray's sweat-lodge apologia to what I heard in that church a few weeks back.

RevRon's Rants said...

I view my own death as being little more significant - to me - than getting rid of a car I no longer drive. Others might have a different take on it...

Anonymous said...

a fake? not quite, it was breaking news from an insider.

The Associated Press has published it under the title,

"Self-help guru calls sweat lodge participants"

The AP also named who the recording and transcription came from.

This James Ray guy is doing the exact same methods as the other seminar salesmen and saleswoman.

the only difference in this case, the people died at the seminar, as opposed to after the seminar in an emergency room.

Duff said...

It sounds to me like what happens within the inner circles of cultish organizations like the type I have seen. Not unbelievable at all. But yes, very disturbing.

Elizabeth said...

Ugh. What a bunch of creepy crap. I got about 2/3 of this... report, and had to quit reading, feeling as if I was suffocating myself (possible, with my guru allergy).

Folks pay $10,000 for this??

While I feel sorry for the victims and their families, part of me thinks that people who spend that amount of money to sweat for "enlightenment" in some god-forsaken lodge, with the "guidance" of highly suspect individuals, get what they deserve.

Yes, I know how it sounds. But those who participate in such events are not some simpletons; they are fairly intelligent folks, with enough disposable income to blow it on creepy and dangerous crap. They should know better.

Anonymous said...

I view my own death as very significant to me, the driver, but since the driver has long since been taken with a hefty pinch of salt, the eventual extinction of both car and driver is completely meaningless.

Steve Salerno said...

To Eliz's point: Somme might put this whole affair down as a sure Darwin Awards contender, but that seems like such a cynical way of looking at things.

Stever Robbins said...

Steve: yeah, I have heard the similarities uttered by the traditional religions. There's a subtle difference in my mind between "He's in a better place now," which makes sense to me as words of comfort whether or not they're true, and "He was having so much fun that he decided to stay out of his body," which sounds to me like explanation and justification for something that happened.

(And all that said, I'm pretty much agnostic, so "He's in a better place now" always sounds more like a sentence designed to comfort survivors rather than a literal description of what's happened.)

Cosmic Connie said...

The phone call between James Ray and his followers did occur; I don't question that. I was only questioning the substance of the call as it was reported by the person at the Philadelphia Examiner. I felt it best to err on the side of caution there because of past events where journalists were hoaxed (remember Dan Rather and the Dubya papers?).

However, as Steve and I and numerous others have noted, the whole thing DOES sound remarkably like James Ray's creepy-culty stuff. I am leaning towards believing that the whole thing is legit but am still (perhaps foolishly) reserving judgment of its legitimacy or lack thereof.

BTW, if anyone is interested in reading the liability waivers that participants in a James Ray event have to sign, here is a link to a PDF (see pp. 11-14 of the document):

And this one is just for a weekend seminar held in a nice hotel in San Diego. But it's apparently standard for all of JAR's events.

Steve Salerno said...

Connie: Your use of the phrase "Philadelphia Examiner" is one reason why we need to be ever-more-careful in this era of blogging, "casual journalism," etc. Over the past 24 hours since this story broke I have seen Ms. Yorgey described as everything from a "newspaper columnist" to an "investigative journalist." In fact, she is this:

She is a blogger and a fan of "speculative fiction" who wandered into this controversy by accident. (There is no formal entity called the "Philadelphia Examiner.") She is, in effect, a "journalistic hobbyist." I'd be very surprised if she has any formal training in journalism or sourcing; I could be wrong, and I'll own up to that if someone enlightens me. By no means does that invalidate her story, which, increasingly, seems legit. I'm just saying--and this sorta goes back to my (annoying) comments about Sully and such--that not everyone is a writer, and certainly not everyone is a journalist. Being a writer doesn't just mean putting words on a page or into HTML format, and being a journalist implies much more than "reporting what you saw and heard."

There's a TON of bogus info out there, and, like many of my peers who did have some level of formal training, I worry about the methods and ethics of all the others out there spreading (mis/dis)information. The blogosphere and the 24-hour news cycle were supposed to result in an unimpeded flow of information and usher a new era of free speech, but I think too often the result has been a muddying of the waters and near-total confusion over what really took place in any given situation. Also, a lot of people have been slandered/libeled in this unending rush to be fastest and first with breaking news.

Reality is not democratic. Something either did or didn't happen a certain way.

David Brennan said...

"Reality is not democratic. Something either did or didn't happen a certain way."

My thoughts exactly. So obvious and why the hell does every science article say, "The consensus is...." or "experts say...."?

Has the cause of death for the two been determined? Has there been an explanation about why the sick people got so sick? This could be a phenomenon instead of just simple heat exhaustion.

Cosmic Connie said...

Very good points, Steve, and if I had not been too lazy (or in too much of a hurry to further muddy the waters myself :-)) to do more of my own homework, I would have done some more digging. In any case, as I said in my response to your comment on my own blog, the first thing that raised a flag for me regarding Ms. Yorgey's article was that her regular beat is "speculative fiction."

As to some of the larger issues about journalism and writing, I understand and share your frustration. Technology has afforded large numbers of people clever new ways to pretend to be things they're not.

Cosmic Connie said...

While David Brennan has brought up some good points re doubts about the causes of the deaths at the sweat-lodge retreat, it seems clear by now (well, at least it seems clear to me) that the very nature of the retreat, and the manipulative techniques James Ray used, were factors. It appears to me from accounts I have read 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."

There are also reports of a death during another James Ray seminar weekend this past July. A 46-year-old female participant in the seminar died when she plunged off of the third-level railing at a San Diego mall. [Google Colleen Marian Conaway.] 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. But it's worth investigating, and I believe it is being investigated now by people who are more qualified than I.

Although the 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 the participants were at the mall, James was happily Tweeting away about the life-changing experience they were having.

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

Of course, this is all hearsay. Don't take my word for it. But
I'm sure all of it will be sorted out in the investigation.

roger o'keefe said...

I have to say all this is fascinating in a horrifying way. It is hard for me to imagine that people will fall under the wing of characters like this Ray and the rest. I guess it goes all the way back to Robbins and his fire walks. It's just amazing. And this was for $5000 apiece? I see stories like this and I almost start to think maybe there is such a thing as having too much money to burn.

Cosmic Connie said...

Roger, if you're asking about the price of the ill-fated sweat-lodge retreat, it wasn't $5,000; it was closer to $10,000 a head. These types of overpriced seminars have been going on for a long time, in good economic times and bad. People don't necessarily have the money to burn; they often go into debt to attend these things. They are strongly encouraged by the New-Wage gurus' propaganda to do "whatever it takes" to get the money to attend.

Anonymous said...

I've been to half of his seminar someone had an extra ticket and said it would be interesting. This guy James Ray is a good salesman of BS and rich people buy into anything he's selling them. I was astonished by the amount of idiots that participated. By the end of the day(12 hour a day seminar over 2 consecutive days) he had everyone sitting in a circle holding hands and sing. That was ENOUGH for me to figure what what the heck that was: a cult of indoctrination, a very very very dangerous man and not go back the next day. This whole thing finished at 2 a.m. and we were supposed to come back for another round same day at 5 a.m. Is he nuts? I thought...How the heck can you get 3 hour sleep and be able to keep a clear mind the next day for another 12 hours of yupping? I told the friend who gave me the ticket i won't go back, they're all f***ing crazy and he got upset saying it was a $2000 ticket he gave me and didn't know I would be s weak. That day was the last day he was my friend.