Saturday, October 17, 2009

Sweating, the details.

Just to bring the sweat lodge story up to date, on Friday I received the following email from Cassandra Yorgey, author of the piece that has created so much buzz:

"Thanks for your contributions in opening the discussion about James Ray's sweat lodge. I do in fact realize you weren't exactly... complimentary... but I appreciate your willingness to speak publicly and apply some critical thinking skills to the whole thing."
In a subsequent email Yorgey alludes to the "moral complexities" she faces here, stating that she'd "rather be criticized for sticking to my ethical code than for breaking confidences." She acknowledges that "[t]he whole story is a bit out of genre for me, which is a good reason to question me further! I totally get that..." Her genre, for the record, is "speculative fiction."

In any case, Yorgey's retelling of the sweat lodge horror and its aftermath continues to heat up, no pun intended. In her latest column she recounts details of the tragedy itself (again, from an unnamed source) that, in a sense, strain one's credulity, yet at the same time make clear why police are now bracketing the case as a homicide investigation. I still find it hard to fathom why people are confiding in Yorgey rather than screaming from the rooftops to the foremost investigative journalists in the land. Perhaps that in itself is testament to the cultish nature of so much of this New Age nonsense. In any case, this is riveting stuff. Yorgey's characterizations of Ray (again, via the source) are chilling indeed.
I "sponsor" the column here with the same caveats as before.

We shall see.


Cosmic Connie said...

I too received an email from Cassandra with pretty much the same qualified thanks. I have a feeling she did a bit of copying and pasting. :-)

I asked her if she initially went out seeking the information or if the "sources" came to her, and she simply replied that she respects the privacy of her sources, but did not answer my question. Note that I wasn't asking her to name names or reveal sources in any way; I was just trying to figure out the same question that has you puzzled: "Why her?"

So although I give her points for consistency and effort and will be providing links on my own blog, my disclaimers and qualifiers will remain as well for the time being.

Meanwhile, James Ray's spokesman, Howard Bragman, has his work cut out for him. According to this article from the Arizona Republic:

"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.'"


Here's the link to that article:

Anonymous said...

You know what I think about this?
I think there are millions of people dying off easily cured ailments all over the world right now that you couldn't give a damn about, otherwise you would be encouraging us to save someone's life following your exmple and couging up some cash, instead of wasting time sensationalising a few Americans deaths.
Tick tick, oops, there goes another couple of dozen while you were thinking of something witty for your blog...

Anonymous said...

Oops, that was a bit severe. And I don't man you personally.

Anonymous said...

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

No, that is what he says. What he does, according to his track record, is kill people and profit enormously.

Elizabeth said...

Cassandra asks important questions there, but this one is rather naive, IMO (and one that provides its own answers to this tragedy and the larger problem involved here):

How did a retreat aimed at spiritual growth and financial wealth go so horribly, tragically wrong?

Sigh. As long as people seek "spiritual growth" and advice on "financial wealth" through assorted gurus and on "retreats," this stuff will continue to happen.

What on Earth makes people believe that financial and spiritual wisdom can be found in such circumstances? It boggles my mind without end. More so since they are willing to spend thousands of dollars on this crap. WT...?! No, really?

OK, I'ma save all prospective "wisdom" seekers thous of bucks and possibly lives (thank me later), giving you the right and FREE advice (it never fails, trust me, and yes, I do have a psychology degree and experience :):

-- financial wisdom: work and save money, don't spend it on crap you don't need (even though you may want it; and unless you are very rich, avoid stock market);

-- spiritual wisdom: try to be kinder to others and do the right thing in each situation.

Now, was this so difficult? Worth $10,000?

Of course not. But this is always the bottom line, and, sorry, there are no shortcuts such as special techniques, etc. It is really simple, though also really hard. But you don't need gurus or retreats to grasp it.

Though there is a tiny problem here, I realize: unless people pay a lot for something, whether it's advice or material things, they tend to think of it as worthless.

BTW, WV: lobotimize...

Elizabeth said...

Temporarily overcoming my distaste, I went to JARay's blog and saw that his latest entry before the tragedy was titled,

Live in a world of your own choosing.


Elizabeth said...

Steve, by now you've likely heard that the third person, Liz Neuman, 49, died as the result of the Ray's sweat journey.

What caught my attention was this sentence in the news piece linked above:

The Rev. Meredith Ann Murray of Bellingham, Wash., who has completed all of Ray's retreats, said Neuman was among Ray's earliest followers and had attended dozens of his events.

Dozens of his events? I have to assume an "event" does not necessarily mean a retreat of the "sweat" type (or maybe it does?), but this cannot possibly be cheap.

Why, on the bloody Earth, do people who supposedly seek "financial wisdom," as Cassandra remarked in her blog post, spend huge amounts of money on such nonsense? Are there really so many fools with so much throwaway money walking around us these days? (And I don't mean Wall Street types.)

The Rev. Murray quoted above also completed all of Ray's retreats. It's mentioned somewhere that she is extremely pleased with her Ray-experience(s) -- it helped her overcome... claustrophobia.

I don't know what to say to all this any more, other than there are safer and less expensive treatments for phobias than attending dozens of $10,000 per pop sweating/torture "parties."

But there is that one pressing question, which should be asked: If Ray's retreats work at all, why do people need to attend "dozens" of them?

(A rhetorical question, this, as well as the ones I asked earlier.)

P.S. In several of the articles I've read on this sad story, it is mentioned that Ray considers these deaths to be a "test" -- for him...

Sharon said...

Hi Steve,

You asked why survivors of the Ray sweatlodge fiasco would talk to an unknown internet blogger like Cassandra rather than to investigative journalists. I think it could likely be the embarrassment factor. If these people have come to their senses and have finally realized that they were "had" and were nothing more than "marks", and if they are reasonably intelligent people in most other aspects of their lives, they're going to be feeling a good deal of embarrassment and quite likely don't want to be "outed" to their colleagues at work, their friends, and their communities.

I am a journalist, and a few years ago I did some research on con artists and their victims. Overwhelmingly, the victims of the cons felt highly embarrassed at having been "taken". In many cases, they experienced self-loathing, such as "How could I have been so stupid?", and thus shamed themselves when instead they should have been shaming the con artist.

So I'm venturing a guess that many of James Ray's participants felt safer talking to what they perceived was a relatively unknown internet blogger on condition of anonymity, rather than to the national media. With the media, even when a person speaks "off the record", somewhere, somehow, people often find out the source. This could be true with internet blogs as well, but many people seem to have the idea that the internet is more anonymous and that talking to a blogger is safer than talking to a news reporter.

Of course it remains to be seen whether Cassandra's accounts of the witnesses are true or not. Needless to say, though, if any of the accounts she is reporting are true, it paints a horrendous picture. In particular, the part about James Ray walking out smiling from the lodge, and Ray's staff restraining participants from helping others--if any of that is true, the man is not just a misguided, ego-driven and careless narcissist, he's a monster.

Anonymous said...

'Ray considers these deaths to be a "test" -- for him...'

Yep, reading his blog posts, twits and statements so far----it's all about the life challenges and testing he's facing. And any sympathy his acolytes are expressing is for Ray, not for his victims, who truly are seen as mere collateral damage in this megalomaniac's ongoing cash grab.

David Brennan said...

One quick thought on the James Ray "homicide" investigation:

If this event qualifies as murder, then doesn't that also mean that the high school, college, and pro football coaches whose players die of heat exhaustion are also murderers? (I once heard there are at least 6 football deaths per year.) In fact, football coaches have much more control and exert much more pressure (including peer) over players than James Ray did his customers.

Obviously, it's silly to think that football coaches are murderers because there's no intent. Therefore, charging (even investigating) James Ray for homicide sets a very chilling precedent. ("Chilling" wasn't meant as a pun, for the record.) It means that the government can now publicly and proudly try to charge people with crimes that it's plainly clear they didn't commit.

I don't have too many facts, so I don't know exactly what charges (if any) should be filed against Ray (or whoever set up the sweatbox). Gross negligence? That sounds fair. Manslaughter? Ummm....okay; a case could be made. But homicide? Absolutely not. He had no intention to kill anybody, therefore it's not homicide. It's that simple.

Anonymous said...

'He had no intention to kill anybody, therefore it's not homicide.'

Your understanding of the term homicide is too narrow, it is not a synonym of murder. Homicide is killing and covers killing by neglect, inadvertence, as well as intentional murder.

RevRon's Rants said...

David, your football analogy simply doesn't equate, since the degree of risk that is inherent in the activities - as well as the intent - is vastly different. Think of it this way: Lots of people are killed by automobile drivers, yet nobody would consider the decision to drive as a willful decision - or even a passive willingness - to kill. However, when an individual drives drunk, they have, in effect, accepted the increased chance that they would kill someone by driving impaired, even if, in their impaired state, they did not consciously make that decision. The football coach is analogous to the majority of drivers, while Ray's apparent actions are akin to the drunk driver.