Last week ended one of the most unusual crime scenes in American history. More than 50 people crawled into a make-believe Native American sweat lodge, and three of them died inside.
Participants paid self-proclaimed financial and spiritual guru James Arthur Ray $10,000 for a 5 day retreat that would make them “spiritual warriors”. What they bought was a motivational speaker and salesman by profession who promised a safe, life-enhancing journey of discovery. This learning process came with a steep price both financially and personally. Participants had to trust Ray completely, place themselves in his hands and do what he told them (this included how much they ate and drank, to keep up the grueling pace and how to respond to the increasingly intense demands).
Bright, well-educated, competent people stayed in that faux ceremony even as they got sick and collapsed. His defense attorney’s argued that Ray never physically prevented anyone from leaving the lodge; they all knew it was dangerous and signed waivers acknowledging that fact. Why did these were bright, educated people not pay attention to their crippling distress? Participants said Ray made it clear that leaving the lodge would be a dishonorable exit, a failing of spiritual courage.
Ray’s lawyers maintained that these deaths were a regrettable accident, and if anyone was responsible it was the builder of the lodge, or the owners of the Retreat Center because they stored the lodge coverings in a shed with pesticides and that could have killed the victims.
After three months of testimony the jury knew who and what James Ray was, and what he wasn’t. They knew he was not trained or initiated to run sacred Native American ceremonies, did not have the medical knowledge to recognize when people were in trouble, and ignored all the warning signs of impending death.
It took the jury less than nine hours to find him guilty of Negligent Homicide. They said James Ray contributed to the deaths of Kirby Brown (age 38), Liz Newman (age 49) and James Shore (age 40). Ray will be sentenced this week, and will probably serve some prison time (although as a first time offender it may not be a long).
How much time he gets is less important to me than if he will stand and take the warriors path, acknowledging his responsibility rather than the coward’s way of blaming others. Will he tell the families of his victims…I know I presented my skills and experience in a grossly exaggerated light, and that I made promises that exceeded my capacity to fulfilI. I will live with my complicity in the deaths of your family members, who were my friends and whose trust I betrayed. I pray that I might find forgiveness in their eyes and in yours.
I think he won’t do it because throughout the trial Ray has continued to offer advice on the Internet and social networking sites. It doesn’t matter how long this con artist is out of commission, James Arthur Ray will resurface with another program that will appeal to a waiting audience looking for another secret to enlightenment.
Let this be Ray’s lasting legacy… be careful before you make a leap of faith and place yourself in somebody’s hands. There are many good, credible, authentic guides and healers out there, but there are also many charlatans. Due diligence, do not surrender your life into somebody else’s hands unless you know them by more than just their words. And know that no true spiritual guide or healer would ever tell you to ignore your truth and follow theirs.