He had promised them an experience that would change their lives. New Age guru, James Arthur Ray would share his secrets of success at a 5-day Spiritual Warrior desert retreat in Sedona, Arizona. All this for only $10,000; sixty-five willing participants signed up.
Ray, a college drop-out and telemarketer, is a professional motivational speaker and best selling author. He is an advocate of the Law of Attraction and the Secret. Both are how-to books describing the way to achieve Harmonic Wealth. All the areas of one’s life….happiness, financial, personal, and spiritual are involved.
Ray became a super star in 2006 after Oprah Winfrey spotted him in a film based on the Secret. He became a regular on her show, the Larry King show and the Today show. His book Harmonic Wealth became a best seller.
His company Life Results promises to teach the curious, “how to live the life you deserve.” He sells books, home study courses, and gives lectures, seminars and retreat programs. He has attracted many followers and some minor celebrities looking for New Age wisdom and fulfillment.
It all came to a halt for Mr. Ray on October 8, 2009, when during a sweat lodge ceremony at one of his Spiritual Warrior retreats, something went terribly wrong. Three participants died and several others were hospitalized. Ray is now standing trial for manslaughter in Yavapai County, Arizona.
A sweat lodge is a ceremonial sauna used for centuries by North American Indians and other cultures for purification and cleaning of the mind, body and spirit. It is a tent like structure covered tightly with branches, tarpaulins, wood and blankets. A large fire is built outside the structure surrounded by hot rocks.
When the rocks are hot enough, they are brought into the structure. Water is poured over them creating heat and steam. Participants then enter the hot steaming tent. The outside flaps are then closed and the sweating begins.
Participants are encouraged to stay inside the structure for 2 hour rounds to best experience the full effect of the sweat lodge’s cleansing and purifying experience.
Sweat lodges have been used safely for centuries. but they can be dangerous.
Authorities say that the sweat lodge built by James Arthur Ray and his staff lacked the necessary building permits. Approximately 60 people were crowded into the 415 sq. ft structure for a two hour period.
The participants had fasted for 36 hours before, and slept outside in the cold in order to enhance the wilderness experience. They were served a buffet breakfast right before entering the sweat lodge.
Most were tired, anxious and dehydrated when they entered the structure. Soon the heat, darkness and discomfort got to them. Some began vomiting and a woman passed out.
Several asked to leave. Ray announced that the exits were closed and to work through the pain. It was part of their personal sacred journey, and the discomfort would only make them stronger.
The idea of walking out, halfway through this non-refundable $10,000 experience, probably kept some people from leaving. When they did get out, and medical help was called, it was too late for some.
Two participants died from heat stroke and hyperthermia shortly after medical help arrived. A third died a few days later. Twenty-one others were hospitalized and treated for heat stroke.
James Arthur Ray was subsequently arrested and now is on trial for manslaughter. His California mansion is up for sale, but he still does business on the Web.
He says he is very sorry and the deaths were accidental.