Every year at this time I reflect on March 2009 when I attended James Ray’s Harmonic Wealth two day seminar with my daughter, Kirby Anne Brown. She had invited me as her guest and I was delighted to spend two days with her. At that time, we knew James Ray as an internationally known motivational speaker who had been seen on national TV, had been featured in “The Secret” book and DVD and had appeared on Oprah numerous times. Kirby, who felt Ray’s teachings “resonated with her,” signed up for a 5 day “Spiritual Warrior ” retreat in October, 2009 in Sedona, Arizona. In the final activity of the week, a 2 hour sweat lodge, Kirby lost her life. A number of things happened in those two days at Harmonic Wealth that, looking back, I should have questioned. But I am a “what you see is what you get” kind of person–no secrets, no need to hide or “spin” my experiences. I went to be open, to learn, to expand; not to judge or be negative. So I didn’t question whether I was being “set up.” I didn’t consider if I was being subtly encouraged or manipulated. I didn’t think that less food and sleep might affect my judgment. I didn’t reflect on the impact of all those attending who also came to be open, to learn, to be positive. They wouldn’t question either, reinforcing my blindness. I didn’t ask, “if I am being asked to sign a waiver and take a risk, what is Mr. Ray doing to minimize that risk and provide protection if there is a problem?”
Dr. Christin Whelan, sociologist and professor at the University of Pittsburg whom we’ve featured already, warned after Kirby’s death in Sedona that anyone at a self-help retreat could be susceptible to danger:
What happened in Sedona is not an unfortunate coda to a crazy, fringe event. We have a long history of self-help in America, and to properly comprehend the horror of these deaths, we must first understand the inspiration and guidance that Ray offered. Ray, and many gurus like him, motivate thousands of smart, accomplished adults by borrowing from two very powerful thought traditions — modern psychology and esoteric spirituality — creating a one-two punch that’s nearly impossible to resist. If you had been there, you might be dead, too.
Read the rest of Dr. Whelan’s article in the Washington Post. Could I have predicted or prevented Kirby’s death in Sedona? Could I have imagined that Ray was incapable of living his own teachings? Kirby and I were taken in by a talented showman and never dreamed that Ray was dangerous, a fraud not to be trusted. But now we know a number of “red flags” that can tip us off to danger at these types of motivational events. Because part of SEEK’s mission is to empower YOU to protect yourself when seeking self-help, we will be discussing these red flags in upcoming posts. It is our hope that what happened in Sedona never happens again.