In Enlighten Us, a disgraced guru fails to find redemption

A new documentary on James Arthur Ray doesn’t go far enough. On a ranch outside Sedona, Arizona on October 8th, 2009, more than 50 followers of self-help guru James Arthur Ray approached the conclusion of a five-day “Spiritual Warrior” seminar they paid $10,000 or more to attend. Ray had already asked attendees to shave their heads, and meditate without food or water in the desert for days. For the seminar’s finale, they were asked to participate in a sweat lodge ceremony. Every participant would be ushered into a makeshift dome and encouraged to endure crowded, moisture-soaked, circulation-free extreme heat while Ray sat next to the dome’s only entrance. The ceremony did not go well. By nightfall, people were hallucinating and screaming for help in the middle of the desert. A first responder who arrived at the scene described it as looking like a mass suicide. Three people eventually died from heatstroke, and 18 others were hospitalized.

Ray was convicted of negligent homicide and sentenced to two years in prison. Shortly after he was released in 2013, I wrote a feature for The Verge about Ray’s crimes, and the beginning stages of a comeback Ray hoped to mount.

Now, a new CNN Films documentary, Enlighten Us: The Rise and Fall of James Arthur Ray,

follows Ray’s progress since then. Directed by Jenny Carchman — a producer behind documentary films such as Public Speaking, Martin Scorsese’s film about New York author and actress Fran Lebowitz — Enlighten Us debuts at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. Read full story:

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