Disgraced Self-Help Guru, Still Hopes To ‘Enlighten Us’

James Ray Sedona

James Arthur Ray, Disgraced Self-Help Guru, Still Hopes To ‘Enlighten Us’

A new documentary chronicles Ray’s comeback efforts.

In 2011, James Arthur Ray went to prison wondering what he’d done to deserve it. As he arrived in shackles, inmates familiar with his public downfall hurled expletives and death threats at him. He spent time in solitary confinement and a psych ward — both, he says, for his protection. By the time Ray’s two years behind bars ended, his “arrogance and ignorance and bullshit started to peel away.” Today, Ray promises he is a “better man” for having risen to the top and then plummeted. But how does someone of his notoriety — someone who, in a sense, is a casualty of the aggrandized American dream — rebuild his legacy? “If all I knew about me was what has been put in the press, I wouldn’t like me very much,” the 58-year-old Ray said. “I just wouldn’t.” After dipping in and out of poverty throughout his Oklahoma childhood, Ray got rich off the pop spirituality that has prospered as organized religion has declined. Oprah brought it to television, The Secret turned it into a best-seller, and Tony Robbins’ retreats made it a flesh-and-blood ritual. For Ray, his teachings were a calling. To those who burned through his books, attended the workshops he led and subscribed to his proselytizing about “harmonic wealth” and “spiritual warriors,” they were a lifestyle. But Ray’s habits — featured on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and in the 2006 movie based on The Secret — weren’t so highly effective when his empire came crashing down in 2009. At $10,000 a pop, Ray’s multi-day retreats aimed to help participants overcome adversity by challenging their comfort zones. The agenda included fasting, intense meditation and limit-testing physical activities. That October, two people died of heatstroke during a chaotic, two-hour endurance test that Ray conducted inside a sweat lodge in an Arizona desert. A third died of organ failure about a week later. Ray was acquitted of manslaughter charges but sentenced to two years in prison on counts of negligent homicide. His business, worth $10 million, perished overnight.

Last week, Ray’s effort to mount a renaissance began. “Enlighten Us: The Rise and Fall of James Arthur Ray,” a CNN Films documentary directed by Jenny Carchman, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. Carchman, who co-directed HBO’s “One Nation Under Dog,” pitched the movie to Ray as he began his second year in prison. As he tells it, she wanted to depict Ray’s “comeback” attempt. “Enlighten Us” tracks Ray’s professional origins as an AT&T ladder-climber delivering motivational talks based on Stephen Covey’s popular 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He devoured spiritual teachings — quantum physics, Joseph Campbell, Hindu mysticism — and apparently found his purpose during a 10-day trek through the Sinai desert. That calling became James Ray International. For those who bought into them, Ray’s charismatic, sometimes aggressive lectures about self-fulfillment could inspire proverbial religious experiences. Like any good businessman, he upsold audiences at the end of presentations, creating a small legion of disciples to whom he became a guru — a word that many media outlets adopted when reporting on the sweat-lodge deaths. As these American dreams go, Ray’s net worth eventually stretched into the “multiple millions,” as he told The Huffington Post during a lengthy interview ahead of the “Enlighten Us” premiere. As for the “guru” narrative? Ray won’t buy it. It’s been 20 months since Ray left jail, and he has accepted fault for the fatalities that occurred on his watch. Once his operations expanded, Ray was traveling some 200 days a year for speaking engagements. His staff grew, and he admitted to become increasingly reliant on aides.  Read More: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/james-arthur-ray-documentary_us_571fc43ce4b01a5ebde3b654  

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