Like It Never Even Happened

A self-help guru who killed three in his sweat lodge says the experience has helped him “find himself.” His rhetoric shows he has yet to move beyond the problematic structure of his ideology.

James Arthur Ray, for a time the most flamboyant figure in the ultra-flamboyant world of self-help seminars, last made headlines in October 2009, when he parboiled 56 disciples during a botched sweat-lodge ceremony intended as the climax of his $9,695-a-head Spiritual Warrior retreat. On the day of the parboiling, Ray badgered people who were already vomiting, hallucinating, or passing out to “play full on!” as he liked to say, urging manic commitment to the exercise at hand. Attendees remember him thundering at one point, “Today’s a good day to die!” Three of his followers took him at his word, while 17 others suffered from burns, severe dehydration, and/or kidney failure. The guru ultimately spent 20 months in prison for negligent homicide.

Ray and his Sedona, Arizona, Waterloo are now the subject of Enlighten Us, a heavily promoted CNN documentary out Thursday. [Update, Dec. 1: CNN announced it’s pushing back the release to Saturday.] Despite its whimsical title, the film examines Ray through a surprisingly credulous lens, making him seem almost as much a casualty of “shit happens” as a convicted criminal. Viewers hear Ray’s explanations of how personal growth always entails risk; they are shown his desolation at having watched his thriving $10 million business go up in literal smoke.

In both the film and in life, Ray is poorly cast as the martyr of self-help culture. He’s far from it: Ginny Brown, mother of 38-year-old victim Kirby Brown, recalls that when Ray finally reached out to her after her daughter’s death, a full five days later, he kept saying over and over, that he “couldn’t believe this had happened … to him.” Seven years later, Ray does not seem to have changed—indeed, he is currently petitioning to have his conviction set aside. The state of Arizona is countering the motion vigorously, as are families of those killed.


Article by Steve Salerno


Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photos by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images, Thinkstock.

6 comments on “Like It Never Even Happened

  1. Elizabeth Holst on

    This is sickening. Ray should still be in jail. In his interview on CNN he said Kirby, James and Liz were heroes for crossing over. How about he becomes a hero and cross over and spare others his “expert advice.”

  2. K DeVille on

    I met Ray at one of his meetings in Phoenix Arizona. He is compelling on stage and then I met him afterwards and something wasn’t right during that encounter. I saw him to be ingenuous. It’s sad that he was the cause of lost lives and near death experiences for others. Many are seeking and we must point them to their inner self instead of those like Ray who is a Master of Deception and lost himself. May your heart heal and you find compassion for the lost and guide others to their inner self for the answers they seek. Only there can we find what we seek. I understand your grief and anger and my heart goes out to you. Do what you need and along your journey turn inward for your healing so you can find peace.

    • pauli hakensen on

      The fact that he hopes his “challenge” will help others with their challenges speaks volumes to his lack of insight and any fundamental sense of right and wrong. THAT should be frightening to anyone sitting in his presence.

  3. Sheila on

    He keeps talking about this terrible thing that happened… to him. And then he said, “He had to happen… so he could learn and grow.” No, Ray, it did not have to happen. You created it. He had no right to use the sacred sweat lodge ceremony of the native Indians without any respect for their traditions.

  4. Sage on

    The CNN documentary last night at the gym was enlightening. James A. Ray was my favorite on the Oprah show in 2006. He was care free and happy, like we all want to be. I’ve followed the Sedona tragedy since it occurred and was in shock.
    One thing is for sure …
    – If he cared about others, like he preached, this situation would not have been different.
    – Has he ever apologized?
    – Does he care about the lost life? or …
    – Is he more worried about his future?
    Karma – He should know better 🙁

  5. Frieda on

    I reside in Sedona and am aghast at the innumerable so called “enlightened folks and holistic healers” that push their so called self help and soul enlightening retreats and events at exhorbitant prices to the public. Save your money folks… you hold the key to your own peace and happiness….no one else does, but you. God is within you always, and you need no one else to realize this. Seek God with your heart and soul and you will realize it is the only quest worth seeking. We are all God’s creation, and made in His image. He resides in all of us always, but sadly we look everywhere but inwardly to seek that self-realization. When we stop seeking outwardly, and instead meditate inwardly to seek God, self-realization will follow. Beware of anyone that asks you for money to guide you to a path of self-realization, for it is available to you at no cost by simply opening your heart, mind and awareness to the realization that God resides within the well of your being always. Seek God with all your being and know that you alone are the only guide you need. As for Mr Ray…he has yet to realize and accept his implicit role in the deaths of three individuals who were simply seeking something they had within themselves all along… sad indeed! Beware of all these false gurus, prophets, and so-called healers, and realize you alone hold the key to your peace and happiness in this life. Know God – Know Peace within.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *