Self-proclaimed guru's deadly sweat lodge is no "Secret" anymore

Ponca City residents may remember the viral 2006 self-help film, "The Secret." The film, shared frequently on social media and featured on shows like "Oprah," "Larry King Live," and "The Today Show," teaches a purported "secret," withheld from humanity for millennia. A key principle in the film is the "law of attraction," the idea that, according to one participant in the film, "Whatever you fear or love will come into your life," through the power of focused thinking. While some were inspired by its message, others felt it unfairly stigmatized victims of tragic life circumstances for simply not "thinking positively" enough.

The man responsible for that quote, James Arthur Ray, went from being an unknown motivational speaker to a self-proclaimed New Age guru after his appearance in the film. In 2008, Fortune magazine endorsed Ray. Borrowing elements from diverse traditions, the self-designated shaman launched the "Samurai Game," a grueling "personal transformation" exercise at a retreat near Sedona, Arizona. Dressed in white robes and impersonating "God," Ray allegedly charged participants hefty sums to shave their heads, starve and dehydrate themselves for 36 hours while meditating, followed by over two hours in an unventilated sweat lodge.

For three participants, their so-called "symbolic death" he promised was not symbolic. According to emergency reporters, survivors were vomiting, crying, hallucinating or delirious. One had fallen onto the heated rocks and suffered severe burns. Three required CPR. In addition to the three fatalities, 18 others were hospitalized with issues like dehydration, kidney failure, burns and breathing difficulties.

The parents of Kirby Brown, one of the participants, are suing Ray for fraud, negligence andwrongful death. The family has also shared the $3 million settlement from Ray's insurance with other victims of this sweat lodge of death.

According to a follow-up article in this issue, while Ray borrowed his sweat lodge concept from Native American transitions, he did not follow proper procedures. Sweat lodges are traditionally monitored for safety by experienced elders, and Native Americans in Oklahoma may be concerned about this fraudulent, dangerous misappropriation of a cultural tradition. While bogus gurus are not a common cause of wrongful death, it is critical that self-appointed professionals of any kind remain responsible for their actions. Hopefully, the remaining victims' families will, with the support of their attorneys, receive the compensation they deserve for their lost loved ones, pain and suffering.

The Verge, "The Death Dealer" Matt Stroud, Dec. 04, 2013

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