Oct 20, 2009
James Ray Sweatbox Tragedy: Get Rich or Die Frying
by Charles Carreon
Success – it’s an American obsession. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been exposed to the culture of makin’ it. My dad was devoted to the philosophy of positive thinking, and given how he grew up -- alone on the streets of LA, sleeping in all-night nicolodeons, boxing professionally from the age of 18, graduating from a mail-order high school and eventually becoming a the first Hispanic legislator in the state of Arizona – he clearly made good use of it. His philosophy was pretty simple – get a good education, learn to do something worthwhile, and always do a better job than you were paid to do. His favorite book was “Think and Grow Rich,” and though he never got rich, he never stopped recommending the book. I suspect that just getting out of poverty and being able to raise his kids in decent style was enough for him.
But some people take getting rich very seriously. So seriously that they will take classes on how to get rich. Classes taught by people who, strangely enough, have uniformly gotten rich teaching other people to get rich. You see, real rich people never teach classes about how to get rich. Shrewd business practices, buying low, selling high, lobbying Congress for favorable legislation, garnering no-bid government contracts, and turning billions in losses into an international crisis so big that all the people in the world have to take on massive amounts of debt to bribe you into getting richer – that’s how you get rich! And those people won’t reveal their secrets for fear of prosecution, much less would they reveal them from a desire to help others to enjoy abundance.
Of course, that type of wealth-gathering is tasteless. Who would want to be one of those hated, ultra-rich investment bankers who view all other humans as the scut-suckers, whose trophy wives bless their unions with offspring groomed for greatness from the cradle to grad school? No, that would be depressing. That would be like giving in to the materialistic horribleness of life, and besides, that is a completely hopeless aspiration. Because becoming super-rich is nowadays a demanding job – the stress alone can kill you. One day, like Ken Lewis, you’re head of Bank of America, and everyone is praising you for doing pretty well in the financial crisis, then you approve four billion in bonuses for Merill Lynch in a midnight deal that everyone, including both the past and present heads of the Dept of the Treasury, is urging you to get done right now because you’re going to save the economy, so you do it, and then, a year later, you’re forced to resign in disgrace and don’t get a dollar for the last year’s worth of work. People like Lloyd Blankfein, head of Goldman Sachs, barely has time to work – he spends all his time insisting that, record bailouts and rising unemployment be damned -- bonuses are going to flow this year, more richly as ever, in fact, because “his people” deserve it. And then, here come Obama’s finger-shakers, crying “Shame!” on all the new shows and threatening to do – nothing…. Imagine the stress for these super-richies. Brutal, grinding stress that takes all the flavor out of a hundred dollar cigar, all the sparkle out of a diamond necklace, all the pleasure out of the plush comfort of your new Mercedes.
So, instead of pursuing wealth in the realistic, greedy, grasping style that actually works, many people aspire to achieve something ridiculous – getting rich by spiritual means. Leave aside the fact that Jesus said he’d lay odds on a camel making it through the eye of a needle before a rich man would get into heaven, that Buddha owned nothing his whole life, and that no spiritual teacher worth thinking about could by any stretch of the imagination be called a go-getter! Leave aside all that – Americans – who once proudly cranked out massive export tonnage from the world’s largest manufacturing plants and paid their way in the world – have become huge consumers of this spiritual wealth-gathering system that used to be confined to the back pages of the National Enquirer and Weekly World News. You know, the Secret Gypsy candle, the Virgin of Medjugorge, the Handkerchief of Solomon. Now we have the “Prayer of Jabez,” “The Secret,” and the whole realm of Deo-nomics.
God is rich, and he wants you to be rich! We need to build heaven on earth. The only reason you’re poor is because your mind is closed. Open it like a parachute, and the wind will pick you up like a dandelion and waft you away to the land of your dreams. While you’re there, visualize your ideal lifestyle – whatever you want – the awesome ride with twenty-inch wheels, the beautiful companion, the weekends in Vegas or the Bahamas, the imported champagne, the delicious meals. And more than that – visualize your body brimming with health, and your inner mental state as secure, confident, oozing positive feelings! Then think, “I have it all!” “That’s right, I have it all, right now.” It’s kind of like virtual reality. Some people say that through this type of mental exercise, you will “knock down barriers” to your higher self, “escape limiting self-definitions,” and “open the gates to limitless wealth on every level.”
But then there are more strenuous approaches to Getting Rich. Approaches that raise the bar for people who believe there’s no gain without pain. They have a special market to tap into – people who have a need to suffer. People who believe that if they suffer for the right reasons, while thinking the right thoughts, they will become someone greater, more fabulous, the kind of person who just “attracts wealth.” These kinds of programs usually offer “training” that sets you back a few thousand bucks, and that you are inclined to believe is valuable, since you paid good money to get it. When people feel suckered by these training programs, you rarely hear about it, because they don’t tell their friends. They just shake the dust off their shoes and move on.
One of these programs is “Harmonic Wealth,” (Registered Trademark 3062872), ginned up by James Arthur Ray, one of the authors of “The Secret,” who puts on free shows in which he manipulates vulnerable audience members in psychodrama interactions while his followers cheer and shout encouragement. The message they absorb is that Wealthy People are Superior People! To Get Money, You Must Get Wisdom! Not training, a degree, access to capital, an opportunity to sell your skills at a high price. No, Wisdom! Harmonic Wisdom! For those of you who already have degrees and can’t get ahead in the economy, this is the answer – you lack Harmonic Wisdom!
Once the cheerleading takes hold, they are signed up for Warriorship Training, in which they will be roundly abused at their own expense. Ray’s Warriors pay $9,000 to attend a three-day training that starts with getting their heads shaved, continues with a day of classroom instruction and self-indoctrination by listening to CDs and doing written lessons late into the night. Then he raises the stakes – he takes them out into the cold desert night and abandons them with nothing but notebooks, no food, water or shelter, for thirty-six hours. Then they get picked up, taken back to the ranch, given a little buffet to graze on, and then, they’re stuffed into an overcrowded plastic lean-to heated with loads of red-hot rocks that are doused with cold water to release clouds of stifling steam. On October 12th, Ray crammed fifty hungry, dehydrated people into such a torture chamber. With only 450 square feet, and a ceiling height of five feet at the center, there was precious little air to share, and Ray positioned himself next to the opening, where he could control the flow of air and coolness, and get maximum benefit when he opened the door briefly.
If that's a sweat-lodge, I'm Sitting Bull. Three people died, and nineteen were hospitalized with burns, dehydration, vomiting, and other signs of spiritual development. And while this lethal farce was unfolding, what was Ray doing? While his followers were keeling over, puking and dying, Ray was, of course, Tweeting! And what did he tweet in those hours of madness? “The Spiritual Warrior has conquered death and therefore has no enemies, no fear, in this life or the next.” And “For anything new to live something first must die. What needs to die in you so that new life can emerge?” Baaaad Guru.
Though he later tweeted “shocked and saddened … confused and frustrated,” he hasn’t slowed the pace of his schlock-slinging. The debacle in the high desert happened on October 12th, and seven days later he did a press release cautioning people to stop living vicariously through reality TV shows, and burst out with this urgent message: “The reason that 'reality TV' is such a hot item is because real life is not. You must master the secrets of the Newtonian world of physical action AND the quantum domain of your internal game. Once you have that combination, you can open the doorway to your dreams and your new reality every single time. This is for real!”
It appears to have escaped Ray that his disciples are REALLY DEAD! The closest this proud fool has come to facing reality is his admission that he was “being tested.” Yes, he’s right about that. The Yavapai County Sheriff is calling the deaths a homicide, and from the descriptions of how Ray behaved during the sweatbox experiment – apparently smug and confident, taking no interest in the people who had passed out and were dying – he is going to need serious legal representation.
Still, why were those people sitting there? Delusion, my friends! Delusion! The fond hope that somehow magic would accomplish what they hoped and desired fervently – a perfect world. Not a perfect world for everyone, which would be impossible to achieve, but rather a world in which they could feel perfect. They could obtain “Harmonic Wealth,” the sweet spot in the Universe where everything comes together and rainbow energies hum in sympathy with you, riches rain down, nice people tell you you’re beautiful, smart and capable, and you don’t have to think about global warming, AIDS in Africa, drone warfare on innocent civilian populations, and Dick Cheney’s family starting a new lobbying company. Y’know, when you put it that way, I’d kind of like to try it myself.