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Tragedy in Sedona

My Life in James Arthur Ray’s Inner Circle 

By Connie Joy

“Each student must be encouraged to take responsible measures to confront teachers with unethical aspects of their conductIf the teacher shows no sign of reform, students should not hesitate to publicize any unethical behavior of which there is irrefutable evidence. This should be done irrespective of other beneficial aspects of his or her work and of one's spiritual commitment to that teacher.”

—The Dalai Lama

It was October 8, 2009 when the first 911 call came in alerting emergency personnel that a tragedy was unfolding at the Angel Lodge Retreat Center only a few miles from Sedona. During a Sweat Lodge ceremony, facilitated by self-help guru James Arthur Ray as part of the Spiritual Warrior program, something went horribly wrong. Two people, Kirby Brown and James Shore died at the scene. Nineteen others were transported to various hospitals, including Liz Neuman, who would die nine days later from injuries sustained during the Sweat Lodge ceremony
—Lynne LaMaster, Prescott News

In 2007, Connie participated in James Ray’s sweat lodge, a Native American ceremonial sauna meant to be a place of spiritual renewal and mental and physical healing. It turned out to be only a test of endurance for Connie and many of the participants. Her prediction that someone could be seriously hurt came true in October 2009 when three people died and 18 participants were injured during a sweat lodge run by James Arthur Ray and his staff.

One of the reasons Connie wrote her book, Tragedy in Sedona, is summed up best in the opening quote by The Dalai Lama.

James Ray's debut in the film, The Secret, thrust him into the spot light. . . appearances on Oprah and Larry King Live. . . Tragedy in Sedona is a behind the scenes look at the rise and fall of the James Ray Empire, through the eyes of an ultimately disenchanted follower. Connie Joy takes you on her personal and authentic journey from being a devoted member of James' inner circle and Dream Team to. . . trying to warn others
From the Foreword by forensic psychiatrist Dr. Carole Lieberman

Follow Connie Joy inside the seminars and once-in-a-lifetime trips to Egypt and Peru for an up close look at the transformative work of a charismatic teacher - and the underlying danger of mixing up the message with the messenger!

Connie and her husband attended 27 events over three years presented by James Arthur Ray, "Rock Star of Personal Transformation." In February, 2011, Ray goes on trial in Arizona for three counts of manslaughter and faces numerous civil suits.

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Q. How did you hear about James Arthur Ray and start taking his seminars?

A. I first saw James Ray in the documentary movie The Secret after which I attended one of his introductory events.

Q. Why were you interested in his teachings?

A. James promoted his seminars as a blending of Spiritual and Scientific principles. My husband and I both come from a scientific background so we were very interested in this combination.

Q. How many events did you attend?

A. Over the last three years I attended 27 events including a trip to Egypt in 2008 and to Peru in 2009 with James.

Q. What does it mean to be a part of his Inner Circle?

A. My husband and I are founding members of the World Wealth Society which James referred to as his inner circle. We had private events, conference calls and trips with him.

Q. We keep hearing the word wealth connected to his seminars and in the World Wealth Society’s name. Was his teachings centered on making more money?

A. Even though finances play a part in having an abundant life you also need to have other areas such as relational, spiritual, mental, and physical working well to. People came to his events for their own unique reasons. Not everyone was looking to first improve their finances.

Q. Which areas of your life were you there to work on?

A. I have spent the bulk of the last three years working on my physical pillar to improve my health, and my spiritual pillar to create a stronger connection with God.

Q. Were you at the Sweat Lodge in October, 2009?

A. We were in the Sweat Lodge in 2007. We had friends who were there in 2008 and 2009. We were supposed to be in Sedona before the event began in 2009 for a private hike with James Ray and we were also going to volunteer to work at the event and would have probably been in the lodge, but over the course of that year we decided not to go to Sedona at all.

Q. Why did you decide not to go to Sedona that year?

A. In my book I describe in detail the events that occurred during 2009 that caused us to pull away from James. Just 2 months before the event in Sedona we had a public argument with James in the lobby of a Peruvian hotel. We felt that he was pushing people to hard and too fast to climb a mountain above Machu Picchu. After returning home we had a call with James where we had hoped to resolve our growing uneasiness with his behavior. Our concerns were not resolved and we told him that we would no longer volunteer at any more of his events, and that we would not be joining him for a hike that we were going to do together in Sedona just before the Spiritual Warrior event.

Q. Why do you think 3 people died that day and many more were injured?

A. James ran his sweat lodge at too high of a temperature for way to long. It was much hotter than any sauna I had ever been in, and I am in one almost every day. No reasonable person would suggest that you should stay in any sauna or steam room for 2 to 3 hours and that is how long James ran his sweat lodge ceremony for.

Q. Did you know any of the people that died or were injured?

A. Yes, many of the people at the event are friends of mine. One friend died, another close friend was the first person taken by helicopter to the hospital and many more of our friends were injured.

Q. How are the injured doing now?

A. Our friend Stephen still has no sense of taste or smell, he has excruciating headaches and memory issues. It is my understanding that at least one other person still has serious medical complications from being in that lodge as well.

Q. Did they have their medical expensed paid for by James Ray?

A. When I last spoke to Stephen he still has not received any financial help with his considerable medical expenses from James or his company. He does not have health insurance so he has to pay cash for his ongoing medical care.

Q. Why did those people stay in the sweat lodge even after it got too hot?

A. Most of them had completed other seminars with James where they were asked to do something that put them outside of their comfort zone. For example, I have broken boards and concrete slabs with my hand, bent rebar with my throat, and walked on fire at his events. Each time we were asked to do something that we didn’t think that we could do, and then we did it, we prove his judgment of what we can do correct and our judgment wrong. After a while you start to trust his judgment over our own.

Q. Were you concerned about your safety while you were doing things like walking across fire or bending a piece of rebar using your throat?

A. Of course I was nervous because I was being asked to do something that I didn't think I could do. At the same time we would say as we waited in line that “James is a business man. He wouldn’t have us do anything that was really dangerous and let us get hurt because it would be bad for business”. It did not make sense to us that someone who was supposedly a multimillionaire and who owned a multimillion dollar company would put his clients in serious danger. So we logically thought that the activity must be doable and not as dangerous as it appeared or he wouldn't ask us to do it. What James did in the sweat lodge wasn't logical so his students didn't anticipate that they were really in mortal danger until it was too late.

Q. Did James Ray make any promises to the participants about their safety during the sweat lodge?

A. He promised that he would take care of them and that they would be OK. Even if they passed out he assured them that he would get them out. He promised us in 2007 and according to other participants he said the same thing in 2008 and 2009 that we may think that we are going to die but that we are not.

Q. Did James play God during the event?

A. Yes, he even dressed up in a white robe during something he called the samurai game.

Q. What went on during this samurai game?

A. James was God and if you committed any infraction of his rules then he would point to you and order you to die. If you did not fall down to the ground dead instantly then someone from your team would also be ordered to die. If you were dead then you had to lie still on the hard floor for many hours, and if you moved then one of your team mates would be ordered to die too.

Q. What was the purpose of this samurai game?

A. James said that it was to highlight one of the themes of his Spiritual Warrior event which was to live with honor and integrity. That, like the samurai, it was better to die with honor than to live without it.

Q. Have other people had problems during his sweat lodges in previous years?

A. Yes, in 2005 a man was taken to the hospital by ambulance suffering from heat stroke. In 2007 I saw numerous people who were throwing up and disoriented. One woman had to be carried out because she could not control her movements. And in 2008 one woman was unresponsive for a couple of hours after leaving the sweat lodge, another woman was in such physical duress that she thought that she was going to die, and a friend of ours saw his life flash before his eyes and he stopped breathing twice.

Q. Was James Ray always like this or did he change over the time that you knew him?

A. I go into detail in my book how James changed over the three years that we knew him. In the beginning he was friendly and approachable. Over time he became withdrawn and even hired a pair of body guards to keep people away from him. Over time his tough love approach had more tough in it than love.

Q. What would you like to see change in the Self-Help Spiritual Seminar business to help prevent this type of thing from happening again?

A. At the end of my book I outline several changes that need to happen in this multi-billion dollar industry to protect consumers. Some of them are:

1) That Provider’s Credentials must be available and give verifiable references to support their claims of training and education.

2) We need Full disclosure of all waivers, and specifics on the event activities within a time period that the consumer can cancel and still get a full refund.

3) We need to be able to Rate the Provider or an Event and their score needs to be maintained by an independent group. If we already had this ability then people who had attended one of James’ earlier sweat lodges could have warned others of the danger.

4) Also, there needs to be a Trust Account where prepaid fees, over a thousand dollars, are held until the services are delivered.

Q. What would you like readers to take away from your book, Tragedy in Sedona, My Life in James Arthur Ray’s Inner Circle?

A. After reading my book they will have a understanding of why those people trusted James, listened to him, and suspended their own good judgment and stayed in that sweat lodge independent of how hot it got. The readers need this knowledge so that they can prevent this type of a tragedy from happening to them or someone that they love.

Raised in a very religious Roman Catholic family, Connie had a paradigm shift as an adult that put her on a lifelong path as a student of spirituality. She has belonged to several spiritual groups, including leading a Sylvia Browne study group, and was trained as a Practitioner of Hypnosis with emphasis in past life regres sion. After watching the movie The Secret, Connie attended one of James Arthur Ray’s seminars in 2007 with her husband Richard and signed up for his Harmonic Wealth Weekend (HWW) event held in February, 2007Over the next three years, Connie and Richard participated in or volunteered for 27 James Arthur Ray seminars and events.

Click here to read an excerpt of the book

Published by Transformation Media Books

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