The human brain’s gullibility can be fatal, and this month it was.
I’ve never really known or understood too much about the whole “New Age” fad, and I can’t say that I really care. It all seems like a bunch of mumbo jumbo which doesn’t motivate me to learn any more. A quick perusal of the Wikipedia page scared me away. At first I was like, “Oh, optimism, that’s good!” And then I read a second sentence about shifting reality and I was done.
But a whole lot of people buy into this bizarre nonsense, and some have followed their “guru,” James Arthur Ray, to their death. Let’s start with the headline of today’s NYT article: For Some Seeking Rebirth, Sweat Lodge Was End. How many people read that unphased? Rebirth? Oh sure, some people are into that rebirth thing. Have you been reborn yet? Oh you should, it’s great. I used to be Zack but now I’m Jeff and I have a totally different life.
No. We should all flinch. I mean, I’ve talked about coming out as a “rebirth,” but in a very secular I’m-the-same-person-but-I-just-understand-myself-better. What were these people seeking? Let’s see what we can glean from the article…
“There were people throwing up everywhere,” said Dr. Beverley Bunn, 43, an orthodontist from Texas, who said she struggled to remain conscious in the sweat lodge, a makeshift structure covered with blankets and plastic and heated with fiery rocks.
Dr. Bunn said Mr. Ray told the more than 50 people jammed into the small structure — people who had just completed a 36-hour “vision quest” in which they fasted alone in the desert — that vomiting “was good for you, that you are purging what your body doesn’t want, what it doesn’t need.” But by the end of the ordeal on Oct. 8, emergency crews had taken 21 people to hospitals. Three have since died.
Dr. Bunn, who had signed up for the $9,695 “spiritual warrior” experience, offered the first eyewitness account of the sweat lodge.
The Angel Valley retreat center, which hosted the five-day Spiritual Warrior event, offers a menu of services like soul retrieval, vortex healing and dolphin energy healing.
She also described a game — enacted again at the retreat this month — in which Mr. Ray wears white robes and plays God, ordering some participants to commit mock suicide.
For the “vision quest,” the exercise that required spending 36 hours in the desert without food or water, participants had sleeping bags, but Mr. Ray also offered to sell Peruvian ponchos for $250, Dr. Bunn said.
Thank Mr. Ray for the ponchos!
I need to point out that these people, including the three who died from the sweat lodge experience, are just as accountable for foolish beliefs as their monotheistic counterparts I normally write about.
The fact that we so blindly respect “beliefs” is what allows us to pursue things like “vortex healing.” The nuance is in whether people end up hurting themselves or others. We call one a cult and the other religion. The cause is the same: a lack of critical thinking.
Come on America, we can do better. How did this even happen?
Mr. Ray, who calls himself a teacher of “practical mysticism” and has gained widespread exposure through writings and an appearance on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,”…
Aw hell no! Oprah just lost huge points in my book.
The only redeeming part of this story is that the aforementioned participant Dr. Bunn learned something important:
On a conference call Mr. Ray held last week for sweat lodge participants, Dr. Bunn was shocked to hear one recount the comments of a self-described “channeler” who visited Angel Valley after the retreat. Claiming to have communicated with the dead, the channeler said they had left their bodies in the sweat lodge and chosen not to come back because “they were having so much fun.”
Dr. Bunn had a less charitable view: “They couldn’t re-enter their bodies because they were dead.”