I’m sorry I am so behind in posting. I promise that I will review up to day 21 ASAP, which will include Cupping and Rising Star. But, life has a way of happening; and priorities have a way of making themselves known. But before I go any further, I’d like to take a few moments to discuss (one of the many) reasons I took a small sabbatical from writing the blog. In a word, it is “myself”.
A few weeks back, when I wrote When the healing does not fit you must acquit (yourself), I got a LOT of positive feedback. TONS! I did not realize how many people were truly reading and why. Thanks for reading, and I am so glad that this journey of self-exploration in a public forum was truly worth it. Your support is deeply appreciated. And also, I ruffled some feathers. As we say in South Philly, somebody been sippin the haterade…and sip they did. I got some hate mail. Yup, for reals.
One was a completely understandable product of ignorance. “If you are thinking about/are cutting yourself, you should not be allowed out in public on your own”. Passing along info about self harming behaviors, their prevalence, etc. seems to have helped. The rest can collectively be summed up (paraphrased) as “well, I DO know what’s best for you! You just don’t want to let people help you/are resisting/are not ready to get better.” Sigh.
I talked it all out with a trusted friend (Thanks, Kelly!) and let it go. It’s their shit to deal with. So why bring it up? Well, so you know where the Hell I have been for the past week or so….and to discuss something that has been in the news. Something that is a heartbreaking and somber reminder of our role as practitioners and teachers as well as the dangers of Ego run wild. The incident at a sweat lodge in Sedona, AZ that now has James Arthur Ray, famous for his involvement with The Secret, on trial for manslaughter…and most importantly has left three workshop participants dead, and their families in grief.
As I have said before, we all have an ego, and it can get the best of us at times. And if we are not careful, our presumed authority as teachers and holistic practitioners can leave others in a precarious (or even flat-out dangerous) situation. This tragic event highlights our responsibility to encourage others to trust and heal themselves from within, rather than blindly follow a Guru.
A sweat lodge, for those of you not familiar, is a small enclosed tent with hot rocks that may reach temperatures in excess of 100 degrees. You do not need to be a Doctor to notice at least a few obvious health risks involved, after all, people die in heat waves every year. When properly operated they are safe for most people (those without underlying health risks). When I have attended sweat lodges, I was always encouraged to leave or request help if I felt uncomfortable or unsafe. Apparently, participants were told once they entered Mr. Ray’s sweat lodge they were not permitted to leave until the ceremony had ended, and Mr. Ray’s attorney claims it was for fear they would walk over the hot rocks and burn themselves. Why this was not considered a safety hazard from the start escapes me, but I feel I need to mention that one of the three killed, Liz Neuman, was someone experienced in Mr. Ray’s Spiritual Warrior retreat and was there to help the participants. Whether this is truly a case of manslaughter or a tragic accident is up to a jury, but it seems fairly clear that Mr. Ray and his staff has no idea what they were getting other people-or themselves-into. I doubt that the attendees had any idea how ill prepared these highly trusted “leaders” were, as it seems the leaders were unaware of it themselves.
Mr. Ray did warn participants that this was an intense exercise, and some people did sit out the sweat lodge. And others, some of them injured and some not, survived the sweat lodge. Nature is a curious thing, in that we are all so similar in some ways yet so different in others. Just like Dan Millman’s book has helped lots of people and triggered a relapse of anorexia for me, so do some choose to sit out a sweat lodge while others stay until they perish. Three people clung to Mr. Ray’s statements, among them “You will feel as if you’re going to die…The true Spiritual Warrior will conquer death… when you emerge you will be a different person… you must surrender to death in order to survive it” until they actually died.
The Spiritual Warrior retreat promised to “Ensure success” of the physical, mental, spiritual, financial as well as in relationships. When we promise that our method/brand/practice/philosophy will ensure happiness, we had better not be surprised when people believe us, and hold on with every hope they have ever had, in spite of how they may otherwise feel. Don’t promise someone the sun, moon and stars and blame them for believing you!
Let’s take a moment to read a passage from “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran:
[S]eek not the depths of your knowledge with staff or sounding line.
For self is a sea boundless and measureless.
Say not, “I have found the truth,” but rather, “I have found a truth.”
Say not, “I have found the path of the soul.” Say rather, “I have met the soul walking upon my path.”
For the soul walks upon all paths.
The soul walks not upon a line, neither does it grow like a reed.
The soul unfolds itself, like a lotus of countless petals.
No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half asleep in the dawning of your knowledge.
The teacher who walks in the shadow of the temple, among his followers, gives not of his wisdom but rather of his faither and his lovingness.
If he is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the house of his wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind…
The musician may sing to you of the rhythm which is in all space, but he cannot give you the ear which arrests the rhythm, nor the voice that echoes it.
Let us take a moment and revisit what the teacher/student relationship truly is-one of exploration and possible enrichment on part of BOTH. To inspire someone to embark on a journey of the soul is a beautiful thing. To lead someone down THE path is really simply to lead someone down YOUR path. In the worst case scenario, the path of your soul’s healing could also be the path of someone else’s destruction.
Add to that the group dynamic. Many psychologists, including Freud, have pointed out that within the constructs of a group, a person can much more easily put the feelings and directives of the group above their own needs and desires. The following quote was taken from this CNN New article, in which a survivor of the sweat lodge tragedy is interviewed:
“I mentioned several times that I thought people were having issues and needed help to leave, and they didn’t wish to leave,” Melissa Phillips testified. She said she could hear “a snorting breath sound” from one of the participants, Kirby Brown, who died after the October 2009 event.
In the case of “mob” psychology, people may even abandon their own sense of right and wrong, doing things they would never otherwise do, because the group is doing it. This can result in things like lynchings and possibly even prolonged events like The Salem Witch Trials. If you take all that and add a charismatic person who (unlike James Arthur Ray) really did intent to do harm to others, like Jim Jones, you end up with Jonestown. Tragically, Jim Jones led nearly 1000 people, nearly 1/3 of them children, to their deaths when he instructed them to commit mass suicide by drinking Kool-Aid laced with Cyanide. Why do I bring up Jim Jones? James Arthur Ray, while possibly reckless and certainly ill equipped, may have been involved in the deaths of three people he by no means poisoned them, or intentionally killed them.
Last week, I ran into my Reiki Teacher Kim Fleisher on the street, and we chatted a bit about this blog. She said something about how she feels people often try to convince others of their modality/brand of healing in an attempt to convince themselves. I agree with that. Something I teach in my Business Basics for Bodyworkers and Wellness Providers class is HOW to explain what we do. “It’s wellness, not a used car. Stop trying to ‘sell’ it”, I often say. But what I am really thinking is…quit pushing the Kool-Aid, and start offering options. If you are pushing Kool-aid, even if just to convince yourself, you will only attract one kind of client.
Here is one more quote from someone a little more current:
“A lot of people don’t want to make their own decisions. They’re too scared. It’s much easier to be told what to do.” – Marilyn Manson
To my Haters-If you want to walk around proclaiming to have all the answers, the formula, “the secret” to everyone else’s happiness….have fun with that. I’ll be on the difficult path-the one that is yet to be worn. Yup, I’ll get scraped up and lost here and there, but I found my way in and will find my way out. And all of the lessons I learn along the way will be well-earned.
You can keep your damn Kool-aid.