Monday, November 16, 2009

The Secret is Out

By now, "The Secret" has sold millions of copies of books, dvds, journals, calendars, etc. I've seen the movie. When I was first turned on to it by a friend, I watched several times. I turned a lot of people on to it as well. My two favorite speakers on the dvd were Esther Hicks and James Arthur Ray. I'll go ahead and admit it...I even had a crush on James Arthur Ray. Which is what prompted me to invite my favorite person, my daughter Bianca, to join me at one of his "free" seminars being held at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 2008. We liked what he had to say on "The Secret" enough to go. Which is saying a lot. I managed to avoid ever getting sucked into EST or Tony Robbins or The Forum but I was invested enough in James Arthur Ray's persona to go see him in person. So off we went.

The minute we arrived in the reception area of the ballroom and I got a look at most of the other people there, I felt like a sucker. Call me mean if you must but the room was 90% people I'd never willingly talk to. Which immediately made me think "Wait, am I one of 'those' people too?" You know what I mean...or, if you don't you might be one of those people too. Nonetheless, we stayed. The sales pressure started immediately. His staff handed out packets and instructed us to fill out order forms for Ray product before the seminar started in order to get "the best price." Nowhere in the packet did it give any kind of cost info. We sat on ours.

Then it was time for the man himself to take the stage. Now, we knew what he looked like from the dvd but we weren't prepared for the newly glammed version of Ray. He reminded me of Tony Robbins or a used car salesman. He was uber tan, svelte, buffed and polished to within an inch of his life. His suit was Armani (how do I know? He told us so) Now, granted, he WAS wearing a thumb ring in the dvd which maybe should have been a tip off but honestly, I liked what he had to say on the dvd. And much of that was reiterated there in the Beverly Hills Hotel.

What raised a red flag for me...aside from the slick get up was the huckstering. Right from the beginning he kept asking us if we'd "committed to having a better life" and if so, had we filled in our credit card info on the sales order form in the packet. Those who didn't raise our hands in acknowledgement, were treated to his disappointment in our lack of willingness to do whatever it took to improve our lives. You know that most of the people in the room were looking to financially improve our lives and being asked to blindly fork over an untold sum didn't seem to make a whole lot of sense. Gradually, over the next hour or so, as the pressure to "commit" increased - "In life, you get what you give," while still being met with resistance from most of us. Ray then offered up "the next best thing" - his various dvd/CD sets. He announced that he was going to give a set away. Here's how it went down:

He opened the package. Took out the first CD. Held it up. "Who wants this? Who wants it? Show me you want it!" A sprinkling of people jumped up from their seats, waving their hands. He was holding it high over head. A couple of people made their way to the foot of the stage and jumped up and down as if Springsteen tickets were in the balance. Ray slowly lowered the CD until it was right over their heads. Finally, one of the eager beavers was able to snatch it out of his hand. This was repeated several times until the front of the stage looked like chummed water along side The Orca. People were jockeying for position, stepping on each other's toes, elbowing the competition. For what? One CD out of 12 CD set???? Seriously, what are you gonna do with one CD?
Needless to say, we were disappointed in the flesh and blood James Arthur Ray. Turns out he's just another salesman wrapped in the cloth of spirituality. If spirituality was made by Armani. I left feeling vaguely sad. Like a kid who's already heard that Santa doesn't exist but is still holding out hope.

And now, this ultra ugly sweatlodge tragedy. I had heard about the deaths in passing and didn't really pay attention to the story. Then, this morning, while idley flipping through a few weeks old People Magazine, I finally saw that it wasn't just any old sweatlodge.Iit was a James Arthur Ray sweatlodge! Called the "Spiritual Warrior"retreat, people paid $10 grand to live in the desert, starve, skip sleep and sweat with 50 others in a plastic tarp covered tent. Throughout the "ceremony," Ray and his team were putting that familiar pressure on attendees to "Push past the pain" and making it uncomfortable to walk out. And three people died. You can read more detail here.

Well I hope Ray has saved and invested well because something tells me he's not going to be making much money in the future. What began (or seems so) as a genuine desire to make a difference spiraled pretty quickly into the requisite greed and arrogance that would lead a man to push people dangerously beyond their levels of "committment."

And btw, that doesn't absolve the people themselves. We have to take responsibility for our own acts as well. Using the sweatlodge as an example, if it feels too hot to you, get the fuck out! Don't let anyone tell you you're not a true "warrior" of any kind if you act on your instincts.

As with every other shitty situation we find ourselves in these days. It's not like it was a secret.


Stacey Wittig, Vagabonding Lulu said...

Nicely said.

Gary said...

I have to agree with you though I'm not sure if I should be insulted by your rather elitist comment about not talking to 90% of the people at the seminar. I'll take into account that the seminar was in Beverly Hills.

But I have to disagree with the placement of you comment on personal responsibility. I for some reason read the whole blog post, something I don't often do and found the comment in the last paragraph.

Most reports completely ignore the fact that people need to take some responsibility for their actions. I doubt that there were thugs at the exit forcing people to stay in the sweat lodge.

On the other hand I would guess that most people that spend $10k for the Warrior seminar are not the most self confident people.

It was an unfortunate incident but I prefer to remember James as the person that I saw in "The Secret" and not the commercial person that he has become.