James Arthur Ray, the New Age guru who orchestrated high-dollar “spiritual warrior” retreats, was sentenced to two years in prison for the criminally negligent homicide of three people who died in one of his sweat lodges. Liz Neuman, Kirby Brown and James Shore died from a combination of dehydration and other heat-related complications.
Ray had consulted with Native American sweat lodge practitioners but then modified the standard lodge to make his even hotter.
This should stand as a warning to those of us who consider ourselves spiritual leaders or who are considered spiritual leaders by others. When I wrote after Ray’s conviction in June I talked about the need to know the limitations of those who put their trust in us. But we also need to know our own limitations.
When we take people on journeys are we sure we know how to get them back? When we read Tarot or practice other forms of divination are we sure we know how to deliver the messages we’re given? Can we recognize the difference between spiritual difficulties and mental illness? Do we know when someone’s situation is beyond our skill to deal with? Do we have the courage to say “you need to see a professional”?
It makes us feel good to help our friends and others who come to us. But we do them no favors when we dispense advice and teaching beyond our expertise.
James Arthur Ray is going to prison and will likely be bankrupted by the civil suits that will be filed. Liz Neuman, Kirby Brown and James Shore are dead. All because one arrogant man didn’t know – or didn’t want to acknowledge – his limitations.
May we never forget.