Have you ever heard about or maybe even watched unfold a story of seemingly bright people doing spectacularly stupid things and wondered, “Why?” Have you ever seen a group of people following someone like lemmings to their own death or harm and tried to get your head around what you saw? If you’ve ever been curious about what goes on inside groups who surrender their will to a single individual, this book will bring you some insight.
Reading this book was like a slow drive by the ultimate car wreck. The closer you get to this story the more you want to look away at the same time you find yourself unable to look anywhere else. If you read a lot here at Cracked Virtue you know I have an interest in books and stories from those who survived the Holocaust. I am awed by both the spirit of those who survived and repulsed by the ease with which man perpetrates horror upon man. This book was a little like reading about the Holocaust in that it provoked some of the same questions for me. Why didn’t someone object? Why didn’t people run? Why were other people complicit in the harm and degradation of others? How could a human being or a group of humans so willingly follow someone so focused on their own self-interest?
And this book holds some answers.
The title, Tragedy in Sedona, refers to a mock sweat lodge ceremony led by James Arthur Ray, self help guru, guest of the Oprah, and one of the instigators behind The Secret. This event, that had little or nothing to do with a traditional sweat lodge, ended with 3 people dead and many others hurt. These weren’t the first deaths associated with JAR and his expensive seminar/events. This happened in 2009 and the book details the experiences of the author, Connie Joy, and her husband Richard, as they participated in the JAR group from 2007 through to an event in 2009 that took place AFTER the deaths at Sedona.
It’s really impossible to share details from the book and be taken seriously at the same time. Taken in bits and pieces like the tens of thousands of dollars spent on workshops, the hundreds of hours at their own expense to volunteer to help at other workshops, a moody and reckless ‘role model’, obvious lies and manipulation quickly set aside for the ‘greater good that’s offered’, bizarre and arbitrary behaviour, make the whole thing seem impossible to believe. In the context of the story and the storyteller it becomes not only real but heartbreaking.
Martin Luther once said that we long to be deceived. The movie “The Prestige” made the same point – we want to be tricked. Tragedy in Sedona proves this is true.
Connie Joy tells a compelling story. It’s full of her personal insights and spiritual take on things. When she writes about JAR her voice is similar to women I’ve talked with who come from an abusive relationship. She talks about Ray, still, with an equal mixture of adoration and revulsion. At the end I was left wondering if JAR were to call her up, or more to the point, show up at her home and tell her that she was right and he was wrong and he desperately needed her on his side to help him back on the Path if she wouldn’t just drop everything to be his “go to” girl. Before she could say, “No she wouldn’t.” She’d have to reflect on this book.
I’ve watched a couple Youtube videos of Ray since reading the book. He’s smooth. But the patter is not unfamiliar and while some are attracted to the confidence he exudes it’s very clear that the emperor has no clothes.
Tragedy in Sedona – My life in James Arthur Ray’s Inner Circle by Connie Joy, Transformation Media Books, published 2010, 350 pages (more or less).
Short version: If you’re curious about how functional people end up in crazy situations, cults or life threatening scenarios, this is a good read. If you’d like a case study in narcissistic personality disorder, this is a good read.
Have you ever found yourself shaking your head in reflection wondering how you could have been so stupid? Have you ever followed someone all the while ignoring red flags about that person? Have you ever listened uncritically to a leader and found yourself hurt as a result?