Over the last few weeks, the story of the disaster of James Ray’s Spiritual Warrior program outside of Sedona has been slowly unfolding. It is bothering me, though I’m not sure why. I don’t know anyone who has ever attended any of Ray’s events. In fact I don’t think I was really specifically aware of Mr. Ray though some of his books and key phrases are vaguely familiar as snippets of pop culture. I don’t watch Oprah or Larry King Live. Generally, I’m asleep when Larry King is on and I’m at work when Oprah is on and frankly, I wouldn’t watch her show even if I was home with H1N1 and I only had one channel of TV to watch and it was running an Oprah Marathon. I’d rather watch Rachael Ray on the Food Network and if you know how I feel about Rachael Ray, you know that isn’t a likely scenario either…
My husband and I got married just a few miles from Angel Valley. We eloped and had the shortest possible ceremony. Then and now, the marriage was more important than the wedding. The company with which we arranged our wedding also arranged “Native American” ceremonies with a Native American officiant. I wasn’t even close to tempted by that possibility since whichever unspecified tribe they had arranged this with is not of my tradition and though I like to learn about traditional stories and the culture of various tribes, I can’t see appropriating those traditions piecemeal, without respect. The picture above is not from our wedding, it is a picture that I took a couple of weeks after our second anniversary. However, what you can see in that picture you could also see in many of our wedding photos. I have a great affinity for Northern Arizona, particularly the landscape around Sedona and the countryside around Flagstaff. I’ve spent hours hiking through canyons and up mountains on more than one trip, often alone and sometimes to clear my head. I believe this land is sacred, just as I believe the Wisconsin River Valley is sacred (as did the Mound Builders and the current day Ojibwe) or that a restored prairie closer to where I grew up is sacred. This is probably true for any land which is untouched by human development or even land where a slice of nature can be observed like the old oak tree in my yard or the trees and prairie remnant along the path I use when I bike to work.
I think what troubles me most about the recent situation in Sedona is that it drew my attention to the self-help industry where many practitioners seem not qualified to be helping anyone except perhaps themselves to the funds of people who find their lives lacking meaning enough that they need to look to these “gurus” for meaning and for self betterment and in doing so, it would appear they give up critical thought and subject themselves to sleep deprivation and mind control games. I would have to think that in the case of the Sedona victims (not limited to the ones who died) that they’d have been better off to invest their time in their family, friends and volunteering for a cause they feel is important, giving part of their $9K to charity and maybe using some of it to take a vacation. Maybe a vacation that would include something physically challenging like hiking which would also give them plenty of time to think.
Two of my trips to Arizona were pretty specifically focused on taking care of myself, where I was looking to escape from something or to deal with grief. In one case, I’d met a man who was behaving in a rather controlling manner and exhibiting stalker-like behavior after just a couple of dates. Rather than watching my friends’ cats while they went to AZ, I tagged along on the train trip, we spent some time in Flagstaff (including my spending one sunny morning after a snow storm hiking and thinking at Red Mountain) and I went down to the Valley to spend some time with a friend and her family. This all put some time and distance between me and my problem and put me in a good position to deal with it effectively when I returned home. My most recent trip to AZ was a few months after my father died. That summer, I went through a number of changes. I lost my father, my husband and I decided that I could quit a job that had been making me miserable for a couple of years (though I didn’t really skip a beat on employment taking another job right away with only a week or two off between the two) and that I would take a solo trip to Arizona to take in some hiking both up in the San Francisco Peaks and in Sedona as well as again going down to the Valley to enjoy a little slice of family life that is so unlike my own. Again, I took the train down with plenty of time for reading and just letting my mind wander, hiked up Mt. Humphrey past 11,000 feet the day after I got there though I couldn’t make the summit because there just wasn’t enough air in the air for me. I made it past this sign, but not by much.
I got tired every day, I pushed my limits, but I didn’t do anything stupid. I carried plenty of water and I stayed somewhere comfortable every night. I think though, that the most difficult and challenging thing I’ve done was my four night solo kayaking trip on the Wisconsin River late this summer. It pushed my limits, but I was beholden to no one but nature and myself. I always had enough water and I had a good supply of food though I don’t really think that I was eating enough to keep up with my energy expenditure for the course of those few days. I certainly didn’t have need to go on some bogus vision quest directed by someone who had no business conducting one, borrowing from the trappings of a tradition without taking the tradition itself to heart.
As I’ve been reading about the Sedona tragedy, about James Ray, Rhonda Byrne and people of their ilk, I’ve been bumping into phrases like “negative energy”, “the universe” (and not in relation to physics or astronomy) which have always kind of rubbed me the wrong way. Now I think I know why. I don’t think enlightenment should cost much (if any money). I think solitude and observation of nature rather than Large Group Awareness Training will provide clarity. Of course it probably won’t make you rich. And thinking this and sharing it with anyone who cares to read my thoughts won’t make me rich, but then that’s not what I’m looking for. I think if people appreciated what they have in their lives and didn’t think, “I deserve a little more” which is what many of the charlatans who come to us under the guise of self-help would have us believe and that they can get us there by taking us down some crazy path which serves mostly to line their own pockets. Some areas of my life could use some improvement, but life always comes with challenges. When I take stock of what I appreciate, my marriage with D. is a great partnership, I have good friends, a reasonable job, everything I need and some things that I just enjoy.