James Ray was arrested and charged with 3 counts of manslaughter for his role in the sweat lodge deaths that took place near Sedona Arizona on October 9, 2009.
Since I have written a book on sweat lodges, ever since the tragedy occurred people have been asking me about it. Asking whether I have changed my opinion regarding the value of the sweat lodge, about its safety, and my answer is definitely not.
I don’t know what happened in that particular sweat lodge, I wasn’t there (actually I am even reluctant to call it a sweat lodge ceremony since, according to the news reports, it didn’t resemble any sweat lodge I have ever participated in). Did someone put some noxious herbs on the stones? What was the tent made of? Was there some man-made material that released toxic fumes when exposed to the heat? I am hoping that a trial will shed some light on the event, and that something good ultimately comes out of it.
This tragedy draws our attention to two important lessons:
1) Listen to your body.
The sweat lodge is not an endurance test. Yes it can be uncomfortable, but most of the discomfort is in your mind, it is emotional discomfort. If you experience severe physical sensations get out of the lodge and get medical help.
2) Don’t follow along with the herd, and don’t blindly follow a charismatic leader.
According to eyewitness accounts of the evening, while participants were gasping for air, vomiting and ultimately collapsing, James Ray demanded that everyone stay inside the tent. Apparently he didn’t physically force people to stay, but he would scold and bully them if they tried to leave, claiming that they were just weak.
It is likely that more of the participants would have died if a few people had not stood up to Ray and insisted on leaving the lodge and taking the ill participants out with them.
It is human nature to go along with the group, that is how our societies are able to function, and it takes a very strong minded person to go against the group, but it is important to remember that we know instinctively what is right for us. No one knows better than you what is right for you. Never blindly follow a leader, follow your own instincts.