Monday, September 25th 2017

When silence is ‘spin’: sweat-lodge tragedy, Oprah and “The Secret”

Oprah once promoted self-help guru James Arthur Ray, and his vehicle The Secret. Now she maintains a strict silence on both, and the deaths in Sedona

BY PAUL KAIHLAThe Secret was launched as a viral, online, pay-per-view phenomenon a couple of years ago. Oprah made it a mainstream hit by featuring its Australian producer on her show, and some of the film’s self-help “stars” like James Arthur Ray. (Oprah also added the book version of The Secret to her epynomous Club).

But the stream of support has dried up since October, 2009, when Ray presided over a $10,000-per-person retreat in Sedona, Arizona which climaxed in a sweat-lodge event that injured dozens and left three dead.

As we count down the days to Christmas, Ray and his organization remain the subject of a homicide investigation by the local Arizona sheriff’s department. And both participants and families of the deceased are lining up to sue the self-styled guru.

Ray is not talking to the media. And Oprah is saying even less about the controversy.

We thought that silence had to do with things like meditation and clearing out the noise in one’s mind, but to these merchandisers of spirituality silence is also a selective tactic in the media theater.

In Oprah’s first salvo about The Secret, she famously devoted a full episode to the film — and apparently remains a fan of its branded message, the so-called “law of attraction.”

"Secret" stars James Arthur Ray (left) and Michael Beckwith with Oprah, live

"Secret" stars James Arthur Ray (left) and Michael Beckwith with Oprah

The Secret tries to put a scientific spin on the power of positive thinking, vizualization and imaging techniques — long the staples of neuro-linguistic programming, and earlier, the Erickson school of hypnosis and psychotherapy. Many of the contributors to Soul’s Code have always been turned off by The Secret‘s smarmy vibe. Buddhist mystics call any transpersonal technique or belief system put in service of the ego’s grocery list — making more money, lose more weight, find a lover — spiritual materialism.

In the wake of the deaths, James Arthur Ray himself has taken this motivational approach on the road and continued his schedule of promotional appearances and high-priced seminars.

We also don’t trust some of the film’s content: the claim that  — “we can measure a thought” — is just plain wrong. A physical science of consciousness simply doesn’t exist. Don’t take our word. Take it from a scientist like the University of California at Irvine’s Donald Hoffman, who is deep into metaphysics but eloquently blunt about how phenomena of the mind fail to fit into the paradigm of modern science:

“The world of our daily experience—the world of tables, chairs, stars and people, with their attendant shapes, smells, feels and sounds—is a species-specific user interface to a realm far more complex, a realm whose essential character is conscious. It is unlikely that the contents of our interface in any way resemble that realm. Indeed the usefulness of an interface requires, in general, that they do not. For the point of an interface, such as the windows interface on a computer, is simplification and ease of use. We click icons because this is quicker and less prone to error than editing megabytes of software or toggling voltages in circuits. Evolutionary pressures dictate that our species-specific interface, this world of our daily experience, should itself be a radical simplification, selected not for the exhaustive depiction of truth but for the mutable pragmatics of survival.

“If this is right, if consciousness is fundamental, then we should not be surprised that, despite centuries of effort by the most brilliant of minds, there is as yet no physicalist theory of consciousness, no theory that explains how mindless matter or energy or fields could be, or cause, conscious experience. There are, of course, many proposals for where to find such a theory — perhaps in information, complexity, neurobiology, neural Darwinism, discriminative mechanisms, quantum effects, or functional organization. But no proposal remotely approaches the minimal standards for a scientific theory: quantitative precision and novel prediction.”

The mistake that lovers of the ‘law of attraction’ and The Secret make is that while there’s a correlation between the totality of your reality and the contents of your consciousness, thought-energy does not directly translate into dollars. The notion that you can manifest your affluence through the blunt machinery of the mind is a highly partial view of being, and one informed by excessive self-concern.

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One Comment on “When silence is ‘spin’: sweat-lodge tragedy, Oprah and “The Secret””

  1. She is silent because she hasn't anything intelligent to say on the matter. You can't find your inner self by paying someone over $9k to help you find the me that probably doesn't exist. This man is a charlatan and not a guru. He used gullible people and took advantage of them for his own financial gain. That is all he cared about, not their inner selves, their souls or their spirituality.

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