In fact, in my understanding, it wasn't a sweatlodge. As information has unfolded it has become more clear that this was not a traditionally run sweat. More of a hot house. this article used to be entitled "Sweat Lodge Deaths" but as information has come to light I have been encouraged not to even title this article using that term. And I have to agree.
I don't know if there were any traditional elders present to lead it. I suspect there weren't. We know there were 60 people in it - a traditional sweat might hold 12 people. We do know that Ray declined to be interviewed by the sheriff's office on the night of the incident and returned to California the morning after the deaths.
According to www.abc15.com -
"At one point, someone lifted up the back of the tent, allowing light into the otherwise pitch-black tent. Ray demanded to know where the light was coming from and who committed the "sacrilegious act," Bunn said. A man, yelling "I can't take it, I can't breathe, I can't do this" had crawled out, Bunn said. As it neared the end, Bunn said some participants found themselves physically and mentally unable to tend to those around them. After the eighth round, Ray instructed them to exit the sweat lodge just has they had entered -- going clockwise, a movement meant to symbolize being inside a mother's womb. What followed was a triage situation with people laid out on tarps and water being thrown on them to bring down body temperatures. Some people weren't breathing and had bloodshot eyes. One woman unknowingly walked toward the fire before someone grabbed her, Bunn said. Shouts of "we need water, we need water," rang out. "They couldn't fill up the buckets fast enough," Bunn said. Off to the side, a medical doctor participating in the retreat performed CPR on Shore and Brown with the aid of others. When Bunn asked if she could help because she knew CPR, she was told to stay back. Ray was standing about 10 feet away, watching, Bunn said. "He didn't do anything, he didn't participate in helping. He did nothing. He just stood there.""
I can't say much more about the differences at this point.
The Hot House was being led by James Ray (featured in the New Age hit movie - The Secret). It was, according to Dr. Christine B. Whelan, "the culmination of a five-day nearly $10,000 “Spiritual Warrior Event” advertised as a retreat to “accelerate the releasing of your limitations and push yourself past your self-imposed and conditioned borders.”
"In all, 21 of the 64 people crowded inside the hot house Thursday evening received medical care at hospitals and a fire station. Four remained hospitalized Friday evening — one in critical condition and the others in fair condition."
As a young yoga student, I more than once let an over-eager yoga teacher push me in a yoga pose past my limits - and I got injured. I so wanted to reach a new level that I discounted my safety in the pursuit of my goals. With time, I learned to take responsibility for my own safety, and now I teach my students to listen to their bodies and respect their limits. Ray's followers - tragically, perhaps criminally - apparently were not encouraged to do the same.
In most serious spiritual traditions, every teacher has a relationship to a teacher and a community that provides a check on the teacher's ambition and ego. The practice has developed over many years and can help the practitioner find an inner sense of a balance that allows for growth with integrity. It's a process that requires time, patience and mindful attention.
"I grew up in this realm being my mother is Cree and my father is metis and participating in sweats, ceremonies and pow wows held by the elders of our community. I have never heard of this [kind of accident] until now. I am saddened that this has happened under the guise of a sweat. Simply put, there are but two individuals that I trust in all of Canada to lead me in a sweat and one is an elder (Cree)from where I am from and the other is another very respected elder (ojibway) from Manitoba. This is huge medicine and it MUST be lead by huge medicine (in service of others). PERIOD. This is what we (children) were imprinted with from day one. This stuff is not a business or a really cool way to get your "groovy card punched" it is as real as day and night and can be very dangerous if lead by the wrong individual and not just from a physiological sense but also for a spiritual sense."
"I am still interested to learn what exactly happened with this. Having participated in over a hundred sweats "behind the buckskin curtain" of Native America, having trained for over a decade in how to lead a proper sweat, and having facilitated hundreds of personal and group purification ceremonies using the lodge myself, I have never heard of or seen *one person* have the reaction these people had.
Initiatory experiences of various kinds can and do stretch a person's concept and understanding of who they are but, the way I was taught, the sweat lodge is not the place where this happens. If anything, the purification lodge itself is simply a preparation for other such experiences.
Was there a toxin on the stones he used? That's what it sounds like to me. Was he not allowing people to leave the lodge if they wanted to? That's a form of violence.
Did he not start off slow, gradually build the heat so that a person can gently focus their mind, pray, and remove impurities through their sweat? If he used too many stones, put them all in at one time, then the sweat lodge (which is meant to be a womb-like experience) was hellish.
Whatever happened is clearly disturbing. Undoubtedly he wasn't attuned to the energies of each person within the group--which is a requirement of a purification lodge facilitator. Each person. This becomes an impossibility running a sweat for 60+ people. It is meant to be an intimate experience. I would never facilitate a lodge with more than 12 people. Period.
My fear is that part of the fallout from this will be an attempt to prevent First Nations people from the practice -- a practice for which there is a long tutelage so as to gain insight into the subtleties of the process."
"I think when we decide to engage in writing on a article where the general public reads "Sweatlodge Deaths," that moment immediately diminshes what had been a long standing spiritual practice by our Elders for centuries - It should have read "Hot House Deaths" as what this person was practicing was... New Age and not Aboriginal traditional practices by a respected Elder.
The issue became political and it immediately implicated Aboriginal Spiritual practice by it's title, which has been a long standing defamation practice of media toward Aboriginal people for decades."
"As a coach, most of my clients come to me because they want to grow and move outside of their current limits. Most of the time this is a good thing - we need to outgrow outmoded cultural and personal patterns, we need to break out of culturally imposed definitions of who we are and what we can achieve.
Doing this, in fact, may be critical for our collective survival. We need to grow up as a species.... But there's a point at which this can all tip over into addiction to growth, the incapacity to accept oneself, the inability to respect inherent limits - our own and the planet's. Being able to hold each part of this complex equation with awareness is critical."* * *
“There is a form of contemporary violence to which the idealist fighting for peace by nonviolent means most easily succumbs -- activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of activists neutralizes their work for peace. It destroys their own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of their work because it kills the inner wisdom which makes their work fruitful.”
"The best chief is not the one who persuades people to his point of view. It is instead the one in whose presence most people find it easiest to arrive at the truth".