Times have been tough for Matthew Smith. A self-proclaimed “Star Wars” fanatic from Clifton, N.J., Mr. Smith, 38, was laid off from his job as a retail manager five months ago and has been living on unemployment ever since. His dream of starting his own business fizzled along with his marriage — one was directly tied to the other, he says. And his efforts to find a new job have so far been futile.
“My life has not been working,” he said, as he stood inside a huge ballroom at the Westin Hotel on Saturday along with 500 other people, many of them also unemployed and looking for something better.
But this was not a job fair. They were here to see a motivational speaker and self-help guru, and paying a hefty price to do so: $1,297 for a high-decibel, two-day seminar. In this case, the speaker was James Arthur Ray, one of the emerging names in the $11 billion self-improvement industry, and the event was called the Harmonic Wealth Weekend.
To pay for his admission, Mr. Smith sold some of his prized “Star Wars” memorabilia, including a 1977 Darth Vader action figure, for which he got $1,000. Other participants ponied up even more money at tables in the back of the ballroom, where they could sign up for more seminars or purchase an assortment of Mr. Ray’s books and DVDs. The showcase item was a package of three workshops, including one called “Practical Mysticism,” on sale for the discounted price of $13,685 (a $5,695 savings), which Mr. Ray pitched throughout the seminar.
If the economy is cutting into his business, Mr. Ray, 51, says he isn’t seeing it. “I think it’s holding steady,” he said backstage during a break, as Van Halen and U2 blared over the speakers. “We have over 500 people here this weekend. I think what I’m providing is a tremendous value, and there’s always going to be a place, regardless of the economy, regardless of the market, for people who are providing tremendous value and tremendous service.”
In Mr. Ray’s case, attendees paid to listen to a former preacher’s son and a junior college dropout who has fashioned a successful business on the promise that he can help people build financial wealth as well as strengthen their spiritual and physical well-being.
Throw in dollops of quantum physics, Shamanism, Buddhism, Kabbalah, tantric sex and lessons drawn from his personal experiences and the movies (even “Star Wars”), and the audience was enthralled. And though he’s not in the ranks of Anthony Robbins and Phil McGraw (Dr. Phil), his appearances on “Oprah” and “Larry King Live,” and in “The Secret,” Rhonda Byrnes’s documentary and book that have become a New Age phenomenon, have won him a following. His own book, “Harmonic Wealth,” appeared on the New York Times best-seller list for two weeks last spring. (continued in the New York Times)
Mind Games: James Arthur Ray
(Hat tip: Beyond Growth)
SEDONA, Ariz. — There is negative energy in the air here, which the channelers, mystics, healers, psychics and other New Age practitioners of Sedona are grappling to identify and snuff out. It has to do with the recent dearth of visitors to this spiritual oasis in search of enlightenment.
Nobody is sure exactly what is keeping people away from Sedona’s four vortexes, swirling energy sources emanating from the earth, but the effects are clear: far fewer crystals are being bought, spiritual tours taken and treatments ordered, from aura cleansings to chakra balancings.
That an earthly power — the economy — is a culprit is not in doubt. But some do not discount the effects of an awful incident from a year ago that put Sedona’s New Age community in a bad light and that, to some degree, still lingers, despite efforts by metaphysical people to cast it away.
Last October, a celebrated New Age practitioner held a sweat lodge ceremony that ran dangerously amok, shattering the tranquillity of a spiritual center hidden in a forested valley here.
Packed into a circular hut on the grounds of Angel Valley were red-hot rocks, seething steam and scores of followers of James A. Ray, a California self-help guru. He encouraged them to finish the final test in his “Spiritual Warrior” retreat, participants told law enforcement officials, even though they might feel as though they were going to die.
Three of them did. Numerous others were rushed to hospitals… (continued in the New York Times)