“Enlighten Us: The Rise and Fall of James Arthur Ray”: the self-help business, and tragedy


Name: “Enlighten Us”
Director, writer: Jenny Carchman
Released: 2016/12
Format: 2.35:1
When and how viewed: 2016/12/3, CNN
Length 93
Rating NA
Companies: Big Pond, CNN Films
Link: official site

I remember driving a rental car in central Montana on vacation in May 1981, and hearing on the car radio about a seminar on “feeling good about yourself” at a Days Inn in Helena, about 120 miles from where I was, on the car radio. With no hotel reservations (long before the days of smartphones) I headed right to it. Next day I would visit the open pit mine in Butte and it snowed.

I remember the session well. I also recall a friend in Dallas, around 1985, who signed up for a program to sell motivational tapes (in the days of VHS and Beta) Amway-style, and he even headed to Waco for a day long training seminar on it.

And I even get rude calls from my book publisher on why I don’t try to set myself up to do this to sell books!

And I’ve fielded ads for plenty of those weekend hotel seminars (after retirement) on all kinds of get-rich schemes, like cash flow management, for one.

Yet, some people make a go of the self-help industry. One of these is James Ray, subject of the CNN documentary “Enlighten Us: The Rise and Fall of James Arthur Ray” (2016), directed by Jenny Carchman, aired on CNN Saturday night Dec. 3 (with commercials).

Ray’s business model led to the deaths of three customers in his sweat lodges, near Sedona AZ in October 2009, from heat strokes. The last segment of the documentary walks through the event, and Ray is interviewed, explaining how his life collapsed in fifteen minutes. No, he hadn’t thought of this. He would serve two years in prison for negligent homicide.
The film also gives a strong biography of Ray, including his strict upbringing in an evangelical family in Oklahoma. Over the years, he did sell many books, like “The Secret” which, as I recall, deals with “the Law of Attraction”.

He could be dominating in these sessions, challenging customers as to why they were there.

The documentary covers his gradual restart of his speaking career after getting out of prison (the release is shown).

Wikipedia attribution link, here PD photo by Doug Dolde

(Posted: Sunday, December 4, 2016 at 6:30 PM EST)