Sweat Lodge Tragedy
Having listened raptly to the first-hand account by Shawna Bowen, whose interview is online (http://bit.ly/3HiTJS), what fascinated me was how there had apparently been some incidents in the past, followed by overt warnings from Native American elders which were apparently ignored. In Jungian terms, it sounds as if the Universe had been trying to communicate with Ray, and the message wasn’t getting through.
Apparently on Twitter, James Ray had recently tweeted, “If you’re not uncomfortable you’re going after the wrong intention. Get on the edge. Create or disintegrate. Grow or die. It’s a law.” It may have been that Ray’s ego got “hooked” into creating this experience in order to stimulate self-development, and inadvertently encouraged people to follow through contrary to their own best interests. Perhaps, in one sense, for many people it wasn’t much different from drinking the Kool-Aid or any other cult or cult-like experience, which typically end badly.
Jung wrote, “Masses are always breeding grounds of psychic epidemics.”
He elaborates on this perspective with, “The change of character brought about by the uprush of collective forces is amazing. A gentle and reasonable being can be transformed into a maniac or a savage beast. One is always inclined to lay the blame on external circumstances, but nothing could explode in us if it had not been there. As a matter of fact, we are constantly living on the edge of a volcano, and there is, so far as we know, no way of protecting ourselves from a possible outburst that will destroy everybody within reach. It is certainly a good thing to preach reason and common sense, but what if you have a lunatic asylum for an audience or a crowd in a collective frenzy? There is not much difference between them because the madman and the mob are both moved by impersonal, overwhelming forces.”
-C.G. Jung, “Psychology and Religion” (1938). In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. Para.25
So it seems the place to be wary of is when we are falling into “groupthink” and going along with a program in ways we wouldn’t normally do on our own. The Abu Ghraib incident also seems to be a product of “groupthink,” as were the shocking Milgram and Zimbardo experiments. (Google these latter to learn more.)
At what point do we forfeit our conscience and “buy into” a group mentality against our own better judgment? What part of us is susceptible to that? What psychological functions are “running the show” at those times? What overrides our so-called common sense?
It appears that the message for James Ray personally may be around ego. It seems the Universe sent him several messages and he chose to ignore them, if I understood the interview I heard rightly. And that’s merely an observation — not me sitting in judgment of him. (Sitting in judgment is far too easy — not to mention shadowy.)
I prefer to let this disaster lead me to taking my own inventory, “Where am I ignoring the Universe’s message? In my drive to succeed or prevail or win, is the Universe working with me, or is there a message I need to heed — whether from intuition or direct experience? What part of me is susceptible to groupthink, or perhaps might be inadvertently perpetrating unintended evil?”
This catastrophe is an invitation for us all to search our conscience and question our own integrity, and notice what’s in service of others and what’s in service of our own vanity.
It’s unfortunate that the stimulus to take this important inventory was so tragic. And yet, isn’t that usually the case? It often takes something this dire to truly capture our attention.