Today is the 12th Anniversary of “that sweat lodge” in Sedona.
Three people died and many more were physically, emotionally, and spiritually traumatized at a retreat on October 8, 2009. The names of the deceased are Kirby Brown, James Shore, and Liz Neuman. I am one of the survivors.
Twelve years later, there is still no regulation of the spiritual, self help, or wellness industries.
Each year I set aside October 8 as a day of reflection. Today I wrote and listened to podcasts, including Wondery’s GURU. I just finished the 7th episode, a panel discussion with the host Matt Stroud, Kirby’s mom Ginny Brown, and me.
When I am asked to talk about the distinction between a cult leader and charismatic self help guru, these words tumble out of my mouth:
“No one joins a cult. A cult is a broken promise. The promise is the trust between the cult leader and cult follower. I can hear that coming out of my own mouth, and I cannot ignore the similarity between that and what happens with the guru model of self help. It’s one of the reasons I believe it’s time for that model to go away.”
In other words, I couldn’t make a distinction.
This past year has been unlike the ones before it. I have spoken with cult experts and cult survivors. I no longer believe there is a difference between self help groups and cults.
I have studied the tools of manipulation that are endemic to the self help industry: indoctrination, undue influence, sensory deprivation, overstimulation, neurolinguistic programming (NLP), unethical sales practices. And that’s not a complete list.
I have left coaching. I continue to peel back layers and reclaim my life from the clutches of self help. I am exploring how I can incorporate educating others on the lessons of this experience with my true loves – photography and writing.
Today I remember to be grateful to be alive, to be able to use my voice, and have the opportunity to sort through what happened through a more mature and informed lens. I am humbled by the recent increase of interest in my story and what happened that fateful day.
I am inspired and hopeful that one day soon the cult of self help will come tumbling down.