My sister Kirby died due to the negligence of self-help “guru” James Arthur Ray. (Actually, I think it was more than just negligence. Based on Ray’s actions before and after the Spiritual Warrior retreat in October 2009, I think it was reckless disregard and maybe even something more sinister. But a jury has convicted him of negligent homicide, and I am pretty satisfied with that.)
James Ray promoted a very popular, new-age self-help concept known as the Law of Attraction. This “law” states that you can influence your reality through your thoughts and intentions. A continuously negative outlook will keep you in a negative place, whereas a more forward-thinking, positive outlook will help you achieve more positive goals.
It makes sense.
But the hard-core believers take it further, explaining it with faux quantum physics theory and even its own vocabulary. They say that you can manifest reality just by thinking it hard enough. If you want something, you have only to ask the universe for it. They even, as James Ray did, refuse to recognize certain facts of reality because recognizing negative things will yield further negativity, as the theory goes. When bad things happen to people, it’s a result of their own thoughts.
But here’s what I think.
Certain aspects of the theory are irrefutable (in fact, they’re conveniently unfalsifiable). Of course a positive outlook will help you have a positive experience. Of course setting great goals brings great success. Positive thoughts help you act toward positive results.
This is how I always saw my sister Kirby. I felt like she would succeed and make her way no matter where she was because she was always willing to work hard to get what she needed and wanted. She believed in herself and felt that the life she wanted was worth working for.
It’s no wonder that this theory tends to resonate with driven, motivated people. They were already going to make things happen in their life, with or without an official theory to validate their efforts. This part of the theory I am fine with. In fact, I think it’s an important piece of building a self-styled life.
But no matter how powerful positive thinking can be, there is still a reality that exists outside of your self, thoughts and beliefs. You cannot ignore it. You can’t control it either. In some circumstances, all you have control over is how you respond to that reality. That’s where you have personal power to create the life you want. This is about action, not thought.
I hope my family will be a case in point. It is absurd to me to think that Kirby or my family somehow brought this upon ourselves. But that doesn’t even matter, because the reality is that it happened. Kirby was killed. She is dead. Reality can be extremely cold and meaningless sometimes.
I have no control over that reality. What I do have control over now is how I respond to it. I have been struggling with that response since it happened. I’ve experienced how grief isn’t a series of stages, but a gaping hole that you learn to live with–a sense of loss that gradually becomes part of who you are.
And through that time, there has been one bright light for me. My family immediately recognized that we would have to stand up for Kirby and bring some meaning to this awful circumstance.
That is why we have been working to develop S.E.E.K., a non-profit organization designed to educate the public about how to have a safe experience when seeking personal growth through the self-help industry. We will also work to create standards of accountability and professionalism within the industry, and legislation to help regulate the industry and protect its customers.
In some ways, I’m daunted by this task. Part of me just wants to take a long vacation somewhere warm and slow.
The hard part starts now–the real work starts now to realize our dream of using Kirby’s story to protect others. But we’re going to do it. And not because we’re thinking really hard about it, but because we’re going to work our asses off to bring this message to those who need it–people like Kirby, who are seeking their best lives.
For more about S.E.E.K., please check out our website. I welcome any comments on the site or what we’re doing! I’m also happy to discuss my views on the Law of Attraction if you have other ideas about it.