Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sweat Lodge, Anyone??

I participated in a sweat lodge about 20 years ago. It was during my "New Age" experimental phase. I'd recently become divorced, and my very conservative ex-husband would never have approved of any of these crazy hippie things I tried. No doubt, that's why I tried them! Since I have claustrophobia, the sweat lodge was no fun.. and I crawled out before everyone else. I did not  try fire-walking, although my friends did.

But I was also looking for something I had never found in conventional religion.. a deeper connection, a more valid meaning, and some sort of happiness, or what I thought happiness was.

I tried yoga, rolfing, massage, homeopathy, chiropractic, meditation, channeling, gestalt, encounter, self-help books, recovery groups, and the Course in Miracles. It was a good thing I had some money at the time, because these things don't come cheap. One thing led to another as I became connected with lots of other people who were seekers, like me. Good people, for the most part. But wounded. I was wounded too, so I was right at home.

Two decades later, I still practice yoga and meditation, and I don't rule out chiropractic.I'm interested in good nutrition, exercise, and relaxation. The difference now is that I am not "looking" for anything. I know that these tools can help me live a healthier, more productive life. This life. But having embraced Unitarian Universalism as my primary faith identification, I accept the inevitability of death. This life -- for me-- is finite. I found that too many New Age practitioners were looking for another kind of eternal life, through money, through cheating death, or through mind tricks. I respect their right to do so, and I know that there is a great deal of wisdom and comfort in the vast array of pursuits that get lumped under the catch-all phrase "New Age."

My concern arises when a human being gets ahold of these people and uses their vulnerability to creat a cult. It happened with Jonestown, and there are real cult-like elements in the latest news story about James Arthur Ray's Spiritual Warrior retreat, where at least two people died in a sweat lodge. I didn't know a lot about him, but he appears to be one of the latest in a line of charismatic leaders of the New Age version of the Prosperity Gospel. It will be interesting to see what unfolds... he is still "not cooperating" with police.

It was a Universalist, P.T. Barnum, who said, "There's a sucker born every minute..". I am sure that our church could attract more people and more money if we were to promise something more exciting, like eternal life, or unlimited wealth, but all we offer is reason, tolerance, and freedom of belief.

Unitarian Universalism could not be farther from a cult, although people who know nothing about it often call it one. One of the primary elements in all cults and cult-like movements is the unquestioning acceptance of the authority of a charismatic leader. That's probably all I need to say for now!