James Arthur Ray was an untouchable spiritual leader until tragedy struck. He tells Bernardo Moya about second chances
In 2009, James Arthur Ray was at the top of his game. A best-selling author and spiritual leader, James shot to fame after appearing in the hugely popular 2006 self-help movie The Secret. His company earned over $9 million a year.
Then tragedy struck. Three people died at one of his retreats about confronting fears and pushing past limits. In the aftermath, Ray’ personal responsibility was brought into question, along with the needs of people who seek to be led. James served two years in prison and was as good as excommunicated from the personal development industry.
But now, Ray is back. And, without minimising the awful darkness of his past, he wants to share his message of emotional strength and the power of second chances.
Who or what was your earliest inspiration?
Primarily my dad; he groomed me to go into the Ministry [church], but I knew that it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I got into the sales business at AT&T [a US telecommunications company] and did really well. That’s where I met my first business mentor, my boss Ron, who showed me different leadership styles and had a huge impact on me. I was also influenced by Stevphen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I had lots of different management positions, and at night I was studying Psychology and Behavioural Sciences, and eventually Mysticism. This drove me to believe that if I could find the answers, I could make my own life better.
Was there a turning point when you moved from the world of sales to set up your own business?
There was a big turning point when work was downsizing. I took the opportunity to get my feet wet in the entrepreneurial arena. In 1992, I left and started my own business. It was tough. A lot of people romanticise entrepreneurial pursuits, yet what they don’t realise is how tough it is. I’m really passionate about finding someone’s purpose, finding their gifts and genius, finding what they love and going after that, because success is hard. I was living credit card to credit card, for a ten-year span.
But you built up your name as a spiritual leader, and then you starred in the movie The Secret in 2006…
That was a labour of love – none of us got paid for doing that, except in residual. I actually almost threw in the towel; I was very frustrated and very disenchanted. But, it hit the big time! It really catapulted my message to a much larger audience.
Until the terrible tragedy in 2009…
Something went horribly wrong, and to this day we’re not really sure how. Three people lost their lives, and they were three people that I deeply cared about. I am responsible, I absolutely accept responsibility because that’s the price of leadership.
Tell me about your two years in prison.
I learned a lot about myself, about humanity, about all the things we struggle with. In my new book, Redemption, I talk through the profound experiences I had. I sat in a cell and there was nowhere to run, there was no way to positively reframe, there was no-one to try to save or help. It was just me and God and four walls. It was painful, but it was purification through pain.
How did the personal development industry react? Did ‘friends’ disappear?
In the industry, all but two. Rhonda Byrne and Bob Proctor stayed with me, and for that I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude. You learn who your real friends are when things go sideways. I got ex-communicated instantaneously.
Do you believe in second chances?
I have to, and I choose to find references that say they’re possible. Robert Downey Jr., Martha Stewart, Tim Allen, Dwayne Johnson – there are a lot of people who have fallen and risen back up. I think this is so powerful and profound for today’s world, because more and more people are facing great challenges. And I know from my own life experience that those who fall and get back up are stronger and wiser than those who never fall.
What does success mean to you now?
Wealth and riches are not what you have, they’re what you’re left with when all you have is
gone. True wealth is living a fulfilling life. I believe personal development is changing, it has been all about the having and the acquisition, but what we all want is purpose. That’s the single most common question I’m asked: ‘what’s my purpose?’ Finding your unique genius, I call that beginning at the beginning. I believe that you came in with a unique gift and a unique purpose, and if you don’t fulfil it there’s a void, because I can’t do your job, you have to do your job. I’m back here, talking about life and about opportunity, I know I’m doing what I love to do.
To watch Bernardo’s interview with James visit https://youtu.be/WlVCbf_3bro
For more information visit www.jamesray.com