Does Positive Thinking Have Power to Cure Cancer?

Sweat Lodge Tragedy: The Fast Rise and Fall of a Self-Help Guru

For years, self-help guru James Ray, the best-selling author and one of the stars of the mega-successful book and DVD "The Secret," has preached that you can fix your body through the power of positive thinking.

"Each of us have cancerous cells in our body," he said in the "The Secret." "Some of us activate them, some of us don't."

He holds himself up as exhibit A of this sort of mind-body healing. He claims to have willed himself to be free of illness.

"I haven't had a cold in 10 years," he said. "If you keep your energy high and immune system pumped, I'm telling you I haven't had a cold in a decade."

Ray preaches the mind-body connection, but a police search of his hotel room following three deaths at an Arizona sweat lodge he ran turned up what may be the actual source of his robust appearance: a suitcase full of prescription drugs including steroids. Ray has said that he needed the steroids for a medical condition.

Ray is scheduled to go to trial next month on manslaughter charges for the three sweat lodge deaths. He has pleaded not guilty.

Ray's legal problems are the latest challenge to the mantra of positive thinking as a cure for what ails you.

Just a year ago, however, the message Ray preached was a compelling one. So compelling that tennis pro Trent Aaron took notice during a painful time in his life. Aaron suffered a surfing accident that damaged his spine and left him with painful sciatica.

"I had four physicians tell me that 'You'll never play professional tennis again,'" he said. "Five minutes into playing tennis, I would fall down, the sciatica was so bad."

Eager for relief, Aaron plunked down thousands of dollars to attend James Ray's seminars. "[I] started just gathering a vision of myself playing tennis again."

Today Aaron is back on the court, a picture of health. He credits Ray with so much of his success he even appeared in one of Ray's promotional videos.

The video shows a healed Aaron. He and Ray claim he wasn't merely healed by faith, but by the science of quantum physics -- the laws that govern the behavior of subatomic particles.

"The Secret" describes a healing strategy purporting to draw on what is referred to as quantum physics, although Ray -- a junior-college dropout with a background in telemarketing -- for one, has no background in formal science.

"Everything flows where attention grows," Ray says in his DVD. "Everything is energy."

Shanna Bowens has followed Ray for years. "I was really drawn to his way of explaining quantum physics," she said. "...We have energy and we are energy. I mean, we, we have warmth."

'Everything Is Energy'

It's a trendy idea, advanced by other teachers like Michael Bernard Beckwith, founder of the Agape Spiritual Center in Los Angeles, and who appeared alongside Ray in "The Secret."

"I've seen kidneys regenerated. I've seen cancer dissolved. I've seen eye sight improve and come back," Beckwith claims in "The Secret."

The movie features another self-help author, Greg Braden, who claims to have made his own bladder cancer disappear by imagining he was already healed. "That quality of feeling is what triggered that powerful electrical and magnetic field in our body," he says in the movie.

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