YELM - People from all over the world have visited Ramtha's School of Enlightenment, an 80-acre ranch just outside Yelm's city limits.
The private spiritual academy boasts about 3,000 students, who are required to attend at least two events each year to stay "current."
JZ Knight, the school's founder, recently revamped the school's "beginning retreats," which cost about $750 and are open to the public. The sessions have been condensed to three and a half days, down from eight, and most will be offered on weekends so that more working students can attend, school officials say.
Knight invited The Olympian to one of her beginning student events June 30-July 2. Here are some highlights from the experience.
Imagine the anticipation that builds just before a rock star enters a concert.
JZ Knight is minutes away from entering the "Great Hall" at Ramtha's School of Enlightenment, and that's the feeling in the air. Earlier in the day, people claimed their spots on the Astroturf floor in the former horse arena with pillows, foam mats and low-to-the-ground beach chairs.
According to Ramtha, the 35,000-year-old spirit Knight says she has channeled for almost 30 years, people learn better when they're close to Mother Earth, said Steve Klein, who has studied at the school for almost 20 years.
The gym-size room is abuzz with laughter and conversation as old friends find each other in the crowd.
Some people, such as Jan Clements, 69, of Rainier, have attended this school since its very beginning. "There used to be sawdust in the arena," she said.
Others, including about a dozen people from Australia, only recently learned about the school, during one of Ramtha's World Tour events.
Everyone is wearing a plastic wristband. Returning students wear brown. New students and visitors wear bright green and pink bracelets.
Each student also has an identification card, with a photo and a bar code that's scanned each time they check into an event.
About 80 people registered for this three-day beginner event, which is entitled the "Fabulous Wealth Retreat." An additional 1,256 people will stay a week longer for the school's annual retreat, known as an Assay.
Most people are dressed casually, as though they're ready to attend a yoga class.
As the clock nears 7 p.m., KT Tunstall's Bohemian-style song "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" is pumped through giant speakers on the ceiling, and everybody stands to begin dancing, squealing and singing along with the "woo-hoos" in the chorus.
The program starts when one of the 50 or so school employees takes the stage, and goes over a few basic ground rules: No cell phones or cameras on campus, don't feed or touch the horses, smoking is allowed only at the "smokers pit."
Afterward, the song "Hold on Tight" by Electric Light Orchestra begins to play, and the students jump to their feet again to dance and sing along.
Then Knight takes the stage. She's slight and feminine - students say she seems like a completely different person when she channels Ramtha.
After some introductions, she asks people to turn to their partner and ask, "Why would you want to be wealthy?" and "If you don't want to be wealthy now, then when?"
Sometimes, people feel unworthy of wealth, but they shouldn't, Knight said.
"The idea of fabulous wealth is not bad," she added. "It's not evil. It's what we're supposed to do."
During the evening, she talks about the differences between inheriting or marrying into wealth versus earning one's wealth.
"Nobody gave me my wealth," Knight said. "I created my wealth."
She said it's important to start thinking about wealth, so that the mind is open to it and the opportunities that might arise.
The session wraps up about 10:30 p.m., and most students head straight to their tents and RV trailers parked on the grounds.
For many students, the day begins at dawn with a discipline called "The Neighborhood Walk."
During the exercise, people walk up and down a field, and quietly chant aloud their goals and dreams.
Klein said it's designed to help the brain become more open to the idea of concepts such as fabulous wealth so that people can make their dreams happen.
When it's done correctly, the body will enter a trance-like state and people will feel a tingling sensation in their bodies, Klein said.
"We call that glitter," he added.
After the Neighborhood Walk and breakfast, hundreds of people hit The Divine Cup Espresso bar, which serves up locally roasted Batdorf it's the genius that made it."
Throughout the day, she tackles scientific concepts, such as energy waves, neurons, DNA and brain activity. But her teaching style remains light and fun. She uses nicknames for parts of the brain and parts of a cell, she dances around on stage and makes little jokes during her classes.
She tells stories.
Knight frequently asks people to share what they've just learned with the person they're sitting next to. And when it appears that she's losing the audience, she commands their attention with a stern voice.
"Don't go away on me," Knight says. "We only have the rest of today, tonight and tomorrow."
During meal breaks, participants are asked to repeat their Neighborhood Walks.
"This isn't just positive thinking," Knight said. "It's not hopeful thinking. We're occupying a position of neurological potential."
Later in the day, everybody practices an exercise called "Sending and Receiving," where they wear blindfolds and try to envision a picture that a partner has drawn.
A few people match three out of four pictures; dozens match at least one picture. Most were trees and apples, both of which were mentioned during the earlier class.
The concept of the exercise is to reach "quantum entanglement" with another person, Knight said.
Ali Ruegamer, 56, of Yelm has studied at the school for almost 20 years. She said it has helped her take responsibility for her life. When people ask her about the school, Ruegamer, who owns her own cleaning service, says it's a school to learn how to create your own reality.
"They'll ask me, 'What does that mean?' " Ruegamer said. "And I'll say, it's science. It's quantum physics."
The crowd's energy level seems to have climbed still higher.
Dancing before each class has become a tradition. And Divine Cup Espresso is so busy, only Americanos are available during the mid-morning break.
Debbie Christie, 45, one of the school's teachers, begins the day with a demonstration of card reading. She said she can focus her mind on the back of a playing card so much that a shadow of the card's number and suit appear to her.
This morning, she calls about 40 of the 52 cards correctly. She practices the discipline about two hours a day.
Christie, who is the music technician at Ramtha's School of Enlightenment, recently began using her skills with the state Lotto game.
"I've consistently seen two out of six numbers, just about every time," she said. "(Eventually) that number will move to three, then four. Then the big one will hit."
Originally from Little Rock, Ark., Christie saw a video of JZ Knight channeling Ramtha in the mid-1980s.
"I saw it once, and went, 'That's it,' " she said.
"I couldn't stop thinking about who he was. I felt like I knew him."
The rest of the morning seems much like a review of the various scientific concepts Knight taught during the previous sessions.
She drills on the school's basic teachings, such as "consciousness and energy create the nature of reality," and that each person has God within.
During the afternoon, Knight talks about her experiences when she first channeled Ramtha. She also talks about how she created her own wealth.
Most people think it was the school - but it wasn't, Knight said. She said she was the initial investor in Primus, a software company that had an incredible initial public offering in the mid-1990s.
"We have the potential in us to be more than remarkable," she said.
To cheers, she announces that Ramtha will be teaching later in the week, after her body has had some rest.
Also during the next few days, she says those staying will be treated to a special viewing of "An Inconvenient Truth," which features former Vice President Al Gore on the subject of global warming.
"It was Ram in the early '80s that broke the truth that all is not well with what was going on above our heads," Knight said, referring to the climate. "It sort of confirms what the Ram's been saying all along."
Students also would have a chance to try some of the other disciplines that weren't covered over the weekend, including archery and the school's labyrinth, or maze. Both exercises are done while wearing blindfolds, and are about concentration, school officials say.
This was the first time that Jason Stahl, 29, of Oakland, Calif., had ever visited the campus.
The chiropractic student was looking forward to the rest of the week. He said he liked what he had seen so far.
"It's incredible," Stahl said. "I've really enjoyed it, and there's all this self-development stuff. ... I think this is amazing."
Consciousness and energy create the nature of reality.
You exist to make known the unknown.
You are God, and you are here to be God in the human form.
65 percent female; 35 percent male
26 percent are ages 21 to 40
57 percent are ages 41 to 60
38 percent earn an annual income of under $20,000
40 percent earn an annual income of $20,000 to $50,000
43 percent hold a bachelor's degree or higher.
Lisa Pemberton writes for The Olympian. She can be reached at 360-704-6871 or email@example.com.