Welcome back, and sorry for the ridiculously long wait! If you haven't already, please read Part 1 to discover my history with Landmark. From now on, all multi-parts will be published back-to-back, which I'm pretty sure is Blogging 101 ;) Okay, now onto the finale, Part 2!
Most people who know me would agree that I’m the type to go full-force, 100%. For example, when I became a vegetarian, I just quit meat cold-turkey (see what I did there?), and I kept myself pretty strict. This is a pattern in my life, for when I went back to meat, I followed a Paleo diet until I practically developed a brow ridge.
Due to my beliefs of control and effort, I never half-ass something if I think it beneficial. I figure if I put in the effort, which requires self-control and discipline, then maybe what was promised would unfold. While many think this is an admirable trait, I find it to be more of an albatross: if my reality falls short of my expectations, it can be hard for me to take sometimes. Are you the same way, where you’re likely to shoot yourself with a flare gun if your lamp doesn’t turn on?
When you’re hard on yourself, you tend to get in your own way quite a bit, as other people’s blind spots are easier to see than your own. So when my friend Amy said she was going to complete Landmark Forum, I actually begged her to reconsider. Seriously! I told her about my negative opinions of Landmark and referred to it as “the cult,” much to Amy’s annoyance. She finally had to text me an important boundary: she was going to experience the Forum because she’s seen it help other people, and that I should cease my cult-talk, even in jest . See, Amy’s like me in the Type-A category: she wanted to experience the Forum fully, without my cynical jokes rattling about in her head. I got that, respected it, and simply waited to receive the Landmark phone call…
…which never came! Instead I got some texts from Amy reporting very positive results. She, like my friend Jess four years earlier, began dropping some wisdom on me, especially regarding The Story. I’ll expand on this in a bit, but suffice to say many of us are walking around with stories in our head that prevent us from moving forward with ease. As someone who lives in her head, I was intrigued, and after a few more positive reports, I began to see Landmark differently. Maybe it really does work? I decided to sign up.
The hardest Landmark nut to crack is describing it. It would be helpful to read this article, as it mirrors my own experience pretty well. Even though I registered for the Forum, I attended an Introduction meeting, where a trained Landmark volunteer leads an information session. I filled out forms with questions like, "What is is that you want to let go of?" I can't remember if these sheets were collected, but I wondered if the information was going to be used against me in a manipulative bait-and-switch; I imagined Scientolgy-style folders full of their analyses of us (remember, I'm cynical). The whole concept seemed simple yet vague. Nonetheless, we were promised freedom from our self-induced misery, and I began to look forward to Friday's class...until I was told that they ask you to abstain from alcohol and drugs of any kind, including Advil. I didn't (and still don't) see how Tylenol, a glass or wine, or a toke of cannabis would block your experience; we're not talking meth and heroin, people!
Now most of my friends know I rely on cannabis when I can't sleep at night, so I was a little nervous staying at my buddy Tim's place; it's always harder to fall asleep in different surroundings, isn't i? But like I promised, I abstained in order to receive the most benefit. My fear was that if I didn't follow all of the rules to a T and didn't get results, I'd blame myself (this is a very revealing statement). I figured a 12-hour mysterious seminar is going to drain me anyway, might as well just suck it up.
Tim was super cool enough to let me crash with him, even making me eggs in the morning! I pulled into the garage, marveling at how many people were partaking in Landmark activities. I entered into a room full of about 150 people, with many volunteers bustling about. I put on my name tag and noted to myself that most volunteers were unable to answer any question I had. It made me think of my time training as a volunteer in the SGI, not a great start! But I calmed down and looked around the room, wondering just what was "wrong" with all of us. As the room erupted in applause, I quickly snagged an aisle seat: our course leader "Maria" was present and ready to start. Were we?
Maria held a very powerful presence, being very tall and put together. She opened by asking us what we heard about the Forum. Voices began to shout out: Cult! Diet Scientology! est!
“I bet you think I get a commission, don’t you?” Maria looked at us, amused.
Most of us were probably thinking that; just about all of us were multiplying $585 by 150 ($87,750). The room laughed in good humor, but Maria was quick to wrangle us in. She was full of fortune cookie wisdom, like these:
- Completing the Forum will allow you to live a powerful, moving, and authentic life.
- Why would you want to exist in the world of ordinary when you can be extraordinary?
- You are perfect, whole, and complete, just as you are.
- Life is empty and meaningless because it is empty and meaningless.
Maria held her presence on the small platform, seemingly staring into all of our eyes. I looked around and noted all eyes were on her, mine included. You often hear how charismatic the course leaders are, and Maria was no exception. I thought it clever that she framed the beginning of the day by ridiculing negative reviews about Landmark, nipping any potential criticism in the bud. Sheepish smiles and embarrassed coughs followed. This is a RED FLAG: You should be able to freely analyze and question any organization's philosophy.
We spent the next few hours hearing lectures and completing short verbal exercises with the person sitting next us. Then there's my favorite, mic-time, where participants share their stories and invite the course leader to break down their troubles. This is where we learned about THE STORY, that just about all of us walk around with stories in our head, often creating the emotional mud we find ourselves stuck in. This concept is nothing new—in fact, very little of Landmark's teachings are new, they're just delivered in a unique way that works for some and not for others.
Some examples of mic-sharing:
- Angry Man got up on the mic, his eyes dark, his jaw set. Angry Man hated his dad so much he admitted to urinating on the man's grave. Unfazed, Maria helped Angry Man realize that this anger didn't serve him. She did this by breaking down the Story Angry Man kept rehearsing to himself, which was causing his own family to unravel.
- Young Woman harbored anger over her mother, who she claim kidnapped her when she was a little girl. Maria offered a different angle, that maybe Young Woman should start thinking of her mother as someone who missed her so much she'd risk jail time just to be with her. Maybe then Young Woman wouldn't have so much anger and abandonment issues.
- By the Tuesday completion night, Angry Man had become Happy Man. It was hard not to feel choked up watching his family react with joy over his transformation. If memory still serves, Young Woman brought in her sister, who was equally happy at her sister's new outlook.
You may have some different thoughts concerning these two scenarios, but this would be an example of "extraordinary living," to not allow past stories to weigh you down. I really like this teaching and remind myself of it daily. It's easy to feel a sudden burst of freedom from your issues, so when the instructor tells you to call some friends/family to share your breakthrough, you usually do. Even though I didn't feel a personal BREAKTHROUGH, I made some calls to my siblings to discuss the concept of The Story, though neither seemed interested. I didn't blame 'em, considering I was a lot less than thrilled to receive Landmark phone calls just a few years prior. However, now that I had experienced the Forum, I don't quite judge the participants the way I used to. Look at the examples from above. If Forum worked for them, then be happy; who are we to get in the way of someone else's journey? I looked around at all the smiling faces and tears of joy, yet underneath it all I could still hear my gut's alarms going off.
If this was such an easy breakthrough concept, then why did it have to be stretched over a long weekend? Why 12-hour days? I've a few theories on this, and one is that Large Group Awareness Training encourages a hive-like mind, and very quickly you feel a bond with those around you. Simultaneously, you often struggle against the desire to be liked and valued by the course instructor, whose praise can fill your heart just as quickly as their words can spin your head. Therefore, as the hours drag on (and they do drag), you will hear the instructor pitching additional courses to you, and damn if my alarms weren't ringing louder than New Year's!
This is just my opinion, but it seems as if Landmark has carefully studied when the human mind becomes suggestible. As a result, every class ends on an ellipses...always promising more. During the lulls of the day, Maria would say things like, "I know you think you know what a breakthrough is, but if you really want to understand it you'll take the Advanced Course." Yes, that's right, after all those promises of freedom you're still pressured to take more classes, and—what a coincidence—the Advanced Course is deeply discounted on your final Forum night! One by one people were grabbing their wallets and signing up. I was one of them, since my Atlanta buddies adored their Advanced Course, which I ended up hating, for what it's worth.
The Advanced Course is another 3 1/2 day waking nightmare, makes about as much sense as one, that's for sure. I cannot for the life of me even tell you what that course was about, though there were moments that were really cool. Landmark does that well, too: they have a way of dragging their classes to the point of frustration, then zapping you up with a high. This happened usually right before your dinner break, or closer to the end of class. You'd leave all buzzed, forgetting you just sat through five hours of what the fuck...(get it?)...but the fun doesn't stop there.
Next you're encouraged to take one of their Leadership or Coaching courses, as well as "assist" (their word for "volunteer"). These positions require hours upon hours of unpaid work per week. This seems like such an emotional pyramid scheme to me, as there never seems to be a completion point, only more classes that can drain your time and wallet, if you allow it.
For example, a friend of mine became a Coach for one of the courses I took. He was expected to work many hours, but despite all the breakthroughs he said he experienced, I simply saw him as someone being taken advantage of. Sometimes he'd text me things like, "Wow, I've been here for the past 7 days, I think I need a break." I'd tell him that he was allowed to set limits for his time if he felt too tapped out, that he didn't owe anyone anything. He would reply that he was fine but didn't want to "lack integrity" by leaving before the end of the coursework. This steamed me up, since Landmark places a strong emphasis on the concept of integrity, which was now being used as leverage against him to volunteer more of his time, despite his gut telling him not to. I guess he'll have to learn his own boundaries.
But Liz! You just said you shouldn't judge anyone's journey, why judge this? Well, I kinda can't help but have a bitter taste in my mouth when I think of it, which is probably due to my volunteer experience with the SGI. Regardless, I wouldn't want to get in the way of someone's happiness, so if you're considering joining up, really think about your personal boundaries. See, corporations like Landmark are very clever; they've heard just about every "story"in existence from their years of training, having a rebuttal for just about any argument against them. In fact, Landmark's marketing and philosophy appear so intertwined it's difficult to tell where one starts and the other begins.
Imagine you're drowning at sea, and someone throws you a lifeline...but the rope that pulls you in also wraps itself around you. In other words, the very philosophy that attracts you can also be used against you.
Let that sink in. Be safe while you explore, everyone!