Last week I completed a personal development course in London, called the Landmark Forum.
It is the first part of a series of workshops and seminars that jointly comprise the Landmark “Curriculum for Living”.
The Forum is a large group self awareness program, where approximately 150 to 200 people are taught a new way of living. The program runs over two evenings and two full days (Friday evening 7.45 to 10pm, all day Saturday, Sunday 9am to 10pm, and Tuesday evening). The Tuesday evening session is an information session for friends and family of the original participant who are invited by that participant to attend.
I attended the forum after listening to my sister Anita over a two-year period. She felt that it had benefitted her tremendously and was a life-transforming experience. I thought that it could be an interesting step in my own self-development program.
At the start of the Forum, the “leader” asked which of the participants were not there out of there own choice or were not convinced the sessions would be useful for them. One participant raised her hand an was asked to go to the back of the room to receive a full reimbursement of her 275 pound fee. When she asked if the leader wasn’t interested in her reasons, the reply was “no, it doesn’t matter what your reasons are – if you are not convinced you are going to benefit, we can’t take your money from you”.
We were then told a series of rules we had to agree to before we started, which included the completion of the whole course, puctuality, rules about where and where not tyo eat and drink, the avoidance of unnecessary medication and drugs, and we were encouraged to express appreciation for those who took the courage to share thir experiences in front of all the group.
Then the Forum started by introducing the concept that anything you want for yourself or your life is available out of your participation, that you can have any result for yourself or your life that you invent as a possibility.
This concept was well known to me from authors like Napoleon Hill, Jim Rohn, Norman Vincent Peal, Og Mandino, Zig Ziglar, Dale Carnegie, Stephen R Covey and many others.
The Landmark Forum’s teaching of this concept basically put the participants in a positive frame of mind with an attitude that all their dreams were achievable.
Most of these authors that I have cited include a section on keeping a positive attitude when you don’t accomplish your goals. However the Landmark Forum didn’t go into how failure can be seen as occasion for inspiration, change or greater success.
in oer to accomplish this goal, the following factors were emphasised :
Recognising a state of mind when you complain and feel “I’m right” (termed a “racket”)
Being straight in your communication (being direct)
Being courageous (with the ability to recognise our fear)
Being charismatic (giving up trying to get somewhere)
Sharing this vision of “creating possibilities” in a way that moves and inspires their family and friends.
This last concept is used to enrol new participants on the course. Curiously the word “enroll” is taught as a technical term, when it describes what they are doing quite literally.
Participants are encouraged to root out the “inauthenticity” in their lives, which more specifically refers to the theory that all “rackets” have their origin in a self-deception, which is due to a lack of differentiation between events and their interpretation (termed “story”).
This turned out to be a very powerful concept. When the participants were given their assignment of contacting important people in their lives, starting with their parents, a huge number of participants were able to report a healing of relations that in many cases had been “incomplete” for many years. Hence the term “completion” used for this process.
Another example of “inauthenticity” was doing things just to cause a good impression, which they called “looking good” or “avoiding looking bad”.
Our conscience or the “voice in our head” was then given a new term: “Already Always Listening”. I think all the participants recognised what this voice was. But what wasn’t clearly explained was the choice of this awkward terminology. My own reasoning was that this “voice in our heads” (my preferred term) uses a logic which converts isolated events into laws and justifications. Such as “this person is always does this” or “I’ve already done that”. Though I admit I may have to be corrected here.
Anyway the point was to free ourselves from the impulsive following of this voice when it originated from “rackets”.
These lessons took up the Friday and Saturday sessions.
Sunday started with a second source of “voices in our heads” (remember, this is my term). The second source was a series of experiences at different times in our lives that have moulded our personalities.
There were deemed to be be three key moments:
In childhood: an experience that leads us to think “something is wrong”
In adolescence: an experience that leads us to think “I do not belong”
as a young adult: an experience that leads us to think “I am on my own”.
Each of these moments was seen to be part of the creation of a self-identity that has been used as a survival mechanism to get us through difficult moments, but that also constrains us from being how we really wish to be.
The characteristics of this self-identity were given the name “strong suits”.
Next, we were taught that the two mechanisms of “rackets” and “strong suits” are all that make us up. Analagous to a machine that can work in only two gears. Good day: we are being controlled by our strong suits: Bad day: we are being controlled by our rackets.
The participants were now introduced to another “big” concept:
LIFE IS EMPTY AND MEANINGLESS
to which participants were invited to raise their objections.
At each objection, the leader asked “Is this your racket or your strong suit speaking?”
In almost all cases the participants eventually recognised their arguments and justifications as stemming from of the two. Any argumentation was deemed a racket.
Finally the phrase was completed to clarify it:
LIFE IS EMPTY AND MEANINGLESS
AND THE FACT THAT LIFE IS EMPTY AND MEANINGLESS DOESN’T MEAN ANYTHING
I was loving it at this point. These are ideas that have been banded about by Bhuddists and similar scholars for hundreds, if not thousands of years and have been part of my reading over the last year.
There was an almost universal reaction to this “breakthrough concept”. The consecuence of this meaningless sentence was perceived to be FREEDOM! Freedom to be who we want when we want without the constraints of our rackets or our stong suits.
I, myself, perceived this sense of freedom when I was first introduced to the concept in my readings. But, without ridiculising, I found it funny to see it appearing on the faces of the particapants one by one, or in waves.
There was also an exercise for dealing with fear which was very empowering for something like half the members. The rest were left a little puzzled at the reactions of those that benefitted.
Simply put, it was an exercise in remembering something that made us feel afraid and then going on to imagine that everyone else was feeling that fear of us. Iyt was a little bit eerie, but fun at the same time, to see (well, we had our eyes closed, but you know what I mean) people progressing from a state of almost whimpering to giggles and then roaring laughter. I could only imagine what they were going through, but yes, it is ridiculous imagining that you are the most powerful person in the world and EVERYONE is terrified of you. And it is true that we live in a world with a heavy dose of fear and mistrust of strangers. So it is empowering if you think that everybody else has a certain amount of this fear and mistrust of you, while you can be one the few who doesn’t feel it of others.
One thing I didn’t like about the course was that our commitment to do the assignments was used to emotionally blackmail us into recruiting others. The thrree arguments used were:
If you make a commitment, you have to keep it. This comprises the learning of the meaning of integrity and authenticity, the unsaid message being “don’t be dishonest”
“Enrolling” others is nothing more than giving your loved ones the opportunity to share the benefits that you have gained from the course. The unsaid message being “if you don’t invite them, you don’t love them”.
We will know you have understood and mastered the concept of the course if you have at least three guests at the Tueday evening session. The unsaid message being if you don’t make sure they come, you will have failed the course.
The express method of “enrolling” was to move, inspire and motivate”. My reaction was yes, very good, but in the real world, this action usually has a monetary, not emotional compensation. But curiously, about 90% of participants were happy with this idea and overjoyed with the results. Good for them! I had fun too, but didn’t invite anyone. How very selfish of me!!!
I have seen some of the following expressions used on the internet and would like to give my opinion:
“A marketing campaign in disguise”
-Well, the marketing campaign doesn’t seem to be disguised to me. It’s pretty blatent. But I prefer being asked to enroll new participants than being told I’ve won a million dollars or that this or product is free. We are bombarded with this sort of stuff continuously.
“The philosophy taught is Carpe Diem”
- Possibly, I can see that result in some people who participated a while ago. Notice I’m not judging here. My position is similar in some aspects, though more complex.
“A money making scheme”
- Yes, so is every other business on the market.
“A covert pyramid marketing scheme”
-No, pyramid marketing is a non-sustainable business model that involves the exchange of money primarily for enrolling other people into the scheme, often without any product or service being delivered. This felt more like a business with an aggressive marketing strategy with a certain psychological profile as their target customers.
I understand that it has been classified as a cult by the French and the Austrian governments, possibly based on such features as “the breaking of the individual’s mental reason through use of a philosophy” (eg teaching that the logical conclusion of a meaningless sentence is that we are free and powerful), the “use of physical and emotional fatigue” (based on the long hours and only one meal break), the “use of a special language such that the individual feels removed and superior to non-initiated members and hence seeks to recruit those close to them”.
“It’s not possible to explain what the course teaches you – you have to live the experience!”
- It IS possible to explain what the course teaches you, but it’s also true that the feelings of power to create the future or freedom from fears are not accessible to a lot of people through reading or abstract reasoning and an experience like this is what pushes them out of their “boxes” and into a new world.
So we come down to the point of whether I recommend this course because it’s fun, interesting and good value for money, or whether I think it is an abuse, prohibitive in cost, and should be outlawed.
Well, I think the course steps over the limit in several areas of what is an acceptable contract between buyer and seller and at first I thought that these points should be regulated by mercantile law, not by “cult lists”.
But it all boils down to freedom of expression. If I choose to limit what the Landmark Forum teaches its participants to go out there and proclaim its benefits to the world, am I any better when I encourage my English students to go out and practise the language? (No, I don’t do such intensive sessions with my students or go telling them that homework for today is to recommend me to their friends and family, but I feel great when they do it spontaneously!!!)
I think the internet has a good levelling effect of allowing any participant to express their opinion which, in the end, will outweigh any promotion of a particular viewpoint.
Since the French and the Austrian governments consider it as something more negative than positive for the participants, I think that these governments should oblige them to include a warning in their publicity, just as is done with tabacco and alcohol which are almost certainly much more damaging.
It could run something like this:
“Though 90% of our participants consider our course a life-transforming event, the government considers we use cult-like techniques to achieve this”. Lol.
My own position was I got something out of it because I informed myself first. Don’t expect miracles and maybe you will too.
Here is some background information:
Landmark evolved out of a program called est – “Erhard Seminar Training” developed by Werner Erhard also known as “Jack” Rosenberg.
Erhard was said to have changed his name after leaving his wife and children (married and fathered as Jack Rosenberg). He was a used car salesman. Est was prevalent during the late 70′s and early 80′s and is known as the more radical version of Landmark Forum. Apparently Est ran over two weekends, 60 hours – participants were not allowed to use the bathroom until allocated times as a form of “self control” and “empowerment”. Werner Erhard sold the “technology” of est to his employees after allegations of abusing his children and white collar crime charges. Those employees created the Forum.
Other facts to note about Landmark:
- Landmark uses thousands of volunteers in their organisation for hours that may result in contravention of labour laws. Volunteering may involve holding “Introduction to Landmark parties” and recruiting new members
- Landmark has been repetitively accused of harassing individuals by asking them to complete courses, sign up to new courses etc…
The views expressed in the above material are based on the writer’s own experience of the Landmark Forum and his interpretation of research conducted shortly after. The writer does not assert that the statements above are true, nor does he intend to malign Landmark Education.
- Rick Ross Institute – Landmark Education litigation archive for background and documents from United States Federal Government investigations into the company.French documentary: Voyage to the Land of the New Gurus, which details some of the company’s practices. One month after iot was aired to 1.5 million people in France, the company closed all its operations in the country.
- The company attempted to use the Digital Millenium Copyright Act in order to get this video off the internet. More about this at Landmark Education stumbles stupidly to hollow settlement, Landmark Education wants to make French news report a “forbidden video” on the Net
- Also Why did Landmark Education leave France?
- The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s legal page, Landmark and the Internet Archive
- Article from Reuters which went into The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times, among many other papers, at Google faces legal challenges over video service.Landmark Education has been labeled “sect” by the government of France, a “sect” by the government of Austria. They were investigated multiple times by the United States Federal Department of Labor – and an investigation in 2004 by the Federal Department of Labor in France led to Landmark Education shutting down their operations in all of France due to unpaid labor practices.
Landmark Education is currently a defendant in a wrongful death case in Oklahoma, and also a young man named James Brian Rowe went missing in Colorado directly after attending a Landmark Forum in 2004. His family has not heard from him since.
More information about the company’s history itself, at The Rick Ross Institute, the Skepdic site, Cult News, Introduction to the Landmark Education litigation archive, Landmark Education litigation archive, Apologetics Index, and Cult Awareness and Information Centre.
- The book OUTRAGEOUS BETRAYAL by Steven Pressman (Chapter 4, A Door to Door Mind Salesman, and Chapter 7, Enlightenment in Two Weekends – The est Training are available online.)
- Other Large Group Awareness Training organizations and their methodologies:
Large Group Awareness Training truth