If you are reading this, you may be considering attending the Landmark Forum and are wondering what it is all about. Until a few weeks ago, I was just as much in the dark. I vaguely remember attending one of the Tuesday evening sessions about seven years ago on the invitation of someone who had just ‘graduated’ from the course, and being very confused as to what it was all about— but anyway, I never even remotely considered attending. I do remember that they put a fair amount of pressure on me to sign up on some mailing list or other, and giving them a fake name and address.
About two months ago, Landmark came up again— no need to go into more detail other than to say that my attendance wasn't entirely voluntary. I didn't know what it was about and had nothing specific that I planned to get out of it. The little Internet research I did only reinforced my perception of it as some kind of cult or brainwashing operation.
Let me say up front that I have no personal stake in Landmark or their services, other than having taken the Forum course. I'm not promoting it nor am I dissuading anyone from it. Also, and very importantly, I am not a mental health professional of any sort and nothing I write should be construed as any kind of expert opinion. My purposes here are to help you through the same decision that I once had to make— and for myself, to gather my own thoughts on what transpired that weekend.
If you are reading this to help you for the former reason, and you are trying to decide whether the Forum might be useful to you, then I suggest that you read only the next section (‘About the Forum’). I believe that the effectiveness of the Forum relies at least partly on its structure, and reading beyond that section would undermine that structure enough that you might cheat yourself out of any results.
Like I said, what little I knew about Landmark made me strongly suspect it was a kind of brainwashing scheme. The dozen-page disclaimer I had to sign vouching for my emotional and psychological health and the intense schedule only reinforced that. I was paranoid enough that I gave them only a post office box address and a voice mail-only phone number.
Having now taken the course, I can say that there is a little bit to this, but benign and certainly nothing like what I imagine something like Scientology would be like. Landmark does apply fairly strong and persistent pressure to sign up for their (isn't there always one) ‘advanced course’— but not really a lot more than what a car dealer or any other salesperson might. If you're a soft touch for the hard sell, you might seriously consider not bringing any checks or credit cards to the sessions— especially the last one. The periodic plugs throughout are nothing if not annoying and in my opinion really do distract from the course— pretty much like watching a movie interrupted by commercials. But Landmark is a business, after all, and even movies interspersed by commercials can be enjoyable.
So what is the Forum about? In a nutshell, and to borrow their own phrase, it is part of a ‘curriculum for living’. It tries to show your life in a perspective that may be more effective than the one most of us grew up with. That probably sounds rather ambitious and vague. Although I could summarize the primary lessons of the Forum in a few paragraphs this would be pointless. Rather, ask yourself if there are aspects of you that seem ‘in the way’ of your own development and that you might like to transcend.
Part of the power of the Forum certainly lies in the delivery. Three straight days (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) from 9 in the morning to past 10 o'clock at night barely leaves you time to get home, eat, and sleep. I have to think that this is intentional. Achieving any significant results in a relatively short time frame demands a consistent intensive focus which the compressed schedule contributes to. In fact, I took it in a different city and away from home, and I feel that not being ‘reset’ to the real world really helped me focus on what was happening. After the weekend there is a ten-week seminar (which I'm currently attending) that reiterates the message in a more measured pace.
Another aspect is that you are going through this together with a fairly large group, and for me this made all the difference. If you follow the game rules you will be forced to interact at different levels with different people. Although I saw several people who attended together with a friend of family member, I can only imagine that this would be much less effective, and I would recommend against it. One thing that impressed me very much is that the instructors seem very well trained in managing such large groups in a way that makes the size of the group a very positive thing.
Different people will react to the course in different ways, and the instructor seemed to recognize this. I went in being fairly skeptical of any significant results but at all times tried to maintain an open mind. Although this was extremely difficult at times, it was well worth it in the end.
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