WARNING: This is a frickin’ long post. Seriously. Get some popcorn and a couple shots of vodka before you start reading.
I promised a Landmark Forum wrap-up, and here it is. Can’t say I don’t deliver.
To be honest it’s not really what I wanted to write about tonight, and I don’t think it’s going to be wildly entertaining for many peeps. But on the other hand, when I was leading up to my forum weekend I was soaking up every blog post about Landmark I possibly could, whether positive or negative. So I feel like now that I’ve done the forum myself, I should contribute to this dialogue in some way.
Annoyingly, most of the reviews I stumbled upon while I was researching the Landmark Forum had one thing in common – EXTREMISM. (Yes, I used all capitals for that. What of it?) It was either the cheerleaders with their verbal arse-lickings of “OMG! The forum has changed my life! I will never be the same again! The last 45 years of my worthless existence have been completely overwritten! In the immortal words of Yazz and the Plastic Population, the only way is up baby!” or the conspiracy theorists whining “Run! Run away children! It’s a cult! They make you give all your money away and they don’t even let you nick out for a loo break!”
They used a lot of exclamation marks, those damn bloggers.
So anyway, hopefully this will be a more balanced review. I’m going to be completely honest about my experience, but it’s just one girl’s opinion really, so make of it what you will.
For those unfamiliar with the Landmark Forum, the basic facts are that it’s a personal development course that runs over three days in London, around the Mornington Crescent area (and also in many other countries around the world). You’re in a room with around 150 others and one forum leader. My leader was David Ure, who was Australian.
Let’s shoot out some highlights and lowlights.
- Watching one annoying woman’s face fall in the first ten minutes of the weekend when the leader called her a jerk and she realised it wasn’t going to be three days of rainbows and group hugging after all. Cop that, bitch.
- Putting together the weird little puzzle of events in my life that have led me to where I am with certain people, and then actually being able to wipe that slate clean for good.
- Realising that one of the most important things to me is having the integrity to keep your promises – no matter how big or small – and finding practical ways to implement that possibility in my life.
- Being told that life is indeed meaningless, and feeling excited about that fact instead of depressed.
- Getting real with myself about the insane interpretations I’ve had of things that have happened, and realising that they’re just that – things that happen – and nothing else.
- This one was pretty key for me. Because I had read so much about the forum and knew what to expect, I got everything David was saying straight away. That was slightly problematic, because I felt that the entire weekend I was “getting” everything on an intellectual level, but not having these amazing “Ah-ha!” emotional moments that it seemed every other person in the room was having. I therefore spent a lot of the weekend worrying that I was missing out on some deeply personal revelation. Don’t do this.
- There was a lot of yelling. (On the other hand, there was a lot of laughing too.)
- There were a lot of annoying new-agey types who just wanted to hug everyone and talk about their feelings a lot during the breaks. I tried to discourage this behaviour by pointedly putting in my earphones whenever anyone wearing wooden beads or a multicoloured headscarf started to sidle my way.
- The hard sell – YIKES. To be honest I don’t know if I’d bother showing up on the last night unless you’re particularly keen to do so. They make a big deal about how you really, really, really, really, REALLY have to come on the last night, and then it turns out they just wanted to recruit your friends and sign you up to the next course. I didn’t get anything else out of the last night, personally.
Just to answer any lingering questions you may have after reading some of the craziness lurking online about the forum, its purpose and its effects, here are some quick FAQ.
Is it a cult?
No. The people who call it a cult are stupid and sensationalist. Calling it a cult makes it sound much more glamorous than it actually is. If I join a cult I expect to be mentally seduced by a charismatic bald guy wearing leather sandals, not called a jerk and told to stop acting like a brat by a middle-aged Australian in glasses and a brown cardigan.
But don’t they take all your money and make you dump your boyfriend and stuff?
I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty damn expensive. Especially when you move into the Advanced Course, the Self-Expression and Leadership Program, etc. But on the other hand, who cares? Obviously the people who do this thing can afford to. They’re not paying for it with three years’ wages from sewing Primark handbags in a sweatshop. If you have the money and inclination, more power to you. You’d only have spent it on cocktails anyway.
There was at least one guy from my forum who dumped his girlfriend during the weekend. He did it over the phone too, while she was still at home somewhere in Eastern Europe – which, just quietly, I thought was a bit shit. But frankly, I think anyone who gets dumped as a result of their partner going to the Landmark Forum was probably going to get dumped anyway. The process just got fast-tracked a little, which is likely for the best. If you’re reading this, Eastern European Dumpee, don’t worry about it. The guy DUMPED YOU OVER THE PHONE. And then he hit on me the next day. And he wasn’t very pretty or interesting. You can definitely do better.
But don’t they use brainwashing techniques like the Koreans used on the Americans after the war or whatever?
Well, they do this thing where they make up really arbitrary rules for the weekend, and you’re expected to make a commitment to follow them. For example, one of the rules is no alcohol or painkillers during the full course of the forum. I definitely took some aspirin on the second day and no form of retribution befell me, so relax.
I’ve seen a lot of blogs where people try to justify this rule as, “Oh, they just want you to keep a clear head, it helps you take in the information better” etc, but actually our forum leader gave no such reasoning, and I don’t believe there was any such reasoning.
My guess is that if you can make someone follow a seemingly pointless rule, and follow it to the letter, unquestioningly… then they’re basically giving themselves over to the whole process and will probably shut off that cynical part of their brain that has to question everything all the time. I’m not saying this is a good or bad thing.
Well, actually, it’s probably good. I mean, the thing is, you’ve paid a lot of money to be there, right? You might as well embrace the concept wholeheartedly, even if it’s just for those few days. I wonder if anything I’ve just said makes sense anywhere outside of my own brain.
Don’t they make you recruit all your friends to do it as well? Isn’t it just a big ol’ pyramid scheme?
Yup. That’s marketing, baby. Hey, they’ve gotta make money, they’re not just in this business to make you feel good about your whiny little problems, jackass.
If you’re going to do this thing, you should know that there is a massive push – especially on the final evening – for you to a) bring everyone you know and have them sign up to the next forum, and b) sign up to do the Advanced Course yourself. I didn’t do either of these things. I do actually plan to do the Advanced Course at some point later this year, and I think it will be really fantastic. But I didn’t want to fork out the cash to do it immediately, and I really want to do it when I know I’ve got time for it in my life and I’m excited about it. Not just because someone is in my face saying, “Oh, you’re not signing up for the Advanced Course? Well, that’s okay. It just means that you don’t ‘get it’. You’ve still got some work to do. Yeah, see those people at the back of the room getting out their wallets? They got it. You didn’t. Sucks to be you.”
Honey, I work in marketing and I have a manipulative mother. I’ve heard it all before.
Do they really not let you go to the bathroom?
Don’t be ridiculous. Why does everyone keep saying this? They do encourage you not to be late and not to miss a minute (“That could be just the minute you need to hear the most!” Whatever…), but there’s no burly woman with a crew cut standing at the door waiting to crash-tackle you if you try to leave.
Did I enjoy it? Not the whole thing. That weekend was actually one of the most intense experiences of my life. It was – forgive me for this hackneyed cliché (close your eyes children!) – a rollercoaster ride of emotions (cringe. I’ll be back in a minute; I just have to go scrub myself clean).
There were moments at the end of the night when I was at home in the foetal position on my living room floor crying my over-dramatic little eyes out. There were moments when I felt completely empty and pointless as a human being. But there were also moments of elation, and moments when I actually felt a significant shift in my perception of myself, the people in my life, and life in general. A good shift, I mean.
Am I glad I did it? Yep. Will I do the Advanced Course? You betcha. Would I recommend it? Word.
Okay, I’m bored of this now. I’d like to hear from anyone else who’s done the forum though. Are you a cheerleader, a conspiracy theorist, a little of both, disgruntled, excited, elated?
Thoughts? Feelings? Impressions?