My Landmark Experience
- June 5, 2008
Landmark experience begins the day a trusted friend
recounts his weekend Landmark getaway. Quietly, I think
to myself, "Poor kid. He has up and joined a cult."
I have heard
the rumors - the strict bathroom policy, the no eating/
no drinking rule, the endless hours of class, the forced
enrollment of your peers and family. Landmark has been
kicked out of France. It also has the vague ring of
Scientology, and all that California self-help mind
control a la Tom Cruise in Magnolia or the
pick-up artist from The Game. But my curiosity
was piqued so I invited myself along to his evening
class and joined on the spot. (Purely journalistic, of
Day One: I Am
On one sunny
summer weekend in New York, I resign myself to a
freezing basement on 33rd street and 8th avenue,
surrounded by a hundred motley strangers. (Where do
these people come from?) The Landmark coach steps on
stage, a brassy French woman. Immediately I take to her;
I can see there will be no forced hugging under her
roof. So what exactly are we supposed to do the next
forty-five odd hours of class?
The gist of
it: participants stand before a microphone and share
their stories with the room. A typical story: My rotten
father left when I was eight, he ruined our lives and
now I cannot trust men. I am middle-aged and single.
(Good God, who are these people?) After a bit
of fact-checking, our coach tears apart their logic in a
trenchant French accent. "He left because your mother
was unfaithful. Since you are an ungrateful brat, you
never returned his calls. Too bad you are single, it is
college psych skills, I become an excellent sideline
observer and help analyze these basket cases (OCD,
Bipolar, totally schizophrenic...) But by the end of the
day, I have heard enough stories to begin sensing
uncomfortable similarities. Then a lady with crazy hair
(she must have 15 cats) begins her sad tale and -
damn - it hits me, I have used the same line
before! Unnerved, I peer around the room and notice a
communal look of worry on everyone's faces.
feeling a warped sense of solidarity as person after
person goes up to the microphone's chopping block. "Your
entire lives are spend trying to look good or avoid
looking bad." The Frenchie raises an eyebrow, "And that
little voice in your head? The one always criticizing
and analyzing?" (What little voice?) "Yes, that one...
That little goading voice always judging everyone and
everything. You are a jerk. You have run 'rackets' on
all your loved ones. (A 'racket' is a Landmark term
signifying the stream of excuses we use to condone our
stupid actions.) You are inauthentic. But even worse,
you are inauthentic about being inauthentic."
We are left
with a sense of desperation. Clearly, we are bigger
jerks than we surmised. So now our assignment is to go
tell it to the mountain. I return home, call my mother
and apologize for being such a terrible teenager. She is
surprised, thinks my apology is sweet, but didn't we get
over that a long time ago?
Day Two: I Am
Still A Jerk
So I arrive
with a warm fuzzy feeling about my midnight call to Mom.
(Aren't I a good person?) Actually, no. Truth is: I am
still a jerk. This is further enforced after the break,
as the group is reprimanded for straggling in late. We
all have fractured integrity, breaking promises left and
right, then cloaking them in reasons and excuses.
Finally, we are sent home with an annoying assignment: I
am supposed to invite three people to the Tuesday night
open session. I ask my brother whose immediate response
is, "Are you recruiting?" (Well, maybe.) I go to bed
with a deep sense of resignation.
Day Three: I
Am An Even Bigger Jerk
morning, I arrive irritated that I have spent my weekend
in a basement, irritated that I have not yet achieved
the mythic Landmark 'breakthrough.' Then a spunky blond
heads to the mic and recounts her previous evening. She
called three practical strangers to tell them about
Landmark. Why? First, because she thought they may
benefit. Secondly, because, well, why not? Her speech
triggers something: I have been playing the Landmark
game too safely.
On break, I
practically sprint to the street, cell phone in hand. I
can see the elephants in the rooms of my relationships,
the things left unsaid, the hurts and betrayals never
addressed. I get it. My breakthrough! I begin calling...
and calling... flooding my acquaintances, friends,
ex-boyfriends with apologies. I take full responsibility
of the mediocre to bad things I have done in my life.
Most importantly, I try not to judge them. And even
though I do not ask for it, I get it back: forgiveness,
gratitude, even admiration. A weight lifts off my
drive of the weekend is heavily steeped in Zen. All we
have is the now. We are only responsible for ourselves.
Life is meaningless. I notice my little voice has
quieted significantly, even if it has taken on a piquant
French timbre (You are still a big jerk). For all the
negative criticisms of Landmark, I admit I had an
overwhelmingly positive experience.
acquaintance complains, "If they are really offering a
life-changing experience, why isn't it free?" I think
quietly of the collection plate at church, reserve my
judgment in true Landmark fashion, and gently add,
"Perhaps you can come on Tuesday night?"