Posted by Bram Levinson on March 13, 2012
It’s 9am Monday morning, and I’ve slept in (as much as one can do with a new puppy) for the first time in four days. My head is still buzzing from my weekend at the Landmark Forum, and when I look back at my post from last week, I have to say that it ended up being everything I thought it would be, but if I thought I really had a grasp on the big picture, I was absolutely wrong. The forum needs to be experienced first-hand to actually see that regardless of what its detractors may say, this organization is helping people…guiding people…re-directing people…and ultimately, opening their eyes. It really is about empowering every single person (regardless of the usual demographic classifications we use to separate ourselves from each other) to become complete and whole, to face their fears, and to show them how those fears and obstacles that have often paralyzed them from living/growing/loving/expanding/sharing/hoping are based in the decisions that their 5-year-old selves made long ago.
Now don’t get me wrong – I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I had many moments throughout the weekend where I asked myself “what have I gotten myself into?”, where I questioned if experiencing unpleasantness was necessary in order to learn something, but in actuality, when was being challenged and held accountable for your choices and actions ever comfortable? And our forum leader was strong, matter-of-fact, and hell-bent on getting results for the people who were in attendance. Albeit robotic at times, she was adamant in her mission to have us open our eyes to the areas and aspects of our lives and behaviours that we weren’t aware of – the ones that often are visible to others who then point them out to us, much to our disdain. Her mission was to empower us to create new possibilities in our lives, to step up to the plate in order to touch, move, and inspire others so they could do the same and have it ripple off into the world. The creation of these new possibilities stems from living a life steeped in authenticity, and she was there to encourage us to do so…to open our eyes to the time and energy we waste trying to look good to the world around us when in fact, everyone else is doing the same thing and no one actually sees each other. I greatly admired her ability to not simply shower participants with empathy and affection when they collapsed into tears, opting instead to coach them using tools they could practically apply to examine the real source of their obstacles.
Much of what happens in Landmark comes from its participants, and by the end of the weekend, one feels a definite complicity with these people (spending 39 hours together over 3 days will do that). Participants (whose ages ranged from 15-84) are encouraged to share their personal stories with the group, and the courage that these people have to step up to the front of the room and divulge their personal tales of trauma, fear and loss is jaw-dropping and refreshingly inspiring. It is through this sharing of personal stories that the rest of the group sees their own lives reflected back at them, complete with the stories we have told ourselves which have dictated the choices that direct us to where we find ourselves. Those stories, when we actually stand back and examine them, are all based in the mind of who we were as a child when every new thing that occurred in our lives imprinted itself, and understanding that one concept is massively enlightening to many. Once that is understood, it then becomes clear that to move towards a place where we can create real possibilities in our lives, we have to let go of the patterns and thought processes that have led us to wherever we find ourselves. The results come into being through letting go of all the reasons which have informed our behaviours.
The truisms that Landmark is based on aren’t new to many of us, but to others, seem revelatory…that change is futile and accomplishes nothing, and that personal transformation can only occur through acceptance of what is and why it is. The destructive force that is gossip was addressed, as was the power that language has to change our lives…that the cost of avoiding responsibility is one’s own vitality…that we are in denial as a race of human beings about the fact that we are inauthentic..that our actions are what matters and that opinions and talk are worthless without some sort of doing associated to them. The concepts of success vs. fulfillment (which ironically, I wrote about a few weeks ago), and that other people’s battles are theirs to fight were huge ones for me, but the one that seemed to speak to everyone was that we should see what happens as what happens while letting go our of interpretation of it. A lot of important insight was on offer, and to many in attendance, this was the first time they had ever been encouraged to think about anything other than the usual superficialities of daily life. It was incredible to see these people wake up, and even more satisfying to see myself do the same to many things I had simply agreed to not address in my own behaviours and patterns.
Two things didn’t sit well with me throughout the weekend. One was the incessant , non-stop chatter courtesy of the two translators that flanked the forum leader on either side. One was responsible for translating into French every phrase that came out of the leader’s mouth, and it was like watching a tennis match as sentences came out incrementally in one language, followed by the other. The other translator was present to translate whatever was spoken by participants, often killing the essence of what was being shared by having to interrupt to translate to the room. My personal opinion is that there should be two forums, one for the French-speakers and one for the English, so that the flow of communication could remain unimpeded (which could perhaps turn a 13-hour day sitting in a chair into a 9 or 10 hour day). The other element that almost had me heading for the hills (and had my bullshit meter practically exploding) was the selling/business aspect of the experience. There were several moments throughout the weekend where the forum leader spoke about other seminars and programs offered by Landmark, and as a choice between two seminars was already paid for with the cost of the weekend we were experiencing, registration sheets were handed out to everyone to enroll themselves in. The pressure tactics were subtle, but at no point were we told that registration was optional. We were guided through filling out the form and when I handed mine in blank, I was then approached the following day to discuss which seminar I would register for. I politely declined, but knew that a more vulnerable and less self-assured person would have caved and would have gotten brought further into the organization’s programs. When it came to other programs offered, we were given a choice, but told that we could take a few minutes to sign up after the forum leader described the benefits of the programs, and this was done in full view of everyone else, so the ones who chose not to sign up were exposed to the ones who were full-steam ahead, which I felt put undue pressure on people to sign up for fear of standing out from the crowd. This may have just been how I personally felt about it, but looking around the room, I saw I wasn’t alone. I felt that the business side of it all could have been dealt with through transparency instead of spin. I would have felt more respect for them if we had been told that yes, Landmark is a business, and that their product is worth paying for, but that to maintain the integrity of the business, they wanted to tell us about what was on offer. With that said, giving people the option of signing up with a bit more privacy (during breaks, after the day ended) would have spoken more to me.
To sum up, I found that this past weekend refocused and enlightened me in many ways, all for the better. For many who have already connected to something greater than themselves, what Landmark teaches might sound redundant, but for others, an existence steeped in possibilities lies waiting at the end of their forum. I’m grateful to Lululemon for having given me the opportunity to experience Landmark first-hand, and am the better for it.