Landmark forum – cult, scam, or path to enlightenment?

by Jack on February 2011

Just over a year ago, I heard about a three-day weekend program called Landmark Forum, an educational experience presented by a “Forum Leader” to large groups of people (50-200) who sought to improve their life situations by going through this experience. Delivered by a company known as Landmark Education, the Forum is their flagship course and is presented to over 100 000 people worldwide every year.

Over the past year, I encountered many different opinions, both online and in person. These opinions ranged from extremely positive (“The most important three days of my life, bar none.”) to extremely negative (“They are a cult – all they want is your money, and they’ll never stop calling you once you’re on their list.”).

I figured that anything that elicited such polarized reactions from people had to have something interesting and potentially exciting at its core. I decided to keep learning more, and perhaps even to consider experiencing the Forum for myself.

I finally decided to try out the Forum for myself after two different conversations with a couple of intelligent and well-balanced friends. I respected – and respect – these men. They are both strong individuals who have experienced both triumph and tragedy in their lives. They described their own Forum experiences in simple language, and explained to me what the process was all about. And so, with some trepidation, I signed up. This is the review of my Landmark Forum experience.

The Experience

Landmark is extremely well-organized. A few weeks before the Forum, I got a postcard asking me to confirm my registration by phone. I called and a friendly man at the other end of the line indicated that my registration was confirmed. Having paid the full amount by credit card, I wasn’t sure why this step was necessary. (Apparently, I later learned, some people put down a deposit or pay in full, and then chicken out and decide not to show up.)

When you arrive, smiling volunteers give you a name tag and direct you to the conference room where the Forum takes place. The conference room is clean and organized with military precision. Chairs are ordered in neat, equally spaced rows and spaces between chairs are measured via the width of a Kleenex box. Everything is intentional, and nothing distracts participants from the business at hand. The focal point of the room is a low stage riser with chalkboards, a table, and a tall chair for the Forum leader. Microphones flank the stage, where the participants go to share their stories and receive live coaching from the Forum leader.

The rules are equally precise: the Forum starts at exactly 9:00 AM; no food or drinks are allowed in the Forum room, aside from water; time out consists of two 30 minute pauses for toilet, snacks and phone calls, and one 90 minute dinner period; note taking is discouraged during Forum time, not because of confidentiality of the course material, but because participants are encouraged to give full attention to the Forum leader and the participant “sharing” his or her story at the front of the room.

Online rumors that I had read about “not being allowed to go to the bathroom” were totally unfounded. The Forum leader explained that he couldn’t guarantee any results (“getting it”, in Forum lingo) to a participant if he wasn’t there for the full experience. That being said, anyone was permitted, though not encouraged, to walk out of the room at any time for whatever reason (e.g. cigarette, phone, bathroom, emotional overwhelm).

The process is described as experiential learning, as distinguished from informational learning. Informational learning is primarily based on moving things from the category “we know that we don’t know” into the category “we know that we know”. Examples include acquiring a new language or learning calculus – we can figure out in an instant whether we don’t know Hindi or calculus, and determine how to get from A to B.

On the other hand, the Forum is described as a means for getting access to the category “we don’t know that we don’t know” – those blind spots in interpersonal relations, habits, or behaviors that keep tripping us up because we don’t even know that they are there.

The Forum cycles between a few main activities. The leader presents concepts in a high-energy, theatrical fashion, sometimes acting out scenes of interpersonal conflict, parental mistreatment, and other human drama, and sometimes scribbling and sketching on the chalkboards to illustrate a concept or principle being taught. After a topic is presented, the leader often asks the participants to share in conversation with the person next to them what they’ve learned, and how it might apply in their own life.

The most intense parts of the Forum occur when people go to the front of the room to “share” with the whole group, and receive coaching from the leader. The intention of this is to help the participant observe blind spots and contradictions in their own thoughts and actions – primarily in their interpersonal relationships, thought other areas can also be examined. In turn, this is intended to help them to achieve a “breakthrough” that will interrupt their habitual reactions, help them imagine other options, and empower them with greater flexibility to choose their behavior in the future.

The “sharing / coaching” segments of the Forum often wind up with participant in tears, and / or the leader shouting at the participant. Well, not at the participant, exactly, but at the mental cage of bullshit and lies in which they are trapped. (“I’m not shouting at you, I’m shouting at your stuff. I’m on your side. Do you want to let this go or do you want to let the past run your life?”)

It becomes clear at these points why we signed a waiver stating that we are emotionally healthy – these confrontations can be intense and are likely to unpack difficult memories for both the person standing at the microphone, and those sitting in the audience. My own life coaches never got in my face this way, or this aggressively, that’s for sure.

By observing the process of a person confronting a difficult situation in his life, in real time, and then beginning (and sometimes even completing) the process of forgiving others and forgiving himself, the members of the audience find themselves able to imagine themselves going through that same process. And it’s a good thing, too, because now it’s time for the phone calls!

In the Forum, all of us participants are encouraged to do our own work of “completing the past”, by calling those people with whom we have conflicts and apologizing for our own contribution to that conflict. To my mind, this has a two-fold purpose. First, it allows the participant to get a lot more value from his participation in the forum, by taking tangible action instead of just thinking about it. Second, it is a brilliant viral marketing strategy that gets participants to communicate to loved ones (or former loved ones), in their own language, how the Forum is helping them interrupt some of their destructive behavior patterns of the past.

I know that if I received a tearful and apologetic phone call from a person with whom I had a conflict, I’d be curious about how they arrived at the decision to take that action. (“Well, I appreciate your apology. You say you’re at some sort of ‘forum’ this weekend, huh? What’s that all about?”) In the Tuesday follow-up session after the weekend, graduates are encouraged to bring friends and family and persuade them to sign up for the course. Since Landmark doesn’t advertise, word of mouth is the main way that people hear of them.

After a 13 hour day of emotional roller-coaster rides, it’s time for some homework. We’re encouraged to draft letters to other people in our lives, taking responsibility for areas in which we have been inauthentic or untruthful. We’re urged to examine our “rackets” – the situations where we execute habitual, disempowering behavior patterns by complaining that something or someone should be different from how it actually is. And in place of all this bad stuff, we’re asked to draft new ways of behaving and being through the phrase “the possibility I am creating for myself and my life is the possibility of being…”.

The Basics

The specific knowledge I acquired was relatively simple and straightforward. It didn’t seem to be the main point of the experience. Landmark itself makes the syllabus available on their web site so there’s no big mystery about the specific learnings that one will acquire at the Forum.

Some of the key messages that I received are:

  • We are all concerned with looking good to others and fitting in with others. The reality is that most people are too afraid of other people – i.e. of being judged and criticized – to do any judging themselves. And if they do judge us, so what? Everyone winds up in the same place eventually – dead.
  • We are all inauthentic assholes who lie and cheat our way through life, take the easy way out, and blame other people for our own problems.
  • There’s no meaning intrinsic to events that happened in our lives. Humans act like “meaning making machines” and construct the meaning of everything in our lives. (Yes, everything.)
  • There’s “what happened” and there’s “my story about what happened”. Assuming these two things to be the same is the source of much pain and conflict.
  • If we don’t “complete” the past, we bring the injuries and complaints of the past – i.e. the meanings that we have created – into the present and the future. In that case, we are literally “living into a future” that is polluted with the complaints and baggage of the past.
  • Completing the past consists of: forgiving ourselves for what happened (even if it wasn’t our fault), and forgiving others whom we have been blaming and “making wrong” for their roles in past events; and consciously choosing to let go of stories and meanings that we have previously attributed to those events.
  • Our use of language constructs our experience of reality. When we use change-based language, we take what’s pre-existing (and, presumably, “wrong”) and attempt to change it. When we use possibility-based / transformation-based language, and complete the past, we create a new future into which we can live with excitement, optimism, and passion.

The Forum in popular culture

My experience was also filtered through my past experience of movies and books that were known to have been influenced or inspired by the Forum.

It’s well known, for example, that Chuck Palahniuk attended a Forum before writing Fight Club, the novel that was turned into the greatest and most inspirational movie ever. This inspiration is clear in a lot of the language that I encountered in the Forum – “thank you for sharing yourself with us”, “let’s acknowledge so-and-so”, and so on. Many of these phrases – word for word – turned up repeatedly in the support groups attended by the main character of that movie.

Within the movie, the structure of the fight club itself also owes a debt to the Forum. The rules-based, tough-love framework, guided and led by a theatrical and charismatic leader, is reminiscent of the Forum experience. Of course, in contrast to Rules 1 and 2 – “do not talk about Fight Club” – we were strongly encouraged to talk about the Forum to anyone and everyone who would listen (as well as those who wouldn’t).

In contrast to the maudlin, sappy support groups, the aggressive and confrontational nature of the underground fight club helps the men who participate in it connect to something exciting, inspiring, primal, and truly empowering. In a very similar way, the bracing (metaphorical) slap in the face of the Forum converts “poor me” stories of self-pity and victimhood, into strength of will and determination to live into an unknown future of bold power and possibility.

The uncomfortable and “unreasonable” homework assignments are another common theme between the Forum and the movie. They take what would otherwise be an inspiring but artificial exercise (whether it be a conversation in a conference room, or a bare-knuckle boxing match in a dive bar’s basement), and redirect that newly liberated energy into transforming participants lives and the environments around them.

The movie Revolver is another one that kept coming to mind during my Forum experience. Less well known than Fight Club, Revolver is about a gangster recently released from prison who finds himself in the middle of an intricate con game run by two mysterious strangers.

At one point, during a high-tension moment in a sharing session in my Forum, the leader shouted at the participant:

You don’t see that I’m on your side. I’m not shouting at you because I want to kill you. I’m trying to kill it.

(“it” being the disempowering story that the participant was telling that kept her trapped, more or less).

Upon hearing these words, I recalled a line from Revolver:

The greatest con that he ever pulled, was making you believe that he is you.

At this, I felt something in my mind strain and then give way, with a little click. Tears followed. In the movie, “he” is the ego, the story that you make up and then tell in order to make things make sense, make yourself right and others wrong, and make yourself look good.

Another line from Revolver is relevant:

One thing I’ve learned in the last seven years: in every game and con there’s always an opponent, and there’s always a victim. The trick is to know when you’re the latter, so you can become the former.

In our lives, we’re all the victim of a con (in Forum-speak, a “racket”), that is set up and run by our ego. Until we realize this, we’re at his mercy, but once we do, we can turn the tables on the opponent and liberate ourselves. We recognize that we only have an ego – our egos are not us.

Most people, however, don’t realize this, since they are knee deep in the games of creating conflict, impressing others, and being right. And of course, in the words of Caesar (echoed by the movie):

The greatest enemy will hide in the last place you would ever look.

You can probably guess where that is.

Reflections and conclusions

The experience itself was epic and fun, even as it was emotionally draining. Jerry Baden, the leader of the Forum I attended, was an exuberant and entertaining guy. He had a faint physical resemblance to the actor Gilbert Gottfried, but with a much nicer voice (something for which I was very grateful, given that he was speaking to us the whole time). His performance was rich with humor and personal anecdotes. As he put it:

You’ll go back to your families on Sunday night and they’ll ask you what happened, and you’ll say “I spent the whole weekend getting yelled at by some Jew with no eyes and all teeth”.

Jerry’s energy level was immense – being the hub of the forum experience for well over 100 people, he was always either listening, speaking, writing on the chalkboards, or running around the stage (and once in a while, around the entire conference room). For 13 hours a day. At age 60.

It wasn’t just entertaining, of course. This kind of stuff has a Very Important Purpose, dammit. And I did acquire and practice a number of useful thought patterns such as:

  • Asking myself if I was blaming other people or situations (“making them wrong”) rather than taking responsibility for my own thoughts and feelings.
  • Being more playful and irreverent about things (as though I needed help with that!), and taking all situations in life far less seriously.
  • Knowing that any hesitation and anxiety in social or interpersonal situations is pointless – life is short, after all – and reminding myself that others are at least as scared of me as I am of them. Probably even more so, since I’m so powerful and intimidating. ;)
  • Feeling more courageous about setting audacious and exciting life goals, and bringing others on board to help me achieve them.

Because of the experiential learning model, instead of writing these things down in a notebook, I managed to install and experience them as the seeds of new habits. With ongoing practice, they are likely to strengthen and take hold over time, but I definitely feel as though being able to experience these states directly during the learning process was worthwhile. A lot of this stuff, I already agreed with or “knew”, but the Forum experience helped me solidify it in a more visceral way.

So what does this all mean? Should you do the Forum yourself? Well, of course, I can’t answer that question for anyone else.

Think about it this way, though. As with so many experiences, a person’s expectations will guide what results he receives. (Put another way, in the words of Robert A. Wilson, “what the thinker thinks, the prover proves”.) If a person expects to encounter a bunch of scam artists and salesmen looking for his money, that’s what he will see. If a person expects to encounter some unusual and interesting experiences that can help with goals, communication, and interpersonal relationships, that’s what he will get.

Speaking for myself, I went in cautiously optimistic, and I found it valuable, entertaining, and worth my $485. And I expect to put the experiences and learnings into practice in my life in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

And you? If you choose to go to the Forum, you’ll receive whatever meaning you create out of it.

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{ 1081 comments… read them below or add one }

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ameera k August 12, 2014 at 20:20

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/karin-badt/inside-the-landmark-forum_b_90028.html

Went to a Landmark Forum Intro today as a guest and when i went to speak to someone with a question, I was practically hounded, made to sit on a chair and told that my ‘stubborness to simply register is the reason why i need landmark’. Any sane person would want to know what they are signing up for. I’ve been shocked by my experience of Landmark and the bullyish pushy nature of the leader and the guys sitting all round the room demanding you take your card out and pay. I must have been asked for my card 10 times and told to get it ‘quickly’ and ‘now’. I was even pulled by my hand and taken to a table, given a pen and told to put my name down on the registration card ‘now’! lol it beggers belief the way these guys operate. I’ve come home rather offended (naturally) and been looking online at some reviews. If the product is so good why do they have such a great need to shove it in your face to the point where it hits bullyish sales behaviour?

found the following online..

Andy Testa, on the other hand, posted an account of his experience with Landmark Forum, in which he claims that he was hounded by recruiters who insisted that his resistance was proof he needed their help.

Some people claim to have had breakdowns after attending such programs as Landmark Forum [see Lell, who had one after attending Landmark sessions, and Abstracts of Articles in Psychological Journals concerning est and The Forum]. According to Robert Howe, Stephanie Ney, 45, claims that a two-day Landmark Forum seminar “stripped her of her natural psychological defenses and unleashed the specter of a failed relationship with her father,” leading to a nervous breakdown and commitment to a psychiatric clinic. Yet, many of those who seek out cults like Scientology or self-help programs such as Landmark are troubled already. Some are deeply troubled and the training might send them over the edge. But whose fault is that? Such people might have gone to the movies and been pushed over the edge, like “Heinrich Pommerenke, who was a rapist, abuser, and mass slayer of women in Germany.” He “was prompted to his series of ghastly deeds by Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments.”* (A woman who took est when she was 17 wrote me: “The intent of these seminars is to dig in deeply, without providing any aftercare. In that sense, they are responsible. They are taking money, knowing what they are trying for, not allowing people’s natural defenses to operate that tell them when it’s a good idea to dig. Then, the programmers walk away. Even for non-deeply troubled people, this is a concern and the impact can be negative.” Programmers should be trained to handle “troubled” people and should know that they can’t push every participant to the same degree without occasional disastrous results.)

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JD August 12, 2014 at 23:35

I’m sorry you had that experience. The way these introductions are sometimes handled was always one of my biggest complaints about Landmark (at least at first, until I got to know the people who represent Landmark in them personally). Those people do have the best of intentions, but they do sometimes come off as pushy. I attribute most of this to the fact that the degree to which these events are considered “successful” (Landmark uses the term “effective”) is directly, quantititatively measured by the percentage of people who sign up that very evening, so the people who volunteer to assist at them are sort of incentivized to act a bit more assertively than they normally would (no, nobody is getting any free toasters or financial remuneration based on the percentage of people who register, but if you are volunteering your time and the group has a goal to get x% of people to register, you might behave a bit differently). It never made much sense to me why a program that promises dramaticly positive, life-changing results (and delivers on that promise!) puts so much emphasis on getting people to make such a hasty decision to participate, but that is the way Landmark approaches the marketing of its product.

Of course, the other side of the coin is that there is some truth to what all those pushy people were saying at the introduction you experienced. If you are a naturally cautious person, you have probably made that a habit and your caution may be costing you far more pleasurable and rewarding experiences in life than it is protecting you from possible dangers and missteps. So it is true that throwing some of that caution to the wind and registering on the spot would be a departure from that ordinary way of being and a “breakthrough” of sorts, which is all that those people had in mind by trying to convince you to register right then and there. The point being that as creepy as the urgency around registering might have seemed, I assure you that it is all very innocuous and well-intentioned.

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Hanlon August 13, 2014 at 00:41

Assuming that because people are sometimes pushy at Landmark introductions that Landmark must be some sort of cult or something else weird or nefarious is going on violates Hanlon’s Razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

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Joshua Jones August 13, 2014 at 13:54

Not to rule out the possibility that it’s a stupid cult, of course.

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JD August 13, 2014 at 15:12

If Landmark is a “cult,” we need an awful lot more cults in this world.

Joshua Jones August 13, 2014 at 15:46

Your wish is being fulfilled with every seminar, JD. Cults of the self have been around for centuries (read “As A Man Thinketh” by James Allen), are as aggressive as stage four tumors, and their virulent marketing strategies “make no sense to you”? Contagion is their mode, their means, and their end – and yet you feel a need to wish them well. Is there no part of this that freaks you out? Even a little?

JD August 13, 2014 at 16:07

No, there is no part of Landmark that “freaks me out.” What “freaks me out” are the paranoids who ascribe words like “cult” to groups and activities that inspire people to get the most out of life.

Monica Grorud August 30, 2014 at 15:17

Landmark is a revolting cult, only fit for the idiot dolts all followers are. This group should be banned , banned. Landmark is just a money sucking leach on the zombies it cons into buying into its mindless drivel . Plz someone, investigate where the money goes.

Anon August 31, 2014 at 00:30

@Monica, someone’s done that…the money goes to pay the expenses of real estate / leases in major cities around the globe and flying the program leaders to lead the seminars in a different city week after week. The profits that are left after that go to the people who own the company–the employees. Is there a problem with that?

Paul August 13, 2014 at 16:29

Maybe we can all afford each other a break, here?
With all due respect.
One person’s ceiling is another’s floor.
I am sure that, at the time, there were a number of Romans who saw Joseph of Nazareth and his followers as a cult. Hundreds of millions of followers gathering where and whenever he showed up, hanging on his every word, knowing that every word was the word of god.
One person’s dearly held belief is another”s dogma.
Maybe we can all give each other a break, here?
Hmm?

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Joshua Jones August 13, 2014 at 16:52

I’d like to, Paul – but, in the case you mentioned, Rome ended up martyring its “Christian cultists” by the thousands. Right now, it’s a war of words. But words, as history endlessly demonstrates (and ISIS reminds), are eventually replaced by weapons. Unless these disputes are resolved here, in relatively peaceful semantic combat, they are carried on to the streets.

The “ceiling/floor” philosophy you espouse works only in zero gravity – or unless you are Billy Ocean. On Earth, we all stand with our feet on the ground. The Forum makes claims to absolute truth that are either accepted or rejected – and that can’t be resolved here. What can be resolved here – or at least investigated – is whether or not these teachings are deceptive. Many, like JD, claim that their teaching is a harmless, take-it-or-leave-it, get-what-you-put-in, “inspiration to get the most out of life” philosophy. I contend it contains the seeds of psychosis. If you are willing to avoid the demands of logic, we can both be right. Otherwise, there is a dispute that requires resolution.

Interestingly, it was the initially tolerant (“What is truth?”) but tremendously powerful and ultimately tyrannical Romans who ended up becoming the killer cult. But you are right, Paul, that we have not defined our terms well enough to gain much traction at the moment.

JD, do you believe that cults can only be characterized by devotion to a single charismatic individual? And Paul, who do you mean by “Joseph” of Nazareth?

Joshua

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JD August 13, 2014 at 17:55

@Joshua, it seems clear to me that you are spoiling for a fight over this. I asked you earlier:

I have the impression that your principal objection to the Landmark Forum is that you believe Landmark is teaching concepts that you believe are not true–specifically, concepts that strike you as inconsistent with your Christian beliefs; is that fair? Given that there are lots of people who participate at Landmark who find that their participation reinforces rather than undermines their spiritual (including Christian) lives, are you open to considering that the conflict you perceive might not be as you initially thought?”

I consider myself a Christian and I happen to think the Landmark Forum is a great thing for people of any religious persuasion or who aren’t religious at all. The content of the course is philosophical and not religious in nature. I get that you disagree with that assertion. While normally I might enjoy the back-and-forth that would come with discussing the ideas presented in the Forum, I don’t have the sense with you that you are at all open to considering alternative points of view and thus I would be wasting my time. I respect that the Landmark Forum occurs to you as “containing the seeds of psychosis” (although you don’t seem to have experienced any actual symptoms of psychosis–at least none that you have chosen to share here). The Landmark Forum occurs to me as an antidote to the psychosis that is the conventional wisdom in which we currently live. It seems we will have to just agree to disagree; vive le difference.

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Julia August 14, 2014 at 07:42

I believe it false to say that “the Forum makes claims to absolute truth”. I believe the Forum suggests for consideration a possible interpretation that there is no truth. And it doesn’t even claim that that is the truth, either.

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Joshua Jones August 14, 2014 at 08:05

Julia,

Don’t you see, though, that when you say “it is false” or “there is no truth” or “it doesn’t even claim that is the truth”, those are all statements of truth or falsehood? As falliable people, honestly speaking, we all have to put conditions on what we believe is true, because there are limits to our knowledge.

But what the Forum does is “suggest” an absolute, that we ourselves are the authors of meaning and possibility. Without that suggestion, it would not be able to “offer” you anything of value at all. But even as a suggestion, it’s false, and when that goes, the teaching falls.

Because it’s in the realm of the abstract, we tend to be lighter on whether these suggestions are true, than we would be about say, whether something is “safe” for our children to eat or a car is “safe” to drive. But we should be much, much more vigilant. It matters VERY much whether truth exists, and even “suggesting the possibility” of falsehood in this area can kill or drive people insane. Dangerous is dangerous, whether it is claimed or merely “suggested.”

If you don’t believe me, look at Donald Rumsfeld – he used the same map of known knowns and unknown unknowns that the Forum did (http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2013-06-16/guest-post-unknown-unknowns-and-survivor-bias) when he was talking about the justification of a major war.

Do you at least understand why this is important?

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Julia August 14, 2014 at 09:28

Joshua, I wish I could respond more intelligently to your points but I’m afraid I don’t follow all the logic. I’ll simply express what I see in my own way.

First, I still don’t see how the Forum is suggesting anything is an absolute. Maybe, being normal flawed humans (like me), their staff mistakenly act like that sometimes, and maybe some people interpret it like that sometimes. But it’s genuinely not how I see it.

What I see is that there are models. And by applying these particular models, I challenge my thinking about what I “know” to be true, or safe, or real (thereby improving many relationships, seeing options and pursuing options I may not have otherwise), and I take responsibility for my participation in life (from which I observe that, actually, I do have power to change my perception of events, and I do have the power to influence many things, including other people). Therefore, it seems to work for me to behave as though I am, myself, the author of considerable meaning and possibility.

But I am an adult and I know these are merely models and, taken too far outside the context for which they were designed, many models (or metaphors) will fail. I understand this. So I don’t follow that this invalidates (or makes “false”) a model I find perfectly workable in many of life’s circumstances. I don’t expect to be able to think myself into being able to fly, or to single-handedly put an end to all prejudice. But, so what? I now have more tools in my toolbag and they are serving me well. So for me, this is where the value is.

x

Joshua Jones August 18, 2014 at 18:40

Julia,

Thank you for your thoughtful response, and I do recognize that your experience, like that of many others, is a freedom, a liberation, from illusions and scripts that we have created around ourselves. And absolutely the model is very workable – ability to author our own stories is very useful, and I know that taken to extremes, every model fails, but within a limited scope, these ways of look at things can be helpful.

So, I want to be very clear about the danger. You put important qualifiers on your authority – the author of meaning and possibility to a “considerable degree”. This implies you acknowledge authorities outside yourself. Those limits came from you. But if you were talking to a trainer, they would challenge ANY limits you put on yourself, and assign the blame for any negative feelings or external limitations on you for creating your own “racket”.

So, what do you will think most people will do the next time they feel badly about themselves or something they did? Change? Or simply do a couple of token acts and then change the story until they feel better?

Granted, like some commenters have noted, people can be much more pleasant when they no longer feel guilty, can also act much more gentle, liberated, will do and say things (including apologies and asking forgiveness) that they didn’t feel free to before. The universe seems again “filled with possibility”, because the course drives home the message that YOU are the creator of all possibility, and THAT is a lie.

So, just like a little lying often seems humorous, and a little drama seems to adds excitement, a little meaninglessness gives the feeling of “freedom”. But the Forum puts no limits on how much meaninglessness we should allow ourselves.

While a little meaninglessness feels like it “helps”, a lot of it kills. Despair that “nothing really matters” is the prologue to suicide. And it builds over time. So, for the time being, just like any one of a number of harmful drugs or behaviors, it “works”. But eventually we will all face the dilemma of questioning if what we believe is really true…and by that time, “truth” may have lost all meaning, and we will be house of mirrors facing lie after lie after lie…

That’s why I’m here – not to deny the experience and exhilaration of becoming our own “puppet master,” but simply to describe where it will ultimately lead. I’ve seen it, I’ve tasted it, and I think anyone who is honest about the reason for their newfound optimism will find it is based on little more than the discovery of a clever way to trick ourselves into not being afraid of the truth.

Joshua

Joshua Jones August 13, 2014 at 19:48

JD,

It’s only true witness that I’m here for, not a fight. It’s lies which cause the discord, and the Forum peddles these lies at quite a profit (http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/culture/features/4932/).

You say the Forum is philosophical, not religious, and claim to be a Christian. I’m sure you know philosophy is the love of wisdom, and the fear of G-d is the beginning of it, and Christ will be the judge if we have either the fear, or the love. It’s worth a lifetime of action, study, prayer and reflection to ensure that it is Christ’s yoke we are under and not our own understanding – or trapped in the illusion of “creating our own possibilities.”

Around non-essentials, vive la difference, indeed. When it comes to truth, meaning, and salvation – Christ will be the judge.

Joshua

Matthew 13:30

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Anon August 13, 2014 at 20:42

@Joshua, if Landmark replaced every reference to “you,” “your,” “I” and other 1st and 2nd person pronouns in its programs with “Christ” as the source of generating possibilities and meaning for one’s life, would you still have a problem with it?

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Joshua Jones August 13, 2014 at 22:07

Anon,
Are you asking me if Landmark thought every single person speaking and attending its program was Jesus Christ, would I still have a problem with it? Did I understand you correctly?

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Anon August 13, 2014 at 23:14

No; let me rephrase. From reading your comments I have the impression that one of your main areas of disagreement with the ideas presented in the Forum is that Jesus Christ isn’t mentioned anywhere as essential to achieving the happiness and vitality that Landmark promises; instead, Landmark shows people how they can have that without explicitly referring to any religion. So a different way of asking my question would be what would Landmark have to change about the content of the Landmark Forum that would resolve your objections to it?

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Joshua Jones August 14, 2014 at 07:30

Anon,
I can’t “disagree” with the teachings of the Forum until people understand what they are actually teaching (or, selling). I am trying to reveal how the process actually works, what the Forum actually teaches.

The Forum is not an opinion, or a neutral “technology” that can be customized to meet anyone’s needs. The philosophy is built upon a provably, systematically false belief system that would instantly collapse on itself if it were clearly presented. Since it is couched in deception, my goal here is to present what it truly is.

For an example, would you agree that Jack’s (the above author, who we have been neglecting this whole time!) assertion below, is a decent presentation of one of the Forum’s central messages:

“When we use possibility-based / transformation-based language, and complete the past, we create a new future into which we can live with excitement, optimism, and passion. ”

Do you believe that fairly presents one of the Forum’s central principles?

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Tem Ghee August 13, 2014 at 22:47

Of Course Landmark IS a Cult. It is complete Brainwashing and makes slaves and automatons out of their cult members. They have stolen from other people’s work and claim its their own (which is a LIE)and their MAIN motivation is money.
Say what what you want about “the benefits”…There are benefits in torture chambers.

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Anon August 13, 2014 at 23:22

@Tem, Socrates, like Landmark, was also accused of having started a “cult,” for many of the same reasons. Other than money charged to participate, what differences do you see between the “cult” that was started by Socrates and the one started by Landmark?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socrates

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kate August 18, 2014 at 11:15

I became familiar with Landmark when our daughter attended. We received the phone call as did her brothers expressing remorse for past wrongs and ending with her telling them that she loved them (as well as us),

It has been no less a miracle to see this woman go from being angry at the family for perceived wrongs to loving and embracing every member. She has much more joy in her life and is far less judgmental and harsh on those she encounters.

I don’t know the exact terminology or scientific explanations for what they do – but I know it changed our family – so much for the better. A change that probably would never have happened had it not been for her attending a Landmark Forum.

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Ross August 20, 2014 at 23:38

Kate makes a good point about landmark — they do push people to make amends with family. This alone is probably worth the price to many people. It’s a shame we need prompting from a “cult” to sqelch our pride and tell people we love them.

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Joshua Jones August 21, 2014 at 10:59

Agreed, Ross. Pride is the real enemy, here – and some use Forum teachings to help overcome their pride and past hurts and wrongs. I just worry that they offer nothing to prevent us from hurting and wronging others in the future, and we “create the possibility” that we’re fine, we’re happy, we can have and do what we want…that’s what I’ve seen in the people that really believe it.

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Anon August 21, 2014 at 12:35

@Joshua, you stated that “what the Forum does is “suggest” an absolute, that we ourselves are the authors of meaning and possibility. Without that suggestion, it would not be able to “offer” you anything of value at all. But even as a suggestion, it’s false, and when that goes, the teaching falls.”

I don’t see why Landmark’s suggestion that human beings have the power to choose (through language) the context or lens within which they view their lives as a “false teaching.” Landmark’s notion of “creating possibilities” strikes me as a relatively straightforward and noncontroversial observation that there is a relationship between language, human behavior, and results–that thinking, planning, and action are correlated to how circumstances occur to a human being, and that how circumstances occur to a human being arises predominately in language. By being more careful and thoughtful in their use of language, human beings can alter how circumstances occur for themselves, and by altering how circumstances occur, they can direct their thinking, planning, and action in new and previously untried ways toward achieving results that are more in line with what they really want in life–whether that be a better job, more fulfilling relationships, or a deeper spiritual life.

While I get that you have concerns that people might use this knowledge in ways that cause them to act more selfishly or in an immoral way, that doesn’t seem to do much to challenge the fundamental truth of the observation outlined above that Landmark is offering for consideration. What, specifically, about this line of reasoning is “false”?

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Joshua Jones August 21, 2014 at 16:47

Anon,

First, thank you for taking the time to write a thoughtful, detailed response. It is impossible to discern the harm in the way they use language unless you pay attention to the details, which you are doing.

Your question as I understand it, is “Why is teaching others that a more conscious and thoughtful “use of language to alter how circumstances occur for themselves”, so that they may think, plan and act in ways that “are more in line with what they really want” false reasoning?

First, you haven’t understood me exactly right. My problem is not that I think the teaching might be abused, it’s that the teaching IS abuse by deception. Your language reveals the damage it has already done to your thinking and speaking. Watch your language and you will notice a curious ability you have to swap in “how things occur” for “how we talk about things”. These cannot be switched.

The apparent possibility for them to be switched only exists when we are safe and all needs are provided for, when it does not matter if I call bread a stone, as long as I can chew it.

Altering language does NOT alter reality, it alters perception of it, and alter it so badly it kills people. If you can get hold of that incredibly simple understanding again – the extraordinarily simple idea that food is food and a bullet is a bullet, what every child knows, you will realize what an extraordinarily dangerous position you put yourself in by giving “circumstance altering” power to language.

Wars start this way, all the time. Hitler’s speeches were about room and growth and freedom. We drop bombs not on citizens but on suspected terrorists (by virtue of having bombs dropped on them).

On a more commercial level, everyone who has ever conned anyone out of anything, one some level, knows this – although we lie as easily as we breathe now. Love is what makes a Subaru a Subaru.

What the Forum does especially well is teach you how to use these methods on *yourself*, so that you become your own mark, all the while they use it on you (as it has been used on them), and get you to spread their message to your relations. Everybody apparently wins.

Because we all want to be happy, we tell ourselves stories about our lives and experience and actions that make us happy. Anything that makes us genuinely sad or distressed – regardless of its objective veracity – becomes a “racket”. Getting out of unhappiness is a simple matter of “creating possibility.” But don’t you see, we CAN’T create possibility, we create things that already ARE possible! Creating possibility is what God does – His first statements were all “Let there be”!

Possibility is *revealed* to us, it can become made open to us, even be realized by us, but it cannot be created by us. We do not have that power. And that is what is false. We know this intuitively, we have just paid others to teach us otherwise, so we can continue to avoid the bodyguard of Possibility, known as Reality, whatever language we dress it up in.

So, I don’t imagine you will agree with me. The costs of believing the truth are incredibly high. But hopefully now you can at least see the edge of the frames of the “Virtual Reality” goggles of these teachings, even if you are not yet ready to take them off. It took me a long time.

Joshua

“The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!”
Matthew 6:22-23

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Anon August 21, 2014 at 17:51

@Joshua, you say that what Landmark is teaching is “abuse by deception” because you think what they are suggesting “isn’t true.” When I asked you what is “false” about what Landmark is saying you responded “Altering language does NOT alter reality, it alters perception of it,” which is merely a restatement of the way I summarized one of the ontological distinctions in the Landmark Forum. So you, me, and Landmark appear to all be in agreement that language does in fact have an impact on one’s perception of reality.

Nothing in any of the Landmark courses in which I participated or assisted challenged the notion that “food is food and a bullet is a bullet”–self-help type courses that try to substitute “positive thinking” as a silver bullet to cure obviously crappy circumstances are (rightly) the subject of much ridicule, as Dave Chappelle hilariously points out in this video clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WbS9jZOlQjc

But Landmark’s not saying you can turn food into a bullet or vice versa by applying different language to it. All Landmark is saying is that when we substitute future-based language for past-based language, our orientation toward the present moment shifts from being confined to being much more open, vital, and self-expressed. Things suddenly seem possible for the future (such as having a new relationship with one’s father or mother) that didn’t seem possible before, and that opening inspires people to behave in ways consistent with that new future, which is what the phrase “create a possibility” is getting at.

You seem to take issue with Landmark encouraging people to “create a possibility” rather than discovering a possibility that was already created by God. I’d first point out that when Landmark says “create a possibility” they are not using the term “possibility” in its ordinary sense. They aren’t saying “it is possible that you might hit the lottery one day.” Instead, “creating a possibility” means to generate a particular WAY OF BEING in the present moment that is inspiring to that particular individual (and is usually a departure from the ways of being that the individual tends to exhibit by default). So in this moment I might make a conscious choice to shift from BEING distracted to BEING present and engaged.

You might say that in “creating the possibility of being present and engaged” I am not in fact creating anything but instead am discovering something that God already put inside or is revealing to me in a particular moment. I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with you, but whether the ultimate source of that possibility is God has nothing to do with the fact that I still have to (a) be self-aware enough to recognize how I am being in a moment and (b) make a conscious choice to be a different way. Landmark takes no position one way or the other as to whether the ultimate source of “possibility” is God, but you appear to be drawing a negative inference from that omission that I do not believe is warranted.

I have no objection to the fact that Landmark does not couch “creating possibility” in explicitly religious terms, nor do I see Landmark as any sort of a threat or competition to evangelical Christians who choose to view every aspect of life through the lens of their religious beliefs. There are plenty of analogues to “creating possibility” not just in the Abrahamic religions but also in variants of eastern philosophy. Simply because Landmark’s material is general enough to accommodate those various belief systems does not make the contents of its courses any less worthy of consideration–in fact, I assert that the opposite is true in an era where as recently as this week religious beliefs served as at least a partial justification for beheading an American journalist. In today’s age courses that find and emphasize the common ground amongst the world’s religions should be welcomed and patronized, not accused of being a “dangerous cult.”

One final point: you wrote that “Altering language does NOT alter reality, it alters perception of it, and alter it so badly it kills people.” I beg to differ. A classic example of the kind of language-altering that is being instructed in Landmark’s courses would be Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. There, instead of using past-based language to condemn the horrible plight of African Americans in the mid-1900′s, King used future-based language to paint a picture of his vision, and in the process inspired so many people that many of those visions eventually came to fruition. If you want to say that Landmark is guilty of “false teaching,” the idea you have to disprove is that King’s example of future-based language can have a dramatic impact on how people think and behave in the present moment. Just because Landmark is a secular organization and therefore doesn’t mention “God” in this process does not in any way undermine or challenge the religious beliefs of those who see that connection.

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Joshua Jones August 22, 2014 at 00:06

Anon,

First, thanks for that send-up. It was funny, and exactly what I’m talking about. The only thing the Forum does different is mess with your sense of *time* (the realm of possibility) rather than *space* (the realm of food).

The future orientation makes the difference? Really? Like the Great Leap Forward, Stalin’s 5 year plans, the Third Reich, Pol Pot’s Year Zero weren’t future thinking? Like every toxic chemical ever manufactured, every product sold for a better living standard, every war for progress ever fought, wasn’t about the future filled with possibility? Seriously?

I never said future oriented language is ineffective, what I said was that the meaninglessness Landmark laces it with is existentially toxic. MLK’s “I Have A Dream” speech wasn’t powerful because it was possibility oriented about the future, it was powerful because it synthesized American colonial history with current events with references to the messianic era, coming to the promised land, the restoration of justice and peace, with nods to Shakespeare, all within a Christian framework, using Christian imagery and Scripture, to a largely Christian audience, uniting all Americans for a common ideal. He saw immanent meaning EVERYWHERE in G-d’s creation (read the story of its writing – absolutely fascinating) , in common experience, and expressed it in terms that resonated deeply in the hearts of the listeners. What does THAT have to do with THIS?
“We are all inauthentic assholes who lie and cheat our way through life, take the easy way out, and blame other people for our own problems.”(see original article above) Sound like King to you?

This is not really about a religious vs. non-religious understanding. I’d like you to re-examine your belief that Landmark is a secular organization (besides, you’d have a hard time making a coherent argument that secularism isn’t a religion). Landmark makes repeated claims, or “suggestions” if that’s the preferred term, about the nature of reality. Read the summary of their teachings above. It makes statements (“suggestions”) about human nature, about mortality, about meaning, about truth, and about love and forgiveness and relationship.

It has all the characteristics of a distinctly religious organization – it operates in the realm of religion, gives guidance as a religion, uses language as a religion. It creates a way to see the world through its lens, using its central presumption – that absolute truth is meaningless, irrelevant, and/or unknowable – as a foundation. Any all-powerful, all-seeing, Creator G-d believing person would see the world with the opposite awareness – truth is deeply meaningful, exceedingly relevant, and increasingly knowable. Just not “creatable”.

The difference between the lenses is one of superiority. Just as in astronomy, the truer “lens” sees more, sees more clearly, and sees farther. Although the Forum teachings seem to be more of a distorted self-created simulation, than a lens.

This disagreement that we are having is very similar to the one over which Christians were killed in the first centuries of the faith. The Romans and Greeks were also constantly creating and recreating “realities,” they just called them gods – and they didn’t really war over them, because they created them to do what they wanted. The Roman Pantheon held together, kind of, by the power, sophistry, and prosperity of the Empire. The Christians repeatedly stated, and died for, our belief that Christ was not a “god among other gods”, but the true G-d before whom we will all stand in judgment. That doctrine has always made true believers unpopular.

Do you truly believe that we can continue to exist in a Pax Americana maintained only by self-constructed “realities,” commercial exchange and heavy weaponry? As we are now seeing across the Ukraine, Middle East, Uganda, Ferguson MO – it doesn’t seem to be holding, and I don’t see how more people using language to construct their own experience of reality will help. Although it sure ‘helps’ some.

Joshua

“If relativism signifies contempt for fixed categories and those who claim to be the bearers of objective immortal truth, then there is nothing more relativistic than Fascist attitudes and activity. From the fact that all ideologies are of equal value, we Fascists conclude that we have the right to create our own ideology and to enforce it with all the energy of which we are capable.”
― Benito Mussolini

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Anon 1 August 28, 2014 at 12:44

Consider, that those who have never participated in Landmark Education Courses appear, in their own opinion to be the most knowledgeable into how it is run, and to decry it’s benefits.
The main program is called the curriculum for life consisting of 3 parts. Then one can move on.

I offered the Forum to my staff and over 85% took up the offer, the results were as Landmark promised. as you might say – it does what it says on the can.

We could defend our opinions but to what end. Each opinion is only that. An opinion and not a fact.
Oh yeah @Joshua what’s it like to make others wrong and yourself right. Kinda like looking good. eh . I think you have written more to state your “opinion” that Jack who wrote this blog. In Landmark rhetoric “time to get off it”

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Joshua Jones August 28, 2014 at 14:23

Anon,

It’s only my opinion? Is that a fact? Your language is infected, Anon, and so is your thinking. It spreads like a virus – numbers are no consolation.

If you don’t find a source of objective truth, this philosophy will slowly drive you insane, along with everyone who is using their language to create rather than describe reality. The ultimate destination is a place where everything is possible, just like it says on the can. The sane call it psychosis. Don’t brush it off, it’s swept up whole societies on more than a few occasions.

Truth has a disturbing effect of spoiling the fun of these trips – I know that’s why you want me to “get off it”. Now, you just won’t enjoy the ride so much. Hopefully, it will become unpleasant enough soon enough that you and your fellow prodromals begin to question your thinking.

Joshua

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Straw Man August 28, 2014 at 14:49

@Joshua, you do realize that these criticisms you have of Landmark are all straw man arguments, yes? Instead of criticizing what is actually presented in Landmark’s courses, you are changing the content and attacking that instead. I would actually agree with many of your criticisms if they were in fact an accurate reflection of the content in the Landmark Forum. But they are not.

For example, you continually write as if Landmark took the position that there is no “objective truth” or that one must choose between using language to create circumstances or describe them, but cannot use language for both purposes. I never heard anything in any Landmark course implying that words couldn’t or shouldn’t be used to describe past events or things that exist in distance, time or form. What Landmark does say is that there is a distinction between reliability of descriptions of things that exist in distance, time or form (i.e. that rock weighs 10 lbs. and is dropping at 9.8 meters per second squared), and descriptions of things that exist exclusively or primarily in language (i.e. my father is an a$$hole). One is much more objectively falsifiable than the other, and Landmark simply calls people’s attention to that distinction.

And if Landmark is so dangerous, why haven’t I been driven insane by it? Why don’t I exhibit any of the symptoms of “psychosis” that you say are the probable result of applying the concepts taught in the Landmark Forum?

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Joshua Jones August 28, 2014 at 18:29

Straw Man,

I can see how you would not recognize their true message. Because I wanted to keep it short, I’ve been shortcutting to the essence of their teaching – there is no truth and no meaning so you are as gods, defining good and evil. The reason I hate it so much, and why I go on at length (again, I’ll really work to keep this short – (later – I failed, sorry)) is because it is *intentionally deceptive* – if you heard that when you walked in, you would walk out. But they have created a series of emotionally charged exercises and a specialized, distorted language, in which that is the understanding you *absorb*, you *get it* without recognizing what it is you’ve *gotten*, again, like a virus.

To prove what you have gotten, lest this just be called another opinion, I will use your examples, of the rock and the a$$hole. In your response, you made the assumption that there are things that exist only in language. Think about that for a moment. Something that does not exist, unless it is said to exist, in which case it exists, but only in language.

In your example, you said that the understanding that “my father is an a$$hole exists” only, or primarily, in language. That is more than a false statement, its a false category, which is far more damaging and dangerous.

You can define a rock (which is different than a bird or a sponge),and the rate of fall (which is measured) according to terms (chemical composition, length of a meter). If the terms are agreed on, and the data is collected, you can make a true statement.

The exact same rules apply to the other observation. Father would be someone who sired you and/or raised you, and a$$hole would be a father who abused then abandoned his children. If the terms are agreed on, and the data is collected, again, you can make true statement.

Take it back to your original distinction. There are things that exist only in language. That is an absolutely false and ultimately lethal *categorization of ideas*. Everything that exists, exists in REALITY – by definition! Please read this statement a few times. It’s critical.

To up the ante a little, these “potential truths” which the Forum “suggests” or “offers” have no weight at all – until they are *applied*. Landmark “suggests” that this is a liberating, neutral technology that just needs to be applied in moderation. False. The understanding exists to spread, and will take over your entire mind and way of thinking. You can see it in the language of everyone who “enjoyed”, “got tools from”, or “totally recommends” the Forum. Ask them if they still have a category for objective truth – try to get them to say one thing that is objectively true, like your rock – that category will shrink and shrink until it comes down to the singularity (*almost* explicitly stated in Landmark): The Truth Is There Is No Truth.

Let’s talk about the power of language for a moment. For instance, you are a suspected terrorist. Somebody suspects you. That has no bearing on you. Until that potential truth is applied to the targeting system of an armed drone. At which point, something which existed only in language suddenly exists in reality and a life is taken. That quick. Some make the argument that being a “suspected terrorist” is just like the “a$$hole father”, existing only in language. But it is not. It is a real, extant threat. It means you are a walking dead man.

To lower the ante a bit, someone taking the Forum might free themselves from the “racket” that their “father was an a$$hole”. Then he could stop thinking about their father, how he might become like him. He might even start thinking, create the possibility, that he could be a whole new man. He might do things his father NEVER did, like calling everyone up and telling them that he loved them. He might feel better about himself, and for a while, he might even act like its possible. Anyone can act. However, one thing is VERY likely, that he will not create the possibility that he could be an even worse a$$hole than his father. That is why it’s so important that he hold on to the understanding that his father was an a$$hole, so he will know when he starts becoming one, which genetically, is very, very likely. Especially when he is given authority and power to redefine “a$$hole” as necessary. He is a prodromal psychotic, and I hope you can see it is not at all unlikely he will also become an entirely unrepentant a$$hole.

So, I failed to keep it short. I’m trying to take very short, reasonable jumps, so I took a bunch of them. But you can extrapolate to see what happens when a person, or a group of people, or a nation of people, starts to see something as real “in language” because someone says it is. Living Room (Leibensraum). Collateral Damage. Containment. Rumsfeld famously used Landmark language to justify the war in Iraq. “You don’t know what you don’t know.”

And straw man, you do exhibit the signs. You have part of you that is in the world, seeing and dealing with the things of the world, and part of you that believes that there is an entire world that exists only in language. That is the “prodromal psychosis” I am talking about. Come back this way, start with the rock.

Joshua

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Straw Man August 28, 2014 at 21:05

@Joshua, if you think I have “prodromal psychosis” now, you should have seen what I was like before I did the Landmark Forum and related to my opinions as if they were the “objective truth,” relating to people in the same condescending “you-would-get-this-if-you-were-as-smart-as-I-am” tone that you are using toward other people on this message board. If Landmark is inducing “prodromal psychosis” in people, we need a lot more of it in this world!

You wrote “Take it back to your original distinction. There are things that exist only in language. That is an absolutely false and ultimately lethal *categorization of ideas*.” Tell me, Joshua, if it is false that there are things that exist only or primarily in language, would it be possible for two human beings to have a “marriage” without language? If so, how? How could such a thing as a “marriage” exist without language?

Joshua Jones August 29, 2014 at 07:50

Straw man,

This really isn’t about smarts, it’s about willingness to see truth despite pain. Children do it regularly, adults are often too smart to see the obvious. I got this way by becoming less smart, more willing to see what is shown to me. Just witnessing.

You responded to me, including my assertion that this understanding ‘exists to spread’, by saying you used to think you knew the truth, and now you know better, and that if it is early stage psychosis, we need a lot more of it in this world.

Cancer is one of the simplest and deadliest mutations of living cells. Divide, repeat, continue. Yet cells remain alive, minimally alert, functional – a tumor “builds” it’s own circulatory and structural systems to keep itself alive – even though its only real purpose is to spread. Landmark functions in the same way.

And I know it sounds condescending, to have someone say they know the truth. However, in other realms outside the philosophical, we regularly give others authority to tell us the truth, because it the truth is a useful thing. If I tell you the truth about anything, it will be useful. If a doctor tells you you have cancer, you can get angry at the doctor for saying he’s a know it all, or you can test the diagnosis.

You want your understanding to spread, you’ve said many times. I’m trying to help you see you are under the power of an illusion, the purpose of which is to spread, and the nature of which is to conceive of all perception as one form of illusion or another.

It’s a good question about language and marriage. But I want to respond directly to your question – so I want to understand your current belief. I take it by your phrasing that you believe a marriage exists when the spouses say they are married or a minister or other officiant says they are married? Is that accurate?

Joshua

Straw Man August 29, 2014 at 11:25

@Joshua, I have no emotional attachment either way to whether the content of the Landmark Forum is “true”; it would cause me no “pain” to be convinced that Landmark is just “selling snake oil” as you and others have suggested. You see, though, you aren’t the first person in the last 10 years to make that suggestion to me; I have spent much time, thought, study, introspection and observation considering the merits of the content presented in the Landmark Forum and Landmark’s other courses. Like you, I initially had a negative reaction to the material presented in the Landmark Forum and considered it to be “dangerous” for some of the same reasons you have stated here. But unlike you (from what I understand), I kept an open mind and completed the entire curriculum for living, so my experience of Landmark’s courses is not limited to the single 3.5 day Landmark Forum.

You seem rather eager to explain away the support Landmark has garnered amongst intelligent, accomplished, and, yes, Christian / religious people (and people who hold no religious convictions at all) as a group of people who have been duped into thinking something that they WANT to believe in the same way a child might want to believe in the tooth fairy or Santa Claus. Can you see the arrogance in that? Since you have taken the liberty to play armchair psychologist with me and others on this thread, I’m sure you won’t object if I reciprocate for a moment here.

How do you know that you aren’t the one who isn’t recognizing Landmark’s “true message”? You seem have a lot of emotional attachment to hanging on to what you believed was true prior to your Forum experience; how do you know that you aren’t the one who is unwilling to see truth because of fear of the pain (or cognitive dissonance) that might temporarily cause? I have the impression that you heard a thing or three in your Landmark Forum that resonated just enough to get you to question some things you have accepted (and relied upon) as true that you REALLY don’t want to accept, so now you are projecting the same fear onto those who appreciated their Landmark Forum experience. As Shakespeare put it, thou doth protest too much.

Now, since I have never met you and you have never met me, neither of our speculations about the reasoning or underlying motivations for the other person’s beliefs are particularly reliable. Maybe you didn’t feel threatened by any of the material presented in the Landmark Forum and hey, it’s even possible that my willingness to stand behind the material presented in the course has nothing to do with “unwillingness to see truth despite pain.” Hence we get to the distinction Landmark draws between “what happened” and “what I make it mean,” or between directly observable events and the theories or interpretations human beings naturally and automatically formulate in order to make sense of those events. “What happened” is you and I both claim to have taken the Landmark Forum and at this time have written differing interpretations of that experience on this webpage. “What we have made it mean” is that the other person’s conclusions are founded not upon logic but upon some psychological need that can be deduced by blogging on the internet. All Landmark asks its participants to consider (and, long before Landmark, Plato in the Allegory of the Cave) is that there is a difference in reliability between the event and the meaning or interpretation drawn around the event. Are you seriously questioning the logic of that?

I think my earlier question regarding “marriage” being an example of something that relies upon language for its existence (as opposed to a rock, a book, a waterfall, or any other object existing in distance, time, or form) was pretty straightforward. Many of the things we care most about–things like “marriage” or a “401k Retirement Plan” or “My country” could not exist independent of a particular network of conversations formulated and agreed upon in language. You seem to be challenging that assertion, and I am seeking an explanation as to why. How could a “marriage” exist without language?

Landmark Does Not Compete With Religion August 29, 2014 at 11:43

Paul F. Knitter, Ph.D., Professor of Theology, World Religions and Culture, at Union Theological Seminary, stated:

“The facts are clear that Landmark and The Landmark Forum are not a religion or religious in nature, are not contrary to religion and do not interfere with the religious beliefs of participants in The Landmark Forum. The Landmark Forum provides no theology, dogma or doctrine to believe in and follow, there is nothing to worship and there are no practices to repeat. In addition, many participants in The Landmark Forum have reported that their participation in fact enhanced their own religious beliefs and practices. I would strongly state that although the Landmark Forum may produce the results that many religions would affirm, it does so without any kind of religious grounding or framework.”

Bishop Otis Charles said:

“As a former Bishop and Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School, I have participated in The Landmark Forum and, while I have never known the program to deal with God, worship, divinity or theology, each person’s religious preference and practice is considered his or her private concern and is completely respected.”

The late Father Basil Pennington, world renowned spiritual teacher and author, said:

“While The Landmark Forum is not religiously oriented, the full human enlivenment which it brings about leads to the person becoming more lively in the practice of his or her faith.”

Joshua Jones August 29, 2014 at 19:09

Landmark,

I see you found their website. Based on their history of handsomely compensating sponsors (“Journey to the Land of the New Gurus” ,on French 3, still viewable) I’m not sure that’s the best source for objective sources.

The answer to this question isn’t best found by quoting religious “experts”, especially – as these seem to be- experts on religion “in general.” Unless you are as well paid as these sponsors likely were, please use your own thoughts. The truth is equal access – just use clear, logical argument. My argument, is that if we define our terms reasonably well, it will be apparent Landmark’s premises cross into the religious realm.

Any religion (excluding godless ‘religions’ for the moment) deals with G-d’s relationship with humanity – which includes issues of origins, meaning, morality, destiny, sin, salvation, faith and forgiveness – among many other things. By focusing on *meaning*(and the absence or mutability thereof) alone, and ascribing *no importance* to the other key aspects of a relationship with G-d (which, rather significantly, Landmark considers a private matter. According to Scripture, G-d doesn’t share that opinion), it VERY MUCH intrudes into the religious realm. Given that the first commandment is to love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart, soul, mind and strength – omitting mention of Him when it comes to how to live your life would seem to be a rather significant heresy.

My argument, to be clear, is that the Forum is not in neutral territory – by talking about the meaning of life, the teachings are in a deeply contested arena. Unless you believe that issues of meaning and your relationship with G-d are *unrelated*, it would seem staking *any claim* (or suggestion, or offer, or proposal…) about meaning is very much a religious claim. I know you won’t agree with me. But where is the gap in my logic?

Joshua

Landmark Does Not Compete With Religion August 29, 2014 at 22:59

@Joshua, I echo the sentiments of all three of these theologians, and I am not paid for saying that. Landmark is not religious…unless you define the term “religion” so broadly as to include some of the most fundamental questions of philosophy and science. In other words, the only want to support the claim you are making that Landmark intrudes on religion and religious beliefs is to define your claim to be true…a logical fallacy that renders your claim purely semantic. So that is the gap in your logic you were asking about.

What evidence do you have that the three people quoted here were paid by anyone for their views? How much were they paid? Or are you just guessing / speculating, as you have done thus far in your postings?

Joshua Jones August 30, 2014 at 18:07

Landmark,
I did state all this in my original post. My suspicion that they are paid sponsors is based on the fact that they have in the past paid sponsors rather well, and it is quite frequent that experts who are having their name and opinions cited for commercial purposes are paid for their endorsements. It is speculation informed by precedent. You should watch the video.
Assuming you agree that Landmark does in fact make assertions about the nature of meaning (the original article for this thread states as much in several ways), if you wish to phrase my belief as “Landmark isn’t a formally religious organization, although it does make claims (suggestions, offers, hints…) about truth that are traditionally within the religious realm, such as the meaning of life”, that’s fine. Otherwise, it would seem either Landmark or the religions of the world are “out of their depth”.

Joshua

Deadly Objective Truth August 28, 2014 at 15:06

I’m pretty sure that the member of ISIS who beheaded American Journalist James Foley last week is a firm believer in “Objective Truth.”

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Joshua Jones August 28, 2014 at 18:42

Based on accounts, Deadly, I’m pretty sure they are a firm believer in Youtube, Twitter and Facebook. The gruesome video went viral around the world in minutes. That’s the objective truth they believe in.

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Trespassing on Einstein's Lawn August 29, 2014 at 16:11

When Landmark talks about life being “Empty and Meaningless…and Empty and Meaningless that It’s Empty and Meaningless,” and likens the human spirit to “Everything-Nothing,” and when people realize that they “Got Nothing” out of that conversation, I’m pretty sure that this concept is deeply intertwined with this excerpt:

“Usually people think that to get to nothing, you have to remove everything. But if nothing is defined as an infinite, unbounded homogeneous state, you don’t have to remove anything to get to it–you just have to put everything into a specific configuration. Think about it this way. You take a blender to the world–you blend up every object, every chair and table and fortune cookie in this place, you blend it all until everything is just atoms and then you keep blending the atoms until any remaining structure is gone, until everything in the universe looks exactly the same, and this completely undifferentiated stuff is spread out infinitely without bound. Everything will have disappeared into sameness. Everything becomes nothing. But in some sense it is still everything, because everything you started with is still in there. Nothing is just everything in a different configuration.”

“Okay, that’s pretty cool,” I said. “Something and nothing aren’t really opposites, they’re just different patterns of the same thing.”

“Exactly!” My father beamed. “And if that’s true, then it seems much more plausible that you can get something from nothing. Because, in a way, the something is always there. It’s like if you build a sandcastle at the beach and then knock it down–where does the castle go? The castle’s “thingness” was defined by its form, by the boundaries that differentiated it from the rest of the beach. When you knock it down, the castle disappears back into the homogeneity of the beach. The castle and the beach, the something and the nothing, are just two different patterns.”

The idea was beginning to click. In my existentialist musings I had thought a bit about nothing–not the transcendent, oneness brand of nothing that my father was drawn to but the Heideggerian variety, laced with indifference and dread….["Nothing"] by its name was a thing, yet it was no thing, and somehow it was the very thing that defined the world. Inasmuch as anything existed, it existed in opposition to nothing, but nothing was a noun doomed to self-destruct, an idea that came complete with its own negation, poised as the limit not only of reality but of knowledge and language.

Heidegger said that the question “what is nothing?” was the most fundamental of all philosophical questions, and yet “no one,” wrote Henning Genz, “has ever given us an answer to what exactly defines nothing, other than by characterizing it simply by negatives.” Only that’s what my father was trying to do. To define nothing not in terms of what it isn’t, but in terms of what it is. A state of infinite, unbounded homogeneity.”

For those who might have been raised with a Catholic upbringing, this passage reminded me of getting ashes on Ash Wednesday when the priest would say “remember you are dust; to dust you shall return.”

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Joshua Jones August 30, 2014 at 18:34

That’s pretty deep, Trespassing, unless you are right, in which case it’s just nonsense in a specific configuration.

I know I’m being confrontational, but what you are spewing is the worst kind of nonsense, the kind of nonsense killers believe in when they think dead bodies are just like live ones but they don’t cause so much trouble (can’t find the ref but keep looking I know it’s there!). My father droned on and on in a similar manner – it’s not a chair, it’s nothing in the shape of chair…what is nothing? What is a chair? Why is there something rather than nothing? Why shouldn’t I kill myself? Have you taken the Forum? You should take the Forum.

If, well, WHEN you come to a desperate situation because of the “everything is nothing is everything” brain you have on, the way out is really simple. Nothing DOES NOT exist, and what DOES exist exists in opposition to SOMETHING ELSE (in physics, the normal force). There is NO equivalence between what is and what is not.

Something cannot exist “in language” – unless and until it’s somehow applied, is it was to the armed drone example or is to this post. Right now, even this message is a physical thing – although minimally, in electrons, bits and pixels. When it’s read, it will manifest meaning – probably oppositional, in your mind. You will then take action (probably writing back). The electrons and pixels you write in response may change my thinking or way of expressing myself, and that’s all real, based on the realness of the impact that it had in the world. Nothing was in language only. The IS in that sentence is more real than the meaning of the word that preceded it. Nature – and the G-d who created it – abhor (reject, despise, nullify) the vacuum, which you seem to have deified.

Your ashes to ashes dust to dust phrase is taken out of the context of Solomon’s despair (Ecc. 3:20 – his empty despair runs all through the first three chapters) which then goes on and develops, and when he realizes the vanity of striving after purely material things, he says, “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto G-d who gave it,” finally concluding, “Fear G-d, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.”

Goad follows (how could we keep this going without them?): Without a G-d to repent to, the ashes of Wednesday are meaningless. Which I suppose is why it must be Landmark’s High Holy Day. We are all ash-holes, anyway, right?

J

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Landmark Does Not Compete With Religion August 30, 2014 at 22:00

Interesting that someone who claims to be a Christian could claim that “Something cannot exist “in language” – unless and until it’s somehow applied” given that the Bible itself states “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Waiting to be told that this quote is also “taken out of context” because it doesn’t comport with Joshua’s all-knowing understanding…3…2…1….

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Joshua Jones August 31, 2014 at 16:01

Exactly! Exactly. The Greek word for ‘language’ is dialektos, usually translated “language or tongue’. Word as in something that is said, one to another, as in tell, or make known, is “apagello”. Speech or narrative (also often translated “word”) is “rhema”.

But Word, in that and other similar passages, is something amazing.

LOGOS. LOGOS is the embodiment of meaning, the truth of prophecy, the scheme, the organizing principle. The root of logic. The Name of Scripture, and of Christ.

Heraclitus used that word 600 years previously to express “Divine Architecture.” Jung used it to express the principle of reason and judgment, associated with animus, the activating force (spirit, or mind).

So, to close the loop, language is to reality as reality is to LOGOS, the Word. Language describes, relates, expresses aspects of reality as reality describes, relates, expresses, aspects of G-d, or LOGOS. LOGOS is what reality is “applied to”, if you will, it’s like the so called Higgs Boson (ironically called the God particle) because He literally makes things matter. Logos is where, is who, the realness of reality comes from.

“The heavens declare his righteousness, and all the people see His glory” Psalm 97:6.

It’s the same relationship as language to reality but orthogonal to it, a level higher in magnitude. Order (G-d who is the organizing principle and the Logos) came first, then reality, later breath (a gift of G-d), and with it, language, and names. It a perfect expression of the opposite meaning of what you must have inferred, which I think is that “language is G-d”.

The quote is perfectly in context, but I think you have perfectly misunderstood it. That’s where I was! That’s how I came to Him, I flipped it around – but the best part is – the ‘benefits’ of Landmark are always based on your own effort, which is literally self-limiting, and ultimately no benefit at all. The benefits of following Him are – well, G-d knows. But John 1:1 is an excellent start. Keep reading, ask Him for help along the way.

Joshua

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Landmark Does Not Compete With Religion August 31, 2014 at 20:42

There is nothing in the Landmark Forum that contradicts or even discourages people from following “Him,” by whom I assume you refer to Jesus Christ. The point to the “empty and meaningless” conversation is to allow people to make that and the myriad of other important decisions one will face in their lives with a clear mind so that the choice can be made authentically, rather than inside the context of the preconceptions about life and survival mechanisms that can become nearly hard-coded around the time of adolescence.

I would point out, though, that if after reading the New and Old Testament one were to arrive at dramatically different conclusions than those you have reached as to how those passages are properly interpreted, that doesn’t mean that one has “misunderstood” those passages. Since we are talking about the original Greek versions of the Bible, it should be noted that, at FACE VALUE Jhn4:16a states: “I am THE WAY, THE TRUTH, and THE LIFE…” One might think Jesus claimed to be THE ONLY WAY TO GOD. However, the Greek these words came from suggests otherwise: I AM: hodos [hoh-DOHS] (a manner of thinking); aletheia [ah-LEH-theh-iah] (objective truth (e.g. The Gospel ACCORDING TO __); zoe [zoh-AY] (vitality). The Article -THE- makes t/English appear DEFINITE (e.g. the ONLY way, the ONLY truth, the ONLY life). But IT IS NOT PRESENT in the original Greek.

The point being that people should be wary of adopting a “one size fits all” dogmatic approach to Christianity, any other religion, or any other way of thinking about the world (including the distinctions found in Landmark’s courses). Just because you believe you have found a way to apply the teachings of the Bible that you believe works for you does not mean that someone else would be in error arriving at a different conclusion and acting accordingly.

Joshua Jones August 31, 2014 at 22:35

Any luck escaping the logic of John14:6b?

Landmark Does Not Compete With Religion August 31, 2014 at 23:39

John 14:6 is the original cite; there was a typo in my earlier post. The point being that, to say the least, there is more than a little ambiguity and uncertainty as to whether Jesus of Nazareth ever actually claimed to be the *ONLY* son of God / the *ONLY* path to God. As another author has explained:

“Every structure of consciousness is suspicious of all higher structures, structures lying within and beyond it, structures that are in fact its own inherent potential, but structures that require a frightening death and rebirth to unfold in each case. And societies, it seems, can be arranged along a continuum of tolerance for those structures that exist even higher than the structure of its own principles of social organization and cohesion. The very success, and the constant threats, to the mythic-military Christian empire put tolerance–never a strong point in mythic structures–virtually out of the question. Any outspoken person who evidenced a structure of consciousness higher than the mythic-rational was, correctly enough, viewed as a *political* threat and condemned, in effect, for treason.

The condemnation was often pandemic: the structures of Reason (and science) were condemned because they demanded *evidence* (Reason was therefore allowed only in service of Dogma). The psychic level of nature-nation mysticism was condemned because it brought God “too much into” this world, it “dragged God down” from His celestial throne and the Heavenly City above. Subtle-level mysticism was condemned, or at best barely tolerated, because it brought the soul *up too close to God.* And the Church became absolutely apoplectic if anybody expressed a causal-level intuition of supreme identity with Godhead–the Inquisition would burn Giordano Bruno at the stake and condemn Meister Eckhart on such grounds.

But that was an old story for causal-level Realizers at the hands of mythic believers, starting with Jesus of Nazareth, whose own causal-level realization (“I and the Father are One”) would not be treated kindly. “Why do you stone me?” Jesus asks. “Is it for good works?” The pious reply: “No, it is not for good works; it is because you, being a man, make yourself out to be God.” His reply that we are *all* sons and daughters of God was lost on the crowd, and that realization led him, as it would al-Hallaj and Bruno and Origen and a long line of subsequent Realizers, to a grisly death for both political and religious reasons–it was simultaneously a threat to the state and to the old religion.

Church dogma handled the case of the extraordinary Realizer from Nazareth in a very ingenious way, using all the powers of rationality to prop up the myth. It was true, they granted, that Jesus was One with God (or, as they would later put it, that God is one substance with three Persons–Tertullian’s trinitas–and the person of Jesus has two natures: Divine and Human). *But let the causal-level Ascension stop there.* No other person shall be allowed this Realization, even though, as everybody plainly knew at the time, Jesus never made a single remark suggesting that he alone had or could have this Realization, and he explicitly forbade his followers to use the term “Messiah” in reference to him.

But, as many commentators have pointed out, if the Nazarene had in fact realized a Godhead that belongs to all, equally and fully, then there was no way he could be made the sole property of an exclusive mythology. Put bluntly, there was no way to market him. So Jesus was made, not the suffering servant of all humankind, which is all he ever claimed, but the Sole Son of Jehova, *literally*. In other words, he was tucked downward and seamlessly into the prevailing mythology, and seen as yet another (but much greater) instance of a miraculous and supernatural *intervention in history* to save a new group of “chosen” peoples: those who embraced the Church, the one true way and only salvation for all souls (which meant: the only way for imperial-political cohesion of the mythic empire).”

In other words, it is more than a little ironic that Jesus of Nazareth might be used to question or try to invalidate the value of transformational programs such as the Landmark Forum.

Trespassing on Einstein's Lawn August 30, 2014 at 23:13

Actually, @Joshua Jones, I’m afraid you are the one who is spewing nonsense…the same kind of nonsense that gets people believing the earth is only a few thousand years old and that climate change and evolution aren’t real despite mountains of empirical data to the contrary. Your statement that “Nothing DOES NOT exist,” in the way you have used that statement, contradicts basic concepts in physics and cosmology. For example, surely you are aware that 99% of an atom is just empty space, yes? Not empty like air, which is made of atoms, but empty like nothing at all. The keyboard you are typing on and computer screen you are looking at is mostly, well, NOTHING. Hate to break it to you, but it sounds like your father was actually correct about the chair.

As was pointed out earlier, your attacks on Landmark suffer from the same logical fallacy: they are all straw men arguments that mischaracterize the content in the Landmark Forum (probably, I suspect, because when/if you did the Landmark Forum you were unable / unwilling to question some long-held preconceived beliefs, for whatever reason, and also because it sounds like if you ever did do the Landmark Forum, your experience of Landmark’s courses is limited to that one 3.5 day course).

For example, you suggest that grokking Landmark’s “empty and meaningless / everything-nothing” distinction will invariably lead to a “desperate situation” (ironic given that I think earlier on you suggested that the whether believing something is “useful” should have no bearing on its truth value and therefore whether the idea should be considered). Here you have confused Landmark’s message with the brand of existential nihilism popularized by Jean-Paul Sartre. The difference between the two is that although Sartre certainly understood that “life is empty and meaningless,” he didn’t get that “it is empty and meaningless that it is empty and meaningless.” It is from grasping BOTH of these ideas that people discover their true G-d-given power to create their lives rather than merely react to life’s circumstances.

If “getting nothing” were as dangerous as you say, the 2 million plus Landmark graduates in the world would be throwing themselves off of buildings instead of what happens in reality–using the distinctions of the course to identify and pursue their true dreams and passions. The warnings / scare tactics / dire predictions do not square with 40+ years of empirical evidence and observation of the effects Landmark’s courses actually produce.

Suggesting that the abstractions in this dialogue exist in something other than language because they can be represented in pixels on a computer screen and interpreted through a series of electro-chemical interactions in the brain is laughably absurd. The pixels and words are just pointers–signposts–much like a highway sign pointing to the Golden Gate Bridge. To suggest that something like “marriage” can exist outside of language because I can read the word “marriage” on a computer screen and have a conception in my mind of what the word means is to confuse the highway sign with the Golden Gate Bridge itself.

I haven’t “deified” anything by presenting these ideas; I have simply reflected upon one part of a model for understanding the universe that makes some sense to me–an infinitely incomplete model that is informed by a very wide variety of sources (Landmark’s courses being one of them). If it doesn’t make sense to you, fine, but so far you haven’t offered any persuasive reasons why I should substitute this model for something else other than trying to use scare tactics of the harm that will come from thinking this way. Whether these ideas occur to you as “heretical” or “harmful” or not does nothing to alter the fact that they are more likely true than any competing idea you have presented.

“Reality is a huge mystery, and you have a choice to make. You can run from it, you can placate yourself with fairy tales, you can just pretent everything’s normal, *or* you can stare that mystery in the eye and try to solve it. If you are one of the brave ones to choose the latter, welcome to science. Science is the quest to solve the eternal riddle. We haven’t done it yet, but we’ve uncovered some pretty cool clues. The purpose of this class is for you to learn what clues we’ve already got, so taht you can take those and head out into the world to find more. And who knows? Maybe you’ll be the one who finally solves the riddle.”

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Trespassing on Einstein's Lawn August 31, 2014 at 00:16

Theoretical physicist John Wheeler of Princeton University on how language (and information) DO in fact “create reality.”

“But [John] Wheeler refused to surrender. He knew that particles’ seemingly arbitrary behaviors had to be some kind of clue. The weirdness had to be telling us something.

‘It from bit’ was Wheeler’s slogan for the idea that the physical universe is made not of matter but of information. In quantum theory, making an observation is equivalent to asking a yes-or-no question. Is the particle here or elsewhere? Is the cat dead or alive? Wheeler suggested that the very posing of the question *creates* a bit of information, and that such bits were the fundamental building blocks of reality. ‘The universe and all that it contains (‘it’) may arise from the myriad yes-no choices of measurement (the ‘bits’),’ Wheeler wrote. ‘Information may not be just what we *learn* about the world. It may be what *makes* the world.’

It was a pretty weird idea, given our intuition that the fundamental building blocks of matter are just smaller pieces of matter, like particles. Of course, as Mr. McAfoos had taught me, particles are 99% empty. Still, you’d hope that this meager 1 percent would somehow be enough to fortify the world. But according to Wheeler, even the 1 percent was made of nothing sturdier than an observer-elicited yes or no. ‘A house is made of bricks but the bricks are made of information?’ I wrote in my notebook. How could it be that when we look closely at the physical world we find something that’s not physical at all, as if this whole universe were a kind of virtual reality? Then again, what’s the difference? What could ‘physical’ even mean?

A participatory universe? If measurements built the universe bit by bit, as Wheeler suspected, then observers were somehow implicted in the creation of reality–a radical picture that, if true, would mean that ours was a participatory universe. As the physicist Paul Davies wrote “Wheeler seeks to…turn the conventional explanatory relationship: matter -> information -> observers on its head, and place observership at the base of the explanatory chain: observers -> information -> matter. That was the notion that had struck a chord in my father and me–could it somehow be that observers turn nothing into something? The idea seemed impossible from the start, because where would the observers come from? What would even count as an observer? Surely it didn’t have to be conscious or human…but what?

…My father leaned in closer and spoke louder [to Wheeler]. “We have a question we’ve always wanted to ask you,” he said, over-enunciating every word. “If observers create reality, where do the observers come from?” Wheeler smiled. “From physics. From the universe. I like to say”–he paused, trying to find the words–”that the universe is a self-excited circuit.” My father nodded appreciatively, then pensively. “So, it is all from nothing?” Wheeler nodded and spoke slowly. “There is a principle that says the boundary of a boundary is zero.”

…I knew that the world around me had to be more than it seemed. Physics clearly bolstered that view–after all, a table was mostly empty space, and if you zoomed in on the empty space, it dissolved into something else, something unknown. Look closely at anything, and everything we know seems to fall away, leaving behind…what? Some basic ingredient of reality? Something as intangible as information? I didn’t need science to tell me that appearances were deceiving–I knew it in my bones. I had known it since the day my father told me it was all an illusion.”

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Joshua Jones August 31, 2014 at 17:20

Oh my goodness, I wish you could meet my (earthly) father, just for comparison sake. It’s like I’ve been in a Ph.D. program for Landmark for decades.

It might be helpful to identify the assumptions that your understanding is built on. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the “nothingness” and “darkness” theories seem to be rapidly proliferating, like that for 99% of the age of the earth nothing really happened, then boom. And 95% of the observable universe is “dark” matter and energy. And 98% of the human genome is “junk data”. And, right, the atom is built of empty space. Absolute nothingness. Barely even there. We’re barely here, apparently.

Then there is the truth, as usual, in the fine print. There is no emptiness at all anywhere. Energy – which as Einstein taught us – is equivalent to matter – fills every picometer of space. Read deep enough into any “the universe is barely there” article and you will find that curious disclaimer that “actually, it’s surging with almost infinite energy.” Quantum foam, zero point energy, Casimir experiment are all there for the Googling. Kind of big difference, I don’t know why it gets the small print.

Same with the DNA – it all matters, as they are continually discovering (according to a popular 2012 TIME article, supported by Princeton but Oxford just launched a return salvo, though notably the percentage of apparently junk DNA appears to be dropping quickly…yes, the debate rages on). Given that there’s an amoeba with 200 times the DNA of a human, there may be a lot we don’t understand. Polychaos dubium, what a name.

Finally, to the 95% of the universe we can’t see. Jesus was not an astrophysicist, but boy did he call this one, “if the eye is dark, how great is that darkness!”

This reminds me of a parable of a man, waking in the morning and failing to see anything, logically creates a theory that light has changed its nature and is now darklight, which cannot be seen. Moreover, darklight has caused some kind of mass insanity in the population, as now everyone is hallucinating, telling him to “take his sleeping mask off!” As if he would ever be so ridiculous! But, by carefully focusing on the edges of his vision, he is able to make assumptions about the 5% of the universe he can see based on his brilliant mathematical work about the 95% he can’t. Now, if he could just find a way of dealing with all these babblers…

So, following this logic, what do you think will happen with the “discovery” that if you “Sartre-ize Sartre” you get empty meaninglessness that’s not even important! I know, the lure of all the neat things we can do with your new, improved, empty and meaningless emptiness and meaninglessness is hard to resist.

Seriously, though, is that what we were after? Is that why we came with our money and our problems looking for help? Wasn’t it something about Truth and Meaning, Mercy and Forgiveness, a Way to walk and Someone to help and hold and guide us?

When you say G-d gave us the power to create our lives, you made a rather significant case of mistaken identity. There WAS someone who gave us the power to be like gods, yes. It wasn’t G-d. G-d asked for the opposite – to offer ourselves up as living sacrifices, which is our “reasonable service”. A bit different.

Coincidentally, where he gave us that power, was also the location of the first marriage. A real place, a real garden, real lovers, two becoming one with the blessing of G-d. An event, not a word.

And please don’t try to sell me a “bridge.” You are selling words with other words. I know to you G-d is just a word, you toss it around like we used to use the word “Providence”, there just “happens to be”. Unlike Landmark, you are discussing this with me because you believe in it, and not making a dime off of me, which is why I think there may be still hope. True company men would have identified that I am not a promising mark.

Truth is always useful, always. Admittedly, it sometimes at first gives no comfort (“My name is Joshua, and I’m a Sophist”) – that comes later. And no, I can’t persuade you, and wouldn’t, to adopt my beliefs. I want you to have your own true ones.

But I hope at least you grasp that, historically speaking, you are in a dicey spot, trusting scientific “realities” that are barely a generation old (younger than phlogiston, even), and possibilities and virtual realities (am I falling? No, I’m flying- tell me I’m not flying! You can’t prove I’m not, can you?) that seem to be already fraying, and likely won’t serve you, or any of us, for much longer.

You ridicule out of hand treasured beliefs that have undergirded our entire civilization, all of our Founding fathers, most major advances in science (I will absolutely stand by that. I haven’t found one scientific unit that ISN’T named after a Christian – I haven’t googled them all, yet) as primitive and backwater, when they have sustained millions of people for many centuries, including many of our greatest leaders, through every hardship imaginable.

You argue that there is a mountain of evidence against it, then tell me that mountains aren’t even really there.

Faith comes from and points to another truly real world, the unseen world of the eternal, which gives weight and meaning to this one. And yes, there is still mystery, but more importantly there is Revelation. One of the big amazing things about getting a relationship with G-d is that He becomes more than “just” a mystery. He says things, He does things, He makes promises and keeps them.

He’s a father in every possible sense of the term. You don’t solve Him, nor would you want to, although He does keep you guessing, for sure. There is no brain death in true belief, not in the slightest. Hopefully I’ve at least shown that. If I seem like a brain-dead born-again that’s all my badness, I admit, there is a lot more of me in these posts than Him.

Also, for a Wheeler response, you might want to scroll back up to my LOGOS response. The universe is no “self-excited circuit” – I’ve worked with computers for many years and have yet to see one of those. G-d is watching, He is the observer. Reality may bite, but it is there. Schroedinger’s cat is dead. Time to bury it.

And we might want to bury this hatchet as well – I care about His lost sheep – I was one – and about you, but if you’re in the same state of mind as my dad, there is no turning back now. Forward, the light brigade!

Your Friend,
Joshua

Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Someone had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.”

Tennyson

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Trespassing on Einstein's Lawn September 1, 2014 at 00:37

@Joshua, even assuming that the “the location of the first marriage” was the “Garden of Eden” and that the “Garden of Eden” is a “real place” as you claim (an assertion that even the Catholic Church admits is a myth / fable intended to illustrate a spiritual concept), how could Adam and Eve have known they were “married” without language?

It seems as though when you say that Landmark’s primary “sin” is deceptive or false teaching, that assertion is based on your belief that life cannot be empty and meaningless because God infuses meaning and significance into every facet of life. How do you know it isn’t the other way around? What if the closest thing to forming a communion with God is to be completely at present and at peace with each and every moment spent with each and every thing in the universe with no meaning or significance added whatsoever? What if the “meaning” you say is inherent to the living of life and created by God is actually the part that was created by man that we are challenged to discipline ourselves to get rid of through meditation, prayer, and just plain “falling in love with what’s so?”

A world without language would be a world without marriage, without 401k retirement plans, and without abstract ideas. I don’t care to live in such a world, but I am acutely aware that this linguistic meaning-making instinct of human beings comes at a considerable internal and external cost. Without language, instead of recognizing themselves as “married” in the Garden of Eden (with whatever attendant expectations and baggage the word might have suggested at that time), Adam and Eve would have only been present to their love for one another. To my mind, this is much closer to “Godliness” than the meaning humans automatically add to their circumstances and react to (superstitiously and irrationally, more often than not). And that added meaning would not be possible without language. Take away the language and the meaning, you also take away the ego and what tends to show up is love.

You keep mentioning this “empty and meaningless” conversation in the Forum as if it is an alluring idea, and that allure is responsible for why someone like me might be willing to defend it here. But you know what would be even more “alluring” to my ego? Believing that life was inherently meaningful and significant, and that meaning and significance could be sussed out with enough intelligence and persistence (or maybe by proclaiming myself to be a follower of the “right” religion or religious figure). In other words, I don’t think life is “empty and meaningless” because I am “lured” toward “all the neat things we can do” with that realization. I think “life is empty and meaningless” because I believe this to be a true statement that comports with my everyday experience, including the observation that 99.99999999% of the universe that we know about, with one trifling exception made for the human race, has access to the kind of language that can add enough meaning to make our species want to cannibalize itself in order to demonstrate the “correctness” of the meanings and interpretations of reality it has invented (those related to interpretations of God and spirituality being chief among them). The rest of the universe seems to be much more quiet and at peace with itself, which strikes me as far more God-like than any “meaning” human beings have ever created (or claimed to have discovered).

Monica Grorud August 30, 2014 at 15:30

Landmark is pure evil

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Anon 1 September 1, 2014 at 10:09

@Joshua. Thank you for being entertaining. Your ramblings are informative and educational. You have a rhetoric that most scholars would be proud of. The conceptual ideas that flow in you mind truly are magnificent.
The difference between you and I is that I am Ok with your ideas. The earlier post about you needing to shut up (get off it) was that you really talk too much. Nothing wrong with that, or indeed right either, but hogging the debate into how Landmark is or is not is a matter of manners and knowing when to post “short” replies. Just thinking of you Joshua. Oh and about your comment questioning my thinking… always have and always will… you see Joshua, I don’t “get it”. There is nothing to get. My question to you is ” did you write the script for the Matrix? You sound like Smith that we are a virus and a plague”
eagerly awaiting more of you ramblings … 3…. 2…1

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Joshua Jones September 3, 2014 at 06:58

Anon,
You are a man of many contradictions, friend. I am entertaining, but I talk too much, and then apparently you want to hear more. The difference between us is that you are ok with my ideas, whatever that means, and I am not ‘ok’ with yours. Finally, you offer to play a game of ‘who’s the virus’?

The reason you are ‘ok’ with my ideas is that you have to be. You are ‘ok’ with everyone’s ideas, right? You have to be. There are only ideas. This is all entertainment to you.

Truth is NOT ok with our ideas, just like opposing traffic is not ok with the idea that we can drive on the left side of the road. Yes, I see all ideas as essentially that real – all thoughts will be judged in the end. Scripture says we will be judged for every idle word. I take that to mean what it says – and I know I’m not in for an easy go. Yet I will be far better off than those who believe that all words are essentially idle.

I won’t play who’s the virus. The overlapping ironies of a computer virus telling a virtual man in a Hollywood film that he’s a disease made only to replicate are a bit too hyper ironic to analyze. Stepping back, though, the Matrix is a really excellent example of Forum thinking. The original story arc was clear – it was entirely messianic – ‘living dead’ humans, a figure sent to free them, his love interest, the battle against the machine.

In the end though, what happens? The messiah sacrifices his love and himself to free the PROGRAMS. The final dialogue was all between ‘programs’, and while people were given the “option” to leave the Matrix, it was clear that the real world offers nothing of value or beauty to anyone, and it was the Matrix that was now “reborn,” err, ‘rebooted.’ The Oracle, the Architect, and the the little virtual girl are at peace.

It got lousy reviews, as it should have. But that is what Landmark offers, a rebooted illusion, populated by virtual people and robots. I’m sure you’re okay with that idea. But at least, like the Judas figure, you know now it’s not real. Maybe the steak won’t taste quite so good anymore.

J

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Mr. Linderman September 3, 2014 at 11:16

“Mr. Linderman: You see, I think there comes a time when a man has to ask himself whether he wants a life of happiness or a life of meaning.

Nathan Petrelli: I’d like to think I have both.

Mr. Linderman: Can’t be done. Two very different paths. I mean, to be truly happy, a man must live absolutely in the present. No thought of what’s gone before, and no thought of what lies ahead. But, a life of meaning… A man is condemned to wallow in the past and obsess about the future.”

–NBC “Heroes,” Season 1, Episode: Parasite

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N September 9, 2014 at 14:17

Just finished up this course this weekend and it was eye-opening to say the least. This article is a great summary of the experience. Opinions are like mouths…everyone’s got one and sometimes some just like to blow smoke. This is no cult, just an experience that you can either take it or leave it. Of course the die hard skeptics will complain about the $ well of course they have to make $, how the heck else would they be able to pay their employees and reach the masses. Trust me..we all have spent $ on crap that has NOT enriched out lives so why stop now. Open yourself up and give it the 3 1/2 days it deserves, the worst than can happen is it changes your life for the better.
Enjoy!

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Mortimer September 10, 2014 at 17:29

“There is no truth, only evidence.”

–Mortimer Adler

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Paul September 10, 2014 at 20:35

Two aphorisms I have come to appreciate:

Obviously the truth is what’s so
Not so obviously, it’s also so what.

Man keeps looking for a truth that fits his reality.
Given our reality, the truth doesn’t fit.

If you experience it, it’s the truth.
The same thing believed is a lie.
In life, understanding is the booby prize.

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Joshua Jones September 23, 2014 at 12:08

Score one for the virtual people. For believers, G-d bless – for everyone else, good luck.

J

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HoltFan September 26, 2014 at 12:12

So, if Landmark is right and life is empty and meaningless, and empty and meaningless that it is empty and meaningless, why does the universe exist at all? Jim Holt has an interesting (and humorous) take on this question here:

http://www.ted.com/talks/jim_holt_why_does_the_universe_exist?language=en

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Clear headed October 5, 2014 at 12:27

Thank you all for these communications. I have taken the forum course and at that time 30 years ago argued very hard against the idea that life is empty and meaningless (but perhaps not as well as Joshua). Now I do see that it’s an extreme concept, but that it has been useful for me to gain more awareness of actual reality as well as our interpretations of reality (of which the above certainly is). I have taken several other Landmark courses over the years and been very satisfied with the results. My life has been happy and productive as a father, husband, friend, architect, etc…, and I don’t credit all of this to Landmark but it has helped me to stay focused on commitments. Not sure why but I have actually become much more religious over the years and attend a Presbyterian church regularly (although not today because I was a bit tired). I have never been a Landmark fanatic but am looking forward to taking another course next year and so that is how I stumbled on this site. God bless you Joshua and don’t be afraid of a blank slate. It is really very simple and you are probably over thinking what you surely must have heard in your own Forum. That one concept is not a deal breaker and we can both certainly take or leave it (and that’s the point). You might pick something out of my thoughts here to make me wrong, and that is perhaps not the best habit to hold on to so tightly. I am about to leave the house for a long bike ride with my daughter on this sunny beautiful day. If I don’t find my way back to you then it is simply because I’m not great with technology. I wish you all the very best and hope that you will dream of and accomplish great things for your communities!

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Bro October 7, 2014 at 17:44

“All I am hearing is rackets, rackets, rackets”

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Colleen Quinn October 9, 2014 at 17:59

It’s simple. Landmark is racking in large amounts of money from people by offering them new thoughts that consist of hope and belief for their lives. That’s it!! An oldie but goodie that draws in millions!!

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Bruce October 20, 2014 at 08:51

LandMark’s signature course, The Forum is 45 hours of your life, that is it. If you have lived 45 years, that is one-hour for every hour you have lived, why would you not want to explore the possibility of changing your life or your relationships with so little a time commitment?

The people who rant about cult and having to sit “forced” in a chair is absurd. Nobody is forced to do anything in life, we make choices and if someone sat in a chair for three days it is because they made a choice.

Having done therapy for a number of years, I’ve both spend perhaps a hundred-thousand dollars but also mainly go to know why, why something occurred. So What!, knowing why is not important, it happened and sometimes the past is in your control and sometimes not. What is important is that it is the past, it happened and do I want to live today and tomorrow as if it were the past?

People who will reply, if we do not learn from the past we will repeat it in the future, rubbish. We know war does not solve problems yet we continue to kill people at an alarming rate and usually in the name of someones their religion or God. We know to to feed the world, yet people go hungry – does knowing Why solved these? No. Action and a commitment to the possibility of and end to conflict, action and a possibility to an end to famine, those should be the approach people should pursue with the humility to know it could take a lifetime to achieve – but just knowing why will never solve the problem.

People will come up with excuses why it is about taking your money or it does not work however, in my experience and many of the 180 people in my course was contrary to those assertions. There was a sense people were engaged in the possibility of change, but change requires constant work and that someone expected it would happen without their participation and constant work, is likely a pattern they have been repeating in their life – life is doing it to me, no surprise.

The person who said how would the universe exist if life is empty and meaningless missed or did not fully understand the point of that exercise. That the world is empty and meaningless is to say, life is a blank canvas, it started from nothing (whatever interpretation of Genesis or the Beginning of time you believe, scientific or theological) and as such it is empty for us, people to paint on that canvas each and every day. It is a metaphor, not a reality-based statement. I am not going to address the folks who posted about theology, it is your believe and I respect that however, I do not believe and that is my right, period.

We all have our version of the truth and what is possible, if you do not think the forum is worthwhile and come to it without the possibility for change, it is likely you will achieve the result you expected. If you come with an open mind, the willingness to make peace with the past and open to change, then there is the possibility the result will be that expectation.

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