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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{ 1344 comments… read them below or add one }

Violet December 25, 2015 at 16:13

I never attended a Landmark seminar, I will admit. But I recently got back in touch with a very intelligent friend from the 80′s. Within a very short time, he started into my “issues” and I should attend a Landmark seminar “ASAP”. He knew nothing about me, asked no questions about how things were, spent no time just chatting, and would not discuss my past experiences or thoughts on self-help seminars, instead dismissing them and acting extremely condescending and above it all. I do not care for elitism, exclusivity, and group-think, and I especially dislike cultish behavior. Given I knew him years upon years ago the change in him was remarkable and obvious, although likely imperceptible to him from the outside. Apparently he writes for them and is a leader, which came out later. I finally told him to leave me alone. The thing is, I am not saying that self-help isn’t a good thing, it can be for many people, and if it helps, great! Psychotherapy can help too, as can religion, but the fact that there seems to be a recruitment program via “referrals”, well, come on now. I am sure there are excellent ideas within this framework, but these ideas can be found anywhere really,and while the search can be a ton of work, like anything that takes work, the results can be lasting because they are formed within your particular framework. I also met someone else who is involved with this, and he was also just as condescending as my old friend. Incidentally, both seem to be failures overall outside of their own web of self-petting, but it could be that they are just weak people to begin with. By the way, cults start the process by alienating the individual, breaking them down then building them back up to their specifications. There is a lot of work on this subject. Seems like this is what is described by others that attended the forum…

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Gina January 25, 2016 at 04:56

Violet
I guarantee Landmark Is Not a Cult or what ever you think….
Landmark is an Education for Life if you choose .. Not until You do the Education .. There is no way You can know what this Education is About…. All I can say to you Is Your Life and you can Choose to do what ever you decide in your Life….. Every time I return to Landmark My Life gets enriched and Acquire New tools for me and my life.. It is never the same…my Life gets transform for the best.. That has been my experience and my opinion. You have A Great Life!

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Greg February 2, 2016 at 16:12

Gina,

That is exactly how a cult participant overzealously rushes to defend the cult. You are so reactivated (have you learned that buzzword yet?) that can’t even take the time to write decently composed sentences. You are Being (again, another Forum term) a cult-head, or what used to be called a Werner Airhead.

While there are positive aspects to the whole Forum product line, there also are some very real problems. You are showing that the same problems that existed back in the 1980s (when I took the Forum, the Seven Day Advanced Course at a rural retreat center in northern New York State, the Communication Course, and a variety of seminars) still exist.

You are running a Racket, acting out the insistence that people MUST NOT point out real problems with the way graduates often behave. And you are behaving in just such a way.

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Gina February 4, 2016 at 04:31

Greg
Thank-you for “Your Opinion” That is all it is. Your Opinion.
Landmark is an Education for Life.. You said You took the forum and the Advance Course.. Is like you telling me you
You went to Pre-school and kinder.. It takes time to discover how we react in life and others and be present to life, . For what I get from your comment is that you are a very angry critical person and that you are committed to be right and others are wrong. And you love to argue.. and I Have no time for that. If you want to be right so be it.. I am not defending Landmark , I am sharing my experience.. Which obvious you do not like.. and is fine with me. Thank you for your Opinion. That is all it is.. You have A fantastic day. And a Great Life.. Let Others Be.

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Greg February 4, 2016 at 11:03

The “Your Opinion” cliche; the arbitrary, meaningless capitalizations; the short-circuited sentences; the flip-flopping between petty insults and inauthentic cliched kind wishes; … it’s all the formulaic, programmed operations of a robot.

You grasp onto the ideology like a formula, an answer, a recipe. It’s unoriginal, repetitive, and predictable. I remember being like that. You’ll get over it.

Paul February 4, 2016 at 11:53

Greg – there’s no need for that sort of thing.

Do you not see that you grab onto the rigid rules of grammar you were taught and employ them in an unoriginal, predictable, cliched way? Rather like “the formulaic, programmed operations of a robot”, in fact?

And then you use this as just another ego trip, thinking it gives you some sort of superiority over others and a right to criticise them, just because you’ve found a recipe you can align yourself with.

Actually my assumption was that Gina doesn’t have English as a first language. In Germany, for example, many words are capitalised. But, so what? Maybe she struggles with grammar or spelling according to your interpretation of the rules? Maybe she has difficulty with a standard keyboard. Maybe this is simply her way of expressing herself. And, by the way, Gina communicates very eloquently, even though she’s not following your formula.

Criticising someone on this basis doesn’t serve you.

Gina February 4, 2016 at 20:36

Greg
Thank you for taking the time to see and give your opinion about my comment. I am not attached to your comments or opinions. I am only your mirror. I pushed your buttons . And Yes I was not born in the USA, And I do speak and write 4 languages .. And at least I am able to communicate with others. Just like I do with you… I want to make it clear .. I am not going to play your game. Truly I thank You for your opinion and I am not falling in your Rocket game! Truly ! You have a Great Life.. You can Comment on my comment all you want. That means I am important to you..and what I have to say! matters to you… Thank you! Have a Great Life.. for reals..

Sven December 25, 2015 at 18:10

Neither my name your email address are accurate in this forum so I can say the following. The next time somebody offers for me to visit the Landmark Forum, something horrible is going to happen to them find their way home. They will also never find the body.
The same goes for anyone who ever tries to defend landmark. It is now my goal to seek out people who defend landmark and do horrible things to them.

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Carina January 10, 2016 at 16:36

Hi Sven,

Have you been to landmark? A friend of mine really wants me to attend the february forum. Perplexed as im not too sure its for me.

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Peter Harrison January 10, 2016 at 17:40

Carina,
The last person you should ask is Sven – based upon this and other posts he has made. He clearly is not a Landmark devotee.

I have been involved as a participant/volunteer/assistant with Landmark for 10 years – it has done wonders for me and countless others who I have observed when taking the “seminars”

But it is clearly NOT for everyone – and it doesn’t say that it is. I have a friend who has spent a time in therapy and even though she has observed MY growth, she still wants to stay on HER path – it works for her.

Just go along to a Tuesday “completion” with your friend, take your daytimer and your check book/credit card. If you see something for yourself (with an open mind) then sign up. Your friend hopefully will be coming from the space of “benefit” for you rather than you need “fixing”. You don’t, but Landmark can show you areas which are stopping you from being more than you can imagine.

And it is NOT anti-religious – it has NOTHING to do with religion, it all based upon philosophy.

It is NOT a cult either – sure you will be encouraged to take additional courses, but if you don’t want to, then you just don’t.

Landmark states that it works for 94% of people (worldwide) and thus 6% don’t like it, don’t get it and, frankly, knowing humanity – people are more likely to complain rather than praise.

Landmark has also delivered the Forum to Buddhist monks – and even they have their concerns – am I holier than the next person, am I praying harder etc.

Do some research, google Landmark and check out both the negative and the positive. And probably you will note that Landmark is banned in France – not for its “teachings” but because it is a for-profit company – France has issues with using unpaid “volunteers” to further the profit agenda.

Respected sources, Harvard University, reporters from various respected news agencies and “happy” consumers will attest to the fact that there is something that works and that certainly it isn’t a cult.

Go along with an open mind, listen to both the leader and the participants, and if it makes some level of sense (apart from the money) – go for it. Even if you don’t LIKE it, you will ultimately gain something amazing for yourself.

I have spent over 5K in therapy, some of it certainly beneficial, but none of that expenditure compares with the $500 I spent at Landmark.

I even had a conversation with a therapist – she took the Forum and then the Advanced course a few weeks later, and she disclosed that her “approach” and relationship with her patients was so markedly different that her patients commented upon how much more they felt “related” to her.

Note also that Landmark gives scholarships to Police and Clergy – they recognize the contribution that those two branches can make to the people that they come in contact with.

Don’t listen to Sven – review all the other posts both + and -. and then choose. I can assure you that the value of the insights you receive about your self will much exceed the value of the $ you spend.

Which city are you thinking of taking the Forum in??

I wish you the best,

Peter

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Gina January 25, 2016 at 05:05

Sven
I want to remind you ! That if Your name shows up as”" Sven”"! is because you subscribed that way ! You have a great day!

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Ben Cornish December 26, 2015 at 21:53

Seems to me to be a very fair and balanced analysis of what you can expect from the Forum…. a close friend of mine asked me to go to a couple of sessions. I wanted to be open so I went. I didn’t like it at all…lots of minds games , obnoxious and arrogant. I can see how and why it seems to work for some people. I’m not one of them.

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Roland Matye December 28, 2015 at 13:40

Wow because this is really good work! Congrats and keep it up.|

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Victor Gagnon December 31, 2015 at 20:53

For all of you who dis (is that a word) Landmark, or who love Landmark or for those who just don’t have an opinion. May I wish you all the most amazing year you have ever had. The joy, the happiness, and the abundance to all of you and your families.
Love yourselves, into life.
cheers

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zarabianie na stronie January 1, 2016 at 11:30

I will immediately grab pskodysn your rss as I can’t find your e-mail subscription link or newsletter service. Do you’ve any? Please let me know in order that I could subscribe. Thanks.

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Alley January 5, 2016 at 20:13

I recently attended the Landmark Forum and am taking the Advanced Course in a few weeks. And I can’t wait. My experience was almost exactly like that described in this article. From it I have found a whole new level of satisfaction in my job, free from the near crippling anxieties that used to hold me back. My marriage is on a whole new level of awesome. I’m becoming closer to and more authentic with my family and friends, and I have started all new relationships with people I never expected. I made improvements in aspects of my life that I knew needed to be improved, but also in areas of my that I had unconsciously assumed were fixed and never realized could be better.

To those who have interacted with other Forum graduates and found us to be arrogant or elitist (which also sets the stage for a whole conversation about “rackets” that I won’t get in to here), I strongly encourage you to give the Forum a try and discover the changes in your mindset that will result. Among many things, Forum graduates have acquired an understanding of the difference between what happens in our lives and the stories that we tell ourselves about it (the meaning that we put on other peoples’ words, for example). Aka, the Vicious Circle. Suddenly what I thought was reality wasn’t reality at all. It was a fiction that I had made up. Understanding that opened up my life to all new possibilities that had previously seemed impossible in the context of my story. Based on my personal experience, it isn’t arrogance on the part of graduates when speaking to people who haven’t participated in the Forum. Sounding “arrogant” is a story. We (I) are simply excited about the amazing changes in our lives that the Forum has opened up to us, and we (I) are excited to share it with others in hopes that your lives may be made even better, too.

I challenge those who haven’t tried the Forum but who have already decided that you hate it to set aside your doubts for just a couple of hours and attend an Introduction Session, or better yet, just go all in and complete the Forum. You might just find yourself loving it and loving your life afterwards (even more than you already do). And, if you still disagree with it afterwards, that is your choice, but at least then you will truly understand what it is you disagree with.

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Victor Gagnon January 6, 2016 at 20:00

So refreshing to hear someone share some positive things about Landmark. Thank you Alley. The Advance course is second to none but do consider the SELP magnificent as well. Some simple advice don’t ever need Landmark and your life will prosper beyond your wildest dreams. No ones needs Landmark. The key as you already know is about looking in the mirror and loving what you see, always and I mean every day. You are what you are but its what you want to see that is important. Now some may say I am defending Landmark but what many don’t understand is that I am defending human beings.
Please I am one who would love to hear your experience after the completion of the course if you wish.
Now as I usually say “Love yourself into life”
Just my story yes

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Kicked out January 11, 2016 at 14:34

I just went to the forum this weekend. Unfortunately they did not let me finish the forum because they said I wasn’t “doing” the forum. I was introduced to the forum through a friend. Though not much details were giving to me about it and since he offered to pay for me I said I would go check it out. So when landmark called and asked the question “what would you like to gain from this”, I told them I didn’t know what they did but I’m interested to come and see what it was about. They said great. So my friend payed the money. Our speaker was Barry Terry too. Friday was still a get to know it period. Then Saturday came. Halfway through the day he gets upset because some of us were not sharing. Called us disrespectful and having no integrity. He stopped teaching and just stared at us asking what we are gonna do about that. Mind you just before that he singled out my particular row of 4 people and asked if we could talk. So having just singled us out and doing what he did some of the group turned on us. People were like just go share, why are you not sharing, stuff like that. Now, when I paid no one said anything about sharing your personal stuff and that that was mandatory. I was so mad I was about to go up and say “what’s the problem? So what if I’m not sharing? Hey Barry, if you feel disrespected and feel I have no integrity guess what? That’s your story!!! What happened? I just sat there not wanting to share. Any other emotion or whatever you got is YOUR story that you applied to what happened. (For those of you that took the forum know what I’m talking about). But alas the line up was too long so I didn’t get to go up because so many people were scared he’d stop they went up to share. Anyways, so they have this ten course thing after the 3 days that they want people to sign up for. I didn’t because 1) I couldn’t take every Wednesday off and I need to work and 2) I just didn’t want to. No one said it was mandatory. I’m confused because for a second there I could have sworn I’m the one paying for the course and if I just want to listen why can’t I. So Sunday comes and I walk in. There’s a sticky note on my name tag saying go see supervisor. First thing he says to me is why didn’t you sign up for the 10 course thing. I’m like I don’t want to. I didn’t know it was mandatory. Since I’m the one paying shouldn’t I choose what I want to do. So another supervisor jumps in and asks me why are you here? I replied that I’m really here to just check out what this is all about. No one really explained what it was they do but I did find some things quite interesting. Then she goes you’re not really “doing” the forum. And if you are not “doing” the forum then maybe you shouldn’t be here. So I explain when I paid my money I told the person I was gonna come check it out and they said great. No one said anything about mandatory sharing. Then she went into a whole spiel about how I am not complete right now and that I can never be complete if I don’t “do” the forum. So I asked if I was allowed in and the answer was “if you are not going to “do” the forum then no”. So I left. I called my friend who is close to another forum leader and told him the situation. Then he called landmark to find out what happened. Of course they have their own version. Either way I think they have some good theories but are too pushing. But I guess that’ll work for some people. Especially when some one said they couldn’t afford the $825 for the next series and Barry said well then I guess you don’t want a good life. The hidden marketing strategies are funny too. Like how you can’t tell people about the forum because they won’t get it. They have to come to the forum. They tend to make you feel like your life is nothing and only the forum can save you. Again, too pushy for my taste.

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Ian Rogers January 14, 2016 at 10:18

But you didn’t pay did you “Kicked out”, your friend did.

If you went to a restaurant and said “no, I’m not here to eat I just want to read the menu” then eventually you’d be asked to leave there too (and it wouldn’t be fair to complain about still feeling hungry).

Do you ever commit to anything “Kicked out”? No one needs to do the forum, but you would certainly benefit from doing it (and pay your own money this time).

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Gina January 25, 2016 at 05:31

Kicked Out!
Question “How many times have You Been ” Kicked Out”??? you create your own life… Especially with the ” Name kicked out! How many times have you kicked yourself out of Your Life??? When you share at Landmark you are having someone “truly” Listen to you and for you! and You become the Listener of the ‘ other one” In life no one listen to no one! So in Landmark you discover to really listen to others and for others.. Something that doesn’t happen out in the world! people are always talking to themselves and no one listen to others.. out in the world.. Consider that ! I invite you to ask yourself !why is it that you do not want to listen to others and why is it that you do not like to share and don’t like to truly be listen by others?? out here in the world no one listens… So in Landmark You Have a space for someone to truly listen to you> and for you to truly listen to others! We all learn by someone sharing and listening. Consider that!

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Susan Cam January 11, 2016 at 23:24

This is a negative group STAY AWAY STAY AWAY…. THEY HAVE FAVORITES AND ARE MEAN IF YOU HAVE TYPE OF SELF CONTROL EXPRESSION HORIBBLE ….HORIBBLE

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Instantly Ageless January 16, 2016 at 09:18

You have noted very interesting details ! ps nice site. “High school is closer to the core of the American experience than anything else I can think of.” by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr..

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Observation January 17, 2016 at 23:12

Can you guess which personal development group is being discussed in the excerpt below?

“Shortly before the CoZE exercise began on Saturday, I skipped the group dinner to hide in my room. After two days in Rationality House, I was feeling strung out, overwhelmed by the relentless interaction and confounded by the workshop’s obfuscatory jargon. ‘‘Garfield errors’’ were shorthand for taking the wrong steps to achieve a goal, based on a story about an aspiring comedian who practiced his craft by watching Garfield cartoons. ‘‘Hamming problems’’ signified particularly knotty or deep issues. (The name was a reference, Salamon explained, to the Bell Labs mathematician Richard Hamming, who was known for ambushing his peers by asking what the most important problem in their field was and why they weren’t working on it.)

And while some exercises seemed useful, other parts of the workshop — the lack of privacy or downtime, the groupthink, the subtle insistence that behaving otherwise was both irrational and an affront to ‘‘science’’ — felt creepy, even cultish. In the days before the workshop, I repeatedly asked whether I could sleep at home, because I lived just a 15-minute drive away. Galef was emphatic that I should not. ‘‘People really get much more out of the workshop when they stay on-site,’’ she wrote. ‘‘This is a strong trend … and the size of the effect is quite marked.’’

As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one to find the workshop disorienting. One afternoon, I sat on the front steps with Richard Hua, a programmer at Microsoft who was also new to CFAR. Since the workshop began, Hua told me, he had sensed ‘‘a lot of interesting manipulation going on.’’

‘‘There’s something about being in there that feels hypnotic to me,’’ he added. ‘‘I wouldn’t say it’s a social pressure, exactly, but you kind of feel obliged to think like the people around you.’’ Another woman, who recently left her software job in Portland, Ore., to volunteer with CFAR, said her commitment to rationality had already led to difficulties with her family and friends. (When she mentioned this, Smith proposed that she make new friends — ones from the rationalist community.)”"

Landmark?

Nope.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/17/magazine/the-happiness-code.html?_r=0

So I find it fascinating that the same/similar complaints people are registering about Landmark on this board are also showing up with respect to this other group, which appears to have similar objectives achieved in similar ways. Now, one possible explanation is that both groups are nefarious cults. But another (more likely, imo) explanation is that this is really the type of training that is required to achieve meaningful, long-term results for people, that “yesterday’s transformation is today’s ego trip” independent of where that transformation came from, and that sometimes people get into toxic relationships with people who are either unable to recognize positive growth in others or simply (perhaps unconsciously) want that other person to be as miserable/cynical as they are (misery does love company, after all), leading to a predictable pattern of strained relationships between people who participate in these sorts of seminars and those who do not.

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DL January 19, 2016 at 16:51

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY:

I think this article is a good description of Landmark Education. I attended the Forum, one 10-week Seminar (3 hours once per week) and just a couple of weeks ago, the Advanced Class.

The Forum was good. I have done a lot of “transformational” work in my life, so it was not life-changing for me, but more of a confirmation and new way of incorporating concepts into my life that on some level I already knew and practiced. My Forum Leader was good, (my husband thought she was a “slick salesperson.”) I liked her stories and her coaching style, and she seemed fairly genuine to me.

My Seminar Leader was awesome, and was all in. That was a pleasant experience, and I felt like I learned something from it.

My two teenage sons enrolled in the Forum, which I thought was good for them. They both liked it, so I decided to take the Advanced Class, 50% because I wanted to see what the fuss was all about, and 50% because I hoped that my sons would follow my example and keep attending more seminars, etc. They’re young, and I thought being exposed to bigger concepts would be good for them. Landmark seemed like a good choice.

But the leader of the Advanced Class has given me serious pause about the whole organization. She was, in my opinion, mean and disrespectful of the attendees. She yelled at us for not “sharing” (but who wanted to share when there was a good chance she would dress you down in front of everyone?) Halfway thru the weekend she said we weren’t “getting it” and she was going to stand in the back of the room until we figured it out. Now, I ask you, there were 70 people in the room; if we weren’t getting it, what was the common denominator between us all?? (Hint: I think it was her.)

By the midway point we had spent a LOT of time discussing the “integrity of the group.” The theme throughout the weekend was “If everybody doesn’t win, then nobody wins.” If someone left and did not come back, then the whole group was out of integrity. If someone was late getting back from a break, then the whole group was out of integrity, and on and on. I will confess that by mid-day on Saturday, I was resenting the loss of my weekend and wishing I had never signed up. But my team (they broke us up into teams of six) was passionate about all of us finishing together, so I stayed (also because I really hate to quit things) but did not do any sharing.

Another theme throughout the weekend was a strong “suggestion” to sign up for the Self Expression Leadership Program (SELP) which, at the onset of the weekend, I was interested in doing. It’s a rather big commitment; ten weekly 3-hour evenings and three 13-hour Saturdays spread over three months. However, I was more interested in signing up for another Seminar Series with my sons because I was interested in doing it together as a family. I couldn’t do both because the next seminar series happened to start during the same week as the SELP, and I didn’t want to over-commit myself.

At the end of the last day, they asked us all to fill out a registration form for the SELP. I filled it out, but did not choose one of the enrollment options because I was undecided. I was called to the front to talk to the Leader. She asked my why I wasn’t signing up, and I explained my reason (3 times before she ‘got it’) but she continued to pressure me by telling me that the Advanced Class wouldn’t mean anything if I didn’t follow it up with the SELP. I finally told her that I had been there to “review it for my sons”. Now, that wasn’t entirely true, but I was feeling backed into a corner, and it popped out of my mouth. But she’s a coach/trainer, right? She just spent a weekend teaching us that our interpretation of another’s words and actions is just that– our experience of that person. We shouldn’t decide what it means to us and react to it. So you would think that she would have responded with coaching or teaching… NOPE. She blasted me. I was “inauthentically there all weekend; I didn’t share; she can’t stand mothers who do that. etc., etc.” I was appalled!

Because of who I am, I didn’t respond much; I have to process things. And now that I’ve had time to process it, I’m really torn about the program altogether. Like I said, I do other work (I have mentors and business/life coaches in my life) so I can move on and not worry about the lack of Landmark in my life. But for my sons… ? I really wanted something to help them mature into open-minded and thoughtful men. But I’m not sure I trust Landmark now. Was this old bitty just a bad leader? Or did I get a peek behind the curtain? I don’t believe that one person represents the whole group, but if that person is one of the policy-makers of that group, shouldn’t her actions mean more?

Throughout all of the classes I participated in, I dismissed the grumbling I heard from other participants about “all they want is our money” because 1) they don’t charge a fraction of what I pay for coaching and 2) I genuinely felt like they cared about the people in the room. But now….? This woman gave lots of lip-service to caring about people, but her actions told a different story (and yes, I know that this is my EXPERIENCE of her.) I’m wondering if they have some kind of valuation system that they place on each attendee? i.e. if this person invites two friends, and those two people invite two friends, and so on, and then each participant signs up for multiple classes and seminars (seminars are led by unpaid volunteers) then the true value of one participant is quite a bit higher than the $500 that the forum costs.

Is it a cult? I can see some cult-like traits, but since there is no religious component, it doesn’t really fit the true definition of a cult. I think, like a lot of organizations, churches, governments, groups, etc. that it’s led by human beings, and human beings are fallible. I think I’m going to take the good I got from it, and leave the bad. As for my sons… if they ask, I’ll be honest with them. Otherwise, I’ll just take a step back and let them have their own experiences. I’ve raised smart boys. If they smell a skunk, they’ll know it.

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Greg February 2, 2016 at 16:54

Wow, thanks for your sincerity and the care that you took with your writing.

What was the name of the woman who led your Advanced Course?

The part that you described where she said, “(you all) weren’t ‘getting it’ and she was going to stand in the back of the room until (you all) figured it out,” is mindfuckery and cheap group manipulation. That’s one of the same cheap, inauthentic techniques they used 30 years ago before their corporate reorganization from “Werner Erhard and Associates” to “Landmark”. Furthermore, that is her giving a display of a leader “not being at cause in the matter” (as they say).

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Jim G January 24, 2016 at 23:11

I did the entire curriculum (3 courses) plus I volunteered the same number of times to help during courses, 20 years ago or so.

You end up becoming much wiser of a person. It’s as simple as that. You get along with others better as you are not as critical of a person as before you took the courses.

I never could quite figure out how to be my possibility. I guess I can sort of see how I could be intentionally that way all the time but it would be hard.

At any rate I recommend it and all the particulars don’t really matter as time goes on. All the fuss is mainly just a bunch of rumors in the end.

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Gina January 25, 2016 at 04:41

Jim G
I agree with You ! The first time I did the forum was About 17 years ago and review about 4 times, and each time I got more for my life and there after did the Advance Course, The Self Expression, Communication Course, the ILP and have Assisted ! It has been the best choice of my Life… And A huge difference in my Life! Thank God I found Landmark, My life Transformed 10000% Every time I go back to Landmark I always take with me great tools for my life and for all Areas of my Life.. The best Decision I have made in my Life… I am Planning to go Back… I miss it!! and the People as well.. I learn to be free in all areas of Life.. and Create For my Life!!! I highly Recommended!!!!! it is Awzome!!!YEAH!!

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Katinka Wofford January 29, 2016 at 11:57

Years ago, while in College, I attended one of these weekends in Dallas. I’m an open minded individual and pretty familiar with all kinds of spiritual books and concepts; The power of now, law of attraction, etc. I found the entire weekend to be incredibly creepy. People in the back of the room watching the audience like Hawks taking incessant notes and passing it to the ‘leader’, the close proximity of the chairs, the leader coming down hard on a massage therapist because he was adamant after one exercise (her leading him) that his migraine was no better.
I left early that Saturday. When I came home I had multiple messages on my answering machine. Again, very creepy. Against my judgement my friends convinced me to go back that Sunday. I was actually FOLLOWED INTO THE BATHROOM and watched by one of the creepy note takers in the back. A female. It was the last straw. I left and never looked back. After being repeatedly harassed on the phone after I threatened this organization with legal action if they didn’t lose my phone number. It worked.

The reason I’m taking the time to write this is to hopefully save someone else from the same experience. At the very least, go in with your antennae up. To this day, I celebrate the moment I walked out of there as a personal experience where I had the chance to go along with the herd, and instead something inside of me stood up to the brainwashing.

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Pierce Smith February 6, 2016 at 12:52

Sad story you tell. I took it in 1972, 1984, 2006. The bottom line is “being responsible” for your interpretation of the unpreventable circumstances happening in YOUR life!
Staying conscious is the key! The FORUM can remind you during times of unconscious behavior.

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John January 29, 2016 at 13:00

Hi Katinka

Don’t expect any sympathy from Landmark devotees. The creepy phone calls and following will just be redefined as “support” and your lack of enjoyment of the program will be billed as a character flaw. Of course, Landmark and other such programs don’t bully bully or harrass or use any techniques associated with brainwashing… as long as you accept their definitions of bullying, harrassment and brainwashing.

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Maria January 30, 2016 at 14:41

Thank you for your description of the Landmark Forum. Well done! I did the est training in 1978. I have also done the Landmark Forum and the Advanced Course. The best gift I ever gave myself was the est training in 1978. It continues to contribute to my life each day. It allows my mind to get out of my way and allow me to freely choose. I am telling you there are things you don’t know that you don’t know. The Forum is the road to discovering your true self. Jump in! Or you can have other people give you all the “reasons” why you should not! Oh they have their reasons! I had a friend take the course because she was so afraid I would know more than she did! We still laugh about it! (I do still know more than she does LOL). That was a joke! If she had not taken the course one of the things that would have continued to be a problem in our relationship is the fact that she had that fear of someone like me having more knowledge than her. It gets in the way and we all have issues that get in the way of better relationships with family, work life, everyday living! The Forum gives you giant steps in the way to better living. I encourage you to take the course and live life fully available to yourself and others! Again I thank the writer of this blog for telling their experience of the Forum so well.

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Uninspired February 5, 2016 at 20:43

Dude, I feel you. I’m involved in a weekend of it and after my whole family recommended it. Today I had a an hour conversation in LANDMARK JARGIN in front of eighty people today and it did not go to well. The guy running the class kept trying to get me on track with their vocab and their ways. After, everyone after the class knew me for being “the guy who needed a little help”. I cannot remember the stupid words they use for the life of me. It’s no different than a crappy version the movie Yes Man, with Jim Carrey.

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Mara Labeots February 8, 2016 at 15:09

Just about all of whatever you mention happens to be supprisingly accurate and that makes me ponder the reason why I had not looked at this in this light before. This particular piece truly did switch the light on for me personally as far as this particular subject matter goes. But there is one factor I am not really too cozy with and while I try to reconcile that with the central theme of the issue, allow me see exactly what the rest of your subscribers have to point out.Very well done.

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Jeff February 9, 2016 at 00:50

Hi. Wanted to say that I have checked out Landmark’s intro stuff, but not their forum. So far, I see a lot of positive people who have transformed their lives to make positive changes and who maintain some sense of connection and community. I sense people who are negative about this process are simply stuck in their own negativity and then project it out on others, especially those others who confront their ‘crap’. My sense is that anyone who is interested in learning and growing on a personal level could benefit from this kind of community.

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