I don’t recall the exact moment when my 29 year-old self booked onto education and personal transformation program, the Landmark Forum.
I do remember that there was nothing specifically wrong with my life. My largest problem was me. I had the typical Western person’s plague that I didn’t know what I wanted, and couldn’t always fully enjoy what I already had (which was comparatively, a lot). So I enrolled because of a mixture of curiosity and ennui about life.
Some of us welcome being interrupted from our way of thinking/doing, and some of us need to train ourselves to welcome it. I’m in the first category, which has meant that I’ve explored other personal transformation technologies before and since Landmark, but none with its lasting impact.
Completing the Forum was a huge defining moment in my life. Five years on, I am still benefiting from the distinctions I was introduced to during that weekend. Here are 10 things that I got from doing the Landmark Forum.
1. Nobody ‘tells it like it is’
If there is one fact that becomes apparent during the process of the Landmark Forum is that there is truly no objective version of reality. All we each have is stories; narratives that we constructed to make sense of why we are the way we are. That’s just what our brains do.
Landmark Forum takes place over three long (9am-11pm) days. One of the agreements you make at the beginning is the idea of separating ‘what happened’ from ‘the story about what happened.’ The Forum leader illustrates the difference using ‘shares’ from (willing) volunteers from the audience. Up at the microphones, people announce things that they’ve never told anyone. The idea is that you apply their scenario to your own life. It works.
Sometimes, things get intense as you watch the Forum leader battling with the person’s ego and attachments. Some people let go easily. These are the people that get it quicker.
This process showed me that reality was up for definition. And that was incredibly freeing.
2. We are meaning making machines, and often we use our superpower unwisely
‘Life is empty and meaningless and you are a meaning making machine’. I’ll never forget the moment that my Forum leader said the words. I felt something in my mind go click. There was no intrinsic meaning to anything. I got to decide. Had I been delivered that nugget on the first day, it wouldn’t have sunk in. It took what I witnessed and what I applied that weekend to allow this reality to sink from my head to my heart.
The fact that my relationship with my mother had been so fraught didn’t mean she didn’t love me. There are the facts (my mother and I had a strained relationship in my teens) and there was my story about the facts (she didn’t love me as much as my brothers. I am naturally a difficult person to love).
I had been living within a cage of some debilitating limiting beliefs borne out of emotionally distressing situations – times where I felt weak, inadequate, worthless, stupid. That ingrained emotional coding still occasionally comes up. But that weekend swept a lot of it away.
3. Who we really are is who we take ourselves to be in thought, in word and in action
During the Landmark Forum, they have you do something pretty strange. It is declaring who you are in one word ‘possibilities’. They are the states that you aspire to personify in life. Examples of common possibilities are ‘love’, ‘contribution’, ‘connection’, ‘freedom’, ‘inspiration’, ‘clarity’, ‘peace’ and ‘enlightenment’.
I used to think of myself in pretty concrete terms – my qualities within my relationships and work. And although some of these things are me, some of them were just habitual ways of being.
Landmark Forum had me question what kind of person I wanted to be. With what types of traits? How did I want to feel? I experience my ‘self’ now as something a lot more fluid than before. I’m whoever I declare myself to be in thought, in word and in action. I feel like redefinition is always possible.
4. Integrity matters. A lot
Integrity sort of becomes the code word for the Landmark graduate. That and the related concept of authenticity.
At its core, authenticity is about saying and doing what is true for us, and integrity is how we get there. Most of us were raised not to be truth tellers, but to people please. Doing Landmark was the beginning of reversing that process for me.
At Landmark, they focus on being meticulous with your word as the gateway to higher levels of integrity. This helps you to respect the language you use, and to become more vigilant about telling lies.
Before I did Landmark Forum, my integrity was in need of some work. I broke work deadlines all over the place and I made commitments and backtracked. I was flaky.
Integrity still gives me plenty of work. But I have stopped agreeing to things I don’t want to do and I generally keep my word. Also, I consider before I rush to make an agreement, checking that it aligns with what I want and need at the time. I do this because I understand the consequences of living my life non authentically.
5. What’s done is done
The past is past, the Forum says, and has no bearing on the future, which is yours to invent. Through the weekend I came to experience that as true and have been living my life as if that’s true ever since.
It is difficult to see the specific ways that our pasts keep us stuck. I found that the learning technology in Landmark – which is described as experiential rather than informational – helped me to uncover my ‘unknown unknowns’; those blind spots in interpersonal relations, habits, or behaviors that keep tripping us up because we don’t even know that they are there. That is why you could read a book about Landmark’s teachings, or I could explain them to you, but it is highly unlikely to have the effect of attending a course.
6. Getting complete with people is powerful for letting go
On the weekend, you asked to make some calls to people from your past that you feel have wronged you. The purpose of the calls is letting go of anger and ‘getting complete’. It’s a kind of ‘hey just to let you know, I’m okay with you.’
I called my mum, my dad, my best friend and a few people that didn’t pick up to make some ‘feely’ calls. I told my dad I was sorry for resenting him for making me feel like a disappointment. And I told my mum I was sorry for making her the enemy all this time.
They have all forgotten those calls now (I hope). But I haven’t. The pounding in my chest when I made them. The tears. The relief when they didn’t pick up. The dread of knowing I’d have to try during the next break.
Closing with people was truly stomach churning work. Nobody wants to have those calls. Especially when you are so invested in staying angry. It was hard. I’m glad I did it. It helped me to create a new level of honesty and integrity with the people I love.
7. Removing preconceived notions of reality is exhilarating, but also a teeny bit terrifying
The week after the course finished, I was elated. I remember feeling like the colors were brighter and I was seeing what was around me for the first time. I had access to a truer version of reality. (Evidently, I’m not the only one. It is not uncommon for recent graduates of the Forum to perform random and amazing acts of kindness, such as purchasing a ticket for a complete stranger).
But I also felt quite groundless. All this space had been cleared. I knew that I wasn’t who I has been taking myself to be, but…who was I? I didn’t have the muscles yet for being in a different way.
For this reason, I did what 70% of Forum graduates do and attended the rest of Landmark’s ‘curriculum for living’, which consists of two other courses. That helped me with the transition and I feel like it fully equipped me with the skills of putting what I learned into practice.
8. I may not be able to control what happens around me, but I can always choose my response
The Landmark Forum isn’t the only training that places the individual squarely at the center of their destiny. But there is something in seeing the ludicrousness of people choosing to keep themselves stuck in victim mindset that has a powerful effect on you.
Although I am sometimes slow to exercise it, I know I have a choice in how to perceive what is happening. That has freed me a lot to enjoy my life and be present to the magic of the moment, even in objectively difficult moments.
9. Everything I do matters. We are all connected in so many ways
Doing Landmark Forum made me fall back in love with humanity. I am not sure when that stopped but it had. I could see everyone in there – their vulnerabilities, their courage and their beauty – and it changed my focus. So I started seeing everyone in my life as their possibilities, not their most stressed out, angry, upset, victimised versions. And stopped paying so much attention to their flaws. Of course, that has meant I stopped paying so much attention to my own, too.
It is misguided to think that I can just go and be out in the world in a negative mood and not expect that to affect other people. I became someone who understood their impact on others.
10. I am a lot stronger than I realized
After I completed the Landmark Forum, I started to see myself as a powerful person. It took a lot of courage to make those calls and to ask of myself the questions. I emerged from that process with a new found awe and respect for myself.
And I stopped being scared of making changes.
Summary of Landmark Forum
Completing the Landmark Forum changed me from being someone that was sometimes a bit cynical and resigned to someone who is living life powerfully and a life that I love (which is in fact, Landmark’s promise to graduates of the Forum).
Although I had already understood intellectually some of what was being taught that weekend, the Forum experience helped me solidify it in a more visceral way.
My transformation was a result of a few realizations, but one key one: I had been taking myself to be someone that couldn’t act in their own best interests; a person who couldn’t be trusted to make good decisions, or to become great in any way. After that weekend, that ship turned around. I started to claim back my omnipotence. You can imagine the effects of that.
I encourage you to check out the Landmark Forum for yourself.