Landmark Experience

<drafted in October 2005>

It's 3½ years ago now (i.e., Oct. 2005) that I took part in a Landmark Forum weekend. This was a very memorable and, I’d have to say, even life-changing experience.

It was inspiring – enlightening – exhilarating – powerful – emotional – draining – empowering – & transformational!

While there, I gained some major insights about human nature & human society, & also about my own life, shortcomings & unfortunate tendencies.

The language of the Landmark Forum (LMF from here on in) is that we are each “whole, complete & perfect” – a most affirming concept; a valuable, empowering, wonderful, generous concept. One that many of us are able to grasp (if at all) only in an intellectual sort of way. Down in our guts, it probably feels pretty un-graspable for most of us, I suspect…

Importantly, the language of the LMF is not about fixing. However much we may feel broken, we are assured that we are whole, complete & perfect, & that the LMF is not about fixing ourselves (or anyone else!) – it’s about transformation.

Other key LMF terms are authenticity (we learn that many of our relationships have been inauthentic) – possibility (we learn that when we begin to behave authentically, we create possibility) – & integrity.

The LMF weekend is constructed as a series of conversations. The leader has her/his pieces of curriculum to cover (& it’s fairly powerful stuff!) – but much of the real gut-level learning comes from listening to people at the microphones talk about the experiences & lessons of their own lives.

It’s a very emotional weekend. Sometimes the people at the microphone cry; very often those listening cry as well, as I did on more than one occasion.

A key piece of learning that emerges is that all of us have been hurt in our lives – & that, while the circumstances vary widely, the hurts – the emotions – are very, very similar (or the same) from one person to another.(1)

What an amazing (& transformational!) experience to learn that not only is none of us alone (although we sometimes feel that way), we are all in good company – in very, very abundant company – as human beings who have been damaged or hurt.

I ought to point out that not everyone in attendance at a LMF weekend does choose to get up to the microphone – that’s a choice not everyone makes. Some of us (myself among them) learned from the experience that there are some of us who may sometimes need to do a little more listening & a little less talking…a bit of a paradox, in that the power of the LMF is in the magic of listening to & participating in conversation. The power of conversation is very much a strong feature in the LMF…

Another powerful lesson for me during the LMF weekend was that not everything that happens is all about me. This was a huge opportunity & lesson for me. I learned it as the result of a rather negative or charged dynamic that seemed to have sprung up between the LMF leader & me.

This woman seemed to turn a “disapproving mother” face on me, for some reason. I had evidently said something to her that offended her, & for the rest of the weekend she was impatient & curt with me. This was a bit of a challenge for me to deal with, but I got quiet with it, said to myself “Hmm. This feels really, really, really uncomfortable. I wonder, what am I meant to get from this experience?"

What I learned was very valuable. I realized that the “Disapproving Mother” face the leader kept turning on me is probably the very same face I have turned on some of the important people in my own life – & that it sure as heck can’t be a whole lot of fun for them, either!

What I gained from this was a very powerful lesson about mirroring. This woman held up a mirror for me & helped me see something I very much needed to see. It made relating with her pretty awkward – pretty uncomfortable – but hooey! – did it ever teach me an important lesson! This in itself is, I think, a pretty important lesson for all of us. The people in our lives do hold up mirrors for us. If we’re too afraid to look into them, we 'll miss grasping things we'd do well to grasp.(2)

One very key lesson we learned during the LMF weekend is that a lot of what we do in our lives is really a reaction to events that took place a very, very long time ago – that whatever it was that took place, we created a story about it, & we have lived our lives as a reaction to that story we constructed decades & decades ago. In doing so, most of us have robbed ourselves of a great deal of energy, vitality & possibility.(3)

Possibility is a word that comes up a lot in the LMF. “Rackets” & “strong suits” are also discussed. We’ve all created “rackets” that we play out endlessly. For example, a lot of us who were damaged by the behaviour of our parents have learned to play the “Look – see how strong I am now!” game in reaction to our life circumstances. This one has been a significant one in my own life, I reckon. Other ones I can think of are the martyr & the “Oh poor me” victim racket. Plenty of us are caught up in these – or our parents were, & many of us have created our own roles & rackets in reaction to their rackets.

A unique element of the LMF weekend is the frequent exhorting of participants to make contact with family members/loved ones, to begin the work of being authentic with them – then reporting back to the group. (When I attended, there were about 135 in the group, &, as I say, not all went up to the mikes. Too, some folks dropped out as the weekend proceeded; for some, perhaps, LMF methods are not quite their “cup of tea.”)

Creating authentic relationships in the present is a way we can put the past back into the past, where it belongs, & eliminate the endless dramas many of us choose to create in our lives from day to day. This creates vitality & possibility, & who among us can say they don’t want a piece of that? It’s about creating the kind of life we want to live now –  moving into a future of possibility, & not living so much out of our past that we create a present & future that are virtually repeat performances of our now-distant (& not always very pleasant) past.

Another teaching of the LMF is that, when we live out of our past, we tend, among other things, to “make people wrong” – something I know I’ve done plenty – & see many people around me doing also – so reflexively that they are perhaps not even aware they're doing it.

At one point in the LMF weekend, our facilitator led a meditation in which she asked us to confront our fear. I have no way of knowing what others saw or experienced during this meditation – I know that it was a moving & powerful & emotional experience for me. I re-visited a childhood incident – & then recalled a rather significant dream I’d had just before the LMF weekend. What I realized was that some of the fear I experienced in childhood had led me to circumscribe my own potential as an adult – & that, 40 or 50 years later, it is surely past time to drop that ancient fear!

There are some other key, highly useful learnings in the LMF. I can honestly say I can’t think of a single person I know who would not benefit from the LMF experience!

I think far too many of us drag around baggage, wounds & experiences from our childhoods into our day-to-day lives – ancient hurts & grudges, resentments & pain – that hobble our present & our future. Most of us live our lives out of an old, old story that is not merely terribly out-of-date, but also highly unhelpful to us as we attempt to live now. It’s kind of like trying to drive a car down the highway while never facing forward – always relying on the view in the rearview mirror. This way of living limits not only our own selves, but also our relations with the people we love the most.

For me personally, the three LMF days taught me some very useful & practical concepts that opened up for me distinct hope for possibility in my relationships – as well as helping me understand better how so many of us limit ourselves as individuals, & even how we limit ourselves as a species. Real personal & life transformation can & do emerge for some of us as the result of a LMF experience.

In my case, a friend who’d “done” the LMF weekend had offered to pay my way for me (I was in a pretty unstable financial situation at the time). She was convinced that I am “worth it” – & I agree. I am worth it.

I think you are too. We all are. I also know that transformations of a variety of kinds are very much needed here on Planet Earth, at this unique time in human history.

Ask yourself this: what do you have to lose?


P.S. This is not the only kind of powerful emotional learning experience I’ve had. I’ve also taken part in one-on-one counselling on several occasions. As well, I’ve attended other kinds of workshops. I recommend all of these, including the Art of Living courses & the couples’ workshop on ‘The Dance of Wounds in Couples’ Relationships’ that I attended at Serenity Renewal in Ottawa. Each of these has helped me gain insights for which I’m very grateful. I’m pretty convinced our personal growth is meant to be a lifelong process. These days, I'm reading, re-reading & re-reading yet again, Eckhart Tolle’s book A New Earth – Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose – & also listening (over & over) to his audio CD’s (gaining new insights each time!). This is a very, very challenging world we live in, & it’s also a uniquely challenging time in the history of our species. I think most of us need all the help we can get!?

P.P.S. The posts 'Looking Good' & 'Looking Stupid' may be of interest, since both arose out of musings about LMF concepts.

(1) This was reinforced for me at another weekend workshop I attended – ‘The Dance of Wounds in Couples’ Relationships’. One key emotion I’ve come to think is universal is a sense of abandonment. Many of us have experienced emotional or literal abandonment in any one of a number of possible ways. Our experiences vary widely, but our emotions are very much shared… Feeling abandoned leaves us feeling lonely – scared – unsafe – & alienated. I suspect every human being on the planet has felt abandonment deep in her/his guts at one time or another. It is not a sensation we want to feel often…

(2) I do feel the LMF leader’s behaviour toward me was inappropriate & unprofessional, & it made me sad to think how this tendency on her part (I was not the only one who seemed to meet with her disapproval) probably really did a number on anyone who had actually grown up with a disapproving mother & who was struggling with self-esteem issues as a result. I wrote her a lengthy letter after the weekend to tell her of my thoughts. Like so many things in life, negative situations can lead to great learning. I wish she hadn’t behaved this way…and yet, happily, I was able to gain quite a lot from it.

(3) Of course more recently, many of us have heard much the same kind of message from the inspiring & amazing Eckhart Tolle & his books, CD’s & Webcasts with Oprah….