Hypnosis Dressed in A Clever Disguise: Review of The Landmark Forum
Enlightenment or Imprisonment?
The Landmark Forum offers a truly tempting invitation...
Who doesn’t want to “experience a positive and permanent shift in the quality of their life?” Who wouldn’t want the tools necessary to help one create their vision of a truly extraordinary future? The Landmark Forum is a program that is suitable for anyone. Not only for people with massive emotional blocks due to traumatizing circumstances in their life, but for people who are seekers, artists, businessmen, and even family men and women. The forum is designed for everyone because it pertains to humanity in general and understanding the psychology of our emotions and memories. Landmark is a company that claims to be dedicated to the well being of individuals and their role in society but their approaches are something that proves otherwise.
I have heard of the Forum in the past. First, from a friend from college; My friend was a very open minded and driven individual, so it was understandable as to why I had a positive perspective of it. From that point on, I have heard of it “here and there” and was also aware that many companies have worked with Landmark and even send their employees to attend seminars to create a more productive and effective workplace. If big companies with big money would invest in such a thing, I thought that “Surely, it must be legitimate.”
From a selling point of a view, all of it was there. Their vocabulary is particular and very well chosen. Landmark uses keywords like vision, action, power, freedom, peace of mind, and so on. They use all the right words to get their message across of exactly what they hope to assist you with, and after considering that one may not be as happy as they’d perhaps like to be, the idea of saying “no” just begins to lose sense. The moment the phrase enters your head: “Well what do I have to lose,” all bets are off. You are then vulnerable to any thing and any possibility. Any guru, any book, any program. Even the wrong ones.
I finally decided to register for the course when attending a friend’s graduation of the Advanced Seminar Program. She was incredibly happy with the program, approached some of the unhealthy relationships in her life with a new perspective, and she genuinely felt more ready to take on life. After being given such a high recommendation from such a great friend, it became more and more difficult to resist. She kindly gifted me the $200 deposit needed to register for the Forum and I paid the remainder of the balance. It was honestly, a very generous invitation.
The Syllabus for The Landmark Forum is as follows:
Orientation and Overview: How The Landmark Forum Works
Already Always Listening
The Hidden Power of Context
The Vicious Cycle
Rackets: The Payoff and The Cost
The Illusion of Someday: Rethinking Possibility
The Myth of “Is” and “I”
Distinguishing: Opening New Worlds
Freedom From Anxiety
How Identities Get Constructed
The Pervasive Influence Of The Past
Change vs. Transformation
Language as an Access To Power
The Nature of Choice
Tuesday Evening Session
New Possibilities, Breakthrough Results, and a Quick Review
Transformation as a Way of Living
Dealing Powerfully with Breakdowns
Below is a portion of Landmark Forum’s Agreement Form stating that they cannot be held accountable for any emotional or psychological damage. Click the image for full size. The entire form can be found here.
It was the first day of the Forum and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was proud of myself for committing to something so new and intense and even though it came with a pretty big price tag, I felt that if anything is worth investing in, it would be my personal growth and understanding of self.
During the first day it seemed as though the first half of the day was spent being told just how WONDERFUL the Forum is. I sat there, at times dozing off, learning just how successful Landmark is, about their different clients, the potential results, the incredible transformations and “Breakthroughs,” all the while wondering when the actual seminar was going to begin. When they finally began, I found myself to be incredibly irritated. It turned out that I paid for a curriculum of information that I had already quite deeply explored. It was rather clear that Landmark was teaching spiritual eastern philosophical concepts without the spiritual element, with about a tablespoon of really good psychology, and a dash of common sense. I wondered how long it took them to reword famous concepts and package them as nicely as they did. Furthermore, I sat there in their uncomfortable chair wondering how many Osho books I could have bought for all the money I had spent – An undeniably depressing thought.
Towards the end of the evening, I had decided Landmark was most certainly not for me. I approached the supervisor that was seated in the back of the room to inquire about a refund. She told me that the time to request a refund had passed and that the opportunity for one was already offered this morning. I told her I was really unhappy with the program and that this material was nothing new to me. Instead of just telling me yes or no, she tried to psychoanalyze me. She looks me in the eyes and asks: “Tell me, what is it that you want out of life?” I fed her ego a little bit, but quickly went back to my initial question. Not getting the answer that I wanted, I walked back to my seat infuriated, hoping that through magic, this experience would really turn around and quickly.
By the end of the night I was mentally and emotionally exhausted. I went home, not to sleep, but to instead try to get back to MYSELF. My mood was frayed and unpleasant. I didn’t like how I felt. The homework that they had given, I paid no attention to. When I finally went to bed, I had stupidly not left much time for enough rest.
Upon waking for the second day of the Forum, I was already dreading walking back into that large windowless basement room that felt as cold as a butcher’s refrigerator. About 1-2 hours of the morning was spent being told just how beneficial it would be for our children to be signed up for the teenage and adolescent courses. I had quickly realized that a majority of what I had paid for was to listen to how wonderful the forum is, and yet not much time at all was spent actually learning course material. My anger and irritation had grown exponentially throughout the day. I was relieved when attendees went up to the microphone to share personal stories. It brought humanity to the program and to work with emotions, rather than concepts, was refreshing. However, anyone at the microphone was on a hot spot and one had to prepare themselves that they may hear responses that they may not be psychologically ready for. When people went up to the microphone the leaders strived to help them realize how their past has been not only influencing their future, but actually inhibiting it. With the amount of tears and even at times, confusion, it became very clear why everyone attending was asked to sign a release form prior to the seminar, agreeing that they would not hold Landmark accountable for any emotional or psychological damage. An unusual thing to ask for from someone who is just attending a “self-help seminar,” is it not so?
I could acknowledge that Landmark had some valid things to say. They discuss the reality that everyone perceives life differently. They explain that our past shapes our future not because it does so by nature, but because our memories affect our emotions and at times, our inability to let go of the past does not allow us to fully grasp our potential. And when one doesn’t fully grasp their potential, they pursue a mediocre life, rather than an extraordinary one. They explain that “everyone has their story that they tell themselves” and that we all have “rackets,” which they define as ways of rationalization, in order to express how we consider ourselves “right,” and others “wrong” in doing so. They call this the “Vicious Cycle.”
By the end of the second day, Landmarkians (volunteers who were helping to assist in the seminar) began to hand out flyers with the price breakdown for the Advanced Course. With no surprise, I humorously began lightly laughing to myself and mumbled, “Well, of course.” We were barely done with the second day and already, we’re being told just how effective, impressive, and “useful” the Advanced Seminar would be to anyone who is “serious” about expanding as an individual. My irritation that had temporary disappeared, swiftly returned. When the flyers were being passed down my row, I didn’t bother to take one and passed them along to the next person. To give further incentive, the leaders were sure to notify everyone that they currently have what is noted on the flyer as a “One-Time Only Special Offer,” in which they are selling the Advanced Course for $595, as opposed to $695. At this point not only were flyers being handed out, but there was already a table set with application forms and a lonely Landmarkian eagerly waiting to help assist whoever dared approach him.
I don’t deny that for an ordinary person with no spiritual background or knowledge of consciousness, how a program LIKE (keyword) this could benefit. HOWEVER, I am also very aware of how easily a person can be damaged by such a program, especially those who are not exactly self-aware, meaning that they don’t observe or readily work through their emotions. Meaning, those who more often distract themselves from what bothers them. The concepts that are offered in this seminar are honestly heavy ones to accept. They are also presented with quite a lot of SHOCK value. They are concepts that can take people years to accept, understand, and learn to work with. They are concepts that can psychologically destroy a person because it demands a lot of how one views their reality.
Landmark prides itself by claiming to be “the leaders in breakthrough technology,” but what they actually do is break people down in order to then build them in THEIR image.
They insist that “this is a safe environment for you to be with your emotions” all the while trying to sell you to sign up for the next course. While it can be helpful to bring about a certain level of awareness, one begins to feel as through Landmark is what they need to maintain a constant level of growth.
So what happens through all of this is that Landmark becomes some sort of God to worship. And even more upsetting, it becomes what people give credit to for their epiphanies and understanding of self, meanwhile, each individual holds the potential to be their own Guru. (Everyone should seriously watch Kumare) But that is not what Landmark would teach you, for every individual would immediately come to realize that such a course is of no necessity to better understand oneself. Landmark creates empowerment within boundaries, so instead of teaching people to learn from ALL experiences, and instead of encouraging individuals to simply dedicate more time to contemplating their reality, they insist that “this environment” is what will bring about the next following breakthrough.
Landmark benefits from what any company benefits from. They benefit from damaged individuals, and isn’t the majority of society damaged? The same way one is made to think a certain piece of clothing will help shape their image or make them look better, one is taught that Landmark is what will help one live a more fulfilled life. That Landmark is what will help them shake them of their disturbing past that they cannot seem to escape from.
By the end of the second day I was ready to quit entirely. I had called my friend who invited me to take the Forum to honestly explain my disappointment. She brought up the idea that maybe my expectations were too high and that, that was not allowing me to really let the material soak in. I hung up the phone feeling more inspired and hopeful that the next day at Landmark would be much better.
On Sunday, the third day, things felt different. More people went up to the microphone to share their life experiences and I could even relate to some of them. The leaders dove more deeply into the curriculum, reading from their secret manual that rested on a tripod stand in front of them. This was the day where they would “drop the bomb,” the day where they explained that those who haven’t in their terms “popped” yet or understood the material, that Today would be The Day.
On this day they would also allow us to experience the meditative exercise that they have designed for the course. In the exercise we were told to close our eyes and just take deep breaths, as one would prepare for any guided meditation. But this wasn’t your ordinary meditation, meant to instill peace. The whole intention of this exercise was to instill fear, and to allow attendees to deeply, and with no hesitation, feel their fear. We were told to be aware of the fact that we may become emotional, and that at times, certain feelings, or memories may come up that we find painful. The leaders guided the exercise with different phrases and brought up different scenarios. One of the scenarios was “Imagine that there are 3.7 million people in New York City and imagine that you are afraid of all of them..” The exercise became even more disturbing as people in the room began to crack, breakdown, and cry. Some woman had even acted out her internal chaos, where her sobbing was followed with screams of “No! No! No!,” as she probably recalled a traumatizing experience.
I sat there in total disbelief, trying my absolute best not to let it affect me. Despite their instruction to go deeper into our fear, I felt the need to disobey. I had spent years becoming familiar with my fear, in my own life, and I have recently begun working to harness the light and love within me, to harvest and nourish that energy instead. Despite what the leaders instructed, my whole intention throughout the exercise was to be the calm within the storm, to stay strong, present, and meditative despite all the cries, sighs, sobbing, and sniffles surrounding me. To sit there in my light became more and more difficult, not to mention, I found myself very overwhelmed with the experience people were having around me. Luckily, the other half of the exercise finally came into existence where they instructed people to then PIVOT their experience and now to feel the strength within them. I was glad that the meditative chaos of cries was over.
When the leaders had finally dropped the bomb, the lesson they had for us was that we create the MEANING of life, that life itself has no meaning, and that Life Is Our To Create. It was a profound and true statement, but not one that is uncommon and one that anyone can find in the Spiritual Section of their local book store.
For the evening portion of the third day, the people who had introduced us to Landmark were invited to celebrate with us as we neared the completion of the seminar. Upon returning from our dinner break, the room was rearranged with two times as many chairs and with tables in the back flooded with signup sheets for the Advance Course. The leaders speak about what it would be like to live in a world where everyone had this particular knowledge of self-awareness and that “now that you have the knowledge, if you want to learn the tools to really apply this knowledge, then the Advance Course will allow you to do so. ” The leaders ask those who invited us to raise their hands if they are already registered of if they have already completed the Advance Course to better encourage us. Many hands rose in the air, supposed proof of how effective their program is. Once the evening had finally commenced attendees and past graduates mingled in the room. Leaders and Landmarkians also wandered throughout the room to interact with attendees to ask if we will be registering for the Advance Course. The supervisor that was present for the course (the one who earlier has refused me the refund) even asked me if I wanted to sign up for the Assistance Program, where Landmark graduates volunteer to help at other seminars. I wanted to laugh in her face but I politely refrained.
Throughout my entire Landmark Experience my emotions boiled with horrid and dire confusion. I really wanted to give the program an honest attempt, and I really hoped to gain something from it, but hearing material that I was already very familiar with was disappointing to say the least. Having my ass glued to an uncomfortable chair for 13 hours per day for three consecutive days was exhausting, so was their jargon and their vocabulary that proved a desperate attempt to create new definitions for simple words. In the beginning the leaders talked about us “popping” or getting it, and for those who didn’t get it, they used humor, saying that if we didn’t get it now, that by “Sunday at 4:52pm” (the third day) we would. The leaders were charismatic, as of course they had to be, and there was something incredibly “inauthentic” about them, as if their smiles weren’t as honest as I’d like them to be. The room contained people that are probably very decent human beings, but also people that are clearly desperate to get further in life, or at least further in their understanding of self. Landmark’s tactics manipulate people that seek honest things like comfort, answers, and guidance. They break people down in order to build them in their image. They also train people, multiple times throughout the day, with the use of particular vocabulary and by pointing to certain examples, just how important it is to share this program with friends and family. They blatantly point out that they do not advertise and that their business operates on word-of-mouth referrals, and by pointing it out so honestly it makes one assume that their approach surely must be honest, even genuine, meanwhile, attendees do not realize that by the time the third day is over that they have seriously become hypnotized. By the third day people are pressured or “encouraged in a friendly way” to sign up for the Advance Course and for Tuesday’s evening session, attendees are urged to invite friends and family “whom you think would benefit” and with whom you’d like to share your new life with. Tuesday is nothing more than a marketing ploy, yet it described as “the final portion of the seminar.”
While many people say that Landmark is not a cult because it does not isolate people from others, what it does DO is that it isolates people emotionally by imprisoning them into a certain mindset and vocabulary. People are given a new type of awareness to work with and Landmark is quick to express that “most people” DO NOT work on this level of thinking. People may be inspired by the end of the program to reevaluate certain aspects of their life, however, people are also aware of the fact that not everyone will understand their new approach to life. People are urged to invite others not to “help” these other people, but to honestly save themselves from feeling alone, or misunderstood by the majority of their clique or social group.
Jean-Pierre Brard, deputy mayor of Montreuil, and who use to be vice president of the investigating committee on cults in the French Assembly, stated the following about Landmark:
“Clearly, there’s a guru who destabilizes people to enslave them, to make them subservient, which been said by witnesses. You can also see that they make you relinquish critical thought, and break the person down so they can then pick up the pieces. You can also see that there’s a network of money. The ultimate goal is to press it’s power and clean out the student’s wallets, and by using the students to attempt to earn more. So, there are the criteria of domination, a network of money, subordination and brainwashing. So, it’s a cult. You still have a group, you have a pyramid structure, you still have a jargon that separates you from your family and society, and you still have the element of money from people who are victims.”
Landmark’s vocabulary and perspective can also create close-minded individuals. In their explanation of how “everyone has their story” and their ways of rationalizing, individuals can be not as open to hearing people out, due to being occupied with labeling and over-analyzing people’s behavior. The problem is that one spends time too much time distinguishing what an individual’s emotions depict about their character, rather than listening to what the person has to say. Again, proof of isolation through certain perceived mindset. This was clearly seen with the Forum leaders. They were mocking some of the participants, and furthermore, they showed just how humored they were by those who didn’t entirely get the program or who haven’t yet “popped.”
Landmark lures people in with the promise of a better understanding of self, when in truth all that is needed for a better understanding of self is just TIME WITH ONE SELF. My biggest problem with this program is that yet again, people are urged to go to others looking for answers (attending Landmark seminar/classes), meanwhile, in truth, one must learn to spend time with themselves if they wish to seek answers, not with those who will promise you something at the cost of a price.
Money cannot buy enlightenment. Only the illusion of it. It is better to buy a book with which to reflect on your own reality, rather than have an outsider tell you what reality is or isn’t.
I desperately urge you to look within your own temple of self.
“What influences public opinion is only the storefront. The cults you cited have a religious pretense and hide behind that screen. Here, there’s no religious element. But there’s still a doctrine. The basis of Landmarks’ doctrine essentially rests on a philosophical concept. It’s the concept of authenticity. “We’re going to teach people to be authentic.” Jean-Pierre Jougla, a French attorney and “anti-cult” advocate