This is the 3rd installment in a series of stories about the infamous Landmark Forum.
The first introduced the power of meta-story, and the curious refusal of Landmark graduates to describe what the Forum is actually about; and the second pulled back the curtain on my own experience of the mysterious three-day seminar.
Now, as a reward for making it this far, you're about to hear the twist in MY story that even I didn't see coming.
But first, here is the REAL reason why "Land-Martians" come off a bit brainwashed when it comes to describing the Forum to you:
It's because the experience is intentionally designed to leave you in an altered state of awareness, wherein you see that EVERY act of descriptionis a projection of the stories YOU'VE invented about what Landmark is -- and those, in turn, are a product of YOUR biases and blind spots and meaning-making machinery about what LIFE is.
So, when I call up my friend to invite her to learn about Landmark (which you are pressured to do), and I say it's about the stories we unconsciously tell ourselves and how those limit our possibilities in life and ultimately it's a very valuable takeaway even though it's delivered in an extremely annoying way -- suddenly my friend no longer gets to makeher own meaning of the Forum, without being under the spell ofmy story.
And "spell" is absolutely the right word, when it comes to the enchanting power of story.
And as they thoroughly impress upon you by the end of the course, to do this is to effectively decide that your friend is not capable of making her own decision about Landmark, free from the distorted lens through which you look at life.
Instead (?) you're encouraged to "share vulnerably" about your own experience of "transformation," and then let your friend decide whether or not she wants to put up $700 to register herself.
Do you see the (extremely convenient) genius of it?
The last thing I'll share about Landmark is this: the whole time I sat there, thinking about how valuable this kind of "altered consciousness" experience is for any human being, I was ALSO thinking:
"But there are SO MANY OTHER WAYS to get there, that do not include sitting in a conference room getting yelled at for three days in a row."
Yes, Landmark gives people access to something extremely valuable; but it is NOT, by any stretch of the imagination, the only form of access we have at our disposal.
And yet, it is inherently difficult to articulate what that valuable "SOMETHING" is -- essentially, a different way of perceiving and being in the world -- so the primary benefit of Landmark, I will say, is that it provides all who attend with a common language with which to talk about "IT."
Now fast forward to three days ago, when my brother recommended I read the book Stealing Fire.
In the two days it took me to devour it, the book illuminated a type of quest I've been fascinated by my whole adult life -- the seeking of expanded awareness, higher consciousness, the "SOMETHING" that allows us to experience life in a wholly different, extraordinary, possibility-rich way -- totally free from the religious trappings in which such a quest tends to be dressed.
So, if your curiosity about Landmark has been piqued, but you're hesitant about sitting in a conference room getting yelled at about your past for three days, I suggest you get yourself a copy of Stealing Fire instead -- and prepare to investigate a much wider range of options for accessing the elusive "SOMETHING" that Landmark is selling.
I promised an unforeseen twist in my story. Here it is:
On the last evening of Landmark, when my new friends ask if they will see me in the Advanced Course, I reassure them that I see how valuable it could be, despite the fact that I've chosen not to participate myself. This is generally met with restrained disappointment, as my choice throws their own choices into stark relief.
Then, on my way out at 10:30pm, I am stopped by a grandfatherly man named "Captain".
Captain had shared his success story the day before. He'd had a great life and career as a travel photographer, but then a terrible car accident forced him to abandon the path he had loved. Someone gifted him a scholarship to Landmark, and he used what he learned to build an entirely new life for himself, including a nonprofit that takes inner city kids out on the ocean and teaches them about ocean science and climate change through sailing.
"So," his story concluded, "there's a whole generation of gang members out there, who are also ocean advocates."
Now, Captain asks if I will be joining the Advanced Course.
"No," I say simply, with a smile.
"Why not?" he asks innocently.
"I believe it will be valuable for those who join," I say. "It just doesn't feel like the right move for me."
"Why not?" he asks again.
In this moment, I am tempted to say a bunch of things: Because I don't need it. Because I don't think I will learn anything I don't already know. Because it seems to me like a brilliant marketing strategy. Because I am already a creator of worlds.
But as I open my mouth to respond, it just sort of hangs there, open, as it occurs to me that each of these things is just a story that I live inside.
Eventually I say some words, to which Captain responds: "Is it the money?"
"It's not the money," I say.
"Ok then," he says, "let me tell you something. I see something in you. You're all lit up. I know this course will absolutely rock your world. So if you register tonight and you don't get remarkable results, I'll pay for your course."
Somewhere inside me, Petty Jessica has the urge to tell him he doesn't know me -- that I am always lit up, and my life will be remarkable regardless.
Instead, I smile and ask: "Will you pay me double?"
"No," he says, shaking his head firmly.
"But Kathy double-dog-downed her Dad!" I exclaim, referring to a story the instructor told.
At this, Captain changes his mind.
"Alright," he says, "I'll pay you double."
I cock my head, surprised. "Will you put it in writing?"
"Yes," he says, "but there are conditions."
I am past amusement now. "I'm listening."
"You have to play full-on, on the court. And you have to be coachable," he says in all seriousness, using language from the course. "And if you can do that and complete the course and it doesn't change your life, I'll pay you double what you pay tonight. And I'll put THAT in writing."
He is still holding my hand, from when we shook at the start of the conversation. He is looking at me intensely, with all the kindness and conviction in the world. He is staking his word on it. Petty Jessica has receded back into her corner. It feels, just for a moment, as though he really sees me.
"Alright," I surrender with a smile, handing him the journal I'd just been gifted as a course graduate. "Put it in writing."
And even as the words come out of my mouth, I know I'll never ask this man to pay me back.
Even if the Advanced Course turns out to be twice as annoying and half as educational; there's no way I will take him up on his offer.
What can I say? I am touched.
I peek over his shoulder as he writes in a cursive scrawl: "I dedicate this book to Jessica's greatness, and the stand I am taking for her future..."
He draws up the contract with the precise dollar amount, signs and dates and hands it to me and asks: "Anything else?"
I read it once and hand it back to him. "Phone number, please."
He obliges. And then, as surprised as anyone else, I plop down at the registration table and pull out my credit card.
So, I guess the Landmark story doesn't end here for me. But I promise -- at least until later this summer -- I'll stop talking about it for now.