I attended the Landmark Forum in Bangalore over this weekend (14-18 December 2012). The reason to join the Landmark Forum – henceforth referred to as LF – was an interesting narration of experience by a good neighbor friend who was hugely benefited by attending the forum a couple of years ago. Seeing a few positive differences in him for the last couple of years in terms of career and energy levels, I thought of trying it out at my own will and NOT influenced by any individual as such (I hear that many of the sign up under pressure from a loved one or people that matter)
Based on my experience at the Landmark Forum, let me give you some information on what it’s all about, whether it works for all and what to expect at the Landmark Forum.
What is Landmark Forum?
The Landmark Forum or LF is the FIRST in the series of the many personal development courses that the Landmark Education offers. Once signed up for the LF, your life doesn’t end with the forum itself. A series of other courses namely Landmark Advanced Course, Landmark Course for Leadership and Self Expression, Various weekly seminars (seminars come at a fee in some countries, but free in India) and other courses follow the forum itself. And this process takes a few months or years based on how many courses you take. However, you have the opportunity to stop with the 3.5 days long Landmark Forum itself.
The LF invariably happens across the weekend starting on a Friday at 9AM and ending on Sunday night at around 11:30PM. In addition, there is an evening session on the following Tuesday from 7:00PM to 10:30PM. Each day (i.e. Friday to Sunday) is rather long and ends at only around midnight. There will be four continuous sessions of about 2.5 hours long each day and you get one hour lunch & dinner break another half an hour break in between. Please note that there is no lunch, dinner or tea/coffee provided on the premises and only drinking water will be available. It’s hence a very stressful three days because even during the breaks, there will be assignments that need to be completed which includes written assignments, calling up people etc.
At the moment, the three and half days LF costs about Rs.10,000/- in India and I hear that it costs around $500 in the US. People from all walks of life and in all age groups above 15 years can attend the LF. There is a separate course for kids in the age group of 8 to 12.
Usually you can expect anywhere between 50 to 500 participants in each forum. In Indian conditions, it’s usually 250 people upwards in each session. The same content and the same delivery method is practiced across all countries though the ‘Coach’ who delivers the forum in India is mostly an Indian leader – one of the 55 Landmark Forum leaders worldwide, in his own words.
How does the Landmark Forum work?
The Landmark Forum’s approach is to deliver their course modules from their bible (same for all countries) by the leader who sits on high chair on the stage. The participants sit in the stand listening to his sermons. One thing I liked about the forum is that they do not use any Powerpoint presentation or slideshow to deliver the speech. The leader starts with welcoming you by explaining the rules of the forum – those who are not willing to abide by the rule can leave the forum in the first half an hour with their money refunded.
The typical rules are:
- Your commitment and ‘word’ to complete the forum as per its design
- In order to achieve the extra ordinary life (powerful living, new possibilities etc) after attending the forum, you must agree that you are ‘coachable’ by the LF leader
- You must adhere to the forum timings and complete all assignments
- One should not consume any alcohol or drugs till the forum completes on Tuesday. You shouldn’t start any new medication either – of course one can continue the medications he/she is already on. The participants cannot take pain killers like Aspirin after the long day but the leader will promise to teach you some tricks to get rid of your headache or body pain
- People with clinical psychological conditions cannot attend the forum and so are the people come under the categories of the forum’s legal/content/general agreement – A six page agreement that you have to sign to protect from any legal proceedings
A couple of people from the forum left during the introductory speech itself after hearing the coach’s tone but I decided to hold on to become the so-called ‘Landmark Forum Graduate’ who can lead an extra ordinary life at some point – or right after the 3.5 days course as promised.
What to expect on the first day?
As per the coach, the LF is all about ‘Transformative’ learning model based on ‘Ontology’principles and not informative learning. Hence, you must be willing to be abide by all rules to transform yourself and the people that matter to you towards an extra-ordinary life in the offing post the forum.
50% of the first day (Friday) goes on with the coach delivering his speech in a way to highlight how the Landmark forum is going to transform you and how you have to be ‘enroll’ to the idea in order to discover ‘new possibilities’ in life. They use terminologies such as ‘already always listening’, ‘vicious circle’, ‘context’ and ‘rackets’ on the first day. Essentially, it’s about your prejudices in life based on what you were taught by your predecessors, somebody’s actions and your wrong interpretations, how your justified behaviors are in fact of pain to others or people ‘you are inauthentic with’, in their terminology.
(A word of caution: The definitions in the Landmark bible is meant to confuse people who talk and understand normal English. Some of those theories may sound reasonable if explained in plain English but ridiculous and defies common sense when explained in their language. But if you question the leader, you get trashed and I shall explain how)
The breaks during the first day and all night breaks will be used for assignments that include writing about your rackets, people whom you have been inauthentic with (in your behavior, anger, neglecting, abusing whatever) and calling them up to convince them (enrolling as they call) about how they can also lead an extra ordinary life by enrolling into these philosophies. The leader from time to time will remind you that those people should be called along for the fourth day’s evening session to listen to your and LF’s revelations.
The shameless marketing (of sorts) about the Landmark Forum and extra ordinary benefits in offer will continue during 50% of day one. The leader will remind you of the need to be enrolling which essentially mean that you are required to share your new possibilities in such a way that others are touched, moved and inspired (and finally literally enrolled to the Landmark forum)
The method of LF speeches & Interaction
The following is what to expect during the first three days in terms of the leader – forum members interactions.
- The leader will be modulating his voice from low to exceptionally high volume from time to time. It will be so loud at times that most weak-hearted people will shiver and keep silence. The modus operandi is instilling fear in people, make them weak and force them buy into the ideas discussed
- Even if you ask any questions about your particular problem or forum content, it’s most likely that you are yelled at (after inviting you to the mic near the stage) and called ‘you ordinary idiot leading an ordinary sham life’, ‘you jerk you have the courage to think so’, ‘you are disgusting’, ‘it’s your pathetic analytical mind that’s talking’, ‘you arrogant jerk’ etc. Be prepared to hear that and much more than that
- It’s highly likely that the leader come really hard on people with bigger egos (e.g. a few IIT graduates, the so-called highly successful people in life, rich people etc)
- The leader in our case also cut some good jokes in between his yelling and shouts during delivery. I must really admit that he possessed a very good sense of humor when talking about our life situations. That’s the way things are delivered in the first two days – Suppressing your ego and breaking it is the first step by defaming you in public. Many people will breakdown in this process and become silent there after or listen to him completely
- In the case of relationship issues, you will be forced to call up your partner or the person with whom you have an issue regardless of where the problem lies. So it’s like the one-size fits all kind of delivery when it comes to LF
The second day is pretty much about topics like ‘I’ and your ‘Identity’. In the process, they will also talk about a new world and a new language to take you to newer heights. It also talks about anxiety, fear and some exercises to observe the fear and overcome it. At the end of the meditation-like exercise, some attendees revealed that their fear is gone and they will share the freedom and relief that they are enjoying on the stage mic. Others who didn’t feel any difference will be told that the fear will be always there and you have to live with it. Ridiculous at this point! You will be also asked to an assignment on three bold decisions that you would take at that moment.
The second day’s assignment will again include convincing people about enrolling your ideas. This part, at this point, will go to the nasty level of influencing people to join the Landmark Forum where as they try their best to explain that ‘Enrollment of ideas’ is different from ‘Registration’. Landmark forum’s shameless MLM (Multi-Level Marketing or Pyramid scheme) style of marketing starts on the first and second day itself. The only difference is that you as a member don’t get paid to enroll more people. And the enrollment (or registration) of more people is achieved via some kind of emotional arm-twisting and by bruising your ego by calling you a ‘shameless and arrogant jerk without integrity’ several times.
At this point, i.e. at 11PM on the second day’, I told the coach that I cannot do the second assignment of enrolling people. I was called to the stage and asked questions like ‘What is enrollment?, ‘Are you coachable?’. He kept shouting at me about my arrogance, ego and shameless behavior and called me a jerk and an idiot with an analytical mind etc. I replied that I am coachable and agree to most of the content but not an unreasonable assignment. My thought was that, if I am benefited from LF content and course, I would anyhow ask people to join LF but why even before seeing any benefit at all?
He then pronounced that due to my arrogant behavior my wife and kids are struggling for years. He pronounced that even people like Rahul Dravid who attended the Landmark forum was very humble and felt that I do not seem to be coachable unless I agree to all rules. I said, I still have my conviction and analytical brain working even after two days of the forum and until I am convinced, I am not going to enroll people or do that part of the assignment.
After about 10 minutes of argument, he asked me to get out by taking money instead of spoiling the spirit of the forum. Obviously, a few more hands had risen in my support and he felt the threat of sabotaging the cause. I obliged stating that I am not convinced about their unreasonable marketing strategy and hence quitting. I was really boiling, I wanted to call him all that he had called me in the name of ‘coaching’ me but I thought that would affect a fraction of the people who were seemingly satisfied and benefitted having attended the forum.
(The leader called me up the next day, apologized for his rude behavior and asked me to come back. May be that was part of the strategy so that they don’t get sued for emotional abuse despite taking a lot of signed agreement from the participants. He said he’s keeping his ‘word’ of refunding the money. I said I don’t care about the money but your unethical marketing practices. And my Landmark Forum ended there after two whole stressful days!).
The third day
Though, I didn’t attend the third day, it seems that’s when the whole lot of change will happen. In fact, at the end of first and second day, the leader will keep shouting that the forum has not even started but you are already feeling change etc. Things are supposed to be changing dramatically on the third day just like putting on a ‘Switch’. So I called up a couple of attendees whom I had met on the forum and they had mixed opinions on the Landmark Forum’s third day.
Many of the attendees believed that on third day, incidents from their past (in fact, an assignment from second day end) will be analyzed that would have shaped your characteristics as they are today. There will be sermons on how permanent transformation can be achieved by redefining ourselves etc.
Essentially after three days of stressful attending and a few phone calls you will be somehow convinced that life is meaningless and you have the power to make choices, deal with situations etc. All the stress that you went through and the revelations, apologies (you make many of them and cry during the first two days) made by the participants would be relieved by now and you will suddenly feel power – some of the attendees, that is. To me, this sounds quite natural. You were stressed, made look like a fool in the forum, your ego totally busted, tranquilized and at the end you were pronounced powerful and winner. Many weak-hearted people attending the forum at this point would feel happy and relieved and hence would feel that attending LF really helped them. But if you ask anybody to explain how they feel or tangible result – even after many weeks, months of attending even the advanced course – they may not be able to explain it.
(By the way, in order to make your transformation more meaningful and permanent, you will be asked to continue with the seminar series and then the paid Advanced course)
Does the Landmark Forum (LF) Work for all?
In my opinion, it works for a sub-set of people who have been carrying the guilt throughout their life due to infidelity, crimes done in the past, estranged relationships, unethical practices and specific fear of something in life might just find the forum as a great platform to confess and subsequently call up the affected people t apologize. If those people (e.g. parents) are not alive, you even have the opportunity to write an apologetic letter to them during the course. Essentially the confessions and the philosophies in the forum make such people relieved.
For most other people – who live a normal life without many issues – it’s not going to work. But even these people will not admit that LF didn’t work for them because they don’t want themselves look like fools or prey to the LF tactics that tamed them. Essentially don’t even think of attending LF if you are just going through normal mid-life crisis, predictable boss-subordinate issues, MIL-DIL issues, short-term career issues etc.
Due to the very reason that it works for some people, I don’t call LF a scam. It’s a different way of addressing your issues in life and get rid of fear. But if you would ask me, I would go for a good counselor along with the affected parties if I have any issue of that sort. That would be way better than reverting to a big forum and a lame Landmark Forum leader or coach (An extra-ordinary jerk, I must say) to solve my issues.
It’s not a Cult because they don’t associate themselves with any religious acts or even acts of crime or anti-social activities. Also, LF participation or further courses are completely at your will though they will brainwash you to the core to get as much sign-ups as possible. Signing up for LF forum don’t make you anti-social or make you stay away from normal living and hence it’s no cult at all.
They don’t do MLM or pyramid scheme in a sense that whoever signs up new people are not actually getting monetarily benefited. But in reality, it’s nothing but a very successful Viral marketing strategy that they have smartly invented.
The evening session on Tuesday is all about shameless marketing that the gathering (your invitees with whom you are ‘inauthentic’ with and hence apologized) has to experience. This marketing takes place in a very convincing manner that you will be forced to sign up your dear ones and friends for this. Most of the attendees will fall for this strategy since they are forcibly contacted by the forum members who even apologized to them as per the plan. This works like wonders because the evening gathering thinks that their wards are transformed in just 3.5 days (with all those apology, letters, tears etc). In reality, it’s more like a emotional brainwashing.
And during the second day itself, there will be announcements about the Landmark Advanced Course which they will market so convincingly that even before seeing any result from LF, many people will sign up for this. They will say that in five days time, the Advance course prices are going up by 50% or so and you have one last day today (or latest by next day) to sign-up for the future course at the discounted price. And you won’t believe, many of the fools fell for that.
Well, if you are one of those who are living under some stress and badly want to vomit out one of your wrong doings or regret from the past thereby relieving a bit, then LF is for you. But then, be warned that in order to address such issues, you don’t really need a forum such as Landmark but take the help of a good counselor.
In order to protect and respect the privacy of those who took part in the forum with me, I do not want to go into the details of what kind of issues and confessions people made. But there were real extreme cases of crime, infidelity, extranged-abusive relationships, extra-marital affairs, sex-maniac behaviors, dangerous obsessions, drug abuse etc that forced some of them to participate in the forums. And some others, without any issues at all, were forced to sign up by their wards – may be after being part of the evening session sometime in the past. The leader was trying his best to prove that even such people’s life (those sexagenarians and happy senior citizens) is sham, disgusting and they need a transformation in life. All these sermons were really frustrating for anyone who has led his/her life following some ethics and who were brought up with good values in life.
Essentially it didn’t work for me and I am sure it wouldn’t work for people like me. As a matter of fact, LF itself agrees that the program doesn’t work for all. Even worse, there have been incidents of suicide, extreme mental conditions and prolonged trauma reported during and after attending of the LF forum. LF themselves have admitted to such incidents though the occurrence of such extreme incidents have been rather rare compared to the number of people attended the Landmark Forum.
Hence before signing up with the Landmark forum, please think for yourself and read carefully the agreement that you are signing!