"I remain baffled"

November 2001
By a Forum participant

A woman I respect at work seemed so entranced by her Landmark experience. Then one Landmark woman invited me to her house for an "introduction." There were very few people there. What I got out of it was actually quite powerful. In fact, my realization was so powerful that I was emotionally shaken, and it was at that point that my co-worker pulled out a registration slip. She said if I was "committed" to making a difference in my life, it was time to register right then and there. And I had to pay for it too. I felt a bit emotionally manipulated, but tried to laugh it off and gave her my credit card.

Landmark events are so clearly orchestrated. During their seminars the women volunteers, who are like Stepford wives, were all dressed so immaculately. There is also a lack of substance to many of their conversations. And it appears that they have this notion it is impossible to really like yourself, without the benefit of the Forum.

I told my co-worker that I was happy to have made a "breakthrough." Now she wanted to know if there were other areas of my life with "breakthroughs." What I really wanted was better communication with my partner. We'd decided to get married. My friend assured me that I would get the result I wanted, through the seminar. So, I decided to do the Forum.

Looking back my friend was actually rather vague about what she was actually getting out of her own advanced classes, other than this continual effort to pull back layers of her past, discovering "stories" and peeling away "inauthenticity."

The first morning of my Forum was boring and filled with new twists on terminology. But I was curious and tried to remain open. I had expected to work within smaller groups. Perhaps people playing games, working on puzzles or trying out some new communication techniques. Doing something that engaged us aurally, visually, and kinesthetically. In my experience this makes teaching more effective.

It was really odd sitting there without being allowed to take notes or even to talk, unless you were told to. And really weird that all the chairs were packed in so close. Maybe this might be extraordinary? Who knows? We got so few short breaks for food and the bathroom. The volunteers, expressionless and dressed professionally looked like zombies. But despite their effort to maintain neutral expression, they disapproved of anyone getting up. I'd stood up to strong criticism and censure before in my life. Now why was I letting these volunteers get to me?

A group of us were all late coming back from dinner. The door was closed and the course supervisor, the biggest stuffy zombie of them all, asked us if we had anything to say for ourselves. I said nothing. We were let back in, after the supervisor asked us to recommit to being on time and following the rules for the weekend. Rules aren't a problem for me unless they are stupid. I am a biologist and trained in scientific method. I understand the need to control variables. But I found myself increasingly skeptical about this weekend, its special feats of human engineering and ability to "transform us all" by Sunday afternoon. It seemed like learning to live by rules, was what was really what the weekend was really all about. I wondered if by Sunday I would discover a new willingness to always be on time and dress professionally.

I don't have a cell phone or a calling card and I didn't bring my address book to the Forum weekend. I hadn't memorized my older brother's pone number and my parents were on out of town on a driving trip. So, I was stymied regarding the reaching out type of "homework assignments," which would help me pull back layers of inauthenticity. I was quickly learned that the communication workshop would never end at a reasonable hour.

I was staying with my future sister-in-law. I had dinner there and told her about some of my experiences with the Forum. She is not dumb, has participated in youth groups and received some training about cults. She asked open-ended questions, which I could not answer.

Saturday right before the dinner break and after a day of inadequate food, I was feeling stupid about not focusing on any particular issue. But I am a woman who takes risks. Like riding a bicycle 4,600 miles across the country from coast to coast and hiking 2,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. So I soldiered on.

The last exercise I stuck around for, was based upon guided imagery. I had to close my eyes and imagine the two people on either side of me terrified me. The leader then increased this to everyone in the room, then everyone in the neighborhood, the city, our region, country, continent and finally the world. All six billion people on the planet, and you are scared of them. Around me people were crying, gasping, moaning, shouting, men as well as women. I tried to conjure up images in my life, scary incidents, which I had lived through. The leader screamed at those of us who felt nothing, we were "dead," "emotionless," etc. He then told us, "Come through to the other side." And that this was all a joke. "Who got it?" he said. "Who got the joke?" I wondered, "Is this where everyone is supposed to figure out that everyone is scared of everyone else?" LAME. But people in the room started chuckling, giggling and then laughing uproariously.

When I left for dinner I felt a bit dazed. I planned to have dinner at my future sister-in-law's again. But this time when I considered returning for the rest of my Forum, I decided not to go back. I didn't like the artificial nature of it. I wasn't learning anything about better ways to communicate or anything meaningful about myself, except for random "inauthenticity." I didn't feel anything. Except that my concerted effort to stay open-minded had ultimately led me to bafflement. I remain baffled.

My co-worker talked to me for quite awhile the following Monday. She used Forum jargon about being "complete" with me, my experience and asked, "Are you complete with me?" We still volunteer together for another organization and have dinner together. She still talks about the Forum, but does not proselytize. Her boyfriend plans to attend a Forum soon. Who knows what he'll get out of it? Should I be more "authentic" and "complete" with my two Forum friends about what I think of their organization? I don't know.

Copyright © 2001 Rick Ross.

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