My Landmark experience begins the day a trusted friend recounts his weekend Landmark getaway. Quietly, I think to myself, “Poor kid. He has up and joined a cult.”
I have heard the rumors – the strict bathroom policy, the no eating/ no drinking rule, the endless hours of class, the forced enrollment of your peers and family. Landmark Education has been kicked out of France. It also has the vague ring of Scientology, and all that California self-help mind control a la Tom Cruise in Magnolia or the pick-up artist from The Game. But my curiosity was piqued so I invited myself along to his evening class and joined on the spot. (Purely journalistic, of course.)
Day One: I Am A Jerk
On one sunny summer weekend in New York, I resign myself to a freezing basement on 33rd street and 8th avenue, surrounded by a hundred motley strangers. (Where do these people come from?) The Landmark coach steps on stage, a brassy French woman. Immediately I take to her; I can see there will be no forced hugging under her roof. So what exactly are we supposed to do the next forty-five odd hours of class?
The gist of it: participants stand before a microphone and share their stories with the room. A typical story: My rotten father left when I was eight, he ruined our lives and now I cannot trust men. I am middle-aged and single. (Good God, who are these people?) After a bit of fact-checking, our coach tears apart their logic in a trenchant French accent. “He left because your mother was unfaithful. Since you are an ungrateful brat, you never returned his calls. Too bad you are single, it is your fault.”
Honing my college psych skills, I become an excellent sideline observer and help analyze these basket cases (OCD, Bipolar, totally schizophrenic…) But by the end of the day, I have heard enough stories to begin sensing uncomfortable similarities. Then a lady with crazy hair (she must have 15 cats) begins her sad tale and – damn – it hits me, I have used the same line before! Unnerved, I peer around the room and notice a communal look of worry on everyone’s faces.
I start feeling a warped sense of solidarity as person after person goes up to the microphone’s chopping block. “Your entire lives are spend trying to look good or avoid looking bad.” The Frenchie raises an eyebrow, “And that little voice in your head? The one always criticizing and analyzing?” (What little voice?) “Yes, that one… That little goading voice always judging everyone and everything. You are a jerk. You have run ‘rackets’ on all your loved ones. (A ‘racket’ is a Landmark term signifying the stream of excuses we use to condone our stupid actions.) You are inauthentic. But even worse, you are inauthentic about being inauthentic.”
We are left with a sense of desperation. Clearly, we are bigger jerks than we surmised. So now our assignment is to go tell it to the mountain. I return home, call my mother and apologize for being such a terrible teenager. She is surprised, thinks my apology is sweet, but didn’t we get over that a long time ago?
June 6, 2008