I went out for dinner with a friend last night and we discussed the Landmark forum, a personal development seminar that I attended in 2011. My friend’s sister also attended the forum through her work with Lululemon Athletica (a company that sends all of its employees to Landmark as part of training). My friend was of the valid opinion that Landmark crushes people in order to build them back up using their preferred techniques and that it adopts the attitude that everyone is somehow broken inside or holding unresolved trauma that can be healed or released through using Landmark.
I understood and completely respected his perspective, particularly since I couldn’t have the same experience that many participants had: fully relieving themselves of emotional burdens and experiences that had pained them for years: abuse, assault, addiction, loss, and infidelity. I even asked our forum leader, ‘How can I go into my new post-Landmark transformed life when I still have to contend with a physical impairment?’ I couldn’t leave it behind me or purge myself of it the way people worked through emotional trauma.
One of the exercises during the course involved facing our deepest fears. People went to the microphone and shared what they were afraid of. I decided to share my struggle with the participants and I was the last person to speak before we began the exercise. I shook like a leaf as I approached the microphone. The forum leader guided me through my sharing. I told everyone that I had a disability I was working to cure. I said that I had worked so hard for so many years and that I was deeply afraid that – no matter how much work I did – I would never be fully better. My hardest and most effective work would never be enough. The forum leader told me to use that fear during the exercise, and I returned to my seat in a flood of tears.
The people around me hugged me and I cried for a few more minutes as our leader prepared us for the exercise. I tried to participate emotionally, but I couldn’t connect with the work. As people around me sobbed and let go of their fear, I simply sat with my hands folded in my lap and felt my body grow cold as ice. I tried to engage with the exercise and with the people around me, but I couldn’t allow myself to let go of my fear. I felt nothing and I felt guilty for feeling nothing. I felt as though I hadn’t succeeded with the exercise because I hadn’t been able to go through it.
After the exercise ended, the participants of the forum – and our leader – treated me differently. They handled me with kid gloves, offering to pick up money I dropped and extending a hand to help me cross the street. I understood their kind and positive intentions but I felt patronized. I tried – as diplomatically as I could – to tell them that I would ask for help if I needed it. When I chose to sign up for the advanced forum, our leader asked another participant to help me. I later went to him and said – with as much gentleness and respect as I could manage given the extent of my hurt and frustration – that I was perfectly capable of filling out forms and signing up for a course. I told him I had a graduate degree in literature and that I was physically impaired but it did not affect me mentally. He acknowledged my feelings and respected me, and I heard that he later told the people with whom he worked that I hobbled when I first came into the forum but that it had already begun to transform me in a positive way. I was already presenting differently and carrying myself differently.
I agree with my friend’s opinion that not everyone is broken inside and in need of personal development to fix them or heal them. People do not need to be crushed in order to be rebuilt or transformed. I did tell him that the forum helped me because I did have a lot of unresolved pain I contended with (and I still do) and that I am one of those people who has a certain brokenness that needed mending. Not all people do, but I did.