Last weekend I attended The Landmark Forum. Before launching into this adventure I had heard many mixed views, strong opinions, both positive and negative, and read several critical articles. There’s a lot of really interesting writing on Landmark and varying opinions that I strongly encourage you to look into if you’re interested. One post by Jenny Sansouci does a particularly good job of outlining the structure and format of the Forum and debunking some of the common misperceptions. I’m not going to focus this post on critiquing Landmark’s structure. Yes, Landmark is a large corporation and some of the three-day long conference is oriented around marketing further courses to you. Yes, it’s intense and a very different learning experience from what we are used to. Yes, the Landmark Forum leader can be abrasive at times, but I never felt as though it was from a place other than kindness. Yes, people cry and get upset. And yes, you make a lot of phone calls. But what I really want to dig into is what I got out of it. Because I got a lot out of it. And it was definitely worthwhile for me. And no, I’m getting nothing for writing this post other than the opportunity to put together some of the puzzle pieces for myself.
The Stories We Tell.
Everything we experience in life happens to us. And those experiences, in the moment, affect us in a multitude of ways. We often react to those experiences by telling stories about them. As an example, “my dad left me” is something that happened, fortunately not to me. But the story we might tell about that becomes “I’m not good enough” or “I’m unloveable”. We then continue telling ourselves that story throughout the rest of our lives and applying it to other situations. It makes us push other people away because we think “Im not good enough”. Landmark, through transformational learning, teaches us to recognize that these stories are not what actually happened, and to let them go.
With this more objective lens we can start to see what is true in the world. We stop reading into what people say. We stop making assumptions. When you ask someone to go for coffee and they respond “I’m too busy to hang out” you might jump to the conclusion that they don’t want to spend time with you, or you’re not worth their time. But in reality, it just means “I’m too busy to hang out”. Great. No hurt feelings. It’s such a relief to be able to hear and see everything at face value and just accept it without question. And in being able to receive what people say and do that way, you can start to do it yourself.
I went into The Landmark Forum with the hopes that it would help me develop my courage and authenticity muscles. I really want to work on mustering the courage to speak my mind, say what I want and need, and to be my truest most complete self. The ability to just say things as they are, without embellishments and assumptions, without trying to read between the lines, is a relief. It’s freeing. It means being a person of greater integrity, something I really value and am so grateful for.
The Landmark Toolbox.
Landmark provides a multitude of concepts and tools that, once explained, seem so obvious. But throughout the course of the weekend, they are presented in a way in which they start to become second nature. The Forum covers the idea of ‘rackets’, which are basically equivalent to complaints about the world around us, and why we form them and how to combat them. They discuss how we often choose these rackets over other attributes like self-expression and love.
They help you find your three strong suits, or “ways of being”, that you most commonly apply or automatically resort to. We develop these at different stages of our childhood and adolescence to cope with challenging situations. I dug deep on this one and figured out that mine are: Compassionate, Hard-Working and In Control.
When I was six I saw my dad cry for the first time, and it was my fault; I had acted out in a cruel way to my parents and it made my dad so sad. In that moment I realized I needed to carry myself with a greater level of compassion. And that has spread through my life in many ways. In high school, I struggled with bullying and rejection. To hide from that I buried myself in homework and taking on activities outside of school with a vengeance. I put on my “stay busy” mask and became an incredibly hard worker to avoid the feelings of exclusion. And a couple of years ago I experienced serious anxiety and panic attacks whenever I felt alone. This is something I struggled with for a long time and I will probably discuss in greater detail in a future post. It took a lot to get through that, but one method was to learn to organize my life in a way that meant that I had control over it.
Strong suits are usually good, positive attributes. But they can also come back and bite us or put road blocks in our way. I love that I’m compassionate but it means I struggle to say no, often put others first, and don’t always stand up for what I want. Being hard-working is something that I appreciate immensely, but sometimes it gets in the way of living the life I really want to live. And being organized and in control allows me to be highly productive and prioritize what I value, but sometimes I yearn for spontaneity.
We learn that there is a difference between making a decision and making a choice, and that we should always aim to make choices rather than decisions. When you make a decision it is based directly on the circumstances or options at hand. When you make a choice, you look at the circumstances at hand, consider them, and then choose freely. Even if you don’t have options and a circumstance is forced upon you and out of your control, this gives you the agency to accept what you cannot change, and then to move on from there, creating a new possibility given that circumstance.
We learned about how to deal with breakdowns, when things don’t go our way or obstacles arise. It’s all about keeping your eye on the end goal: “Courage! Joy! Love!” or whatever that looks like for you. What’s your big game? I know mine is something like “Live a loving, courageous, joy-filled, grateful and connected life. Do what you love. Find a career of your dreams. Be of service to others. Carry your light and love wherever you go and share it generously. Find true love, start a family, settle down.” Problems will come up. We won’t always get what we want. But we learn to stop making it all about those individual problems and instead to realize that when issues arise, they’re just a part of the big game. Nelson Mandela was behind bars for years, but he was never imprisoned. Don’t let your problems keep you small. Be the big you that you are all the time, even when the going gets rough.
This is it.
But above all, we talked about how to cease the moment, to live in the now. We realized in a really impactful way that the past is in the past, and it’s okay for it to stay there. In fact, for us to live a truly fulfilling life that’s exactly where the past needs to be. And we came to realize that the future is a blank slate. It’s an empty canvas and we can create whatever possibility we want in that space. From this point, witnessing all the stories you have told, all that you have let get in the way, accepting that, and moving forward, you can be and do whatever it is you want.
But you have to do it now. In this moment. Not in the future. It’s not about going on a diet next month, or getting a promotion next year, or confronting a coworker tomorrow. It’s about living and breathing and being those things right now. Down the road I would love to be doing environmental and social justice organizing work while strongly emphasizing the need for self-love and self-care. But that’s not a tomorrow thing. That’s something I can actively do every day, right now. I want to be loving and connected. So in every conversation I’ll bring that intention with me and put it into action. I want to have financial freedom. So right now, even though my bank account makes me nervous when I look at it, I’ll stop living in a mentality of lack, and I’ll feel abundant, now. I’ll stop saying “I can’t afford this” and I’ll start saying “I’m so grateful for…”. It’s all about creating what you want starting right now, in this moment.
We create possibility by what we say. The words that come from between our lips and the conversations that we have in turn create the life we live. We use language to build our relationships, state our intentions, and paint whatever future you want.
What could you do right now that would be actively creating the possibility that you want? What could you say, and to whom? Speak your authenticity. Shout your truth. Holler with integrity. State your intentions. And whisper your desires.