On Course for a Change
Health & Fitness Magazine, by Sharon Walker, September 01, 1993
“Examine what it means to be human,” expounds Landmark Forum, “and discover a new way of being.” Curiosity and a glimmer of hope found me holed up in a dreary conference room one sunny Friday morning. Over a million people have done the Landmark’s Forum and its predecessor, est – I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
Some 150 strangers put on their name tags and took a seat while I prepared myself for a long three days: 9 a.m. till midnight, and one Tuesday evening. Remembering the sunny skies outside, suddenly the old way of being didn’t seem so bad...
Could a three-day course really change my life? I was skeptical. “It’s often misunderstood as ‘three-day enlightenment’,” says American leader David Norris, “but that’s nonsense. It does provide you with a new place to look at life from. What we do is bring you to the new beginning of something. When that’s over, you need to work.”
So what did all this mean for me? Well, I finally gave up looking for an answer and accepted my lot. OK, so I wasn’t perfect – so what? “The Forum isn’t about fixing you up,” confirms Landmark’s Miles Protter. “It’s about accepting who you actually are.”
And then there was the sharing, really sharing, and not just the fun stuff. Was that really me? Opening my heart in front of a roomful of people? I just wasn’t the kind of person who did that kind of thing – or was I? The Forum is about letting go of fixed ideas. It frees you up for a future full of possibilities – a future which hasn’t been mapped out by the past.
“Everyone gets to the other side of what’s stopping them but, whatever that is, it’s different for different people,” says Norris. Most people leave with an incredible energy for life, increased self-confidence, and improved communication, especially in close relationships.
The Forum doesn’t include many one-to-one exercises; it’s actually an intense three-day conversation about life. Any participant can stand up to say their bit, but nobody is forced to wash their dirty laundry in public. The Forum will work for you, says Landmark, simply by being in the room.
Astonishing things happen. One of The Forum’s hallmarks is the completing of relationships, letting go of long-held resentments. People are encouraged to make a ‘breakthrough’ phone call during the weekend: one woman rang the ex-husband she hadn’t spoken to for 26 years; another forgave her father, who had abused her 30 years before.
There’s a fair amount of jargon, but you soon get used to talking about your rackets (hang-ups) and story (life).
I went to The Forum vaguely hoping for some sort of answer: how to panic less, achieve more and get free of all the nagging doubts I was dragging around like a ball and chain, wearing me out.
After three days of confronting fears, laughter and tears and really questioning everything about my life, I walked away surprisingly level-headed – but floating three feet above the ground. It was as if someone had blown away the cobwebs, switched on the demister, and flicked on the lights all at once.
For the next week I was wonderfully calm (“What happened?” asked my mortgage broker. “You sound different.”) I breezed through all those phone calls I had been putting off forever. I dealt with problems at work without fretting, worrying, and procrastinating.
The phone still rang 100 times a day, but it just didn’t seem to bother me. Upsets and difficulties got resolved faster. I could concentrate better and take real interest in what people said. My life hadn’t really changed at all, it was just that everyone around me seemed to have got better!
Then it happened. Exactly one week later, the holiday was over. I’d lost it – that wonderful sense of calm and clarity was gone. The noisy, churning chaos of life was back at full throttle. And there was that bloody phone again...
I can’t say I hadn’t been warned. “There’s no course or magic potion that’s going to pop you out of all your problems,” warned Norris. He was right of course: my life was just the same. I had all the same worries, hassles, and problems. Only this time I had a choice.
The Forum doesn’t give you a failsafe list of hints and tips for dealing with life. No emergency action plan. “We’re not interested in answers,” says Norris, “We’re interested in breakthroughs.” For someone who has worked on women’s magazines for five years, this was a hard pill to swallow. What, no practical step-by-step guide? I was mortified.
So where did that leave me? I can honestly say The Forum transformed the quality of my life. Everything is the same, but it’s somehow different. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly. As one woman said, “I had the feeling I changed and I changed for the better.”
It’s not as if I’ve given up worrying altogether – after all I’ve had 27 years of practice and I’m pretty damn good at it by now. Even The Forum doesn’t promise miracles.
But I do know that there’s a calm, centered space on the other side of that door. It’s not always easy to open it, but I do at least know who’s got the key – and it’s not Prince Charming or anyone else. It’s me.