“Create a future of your own design,” — it’s the possibility of an extraordinary life. This is the promise Landmark Education gives its participants. I spent two weekends immersed in this seminar, a total of almost 90 hours over a period of 8 days, at a cost of over one thousand dollars. When people ask me my opinion of the controversial program, often accused of being a cult, I say I’m glad I participated, in fact, I’d do it again if I could, but it was also one of the scariest things I’ve done in my life.

Created in 1991, Landmark Education derives from the Erhard Training Seminars, the brainchild of Werner Erhard, who spawned the ideas from his time with Mind Dynamics — another popular program of the late 1960’s self-development craze. What Landmark says is nothing new; in fact they would be the first ones to admit that. Its approach is a hodgepodge of philosophies picked up throughout Erhard’s life: Scientology, Zen Buddhism, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Hinduism, and Freudian psychology are all rolled into an iron-clad dogma and stamped with the brand Landmark.

Its structure is armored to combat any form of intruding logic and to its credit, it’s done very well. You try to point out the logical fallacies and they say you’re being too rational. You give any reason why you can’t attend a meeting, they’ll place it in a nonsensical analogy to appeal to the crowd’s “rationality” and laugh you off stage. They have a response for everything and in the momentary context of the room, you’re the one that doesn’t get it, not Landmark.

One by one, people stood in the middle of a small conference room to confess their innermost fears and insecurities in front of nearly 100 observers. These fears and insecurities would then be explained as conflated “stories” in our head, and participants are then encouraged to confront these issues, which most times involves an estranged sibling or a disapproving parent — just some relationship that has been broken over time. More often than not, Landmark is actually correct in their assessment: the situation is usually not as bad as we think and you’ll always be surprised at the outcome once you try to make a change.

To me, it centers on the concept of the ego and the self, distinguishing when our actions are in reaction to others and when it is in alignment with our true being, or as Landmark calls it, “being authentic.” The problem is that there is no clear instruction as how to go about “being authentic” and this is where Landmark begins to implement its psychological sales tactics.

Using what I feel is a combination of subliminal word association and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (a form of psycho-therapy to communicate with the subconscious), participants are constantly bombarded the ambiguous instruction to “enroll others in possibility.” The “ego” is defined as the “World of Identity” and the “self” is referred to as the “World of Enrollment.” In order to enter the “World of Enrollment”, one must commit to “Registration” which is achieved by “asking,” “requesting” and “inviting” others to enroll into the Landmark program. I still have no clue how these actions relate to the concept of ego or self.

But the frightening thing is how readily people sacrificed their free will in the fear of missing out on some grand opportunity or to avoid the disapproval of the crowd. I gradually witnessed kind hearted people turn into pushy and arrogant sales agents as their attachment to the program progressed. Really they were just looking for a stable beacon of strength to hold onto.

It’s not that people were weak, just at a weak point in their lives – victims to a crashing economy, a dysfunctional relationship, and a pounding societal reminder that we just aren’t good enough. In all fairness, the conditions of people is not the fault of Landmark; it is the defect in the human design, the susceptibility to social conditioning convincing us that we are inadequate as individuals. In some ways, we’re all inside some giant form of Landmark, socially conditioning every moment of our lives.

Society has led us to believe that we need something more than ourselves, and in some sense we do. Who would we be without our friends and community? Who would we be without our family? There are Landmarks everywhere we turn in the form of churches, support groups, social organizations, perhaps even in our own circle of friends. There is nothing wrong with needing support every once in a while and Landmark can provide that. It just comes with a hefty price tag.

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