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Cult or Cure? Landmark Surely Left Its Mark

A Maplewood writer shares her Landmark Education experience.

I first heard about the Landmark Education about 10 years ago. An acquaintance mentioned she had just completed a course. She revealed that while taking the class, she realized many things about herself, including the fact that she was in love with a mutual friend.

I was shocked. I could not imagine them together. Surprise, surprise. They have now been happily married for years.

If you're wondering what I am talking about, allow me to explain. Landmark Education is an international organization that offers courses that are geared towards self discovery. Confused? So was I.

Landmark came back to my attention a year ago. I was conducting an interview for a profile I was writing for Patch. I always ask people where they get inspiration for their business or their life. This particular person mentioned they had taken a Landmark course but said it was "off the record." My interest was once again piqued.

A quick Google search on "Landmark Education" was quite the eye opener. Words like "cult," "scam," "criticism" and "brainwashing" were connected with the program. But the friends that I knew did not seem like they had been scammed or involved with a cult.

Around this time, I met a Maplewood mom who had taken the class and said it had changed her life. When I asked for more details, she was somewhat vague and said it was "hard to explain." She encouraged me to check it out for myself and assured me I would find it helpful in my life.

At the time, I didn't think I had any major issues. Sure, I was not happy with my parenting skills and, yes, I wanted to be more successful in my writing career, but I didn't feel there was anything major wrong with my life. 

When my friend invited me to attend an introductory meeting at Landmark, I agreed to go. Even though I wasn't sure what was going to transpire, I did expect to get a hard sell. Through the grapevine I had heard that Landmark really, really, really wants graduates to encourage their friends to enroll in the program. It made sense to me when I learned that they do not do any advertising, yet they get thousands of people to enroll in their programs every year.

I got exactly what I expected: a hard sell. While I did hear from graduates about their amazing experiences, I was also encouraged quite a few times to enroll in the Landmark Forum, their introductory course. I was interested but I wanted to talk it over with my husband. I am a tough native New Yorker and I did not succumb to the pressure. Another downside was that I was not terribly impressed with the teacher who led the meeting. 

Even though I was intrigued with the feedback that my friends had given me, I still wasn't sure what to do.  I decided to post on Facebook and Mothers & More. I received all sorts of interesting responses. Many talked about the hard sell. One friend mentioned that she did not have firsthand experience, but she had the sense it was "culty." Others recommended different types of coaching programs. One friend mentioned there was a very long thread on maplewoodonline.com. I checked it out and as I expected, it was not pretty. One Maplewood friend admitted she had taken their courses, along with her husband. The fact that she openly admitted it was surprising. I received many private responses from local Maplewood residents who had taken many courses but I thought it was interesting that they did not share it with the public.

Every single response, aside from one, said the course changed their life in some aspect. I was sold.

When I learned about the hours of the classes, I knew it was going to be intense.  My class, The Landmark Forum, met on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 9 am until 10 pm, followed by a 3-hour class on a Tuesday night. In addition, they offer 10 weekly three-hour follow-up group classes.  Talk about intense!

I decided to take the course that met in New York City as opposed to their South Plainfield location. As I walked into the building near Penn Station, I was excited and nervous.  I did not know what I was going to face the next three days.  I worried that I was going to hate it or not get my money's worth. I had shelled out $470 for this course. Side note, the usual price of the class is $550 but due to the economy, they have lowered the price for the time being.

Soon, the room was filled with 130 students.  I saw young adults to seniors and everything in between. What I later learned from my peers shocked me, saddened me and changed my entire world. Now that I have gone through the experience, I can see why my friends were not able to provide me with the details that I wanted to hear.  Everyone goes into the course with their own situations and experiences and everyone walks out of there with their own unique experience. No one learns the same exact things yet everyone benefits in some capacity.

I consider myself to be an intelligent person so I knew the work was going to be intense. What else can be expected from a class that lasts 13 hours a day? Despite the rumors, students are allowed to leave the room to use the bathroom or have a snack. You are given snack and meal breaks. No one forces you to do anything you don't want to do.

So what happens? There is a lot of talking. I mean A LOT. The class is led by a Landmark Forum Leader. My leader had a great sense of humor, which definitely helped ease the intensity of the class. I can say that by Saturday afternoon, I felt like a different person. I realized something about myself that once I realized it, I felt like a weight was lifted off my chest. The odd thing is that I never even knew that the weight was there.

I learned why I was reacting to my children the way I was. I learned how my parents' relationship affected my current life in ways that I never thought about. Throughout the day, students are encouraged to call people in their lives and talk about what was going on. During a break, I called my dad to share something I had never shared with him before.

Since the class ended, I continue to get revelations that surprise me. Just last night I had a heart-to-heart conversation with my mother in law. If you know me, you are aware of the challenges I felt in our relationship. I said things to her that I never thought I would be able to share with her. It was amazing.

I have also been able to use the tools that I learned in the class in my career. I am approaching my career differently and that makes all the difference in the world. One participant in my class told me he had gone into the course without any issues. He loved his life, his girlfriend and his career but his entire family had taken the course and he wanted to learn their language. On the Tuesday meeting, he shared that he had applied a tool that he had learned in class during an important business meeting in order to get the answer that he wanted. I thought that it was incredible that what we had learned could be applied to every aspect of our lives.

My family and friends have been amazed at the new me—or the different me. I have also been met with skepticism and wondering how long the different me will last. All I can say is that I refuse to go back to the old me and since I am now aware of things that I was not aware of before, I don't think it will happen.

I highly recommend this class. 

Lanah March 22, 2012 at 04:17 AM
Thank you for sharing Judie! What I don't understand is all the bad reviews on Landamark. I really want to try but still feel very skeptical. I wanted my daughter to do the young course and then we would do the family course but so afraid after reading some of the bad things people are saying. Can you tell me the reason you didn't go to the South Plainfield one? I live right here and that would be the one I'd go to.
Judie Hurtado March 22, 2012 at 10:24 AM
Lanah, thank you for writing. A few people who had taken classes from my town (Maplewood) at both locations mentioned that the traffic was bad and that it was easier taking the train in. The one in the city is a block or two from Penn Station so it was convenient. I have to admit, however, that it's been two years since I took this course and the changes have not lasted. After the Forum, I took their second course. I found that partipants tend to continue taking class after class. It seems, from my perspective, that the effects are hard to maintain. One minor thing has remained with me though and that makes me happy. Best of luck!
Eileen February 12, 2013 at 07:43 PM
Thanks for the comments. As a graduate, I have had long lasting personal results for which I am grateful.
John Bishop April 17, 2013 at 09:34 PM
Thank you for sharing your experiences Judie. After discovering very positive information about The Landmark Forum, I participated in The Landmark Forum. I have completed several other Landmark courses since then. They have all been truly life altering in many ways, including, I have a stronger and more loving relationship of my wife of 42 years than I ever dreamed possible and also with our daughter. My relationships with all of my family members and friends have never been better. My wife, daughter and many family members and friends have also had positive results after participating in The Landmark Forum. Self discovery and actions to take are two of the key benefits of participating in The Landmark Forum.
Judie Hurtado April 17, 2013 at 10:06 PM
Eileen and John, thank you for your reading my essay and for your comments. I'm happy that you both got what you got from Landmark :-)

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