Becky Killoran was sceptical when she heard of a course that promises just that but went with an open mind. Now anything is possible for her.
Have you ever heard it said that “when something seems too good to be true, it probably is”? That was my reaction when I heard an intensive three-day and one evening-long course will “bring about positive and permanent shifts in the quality of your life” directly causing “the freedom to be absolutely at ease no matter what the circumstance” and “the power to be in action effectively in those areas that are important to you”. But, having put my scepticism aside and completed it just over a week ago, my doubts have been completely banished. Landmark Worldwide, the global personal and professional training and development organisation that offers the course, has made a profound difference to my life and enabled me to create previously unimaginable possibilities.
I found out about Landmark from Matthew, Impolite Conversation’s founder and editor-in-chief. He did The Landmark Forum, the organisation’s foundation course, many years ago and credits his training there with enabling him to realise most of his life dreams so far, including starting this magazine after many many years of thinking and talking about it. He suggested I do it because he felt it would make a positive difference to how we work together and because he knew there were some issues in my life I was struggling with.
So I arranged childcare, registered into the course that started on Friday 9th January and booked a hotel near Landmark’s European headquarters in Euston, London, where the course took place. Although Matthew had worked with me on identifying areas of my life that were not working as well as I would have liked so I could have breakthroughs in them, on the train down I realised that I wasn’t going to get any value out of my participation if my main reason for being there was that Matthew had suggested it. So I resolved to go with an open mind and see what happened; although I’d done some background reading, I couldn’t possibly have foreseen the powerful transformation that was to come.
The night I got back home after completing The Landmark Forum, I felt more at peace with myself than I had in years. Some people have described their experiences at Landmark as miraculous, but for me it’s more like the scales have finally fallen from my eyes, leaving me able to view people, my life and myself as we really are. I’m not a different person, I’ve just been given the opportunity and tools to do what I want - how I use them and make them work is up to me. Now I have real clarity - and therefore choice.
The three days and one evening are so densely packed with information, new ideas and wisdom, it would be impossible to relate it all. Here are some of the highlights to show you how my perception of the world has shifted:
It took me longer than expected to walk from my hotel and, not liking to be late for anything, I was feeling rather rushed when I arrived. The course takes place in a large room on the 4th floor of Landmark’s Euston offices; on this Friday 160 seats were set out in rows facing a low platform. Most of the other participants had arrived before me and chosen to sit anywhere but the front, so I found my courage and took a space in the first row.
My Landmark Forum was led by the most inspirational person I’ve ever had the pleasure of spending time with: Jerry Baden, in his own words “a Jew with big teeth and no eyes”. He began by inviting us to go to the microphone and share why we were there, and I was one of the first. Without thinking, I stated the issues I was struggling with simply and fought to hold off the tears. To my surprise, a couple of people later commented on how moved they were by my words. Authentic communication like that is central to The Landmark Forum, as we were all soon to learn, as is keeping what you hear in the room confidential.
What did I share that first morning? I wanted to have better relationships with my parents, in which our communication went beyond banalities; to stop being so judgemental about my sister, so we could connect better and enjoy our relationship more; and to be able to better communicate with my older son, who has recently entered the psychological minefield that is secondary school.
One of the first things Jerry worked on with us is how the innate judgements we all subconsciously make inhibit our ability to really listen to others. When someone is talking to us, the little voice in our head is deciding whether or not we agree or disagree; what they’re saying is right or wrong, or good or bad; or whether they should or shouldn’t do whatever they’re talking about. And overriding it all, we’re thinking about how to satisfy our fundamental human need to look good.
A wonderful coach with a burning passion for his work, Jerry has a keen nose for when people are not being entirely truthful, both with themselves and others, especially him. He sees straight through pretences and excuses and created a space for us to confront the truth about ourselves, making it one of the most honest and genuine experiences of my life.
Now if this sounds much too serious and painful, let me reassure you that throughout the course Jerry, and many participants, inspired a great deal of laughter too. After all, if you can’t laugh about yourself, how can you ever be honest with yourself? It takes real humour, skill, energy and commitment to keep the attention of 160 people for 13 hours a day over three straight days, and Jerry has these qualities in abundance.
All of Landmark’s programmes are expertly designed to elicit results, including the length of each day and the timing of the breaks, the focus on sharing (either in your seats with a partner, at the microphone with the rest of the room or on the phone with your loved ones, friends and associates during breaks) and the fact that Jerry’s key conversations were perfectly timed, structured and delivered for maximum impact.
Over the course of that first, very long (and sometimes unsettling) day we gradually began to confront the behaviour that was running our lives and understand where we had gone off track. Jerry presented us with so many new ideas I sometimes felt overwhelmed and struggled to process what he was saying, apparently a common experience. Come 10pm, I left tired but determined to return and find out more.
The rollercoaster ride continued the next morning. In any room of 160 people, several will have had truly awful experiences and when some were shared at the microphone, I’d at times find myself asking why I was so hung up about my childhood when it was nothing compared to what others had been through.
Put quite simply, The Landmark Forum is an inquiry into who you are. As we began to realise, this depends on who you have been, because in actual fact they are one and the same. Key experiences from our childhood are of course our defining influences; during the weekend we came to understand how we continually live out decisions made when young throughout our adult lives.
For example, one of the human condition’s main flaws is that most of us don’t distinguish between what happened in a particular situation (the facts) and our interpretation of what happened (the story). We become trapped in a vicious circle between the two and cannot let go of the story; it becomes our reality and, because it gives us some sort of payoff, we let it rule our lives and cannot move on. To be human is to be trapped in an endless cycle of reactive past-based behaviours but by acknowledging them and how they limit your life, you have a chance to live in the present and real choice in who you are in any moment.
At one point Jerry invited a few participants to stand up and share their complaints and stories. As soon as the first few had shared, there was no stopping us; we all wanted a chance to reveal the deceits we had been practising on ourselves and others, and to free ourselves from them. Jerry coached us as we shared, helping us see what the cost had been to us and those we care about. Some of us laughed, some cried, often both. We promised to call the person concerned so we could have a breakthrough with them, acknowledging our stories and complaints against them, apologising and, through this, creating a space to move on and behave differently in the future.
Before the course I was aware I blamed my parents for not putting a stop to the bullying I suffered at secondary school and used this as an excuse for not achieving what I wanted in life, feeling that I lacked self-confidence, wasn’t good at job interviews, and had never had a “proper” career. And the facts? I was bullied by two girls in my class. That’s all - the rest was my story.
Why did I perpetuate this story? The payoff was that it made my parents wrong and made me right, and it provided me with a justification for much of my behaviour and lack of action in many areas. But its costs were that it stopped me from feeling close to my parents, from communicating with them on anything more than a superficial level, from being a meaningful part of one another's lives and from having and doing lots of the things I really wanted in life.
So did I have a breakthrough with my parents? Yes! I called my mum in a break and we had a conversation unlike any we’d ever had before. I began by apologising for blaming her and for how I’d acted as a result, which created the space to talk about something else I’d been keeping hidden from her. As I had opened up with her, so she did with me, telling me something about the family she’d never told me before. A huge weight lifted from me and on my return to the room there was a big smile on my face.
By the end of the course, everyone was clear we had all been trapped in cycles of behaviour shaped by our childhood experiences, why this was so, and how this cycle ultimately limited our lives - especially our personal relationships. Most people drift through life never really participating, never living life at its fullest in the moment; we live for later, assuming that later is somehow “better” than now, and wondering why it is that we feel unfulfilled.
When we went home on the Sunday night, we had left behind issues we’d been wrestling with since childhood and letting shape our lives. Now we have lives full of possibilities, not the past; now how we live is our responsibility and ours alone.
At home the Monday after my course, I was instinctively different with my family, actually listening to them instead of judging them and talking in a new, calmer way. My children have begun to share their worries and concerns with me freely, which rarely happened before, when I tried to force it out of them, and I don’t react to the little things my husband and kids do that used to annoy me. Well, most of the time; it’s still early days yet! The result is honest communication that we all benefit from.
Before I did the Landmark Forum, I’d have been highly sceptical if anyone suggested that a world without war was possible. On Sunday, Jerry did just that and to my surprise I understood: Global peace is possible when humanity is free from blaming others for how our lives are and from making others wrong. Anything is possible now.
Landmark is an international personal and professional growth, training and development company with over 50 offices in 20 countries worldwide. You can find out more about the company and its courses here.
Image CC Beth
About the Writer
Becky was a TEFL teacher for many years, including two spent in Japan. A keen reader, she is also passionate about music and is an enthusiastic member of her local choir, Rock Chorus. She lives with her family in Milton Keynes.
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