Further Notes on the Landmark Forum

This post is a response to requests from readers who asked for my notes on the Landmark Forum.

The Forum is philosophical, not scientific or research-based. It’s about epiphany rather than planned behavior change. I often doubt its usefulness. And, it is fun to play with. Please don’t take it too seriously.

When people ask you about the Forum, I was told, don’t summarize the content. Just explain what you got out of it. What I mainly got was:

  • Freedom from fear of what other people think
  • The experience of being a blank slate (nothing) — releasing my personal identity that was based on past events and all my made-up stories about them
  • Freedom to create new possibilities simply by speaking them from that blank slate
  • A reminder to act with integrity by aligning my behavior with my speaking

In essence: Get to nothing. Create from nothing. Act with integrity. 

This is simple, not easy. In my notes, I fleshed out these ideas with a “distinctionary” — an alphabetical list of the main concepts that I took away from the Forum.

Interestingly, Werner Erhard has carried forward many of these ideas into his latest teachings about leadership. My notes might make more sense in that context. To learn more, see WernerErhard.is.

More than anything else, what lingers for me from the Forum is something that Werner Erhard wrote about Erhard Seminars Training (est), a primary source of the Forum. Noting that est was not about solving problems and that no one really needed it, he added:

Each of us has experienced moments in our lives when we are fully alive —when we know — without thinking — that life is exactly as it is in this moment. In such moments, we have no wish for it to be different, or better, or more. We have no disappointment, no comparison with ideals, no sense that it is not what we worked for. We feel no protective or defensive urge — and have no desire to hold on — to store up — or to save. Such moments are perfect in themselves. We experience them as being complete.

If I get there once in a while, I’m satisfied.

OK — some caveats about what follows:

  • These are simply my personal reflections on a course that I took ten years ago.
  • I am publishing these notes basically “as is” with minimal revision. You might find them cryptic. That’s because they are cryptic.
  • I have no affiliation with Landmark Eduction, and these notes have not been reviewed or approved by that organization.

AUTHENTICITY (AND THE LACK OF IT)

We live absurd, small lives based on suppressed emotions, irrational decisions, hiding what we truly think and feel, and a total absence of integrity.

We live with a constant fear of looking bad in front of other people while we pretending that we aren’t really afraid.

Our whole existence is based on pretense and being inauthentic; on failing to keep our agreements; on settling for reasons, rationalizations, and excuses rather than results; and on irrational decisions that we made as children.

We make up stories about what happens in life, and we use those stories to justify breaking our agreements, holding back, and avoiding risk.

We are machines that are based on automatic reactions—complex chains of stimulus-response pairs.

You get to struggle with your inauthenticity for the rest of your life. And then you die.

Start by taking responsibility for being inauthentic. This creates a new realm of possibility.

You can be right or be in relationship. You can have reasons or results. You choose.

BLIND SPOTS

The Forum distinguishes between:

  • What you know that you know
  • What you know that you don’t know
  • What you don’t know that you don’t know — blind spots.

Blind spots produce constraints. They are also points of access to breakthrough.

BREAKDOWN

In the face of breakdown, skip the conversation about what’s wrong. Just re-commit to the possibility that you originally spoke and find ways to act in alignment with the possibility.

CERTAINTY

The Forum does not give you a new set of beliefs or certainties. Look for whatever you’re certain about. There is where you’ve stopped learning.

CHANGE

Change is based in the past — getting more or less of what you had in the past; doing what you did in the past but in a different way. Change is playing the old game in a new way.

In contrast, transformation creates a new realm of possibility (not just one possibility) that is independent of the past.

There is the game of change and the game of transformation. These are different games.

Conventional goal setting is grounded in change, not transformation.

CHOICE

Choosing is independent of reasons. I choose chocolate because I choose chocolate. No reasons. No decisions.

COMMITMENT

To commit is to stand for.

Commiting to a new possibility in the future changes our actions in the present. Action based on commitment produces results.

In short:

  • Commitment —> Actions —> Results
  • Being —> Doing —> Having
  • Future —> Present —> Past

This is the opposite of the way that we usually think about the relationship between past, present, and future.

Create a new possibility by speaking it. Then ask how you want that possibility to show up in your life. State it as a SMART goal — in specific, measurable terms. Set yearly goals and then translate them into semi-annual goals and monthly goals.

Remember that you don’t create results in order to become happy. You are happy and then you create results.

CONTEXT

Creating a new context creates a new view of life and new possibilities for action.

A new context —> new commitments —> new actions —> new results.

Transformation comes from new contexts, not from new circumstances.

CONVERSATION

Human beings are clearings for conversations to occur, much like a blackboard is a clearing for writing with chalk to occur.

Organizations are clearings for networks of conversations.

DISTINCTIONS

To distinguish is not the same as to define.

To distinguish is to call something into the foreground through your use of language — something that was undifferentiated and not noticed before.

ENROLLMENT

To enroll is to create possibilities and inspire people.

To register is to ask people to make a commitment to act.

The “I have a dream speech” is enrollment. Asking people to march to Selma is registration.

Enrollment is the heart of transformation. And enrollment starts with being authentic with someone about how you’ve been inauthentic.

Sharing is the basis for new results and enrollment.

Stop trying to fix or change people. Enroll them instead.

GAMES

We often live as spectators. We’re in the stands rather than on the court. We avoid risks and stay in our comfort zone.

Instead of sitting on the sidelines and just observing, play full out. Be in the game rather than in the stands.

Taking risks brings aliveness.

The talking that happens between players during a game is a form of action. The talk that happens in the stands — explanations and excuses — does not change what happens in the game.

A game is based on rules and declarations. In baseball, a strike happens when the umpire declares a strike.

We are playing a game where the stakes appear to be the highest imaginable — death. But we forget that we are playing a game and that we invented the rules.

We also forget that we are nothing — and therefore everything — and can never die.

The Forum is a game. The leader is a coach. Be coachable. When others share, listen for ways to apply it to yourself.

INSANITY

Insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting new results.

INTEGRITY

Integrity means being complete, whole, and powerful. Levels of integrity include:

  • Following the rules (less power)
  • Being true to your values (more power)
  • Honoring your word as yourself (even more power)

Your word has creative power. You declare a new possibility by speaking about it and then aligning your behavior with it. Being powerful means that your word produces new results.

Keeping your agreements allows you to access transformation.

Keeping your agreements is not right or wrong; it just works. Failing to keep your agreements is not right or wrong; it just does not work.

JERK

You are a jerk when your life is about dominating other people through making them wrong and making yourself right. You do this at the cost of being in relationship with other people.

MACHINES

We are machines. Our behavior is based on reflexes — chains of stimulus-response patterns.

Like machines, we respond automatically to stimuli. We do not consciously choose to act. We simply react.

You are a machine. You don’t act. IT acts.

When a machine observes itself, it stops being a machine in that moment.

You stop being a machine in isolated moments — while meditating, for example — and while you sleep. But in the midst of your daily life, you go back to being a machine.

MEANING

Life is empty and meaningless.

The fact that life is empty and meaningless is in itself empty and meaningless.

Even so, we are machines that make meaning. The meaning that we make is defined by our rackets and our strong suits.

MONEY

It’s not the amount of money you have that produces suffering; it’s the meaning you make up about the amount of money you have.

Don’t look for money to bring fulfillment. Be fulfilled and then make money.

NOTHING

When you see through your rackets and strong suits, you are left without an identity. You are left with nothing.

This is what you get out of the Forum: nothing.

Nothing is an open space. Nothing is a clearing that allows for all possibilities. From nothing you can declare a way of being. That way of being comes into existence solely through your declaration.

Everything that we’ve learned tells us that the most important factor in shaping who are is the past. This is wrong. You can choose and create possibilities independently of the past. Starting from nothing, you can create anything.

Sartre saw nothingness and it left him with nausea.

We see nothingness and then create a new realm of possibility.

POSSIBILITY

We define possibility in a new way — as inspiration and bringing something new into life.

Your view of life determines what’s possible for you.

A possibility changes you in the moment that it occurs. A possibility changes you in the present as you take action based on that possibility.

The future that you’re living into creates your experience of the present. You bring your future into the present.

Create possibilities that draw you forward: I invent the possibility that…. I create the possibility of being…. The possibility I am inventing for myself and my life is the possibility of being… .

Some ways to complete those sentences are:

  • fully alive
  • authentic
  • connected
  • self-expressed
  • complete with the past
  • contributing
  • present
  • satisfied
  • someone who shares and invites other to share
  • an extraordinary human being.
  • a space where love happens
  • a space where negativity disappears
  • free from judgments
  • free from fear of looking bad

PROCRASTINATION (LIVING FOR “SOMEDAY”)

People tell you that your life will really start someday, such as when:

  • You graduate from grade school.
  • You get your drivers license.
  • You graduate from high school.
  • You graduate from college.
  • You get married.
  • You have kids.
  • You retire.

This means that life never actually starts. We keep living a “practice” life in preparation for the real thing.

Give up someday. Stop becoming and start being.

We get it now or we don’t get it at all.

PROBLEMS

Solutions creates new problems. The result is an endless series of problems — a problem-solution mass.

Problems happen. So find a bigger problem — one that is worthy of your attention and action.

RACKETS

You run rackets by complaining constantly about circumstances while receiving a payoff from those circumstances.

REGISTRATION

To enroll is to create possibility and inspire.

To register is to ask people to make a commitment to act.

The “I have a dream speech” is enrollment.

Asking people to march to Selma is registration.

Enrollment is the heart of transformation.

SELF

Give up looking for yourself or trying to find yourself. You won’t find anything. Just declare a possibility and then be that.

SEVEN DISTINCTIONS OF BEING AN UNREASONABLE AND EXTRAORDINARY HUMAN BEING

Be unreasonable in the sense of going beyond your reasons — your excuses for not getting new results in your life.

Be unreasonable in the sense of producing extraordinary results. Being reasonable leads to smaller results.

Remember that going beyond your reasons does not mean being irrational.

The seven distinctions of an unreasonable and extraordinary human being are:

  • Integrity. Honor your word. Follow rules. Make and keep promises that make a difference. Clean up messes from broken promises and then make new promises.
  • Racket-free. Notice the early warning signs of a racket, such as losing your sense of humor. Give up being right all the time — even when you are. If you are right, then get off it sooner.
  • Powerful. Instead of using force, pressure, begging, or conning, produce new results through straight communication and taking what you get
  • Courageous. Feel fear, acknowledge it, and act on your word anyway.
  • Peaceful. Be centered in the midst of chaos. Deal with what is rather than what “should” be. Give up the interpretation that something is wrong. Be free and unconstrained no matter what life throws at you. Greet criticism or attack with non-resistance.
  • Charismatic. Be present. Be here now. Give up trying to get somewhere.
  • Enrolling. Share possibilities that touch, move, and inspire others.

SEX

The truth about sex is that you’re hot when you’re hot — and you’re not when you’re not.

Sex is pure machinery.

Don’t confuse sex with love. Love is unconditional acceptance — not simultaneous orgasm.

Don’t look for love or sex to bring fulfillment. Bring fulfillment to love and sex.

SOMEDAY

Give up the myth of “someday.”

Transformation happens now — not “someday.”

You don’t create results in order to become happy someday. Rather, you are happy and then you create results.

Procrastination rests on “someday.”

STORY

We routinely collapse the distinction between what actually happens and our stories about what happens. The stories are our interpretations of the facts.

For example: Your mother-in-law asks you to not call her “mother.” You make up a story that this means that she doesn’t love you. From then on, your actions are based on this story. You pretend that your story is what actually happened.

Actually, your mother-in-law never rejected you. You just made up a story that she rejected you.

When you forget the distinction between what actually happened and your stories, you become inauthentic. You lose power.

Feelings are a part of what happens, not the story.

STRONG SUITS

Your strong suits are the decisions you made in certain situations:

  • During childhood, you experienced a time when you weren’t good enough, and you decided to be…. (fill in the blank)
  • During adolescence, you experienced a time when you didn’t belong, and you decided to be…. (fill in the blank)
  • As a young adult, you experienced a time when you realized you were on your own, and you decided to be…. (fill in the blank)

These decisions are often random, hasty, irrational, even absurd. Yet they can shape our thinking and action for a lifetime.

TRANSFORMATION

Transformation is the genesis of a whole new realm of possibility — not just one possibility.

Transformation is about a new context, not a new set of circumstances.

Creating a new context creates a new view of life and new possibilities for action.

A new context —> new commitments —> new actions —> new results.

A new use of language creates access to transformation. Transformation happens via a conversation that creates a new future in the present.

Transformation happens through Socratic inquiry.

In transformation, you create your life rather than just react.

The purpose of the Forum is for people to transform.

Anyone can be transformed.

Gaining more information or more money or different circumstances is about change — not transformation.

URGENCY

All that will remain of your body-mind after you die is a pile of ashes.

So, live your life as if your life depended on it.

Live powerfully and create a life that you love.

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