42 Hours, $500, 65 Breakdowns
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The Landmark Forum: 42 Hours, $500, 65 Breakdowns

My lost weekend with the trademark happy, bathroom-break hating, slightly spooky inheritors of est.

Indeed, some attendees have popped even before they return to the basement at nine the next morning. Others pop while tearfully offering "shares" about being molested or abandoned, about illnesses and divorces, their suicidal parents. There is applause for stories of calling loved ones and offering forgiveness, and David gently prods the storytellers to invite their family members to attend a Forum—or even pay for them to attend. A woman re-creates a beautiful conversation she had with her mother this morning and ends by singing "Wind Beneath My Wings."

Next, David calls up a woman—I'll call her Rose—who is estranged from her siblings. She reports that when she called her sister this morning, it did not go well. "I'm going to get a little intense now," David warns us with a smile, which he drops as soon as he turns to Rose. "You know the mood of celebration after the last share?" She nods. "What's in the room now?" David shakes his head ruefully. "You were 'screamed at' by your sister? There's no such thing as screaming." People start fidgeting and making for the door; there hasn't been a bathroom break in three hours. "You see, people are leaving," David says. "This is why people don't want to be around you, why your siblings don't want to be around you. You're too dead to feel," he says.

By now, tears are streaming down Rose's face. She asks to sit down; he says nothing. Finally, she thanks David, and he gives her a long hug before she takes a seat. Later, I walk over to tell her that I didn't like how David treated her. To my surprise, she disagrees. After being publicly humiliated, she phoned her sister again, and this time her sister listened. "I guess this is what I needed to hear," Rose tells me, smiling.

By Sunday, I'm in open rebellion. I come bearing contraband—a newspaper, coffee, snacks, and Advil. "How are you?" I ask the minder at the door as I slap on my name tag. "I'm truthful," he says, giving me the stink-eye. I Invent the Possibility of staying far away from Landmark seminars in the future.

We get Monday off. When I take a hard seat in the basement for Tuesday's final Special Evening, I'm surprised to find I almost—almost—start crying. It's like seeing a room of beloved camp friends after a year apart. The air is festive and buzzing with chatter about our day and a half away from each other. I think, This is great! No wonder people have brought along dozens of friends to sign up.

David quiets the crowd and sends the friends away with a group of minders. Turning to the rest of us, he says, "You know how I wished you big Problems on Sunday? Well, now I wish you big Breakdowns. Because a Breakdown is nothing more than the gap between your life now and the life you're committed to living. Your job is to step into that gap." He smiles. "When you came in here Friday morning, you were so certain about who you were, weren't you? You walked in certain, and tonight you're walking out uncertain. It could take years to become certain about who you are again. That's what the rest of the Landmark Curriculum for Living is for: to help you resolve that uncertainty."

Suddenly, I want him to love me as his student, to make him smile, to hear him tell me I'm doing a good job in my life. There are more "shares"; David tears up for the third time in two hours. "I love you forever," he tells us. "If you ever wonder if someone loves you, the answer is yes. David loves you."

And then, without warning, he launches into the hard, hard sell. "I am committed to having every one of you register for the Advanced Course tonight," he says. He's no longer smiling. We can demonstrate our commitment to ourselves, to David, to Landmark—all for $650, a $200 discount—but only if we act now.

Before I get up and leave for good, I spot Rose. She's sitting in the front row, gazing expectantly at David, ready to take the next step toward Transformation, Possibility, and Enrollment™.

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