Home     Forum     Copyright 2008, Randy Strauss

My Breakthroughs in the Landmark Forum

I took The Forum in November of 1985, and then a seminar. My mother and youngest brother then took it in Seattle and my brother then took the "6-Day" and "MOE" graduate courses with me the next two summers. My relationships with my mother, brother and father blossomed (though Dad never took it).

My relationships with my other 2 brothers improved as well. We met once in the late 80's and went out for dinner. The conversation was the usual banter and I remember I asked a serious question to turn the conversation to something more meaningful- something like what did they remember from growing up together. All sorts of personal things came up about what we thought of ourselves, each other, and about our parents. I learned a lot of new things about them.

After my brother took the Forum, my best friend visited from the East coast and I convinced him to take the Forum. He loved it and put his life back on track. He also took the 6-day and found some great help with relationships and married a wonderful woman.

All of us will testify that The Forum is a remarkable course and delivers on its promise and intent, to open up new possibilities for participants and have them break through areas where they're stuck. There's no magic, no religion, no dogma, just some introspection into what humans do and learning some techniques for interceding in the normal drift of life to identify blind spots and areas where unobserved ideas are limiting us so breakthroughs occur and possibilities are revealed, and to enable us to more effectively realize the possibilities.

Often we make ourselves wrong or spend time making other people or the world wrong. We spend time worrying that we don't look good enough or avoid situations that look like ones in the past that we were upset about. The Forum gives us the tools we need to avoid these if we want to.

My main breakthrough was with people. To appreciate it, you have to know a bit of the story. We all have different stuff, though many of the themes are similar. I'm no longer attached to this, but it's a good illustration.

The Story

I grew up friendless and solitary. I'd look at people sitting or talking or playing something and I had no idea how to join them, or what to say. I remember going to recess in elementary school and watching the other kids run out to do stuff while I waited. When things settled down, I'd look to see if there was a spot open for me to play four-square. When there was one, it was great. Most of the time there wasn't, and I'd sadly wait till recess was over. I never told anyone, but daily I'd push down the despair so it didn't bother me.

I tagged along with one guy in 7th grade a bit- we'd go downtown on a bus to buy or look at stamps- he collected, while I tried a bit, and pretend. In 9th grade I finally had a friend with whom I talked and adventured a little until a few months later when he got involved with a girl.

In 10th grade I hung around a clique and gradually entered, but relationships were very superficial. Over the next two years I became more comfortable and we joked around. In 11th grade I had all my classes with the "smartest kid in the school" and we talked a bit. Not knowing better, I thought we were friends- he hadn't noticed.

I didn't really start talking till a wonderful girl decided to get to know me in 12th grade and opened up my life both to close friendship as well as to love. A new girlfriend every 6 or 18 months (I realized later there was a pattern) provided most of my close friendships. I made a very close male friend when I entered Stanford as a junior and then another while I was a graduate. But for the most part, people were strangers and I had no idea how to get to know them. And I had this gnawing experience I was missing something.

The Forum

In the Forum I realized that I was actually acting aloof and pushing people away. I realized that when I was with strangers, if I just let go of the conversation in my head saying "I wish I could talk to them" and "I don't know what to say", I could listen and ask questions.

So out of the Forum, I developed the very normal ability to talk to strangers pretty comfortably. For me, it was a huge breakthrough. It never would have happened without the Forum.

Suddenly, I didn't have to wait for people. I found a company that gave small-group trips and signed up for one to Baja. On the flight from San Jose to L.A., I broke the silence and talked to the person next to me! It was wonderful!

In the Los Angeles airport I was waiting at one end of the concourse for the next flight to a small city about a third of the way up the inside of the Baja peninsula. There weren't many people around, and it dawned on me that the other people on my trip must be there with me. So I summoned my courage and said aloud, "Anyone else here going on the trip with The Small Boat Cruising Company?" About 8 people came forward and we introduced ourselves and talked. Instead of spending the flight and first night in Baja alone, the trip got off to a great start after only two hours.

The 6-Day

The experience of the Forum gave me the ability to be out in the world fearlessly. Of course I'm not always this way, sometimes I fall back into my normal "personality", but becoming comfortable in the world is now usually as simple as becoming aware that I'm uncomfortable.

I got benefits in lots of areas in the 6-day, but it turns out my core issue is loneliness. In the 6-day, I "remembered" that I had been in an incubator when I was first born, and I after exhausting myself crying, I had stuffed my sorrow and, beaten, waited for love. I put "remembered" in quotes, because, though the story of being in an incubator is true, it may not have started then- there's no real way to know.

But what I saw clearly was that I had been waiting. I waited for a chance to play on the playground. I would wait in my classrooms for something to do, and when they gave an assignment, I'd immerse myself in it, finish it quickly, and wait again. While other kids were distracted by people and ideas and fun and jokes, I avoided looking at people to avoid the pain, and I waited. I'd get home every day, eat a huge, sugary snack and sit down in front of the TV and wait for dinner. I waited for friendship and I waited for love.

In college, I was lucky in the great women I met. But I was exploring. As soon as it stopped being new, I often kept the relationship, but I'd put my curiosity in other things, or just feel stuck.

Two women were interested in marrying me, but I couldn't. First off, I had never thought about it- and they just asked if I wanted to- that's like asking if you want to take the Forum without knowing anything about it (really, I had never thought about it.) Secondly, I couldn't marry because no woman was curing that feeling inside of me that something was missing. So I held out because it had to be filled first, or maybe my "soul mate" would fill it.

After finishing the 6-day I was suddenly free to explore on my own. I did a couple more one-night-per-week seminars (to get support applying the skills learned as I got involved in life), and I began exploring other areas of life. I tried some Yoga and some other trips and had more girlfriends. Finally in 1988 I met a(nother) wonderful woman who wanted to start a family with me. By this time I realized that being at peace being married was just a matter of saying so ("I do") and having a supportive perspective that my concerns sprang from old thoughts and feelings. We married in 1990.

I often used what I learned in the Forum. Over the next 18 years, as my two sons were growing up, I often caught myself assuming things or inadvertantly making decisions or judgments about myself or them that limited possibilities. It was great to get past those.

But my wife irritates me in certain ways, so I thought. It became especially noticable after about 4 years, when my oldest son was about 2. I'll spare you that story, but it ate away at me.

(Just after we married, In 1991, the founder of the Forum (and its precursor, EST) Werner Erhard, sold the "intellectual property" of the course to the other course leaders, and the course became the "Landmark Forum". (see Wikipedia)

After 18 years - resentments and marriage

Almost 20 years later, in April, 2008, with my two sons in 7th and 10th grade, I found myself working 12 hours a day as a software engineer and almost writing a book on weekends- "almost" because I was stuck. One evening I was talking with a coworker about his life and realized The Forum would be great for him. As I shared about it, it suddenly dawned on me- a great way to get unstuck in my writing would be to take a seminar! A seminar on "Being Extraordinary" started the next week and I signed up.

I began breaking through the impass the first week, and the second week began making great progress on my book. And then a question arose in the seminar, "What part of my life was not extraordinary?" The thought came almost immediately, "My marriage." Over the years I had built up a series of resentments. I had even toyed with the idea of divorce. My main problem was that my wife reacted with yelling and anger (I felt- she said it was frustration.) When she did, it would give me for 4-30 hours of grief and anger. I'd think, "Why can't she see how damaging this is to me, and to our relationship?" We talked about it at times, but it kept happening. We stayed together for the kids, and because we love each other and maybe, if we can just make it to a less stressful life... (And of course, she had a much longer laundry list of what about me causes her frustration.)

A few years ago I saw a counselor (for 30 weeks) who had agreed with me that it was very natural to resent such things, and my wife shouldn't act that way. She agreed with my conclusion that I should learn to not have it bother me, just live with the pain or get out of the marriage. Perhaps I could get involved with other activities more and not focus on the resentments. She thought I was being very adult about it. We came up with some ideas of ways to not be so hurt, but I never seemed to be nable to remember them in the heat of the drama. It was good to get some support and agreement, and it helped ease the frustration.

So there I was, three years later in this seminar about "being extraordinary". They posed the question, "What would be extraordinary?" Given all the work I had done, it would be amazing to be free of the resentments. So I looked at the possibility of not having these resentments and then as homeword, committed to give them up.

I was amazed. It took about a week to give them up and now they're gone! The resentment pops up from time to time, but for shorter and shorter periods. After a couple of weeks, they're hardly even momentary. I'm free.

In the next seminar, they asked what was possible, and I realized how small my hopes had been. While I just wanted to get rid of the negative experience, suddenly what was possible was to be married to my true love, the supportive partner I had always wanted, the woman who I fell in love with 20 years ago. The stories that comprised my resentments had over the years covered up the possibility we had first shared twenty years ago until it had disappeared entirely. With the resentments gone, the possibility was at my fingertips!

Of course there's more to it than I wrote above. We did some exercises and each of us looked deeply into what was blocking us in our area. I'm always amazed at how accurately they define terms while creating definitions that don't get stopped by my usual resignation.

In the seminar, we're also making real the possibility of me being at peace with the world, especially in areas where I don't realize I'm not at peace. And the book is humming along. A $11 per session, it sure beats counseling (which I heartily recommend also, and I'd be happy to refer you to the woman I worked with.)

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

I went to a special "Creating Happiness" seminar after week 3 of the seminar. We did a couple of exercise to see if perhaps we could create happiness for ourselves, and to see what prevented us from doing that usually. And we learned a couple of techniques to make us more effective at moving from unhappiness to happiness.

It was interesting. I'm not too big on "happiness", but lessening "unhappiness" sure sounds good! My big insight was that, though I had completed the source of my loneliness issue in the 6-day, it was not only always with me, but it was still effecting me in many ways. Whenever I was unhappy, it meant separation and rejection to me. I realized that all those times in elementary school, waiting for a chance and the crushing disappointment after, were still there for me. I realized that when my wife yelled at me, I felt pushed away. My hours of upset were quite reasonable given how much it meant to me.

In week 4 and 5 of the seminar, we looked more deeply into being at peace, and used a similar technique to the one use in the "Creating Happiness" seminar. Many of the tips for creating peace were similar as well.

On Thursday morning, May 29th it happened. Our dog found a dead squirrel in the back of our yard. My wife reacted to the possibility of rabies. I stepped in and "helped" while she was in the shower. I'll spare you the details, but she yelled at me furiously! (All the while thinking she was holding back.)

I listened, and flinched a bit. A couple of times I breathed deeply and let a few percolating resentments go. I understood her point of view and her problem and apologized. I had been mistaken. Then I went to work- I was fine!!!

30 sessions of counseling (the insurance only paid $50/session, so it was only $1500 for 30 hours) had done almost nothing, and here in 5 sessions plus one extra 3-hour "Creating Happiness" seminar (total cost of $55 + $60) and I had the result I had always dreamed of! Finally I can live "happily ever after" with my wife!

Later today the termite inspector came- there's a large colony living under the house, and there's water damage under two bathrooms because the kids "know" that it's fine to step out of the shower covered in water and not worry about creating a huge puddle. No problem, we'll take care of it and show the kids the damage and cost to teach them a lesson... I'm at peace.

Life's good.

Note that many people have issues with rejection, and all of them are different. And many people don't.

Some people get mad for other reasons, or take things personally or are hurt by their spouse. Another big one is guilt for getting angry.

Some people are single and wish they were married, or have a boyfriends or girlfriends and it never ends up in marriage. Or never ends up physical, or intimate, or something.

Lots of people have issues with their mother or father or a sibling or aunt or uncle. Others have an issue with a teacher or other authority figure, or perhaps a parent who was absent.

Other people have issues at work, perhaps work in a job or industry they hate, or have been afraid to develop a talent or avoided it for an unknown reason.

As humans, we make decisions, and we make them with language and meaning. And the language is never as precise as reality and the meanings are very often broader than they need be and we shape both our world and how we fit into it- almost always without realizing it.

As humans, we have this marvelous brain. But it's not perfect, it has its characteristic limitations due to the way it's built. It's much better at associating one thing with another than it is with logic. And so we build up these not-completely-logical systems of meaning and understandings. Our understandings shape our world. Our meanings, anchored into importance by emotion, determine what's possible. To satisfy our desires for love, friendship, acceptance, fame, success, security and more, we alter our behavior to conform to our understandings and to live within our meanings and possibilities.

What we don't see is how innaccurate it is. Sometimes our pride causes us to think we're perfectly logical and reasonable. Sometimes it's our need to feel competant or to have self esteem. Often we don't even realize that we're behaving contradictorily to what we think we believe. We're pretty good at life, but we're imperfect.

The Forum is not just education about this, but practice at breaking through to see our imperfections. We find ways we've built ourselves haphazardly or let life build us and it gives us the tools we need to recreate ourselves. What people find is they find not just a new freedom to get what they want in life, they also get tools to do it powerfully.

It's not magic, it's not religion. There's nothing to believe, though most, or all, graduates struggle with this, because believing one way or another is inherent to us.

It's great stuff.

Please, if you're interested, sign up, and find some areas of life that are very important to you. If you do register, PLEASE tell me when your Forum is. I care and am embarrassed to admit it, but I'm not going to let that stop me.

-Randy Strauss

PS: If you have resistance to the Forum- the people look to happy or are expressing too much desire for you to take it, ask yourself, "Are those really good enough reasons not to get breakthroughs in areas that are important to you?"

Some people resist because they are deathly afraid of something- often something they don't know about. Or maybe they think this is their one big chance and if it doesn't work, their despair will be too much. Clues about this are in the (1970-era) book "Games People Play." Face up to this and let it go (whether or not you take the Forum.)

Others resist because it reminds them of something. There's nothing to "join", just a course to take. But if you find yourself thinking "why do they want me to join", or "I don't want to be a member", you probably are making it up because you have an issue in this area.

Some people just think "I don't need it." It's not about needing it. Yes, I thought I needed to be able to talk with people. But that was just me. The Forum is about diving deep into what it is to be human and discovering powerful tools to reveal possibilities and have breakthroughs in areas where you're stuck or not being as effective as you want.

Of the approximately two million grads, a few seem to have disliked it. A few of these have contributed to web sites. Some of them have even successfully prosyletized others into their views. Many more have refused to take it but have made some conclusions about things they thought or heard.

If you're very dubious, ask your friends, go to an introduction, read what grads and independent researchers have said. On the Landmark website you'll also find many positive articles about it (what, you expect them to put the few negative ones?) Even read the syllabus.

I want you to take it because I know it's good for you, because it's good for humans. And because I care about you. And if I don't share it with you, I'd feel guilty that I copped out and gave life less than my all. But the guilt is the least of it. The most is love.