In the fall of 2003 I was pretty lost. I had just been spit on by my recent ex-girlfriend—an emotionally unstable, 10-year-my-senior, ex-stripper with an adolescent child—having finally broken up with her after 5 unsuccessful tries. I was calling myself an actor and model, but would go on a casting or audition once a month at best. I was trying personal training to make money, but that didn’t seem to be going anywhere either; I hated the work environment and didn’t feel like I was helping anyone get fit. Everything I did seemed to turn to shit.
My main pastimes at this point were walking around Chinatown looking for interesting food and hanging out on the steps of Union Square. I was doing the latter activity one day when an acquaintance named Rob walked by. Rob was a perpetually tan, shaved-head Texan who seemed to dress exclusively in clothes from Barney’s Co-op—clothes that were meant to look downtown cool, but you knew cost $1200. Though I thought his taste in clothes garish, I liked Rob. He had a cool, slow southern demeanor. He always seemed to be doing things like Muay Thai boxing and feeding starving children in Africa. I thought, “Maybe Rob knows what I should do with my life.”
I asked Rob and he said I needed to go to Dallas. I’d never been there, so I listened on. He said that all of the results in his life came out of workshops run by an organization called Millennium 3 Education. He claimed the workshops would get me in touch with the roadblocks in my life, of which I had many. I don’t recall him telling me anything specific about what would happen in the workshop other than an assurance that it would change my life. I said I’d think about it.
I called Rob a few times and each time he asked if I’d registered. It didn’t feel like nagging because I think I wanted to do it. I had no other plan. Finally, I said that I’d do it. I registered and got my mom to book me a flight on her frequent flier points. Rob hooked me up with one of his friends for a place to stay and I was off to Dallas.
I was picked up by this sheepish, 6’8” dude who was a Millennium 3 graduate friend of Rob’s. We had some good Mexican food and drove the long distance betwwen the restaurant and his home. Dallas, from my memory, is little more than a web of strip-malls connected by broad highways—a strange place to find enlightenment.
The workshop was in an industrial park in one of Dallas’s many nondescript suburbs. I entered the brick building and sat down in a windowless, featureless room with 80 other people, ready for my life to change. A tall, balding, white guy in a suit named Jim was the leader of the workshop. He got up on a low stage and the workshop began.
This was over 7 years ago and I can’t detail exactly what happened, but the effect was huge. I learned some essential things about what was holding me back in life. I learned what integrity and authenticity meant, the effect of the word to shape reality, how I was responsible for the results in my life and many other things. Some of these things I may have had a superficial comprehension of, but the workshop, whose immersive format ensures your old ideas don’t creep back in, allowed me to experience the impact they had on my life directly. After 3 days, I didn’t change. I was transformed.
I found out that similar workshops were held in NYC through an organization called Personal Dynamics (aka PD), which I got pretty deep into before an eventual burnout.
This was my first exposure to transformational workshops or “large group awareness trainings” as they’re apparently called. Both Millennium 3 and PD are descendants of another workshop series called Lifespring, which came out of something called Mind Dynamics. Another descendent of Mind Dynamics was EST, formed by the charismatic and controversial leader Werner Erhard. EST later became the relatively well-known Landmark Education.
Most people are unaware of this transformational subculture, but if they have been exposed to it, it’s been through an over-eager friend inviting them to a guest event. At one of these events, you are introduced to some of the concepts, you might do an exercise or two similar to those in the workshop, then you get sweated to register by your unrecognizable friend or some grinning stranger in a suit who won’t take no for an answer. You leave feeling icky and sorry for your brainwashed friend.
Through PD I gained some lasting, invaluable insights. I was sold on the principles and methodologies, but I had some problems with the people—their eagerness to “enroll” others in the workshops erred on the side of mania and desperation. I came to realize in a general way that no system is too perfect that it can’t be completely fucked up by the people who use it, whether it’s PD, Christianity or communism. The principles might be infallible, but the people who practice them never are.
The main problem as I see it is that many people who go through these workshops experience such a huge release of emotional energy that they become insensate with possibility. And since this new energy was untapped during the workshop, they become evangelists about the workshops more than overcoming limitations and opening up possibility. Under the spell of this evangelism, people can become pushy and, worse yet to my mind, tacky. My departure from the workshops was probably more aesthetic than philosophical—I didn’t want to be associated with a bunch of overeager, hooting-and-hollering nut-jobs in poor-fitting suits.
But because of the incontrovertibility of the transformation I experienced during this work, I reentered the fray a couple years ago, doing the Landmark Forum workshop.
I entered Landmark knowing what it was: a business whose product is emotional transformation. And like any business, they’re going to try and sell you on their products, which are an endless array of workshops and seminars. They believe in their products and I figured that if I believed in them too, why shouldn’t I buy them?
I got to say I like their products and recommend them to anyone. You don’t need to be broken like I was the first time I did them. Things can be going great but you just want to learn more about yourself. I call them spiritual vacations. Most of us spend thousands of dollars going to exotic locales and come back much the same people. Whereas with Landmark and similar workshops, you go away for 3 days (my Landmark center is 15-minutes away) having undergone lasting emotional transformation. At $550 for 3 days, I think it’s a steal.
Days after doing the workshop a couple years ago, I started an event series Lucid NYC, which continues to grow today. I redid the workshop a few months ago, which got me writing more consistently than I ever have in my life. Aside from these external indicators, I feel much less bogged down by the circumstances of my life. Most important, I don’t feel as though my present and future are bound to my past. The shit works.
Of course the real work happens outside the workshop and often this is tricky. Most of us are bound by habits and relationships that keep us fixed in place. That initial euphoria and evangelism often gets quickly dampened when we find ourselves trapped in the ramshackle emotional infrastructure that holds our lives together. But you got to start somewhere and these workshops are a great place to make that start. Anyone can do them. They’re not religious, nor oppose religion. They require no commitment outside the money and time.
The reason I’m writing about all this relates to something that came up for me after writing yesterday’s post about being an individualist or a follower. I think people like me who primarily identify as individualists often shy away from standing behind things that are not our own, even when these things might be of enormous value to ourselves and others. We fear being lumped in with groups. I fear that my sense of self will be imperiled if associated with people like aforementioned bad-suit-wearing nut-jobs. I will often maintain my individuality at the expense of mine or others’ happiness.
And yet watching the PBS Mormon documentary got me thinking. Most Mormons go on 2-year long missions to offer up their way of life, which they see as the primary agency for salvation. While I’m sure there are mixed motivations compelling them to do it—obligation, ostracizing if they don’t do it, etc.—many of them really seemed to want to share the benefits of their way of life.
I’m not a yahoo or an evangelical. I don’t like hooting or hollering. I try to wear good-fitting clothes. I don’t feel like I will go to hell if I don’t register you into the Landmark Forum or some other workshop. I will like you one way or the other. Nor do I believe it’s the only way to overcome limitations or create new possibilities in your life. I’m not even currently involved in any of their workshops or seminars. But I’m clear it’s something that worked for me. I’m coming to see that if I have something good to share, I should probably share it. If you have any questions about this or anything else, feel free to ask me (email davidcfriedlander at gmail dot com).