At 9 a.m. on a Friday I find myself sardined into a basement room with 129 other people, listening to David Cunningham, a boomer in a dark suit and bright purple shirt, whose first language seems to be Tent-Revival Baptist Preacher. (I later learn that he was raised a fundamentalist in Florida.) He informs us that he has personally led more than 50,000 people to Transformation. He's here to tell us that "anything you want for yourself and your life is available from being here this weekend." He starts by taking a few questions from the floor. A querulous man observes that the phrases carefully ruler-lined on the chalkboard seem like poor English. ("In The Landmark Forum you will bring forth the presence of a New Realm of Possibility for yourself and your life.") David agrees. "It's very poor English. You know why? Because the usual confines of language would not allow your Transformation this weekend.""The Landmark Forum: 42 Hours, $500, 65 Breakdowns"
Another man is called to the mic. He wants to know how Landmark is different from est. David sighs. "If I had to sum it up, here's what I'd say: They're both about Transformation, but est was very experiential. It was the '70s, okay? Your access was an experience. Your access this weekend is going to be just through conversation. We realized we could do it just through conversation." And that's the last we hear of that.
A slight, blond woman sitting next to me confides that she's here only because her boyfriend paid her way--with the subtext that this was an offer she couldn't refuse. She shows me a packet of notes tied with a bow. They're from a friend who attended a Forum and thought it was brainwashing. In the corner of the top sheet is written, "To be opened on 'breaks.'" Why "breaks" in quotes, I wonder?
I soon find out. "Break" is a misleading term at an all-day workshop that offers no snacks, no drinks other than Dixie cups of water, a single mealtime, and only loosely scheduled pauses to use the bathroom.