When I updated my Facebook status and shouted out to my friends that I had spent the most amazing weekend of my life and had been re-born, I had one or two sarcastic responses asking if I had joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I have not turned my back on my Jewish faith, but I was finally able to believe in my heart what my head had always known.
You’ve probably lost me by now, so I’ll start from the beginning. All my life I have lacked confidence and criticised myself when others weren’t doing it for me. I remember being given a pep talk more than 40 years ago, when I was crying with a broken heart (given to me by an immature man who treated me like a doormat, and who got a third party to phone me and dump me: the 1970s equivalent of finishing a relationship by text). I was advised then that nobody would really love me until I learned to love myself. I’ve had a shedload of talking therapies and have made changes over the years, but was never able to make the major shift until last weekend.
My yoga teacher had often talked of the Landmark Forum, an organisation that had helped her to turn her life around, and when she invited me to her house for more information I went along, somewhat reluctantly, after trying to talk myself out of going. What made the major impact on me was when I was told that I would be able to free myself from the past that I had spent my whole life dragging with me, and that was always facing me in the future. It took a while for me to process the idea that my past was permanently in my future, but once I understood the idea I was on my way, and signed up for a course a couple of months hence. Even then I was still placing obstacles in the way as the course was due to take place over my 65th birthday weekend and I was a little apprehensive of the intensity of the commitment (9am to 10pm each day, plus homework).
Last Friday morning I made sure I was at the London venue by 8.40 in the morning, collected my name badge, and found myself a seat among 180 others who, like me, were schlepping their life’s baggage with them and were hoping to free themselves from their past constraints and beliefs.
You’ll have to forgive me for omitting some of the detail, but it was such a powerful weekend. My brain is still processing some of the events and ideas, but I know they continue to work on me, both asleep and awake.
Many of us shared situations and events from our lives, even though it was often painful to do so. It wasn’t unusual to find ourselves welling up as we listened to the stories of others; even our forum leader was teary from time to time. Meeting up whilst queuing for the ladies’ loos at the breaks we regretted not having brought make up with us to repair our non-waterproof maquillage.
We learned how we had been living, about the little voices in our heads that we were always listening to and which were talking to us. We were on a quest to look good (or not to look bad), but the voices resulted in negative resignation or cynicism. We came to understand how we defined our lives by past events that we have interpreted wrongly, and how we readily applied labels (both to ourselves and to others) and then tried to live up to them. After reaching an awareness of these behaviours, we understood that we have been living inauthentically.
An assignment we were given was to accept that our parents, whatever our relationships with them, had managed to get their job done. Most of us have issues with the roles played by our mums and dads, but the realisation that they have done their best, and a phone call to them to remind them that we love them, produced some touching results. More than one middle class Englishman reported that assurances of love had not been commonplace in their families and that some parents were worried and questioned whether their offspring were suicidal when their children affirmed their love.
The second day of the course was probably the hardest. We were asked to close our eyes and face up to our biggest fear. This was a huge opening, especially for those who had bottled so much up for so many years. The sounds of others crying, sobbing and screaming out in pain like wounded animals was both powerful and emotional. Eventually our feelings of despair were turned around by urging to imagine the world’s biggest cosmic joke, converting the tears to laughter.
By the third day, after which many of us had already had various breakthroughs, we reached the hardest point of all. However, it eventually dawned on each one of us, although not all at the same time, that we had spent our lives responding to stimuli in a machine-like way. The past was now in the past and it was time to start again with a clean slate. Life is for living in the now and in the language of the Landmark Forum we were on the verge of ‘a New Realm of Possibility’.
It’s difficult to convey how transformed we all felt on that Sunday evening, but there was so much optimism in the room that it was palpable. We had shared our fears, emotions and histories and emerged transformed as new people. The overriding feeling everybody seems to take away from having done the Landmark Forum is the desire to encourage every person they talk to sign up and make their own personal transformation. In addition, there is the experience of having shared so much, and of wanting everybody else to make the final breakthrough as a new person. Whether from England, or other countries of the world, we each shared in everybody else’s joy and happiness, left our reserve and inhibitions behind, and wanted to do no more than to hug one another. It was a three-day journey like no other.
It was a three-day journey like no other, and people have remarked that I seem lighter and different. I now wake up with a feeling of anticipation for the new day, and I have stopped criticising myself.