[My committments support team, on our course completion evening – Mahendra, Mitanshu, Shuhbam, me, and Ashwini]
Years ago, a friend wrote home that he had reviewed the Landmark Education Forum personal growth course while traveling in Asia. At the time. I thought to myself, man that’s a great idea. Inspired by that, I just reviewed the Landmark Advanced Course this last weekend, here in Mumbai/Bombay India.
The course was lead by one of the senior Indian Forum Leaders, Praveen Puri, who was a skilled and inspiring leader (he led about 85% in English, and 15% (mostly jokes) in Hindi). I was constantly impressed by his skill as a leader, how he combined rigor, firmness, working the required enrollment conversations into the course material, staying true to the outline in the handbook, with all ease and humor. I appreciated his clarity in explanation, his level of commitment, etc. Especially now that I lead courses myself, I can appreciate how difficult it is to do so as well as he did.
[The only picture that I could find online of Praveen Puri]
The other participants besides me were one Estonian girl and 138 Indians. The weekend Landmark Courses that I used to take in the US years in the nineties were of course usually soul-blowing-open semi-miracles, but this particular course was for me a profound experience, in terms of being in that intimate space with people from a different nation/society – to personally experience their emotions, desires, fears, goals, stories, commitments, transformation, breakthroughs, etc. – to be a guest in the space of their taking themselves apart to reconstitute themselves as the best people they could be. It was inspiring to see how transformation is a trans-national human phenomenon, how the distinctions and practices of the course, which I had seen be so effective in America, could be as liberatory for people from such a different culture.
I did not observe so carefully how the Indian participants interacted with each other, but, many of them were welcoming with me, friendly and honoring of me, I sometimes felt like a rock star in the group – it was a great feeling. Perhaps this was also because of the way that I shared and the stands that I took, for example standing up (my heart was pounding) and asking people to be tighter about not using their cell phones to text (or take calls!) while the course was in progress. Some of the folks in the course may have held me as an American as something special; when I connected with them authentically and openly, it seemed to bring a big smile and an eagerness to connect. Even that factor notwithstanding, people displayed the famous Indian heart in their dealings with me, offering to share their food and water, asking me about myself, wanting to make sure I understood the commuter train system, giving me a cheery “Hello, Adam!” wherever I went. As I said, it felt great.
The biggest breakthrough I got from the weekend was in the teaching that our results in life come from our actions, and our actions come from our “occurring.” I have been feeling fear about coming home and making my living (during a recession) as a full-time meditation teacher. I realized that my “occurring” has been that it may be difficult for me to fill my courses, to get people to sign up. A more positive occurring, however, is that of course everyone in the Bay Area wants clarity and inner tranquility – so of course everyone wants to take my course, and wants to get what I have to give them.
In contrast with the impeccably clean corporate-ish environment that Landmark is held in in the States, this course was held in the auditorium of a dirty fashion and textile college, with peeling paint and mystery stains, with a hillside of shantytown-ish shacks out back. That said, the course was also a third the price of what it would be in the States.
I think of Landmark as such an *American* way of looking at and talking about the human experience, and Praveen had been thoroughly trained in America – there were times I busted up at the cross-cultural mash-up (while no one else laughed, not seeing what I was seeing). Praveen was genuinely a down-home Indian dude, telling jokes in Hindi that got all the grandmas with dots on their foreheads laughing. But he also had the same Werner-Erhart-ish mannerisms, inflections, and turns of phrases that all Forum leaders seem to (emphasizing important points in a loud megaphone-y voice (“See, what you wanna get here, is that YOU and *I* don’t relate to the FUTURE as the FUTURE!”), “That’s great, that’s really great, let’s all acknowledge Sandeep …” [with golf clap], wearing a blue dress-shirt with no tie and khaki slacks…).
It was also funny to me to watch, after Praveen said, “Well, no God is not real, because he has no measurability”, to have a fashionable girl plead, “But LORD VISHNU was certainly real when he created the world! And what of Lord Krishna? He certainly had dimensions in time and space when he walked on the Earth!” Praveen also said at one point that part of his commitment was to drink the poison of the world so that people don’t die from it, which I happen know is an allusion to an ancient but famous Vedic story about Krishna drinking a demon-snake’s poison so that it wouldn’t kill the humans.
American Landmark courses, I’ve noticed, usually contain a significant number of dreamers, artists, and flower children, people who are there to work on issues of inspiration, creativity, meaning, and life purpose. In India, with so many people sleeping on the streets but with the GDP also growing in double figures, just about all of the Indians in the course seemed super-ambitious and professional, seeking, first and foremost, breakthroughs in their career success and skillset. “Children” and “family” was the other big issue that they mentioned being at stake for many of them.
When I took the Landmark Advanced Course for the first time fifteen years ago, I felt high, intuitively insightful, and super-powerful for about two weeks afterwards. I did not experience the same blown-open experience this time, and I think that it is because my life is, as a baseline, happier than it used to be. Compared with fifteen years ago, I am also more comfortable with and accomplished in the work of experiencing spaces of meaningless emptiness (from my time as a Zen monk) and constituting myself as a stand (ie, creating an identity around a commitment – from my time in men’s circles).