Landmark Worldwide, along with its controversial precursor est, has offered evening seminars in Kingston to graduates of its flagship program, the Landmark Forum, for years. With topics like commitment, creativity, integrity, money, sex and intimacy and numerous others, the educational corporation has designed a series of ten-session seminars that delve into each subject. The inquiry into what it takes to live fully reputedly allows participants to uncover their ability to create possibility in their lives. Interested in how the lessons learned in Landmark programs can filter out into the greater community, I interviewed three graduates about their subsequent endeavors.
Laurie Schwartz first encountered Landmark’s programs in 1979. “I was asked to figure out who I am, what’s my purpose, what do I stand for. I didn’t know,” she said. “I knew there was a passion inside me out of the experience I’d had with my father’s death: the feeling that it wasn’t done in a way that enhanced his life or inspired our lives. I knew there had to be a different way.
“In the training, I declared that I am someone who is able to see what’s missing and put it into place. So out of that, I created Hospice here in Ulster County; and with the support of the seminars I did that for a long while. Also, with some other people in one of the seminars, I created this organization called Community Possibilities to find people from low-income areas who had a desire or a goal, but didn’t know how to attain it. People were referred to the four of us – someone who wanted a playground for their kids, a daycare center, a job-shadowing program – so we worked with them for six months, using all the technology of the seminars to empower them to move forward.
“Somewhere along the line, I realized I had dropped something out in my declaration. I’d walk into a place and, in seeing what was missing, I wasn’t appreciating what was. When I realized that, I stopped short. I didn’t want to be the one to point out to everybody what’s wrong and then fix it. After recognizing that, I changed my declaration to: I’m the one through which the Creator does the work. Out of this work that I’ve done, I get the vision that I can do. Nothing can stop me but me.
“In 1986, Nathan [Brenowitz] and I started the Woodstock Jewish Congregation because we had two boys, and there wasn’t a synagogue here. I didn’t really have a very Jewish background, so I wanted this for my sons. We started by inspiring people. We put out the word and had a bagel brunch. We both spoke and asked for donations, and had our first service – and right away we were forced to expand the space, because 150 people came! People we didn’t even know were Jewish showed up. Now, 30 years later, we have 350 member families; people who aren’t Jewish come to services, a lot of ex-Jews come: people who were turned off after their bar mitzvah. WJC is egalitarian in that both women and men can lead services. We decided we’d always have High Holy Day services in a tent, but we bought a building, which is now paid off. It’s a good thing.”
Now Schwartz is working with Circle of Friends for the Dying, a non-profit enterprise to create a home for the dying: a place where anyone with three months or less to live who needs a place where Hospice can serve them may stay at no charge. “Again, people ask, ‘How can you afford this when you don’t charge?’ It will come – by holding that reality that anything is possible. It’s actually because of Landmark; that’s why I do the work I do. In other words, Landmark didn’t influence my work; Landmark actually caused my work. Nathan and I wouldn’t be who we are today if it wasn’t for our participation in Landmark.”
In Saugerties, a small group of people are working together within the precepts of the Transition Town Movement on a project called the Long Spoon Collective. Larry Ulfik, a technological consultant in the freeze-drying industry, lives there on two acres on which he’s growing food for himself and his family and associates. “Transition Town is a worldwide project that I first became aware of at the farmers’ market where I volunteer. At one point I manned the table set up by Transition Town, and I met four young people who were really interested in growing a community in Saugerties – one that could be resilient into the future.
“I put this young group together with a farmer and started a project we called the Garlic Project. We pooled our resources, bought 80 pounds of garlic seed at the Festival. We prepared the beds, double-dug them without using fossil fuel and planted the garlic and carried it through to the harvest. From that came the Long Spoon Collective of about 13 core members who live within biking distance from each other, and a further community of 50 people who get notices about our food shares and who have donated their land to create a garden or plant edible food trees on their property.
“We dismantled a building for someone we met in a café, and saved all the materials to build shelves for our greenhouses. We have blitzes, all gathering at one site, for instance, to cull firewood for one member. Or another time, we had a blitz to dig fencepost holes for the start of a permaculture garden. There’s a lot of technology put into this program that comes from millennia ago, such as terracing. We incorporate new technology with old technology.
“What led me to the Long Spoon Collective was my participation in Landmark’s Self-Expression Leadership Program [SELP]. I was searching for something, and the Transition program jumped out and found me. What the world was calling me to do – my skill is putting people together. I network very well, finding people who are interested in cooperating with us so that our little community – Saugerties is the perfect place to live – thrives. An awareness of how we can cooperate together without basing it in money, increasing the diversity: That’s the next step.
“I woke up this morning and had this insight into inventing a possibility: I invented the possibility of having your back. The context is my relationship with the people around me. So, whatever is left unfinished, instead of making it annoying, which it could easily be – like a dish here, a tool there, not putting things back – I realized that everybody I’m involved with is running at top speed; they are not sitting on their laurels doing nothing. So, if something gets left undone, I’ve got their back. That allows me to clean up the kitchen, keep the house in order, think about things like that in a positive way. It makes a huge difference.
“The other thing that Landmark has given me is the ability to look at overarching difficulties, to try to get everybody of diverse opinions into one space and then talk about it in a rational way. I never would have had that possibility. It would always have been very argumentative and forceful, like ‘Get out of my way, here I come.’ Now I can see those things that people have that are in the way of communicating. Wherever we are, we can create the space for communication. Being cause in the matter – I am responsible for everything in my life.”
In Kingston, Linda Joseph had recently done the Forum and was involved in Landmark’s SELP at the same time that the first Gay Pride Parade took place in 2004. “Afterwards we sat at an evaluation meeting,” she says, “and Ginny Apuzzo said to me, ‘Linda, how would you like to start a gay center in Kingston?’ There was nothing between New York and Albany. Our first meeting had over 40 people of all ages, and 22 of us formed the founding committee. We asked current service agencies, ‘What services do you currently offer to the LGBTQ community?’ and when they said, ‘None,’ they asked us to come and educate them. The only agency that had anything was Planned Parenthood; they had a gay youth group running, which has expanded and now meets at our Center.
“I had just started the SELP at Landmark, and I took on this project to show some form of leadership. I was there to write up the mission statement with Ginny, and she got us a startup grant for $35,000. She had a lot of connections, and we had many people who served on committees. The building we occupy now is 6,000 square feet, with a beautiful salon on the first floor and offices on the second. We run everything you can think of to serve the LGBTQ community: a men’s group, a women’s group, a youth trans group, a PFLAG group for parents and friends; we have prominent people involved in these. We have youth dances and a sewing group, film nights, political representatives coming in to hear the needs of the community. We have touched every agency that works in service. They come to our meetings to find out what they can do. I’m thrilled to sit at the reception desk and meet people who’ve just come to the area and want to know what’s available. The Center has given me a tremendous sense of joy and belonging in this community.”
The emphasis of self-development for the purpose of taking action out in the greater community – into schools, organizations and business endeavors – is key. The upcoming seminar for Landmark graduates is called “Breakthrough: Living outside the Box,” which investigates how breakdowns can be used to generate transformational breakthroughs in any area of life. Concurrent with each evening seminar, a free introduction to the Landmark Forum will be offered to the public.
Landmark Graduate Seminar, “Breakthrough: Living outside the Box,” Mondays, October 12-January 11, 7-10 p.m., $125/ten sessions, $80/review, Temple Emanuel, 243 Albany Avenue, Kingston; (914) 474-0930, (212) 824-3300, www.landmarkworldwide.com/when-and-where/register/search-results?pgid=28.