That’s a Zen saying, by the way.
Once upon a time, Werner Erhardt was driving down a highway in California. He then became enlightened.
From behind the wheel of his car, he got that he knew nothing, and that this nothing was the vessel for everything.
He couldn’t keep this everything/nothing to himself. He had to share it. He’d been experimenting in alternative spirituality for some time already, but this moment of driving down the highway, alone, became the lynchpin for everything to come: est, the Forum, Landmark Education.
No one got in his face, no one shamed him into psychological submission before a room of 100 people. He did not have to relive his past traumas in conversations with friends and family under the looming presence of a dominating leader, with the express intention of enrolling and registering them into this new way of thinking.
None of that. He was just driving down the road.
Once upon another time, Byron Katie woke up from a deep depression in the middle of her bedroom floor. She then became enlightened.
She noticed the bullshit way she was dealing with her thoughts and feelings and wanted everyone to know. So she started sharing, leading seminars and writing books.
No one got in her face, no one shamed her into psychological submission before a room of 100 people.
She just woke up in her bedroom. She got to be the person in the front of the room instead.
Once upon another time, Eckhart Tolle wrestled with depression until he woke up from a collapsed, unconscious state. He then became enlightened.
He noticed the bullshit way he was dealing with his thoughts and feelings and rode his enlightened high for a year or so before sharing with people what made him so happy.
He then wrote a bestseller. And another. And so on.
Just from waking up.
Participants in the Landmark Forum don’t get to wake up the way gurus do – just you and your soul having the difficult conversation in private, in ritual, or in some other safe context.
No. The psychic break necessary for enlightenment happens in a big room full of strangers with a looming attack therapist who is not required to have any training outside of Landmark to lead the program.
All the gurus did was wake up. On their own.
This is not to say it’s easy or painless – enlightened people go through a lot of shit to get where they are. And they still trudge through it, every day. Another useful Zen saying is this: “What do you do to get enlightened? Chop wood, carry water. What do you do AFTER enlightenment? Chop wood, carry water.”
And some people get enlightened just by virtue of navigating through trauma. Anyone who has an experience that forever changes the way they see God, themselves, and the universe has a psychic (or psychotic) break with reality that leaves the inner soul vulnerable to suggestion.
That little vulnerable space is where all the self-help gurus swoop in like vultures to market their philosophies.
If they own that space in you, they own you.
If they can induce guilt and shame in you, in that space, they can cause you to crack open so that your emptiness can be filed with their teaching. You will be vulnerable, in pain, at a zero point. And there, they tell you you’re a liar, a cheat, an enabler, a manipulator, a coward, or whatever.
Or Erhardt’s favorite: asshole!
And you believe them.
Because the only other thing there to believe is the darkness.
And you must choose: darkness, or this guru. Well, you’re obviously not there to choose the darkness! You’re not stupid!
If the guru has shamed you enough, you will submit to them. You will submit to the teaching to avoid the shaming.
And the teaching could be the best thing in the world! It could be the very answer you’re looking for! It can save your marriage! Your job! Your family!
It might do that. But what if, instead, you summon the will to get back in the face of your teacher and tell them to fuck off?
A Landmark leader would respond by demanding what your racket is.
A real guru – the Buddha-in-the-road kind – would just smile and close their eyes.