‘Manifesting’ is a new trend sweeping the Bikram studios and juice bars of the Western world, and it’s one that I suspect has far more conservative roots than many of its adherents would care to admit. According to Elizabeth Daniels, creator of applythelawofattraction.com, “Manifesting is intentionally creating what you want.” So far, so familiar. Just last night I intentionally created a beef stroganoff that I wanted. But Daniels’ claims for the power of manifestation go further than mere stroganoff.
“Everyone has the ability to manifest anything they desire,” she tells us, “wealth, optimum health, love, houses, cars, peace of mind…”
Houses? Cars? Inflatable lovers? Wait, no, she didn’t say that. Peace of mind?! Sign me up!
“Whatever you think about, you are manifesting into your life.”
Fantastic! Okay, let’s see… matching pair of socks, matching pair of socks, matching pair of socks…
“Of course, you know that not everything you think about manifests.”
Damn. I knew there’d be a catch.
“Otherwise, every time you thought about an elephant, one would appear before your very eyes.”
Well, when you put it like that.
So how exactly does manifesting work? A Huffington Post article by Nathalie Guerin breaks the process down into 7 easy steps:
1. Get clear on what you want.
2. Ask the universe for it.
3. Take action (help the universe make it happen).
4. Trust the process.
5. Acknowledge what is being sent to you along the way.
6. Increase your vibration.
7. Clear all resistance.
In other words – decide what you want, and make it happen.
Is this new? To readers born before 1990, perhaps not. But to millennials like myself who grew up treading water (or drowning) in the Internet’s vast ocean, who spent our university studies preoccupied with ‘safe spaces’ and ‘oppressive social structures’, the concept of personal responsibility is an almost revolutionary message, and a breath of fresh air. And it’s why, underneath all the garbage, the manifestation aficionados are actually, annoyingly, right. More than any point in human history, you actually can have what you want. But ‘what you want’ can be a very hard thing to pin down.
You might think you ‘want’ a white marble mega-mansion with an ocean view and a helipad to boot. Who wouldn’t? But do you ‘want’ the 30 or 40 years of 60-hour work weeks, the non-stop hustle, the absolute single-minded focus and prioritisation of work that might get you there? Perhaps you do, but you’re in thin company. People content to commit to such a life are few and far between, and they’re usually not very fun to be around.
Of course, there are ways to acquire that kind of wealth that are dishonest. Corruption is a thing, and that’s a problem. But I’m not sure it’s a problem that has much bearing on your chances of living meaningfully and with integrity.
The truth is, what most people ‘want’ is broadly similar – a sense of purpose, a fulfilling intimate relationship, financial security, meaningful friendships, engaging hobbies. The good life. And more than ever, such a life is possible. The three principle limitations on human lives for most of history – war, disease, and starvation – have been all but eliminated from much of the world. In 2015, the number of people living in ‘extreme poverty’, defined as less than USD$1.90 a day, fell below 10%. In 1981, it was over 40%.
There is, of course, still much work to be done, but the fact remains that, in terms of your chances of living a life limited in the scope of its suffering, there is no better time in history to be born than right now, today. With supermarkets, central heating, running water, and sanitation, the gnawing buzz of the survival instinct has more or less been rubbed out of daily life. The trouble is, by making things so easy, we have numbed ourselves to the meaning that struggle so often brings with it. That’s we run marathons, climb mountains, or just go to work in the morning – without a struggle, life is worse than difficult. It’s meaningless.
So, back to ‘manifesting’. Why, in a time when we have so much wealth and opportunity, when hardly anybody is starving or dying in wars or getting polio, has a pseudo-spiritual trend like this, as it were, manifested itself?
Well, we’re limited beasts, however excellent the cultures we have constructed around ourselves may be. We make mistakes, we suffer for them, and we make others suffer for them too. In order to pull ourselves out of the chaos of existence, it’s important – necessary, even – to build for ourselves a vision of our future, and take the steps necessary to realise it. This gives us a direction and a continuity of narrative that buttresses us against the difficulties we will inevitably face in life. And, passive and irritating though it may be in its tone, ‘manifestation’ is essentially a call to do just this, albeit with a little help from ‘the universe’. Whatever that might mean.
To be clear, I’m not bashing this; if folks need to reinvent good old-fashioned bootstrap-pulling with the flaccid jargon of eco-mindfulness – well then, good for folks, I guess. But I can’t help but wonder how much the woo gets in the way of the true. Stripped of its vague metaphysics, could ‘manifesting’ just be what happens when millennials grow up? I guess it beats ‘The Secret’, but really, can’t we do better?
- Ed Scott