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Photo from the blog of Larry Lewis

‘Manifestation’ seems to mean something different to everyone. For the purposes of this blog, I’m going to focus on the definition that seems most popular in my circles: telling the Universe what you desire, consciously or subconsciously, and the Universe then bringing it to you. Furthermore, I’m going to define ‘Universe’ as a synonym for Higher Power/Divine Source/Place-Your-Substitute-for-God-Here. I’ll refer to those who believe in this type of manifestation as ‘manifesters.’

I was once a manifester.

A few years ago, it seemed all of my friends had joined the same neo-New Age cult overnight. Words like ‘synchronicity,’ ‘collective consciousness,’ and ‘alchemy’ now peppered our conversations. Dreams were coming true. Wishes were being materialized. Intrigued, I bit the bait and watched “The Secret,” the unofficial guide to pop manifestation that had everyone in Hollywood rushing to Agape International Spiritual Center. (Agape’s founder and spiritual director Dr. Michael Bernard Beckwith was one of “The Secret”’s featured speakers, and in a town where the celebrity Kabbalah phase was wearing off, a new spiritual ideology was ripe for the trending.)

After the film ended, I decided to give this spiritual take on the Law of Attraction an honest shot. I wrote down several things that I was going to manifest. I was careful not to use the word ‘want,’ as in, “I want a house with lemon trees in the backyard.” Because true manifesters know that if you use that word, all you’ll manifest is just that: wanting. Instead, I used the common technique of writing down what I wanted as though I already had it: “I’m so thankful for my beautiful house with lemon trees in the backyard.” Doing this was supposed to send out the vibration to the Universe that I already had what I (didn’t) want, thereby attracting it to me. Among other desires, I also wrote, “I’m thankful for my boyfriend who prioritizes me, as I him, and I’m thankful for the adventurous, travel-filled, and intellectually stimulating relationship we have.”

Not even six months later, I moved into a house with lemon trees in the backyard. And I was dating a guy with whom I shared a mutual prioritization, and we had an adventurous, travel-filled, and intellectually stimulating relationship. Was there a Universe out there working for me?

No. I was working for me.

The Universe didn’t give me my new house or my new boyfriend. I gave them to me. By specifying what I wanted–yes, wanted–I began ruling out anything and anyone that didn’t fit the criteria I set for myself. I also began to actively seek out what did fit my specifications. I didn’t waste time looking at houses that didn’t have a backyard with lemon trees. I didn’t go on dates with men who didn’t like to travel, and I kept an ear out for men who said things that interested me, men who weren’t afraid of a healthy verbal sparring match. My manifestations came true not because I “put them out there in the Universe” and gave thanks for what I didn’t yet have. They came true because I took the time to ask myself what I really wanted, and then I didn’t settle for anything less.

Manifesters have pointed out that I, in fact, did manifest, whether I wanted to call it that or not. But the reason I cannot bring myself to believe in manifestation is simple: there are too many victims in the world. And I don’t believe they manifested their reality. (I’m defining ‘victim’ as someone who has experienced suffering at the hands of someone else, against their will and with physical force.)

Now, I’ve mainly heard people speak of manifestation in a positive sense, as in consciously manifesting wealth, a more fulfilling career, the healing of a disease, a ticket to an out-of-budget music festival, you get the idea. But the thing is, manifesters believe that everything in our lives is a manifestation, that in addition to whatever things we are consciously manifesting, we are also subconsciously manifesting other things.
       “That’s why negative things happen to negative people,” I’ve heard them say. “They attracted bad events into their lives because they were manifesting negativity on a subconscious level.”
Never mind that negative things also happen to positive people.
       “So you believe that an abused infant manifested cigarette burns?” I ask.
A brief moment of stunned silence passes as the manifester realizes they hadn’t taken that scenario into account.
       “Well,” the manifester stammers, “the infant is just peripherally involved in someone else’s manifestation. Their mom, for example, might’ve been manifesting self-hatred and took it out on her baby. I mean, it’s a baby, I’m not sure babies can manifest yet.”
Okay. I can think of plenty more scenarios that don’t involve infants or young children. What woman would manifest being stoned to death for having been raped? What journalist would manifest kidnapping and torture? On a grander, collective consciousness scale, since manifesters seem to love talking about the collective consciousness, what race would manifest genocide?

Besides my opinion that believing people attract misfortune to themselves is utterly heartless, the other reason I can’t get behind manifestation is this: it allows people to avoid taking credit and responsibility for themselves. One could argue the opposite: that by manifesting, one is directly taking responsibility for oneself. But if you’re telling the Universe what you desire, waiting on the Universe to bring it to you, and thanking the Universe when it happens (or before it happens, as some like to do as part of their manifestation technique), then, from where I sit, you have the Universe to attribute or blame. Not yourself.

Crediting the Universe for what you’ve worked hard for, for what you’ve sought out and brought to life, is a way to avoid taking responsibility if things should go awry. Then you can blame the Universe for that, too, by saying, “The Universe must not have wanted that for me,” or, “It’s because the Universe has something better.” Comforting, sure, but those excuses also carry a note of helplessness in them.

Manifestation bothers me because I see it putting people in a position of disempowerment when they believe a higher consciousness is governing their life; of laziness when they believe all they have to do to achieve their goals is make a collage; and of cowardice when their goals don’t materialize and they don’t want to admit they just didn’t work hard enough.

I do think some things are out of our control. For instance, no matter how hard I could work to play the role of Harriet Tubman one day, the fact is I’m not black. Laziness and disempowerment have nothing to do with that. But I didn’t manifest not being born black, either, anymore than Harriet manifested the opposite.

One thing I can appreciate about manifestation is how it encourages people to be specific about what they want. I think that specificity breeds recognition, which breeds possibility. Like when you’re car shopping. Say you decide you want a silver Prius. All of the sudden you start seeing silver Priuses everywhere. It’s not because you’re manifesting them, it’s because you’ve narrowed down what you want and now it’s in the forefront of your awareness. Silver Priuses have always been on the streets, but because you’ve decided it’s your next car, you’re spotting them left and right. When you spot one in your friend’s neighbor’s driveway with a ‘For Sale’ sign taped to the windshield, it’s not because the Universe is rewarding your wish board. It’s because you had an eye out for just that.

All manifestation is, is specifying what you want so you can recognize what’s been there all along. You are a powerful being. You make things happen, or not. Unless you are physically restrained against your will, what you want in life is up to you and no one and nothing else.