I have a strong aversion to neo-hippie-dippie-woo-woo world views.
For example: I enjoy yoga. I find that it helps my balance and flexibility. But I don't believe that following the eightfold path of yoga will dismantle the Prison Industrial Complex1.
I was raised by social scientists, which had a significant impact on the way I think. I want ideas about how the world operates to have hard evidence, traceable patterns and a works cited page.
So it surprised me when I found myself becoming increasingly ambivalent about "manifesting," a concept many people in my life have been trying to sell me on for the past couple of years.
As it's been explained to me, manifesting is when you tell the universe of your intentions for a goal or desire. When you send the energy of your intentions into the universe, this manifests those intentions into reality, or the universe manifests your desires into part of its grand plan. The specifics are kind of sketchy.
But to me it feels like it's only been recently that "manifesting" and "visioning" and "intentionality" have become fairly common buzzwords in my social circles. Unsurprisingly, I was not a big fan, especially when applied to group efforts or large scale projects.
Besides my normal skepticism, there are aspects of manifesting that bother me. The first is that far too often I see people or groups spend more time "visioning" than they do actually getting work done towards their goals. This happens no matter what you call it, and I'm particularly susceptible in the form of endless list-making, but I have little patience with myself or others in this regard.
Another is the consequences when manifested goals aren't realized. One conclusion is that it was simply not meant to be or not in the universe's plan. Instead of looking for creative solutions or analyzing the challenges, people either spend more time trying to convince the universe to change or give up altogether.
The other consequence, which I find more insidious, is the conclusion that the manifester did not want it badly enough. People internalize guilt for their own feelings, conflicting desires, or unrealized dreams that they might not have had much control over. This is closely related to critiques of positive thinking or forced optimism.
Given my objections, I was especially surprised my skeptical resolve began to weaken after a couple seemingly coincidental incidents, the most notable of which brings us to this precise moment. Literally the day after I had a long conversation with my partner about wanting to take my writing more seriously, I had my first pitch accepted at xoJane.
It felt like a sign that the universe supported my goals! Supported me! And that felt gooood.
Over the past few months there have been multiple occasions that have felt similarly eerie, including finding a part time job seemingly tailor-made to meet my needs. Is there really something to this whole putting my intentions out there thing.
Or it could be something more rational, old fashioned, and pragmatic -- like focused ambition and hard work.
The results of my manifested goals didn't happen in a vacuum. There was hard work involved as well. I've been blogging for as long as I can remember, have an active internet presence, and built relationships with editors and other writers long before I was published anywhere.
While it's possible that putting energy into the universe helped get published, it also took focused effort on my part. I don't want to give all the credit to the universe for something I'm really proud of accomplishing.
Nor do we exist in a political vacuum. My background, education and privileges have played a major role in giving me access to networks and opportunities. While the universe itself may not favor white cisgender nondisabled women with higher education, most people in positions to employ me certainly do.
Thanking the universe without acknowledging the political systems that give me advantages would be both inaccurate and disrespectful to everyone else trying to reach their goals.
It doesn't seem that manifesting (or yoga) does any harm in itself however. I think we all can use a little help believing in ourselves and having faith that we can achieve our goals.
Thankfully there's some science to back up the idea that manifesting can work without the universe being involved as an active participant. It turns out that research in psychology suggests self-efficacy, believing you have the capability to reach a goal, makes you more likely to succeed. This has been backed up especially in academic situations. It's not exactly the same language as manifesting, but I have much more confidence in science.
Much to my chagrin, manifesting seems to have been kinda working for me. But I'm also working hard, and there are other factors working in my favor as well. And it seems impossible to parse out the various elements.
But in some ways I'm not sure it matters either. Maybe I don't need to know exactly what is working -- only that things are working out.
So manifest on, my friends. I won't be joining any energy exchange circles anytime soon, but I won't put down things that are positive forces in people's lives either.
1. I'm not exaggerating. There was a panel arguing this point at the National Women's Studies Association Conference in 2012. Return