Friday, February 4, 2022

What Is Manifesting?

Apparently, it’s the latest in therapy. Its popularity suggests that therapy itself, the kind practiced by credentialed professionals, has not been doing a very good job.

It is called-- manifestation-- a practice that can mean pretty much what anyone wants it to mean. Since the people who are conjuring this new, improved self-help standard do not really know how to think, their definitions tend to include just about everything. You can make it mean what you want it to mean-- which might be one reason why it has become so popular.

At the least, we can surmise that the people who called these New Agey practices “manifestation” do not really know what the word means. 

Apparently, it all goes back to something called “the secret.” The Guardian article about manifesting offers something of a capsule summary about the secret:

The popular idea of manifestation – a way of dreaming something into reality – stems largely from the 2006 book and film The Secret by the TV executive Rhonda Byrne. In it, Byrne outlines her “law of attraction” – that if you ask the universe for something and believe in its reality, you will receive it. 

You would think that no adult really believes that you can dream something into reality, but, alas, millions of Americans do. The notion behind the secret seems to be that if you ask the universe for something and really, really want it, the universe will gladly make your dreams come true.

This is another way of saying that if you are driving around looking for a parking place and actively dream of an open space, then the next time you turn a corner, a space will magically appear-- because your manifesting has caused someone else to pull out of the occupied space.

This feels suspiciously like praying to God for a parking place, but seriously, do you really think that God will respond to such self-centered prayers? And don’t you think that God has better things to do than to find you a place to park?

Guardian music critic Ammar Kalia explains how he came to try to manifest.

I too spent the past two years raking up existential questions in response to the world’s chaos (and my impending 30th birthday). What am I doing with my life? When will I next be able to afford a holiday? Faced with another year of broken resolutions, impending deadlines and chasing late invoices, I decided to investigate manifestation further, to see if I could find some answers – and perhaps attract some good stuff to myself.

Fair enough, a music critic should have more purpose in his life. He should not be whiling away his time pondering existential blather.

But, the suspicion that hangs over this discussion is simple.  What if there is something to this manifesting? If so, what can it be? Examine the thought of one therapist, Dr. Fournier:

“Manifestation can be a slippery fish to work with,” says the psychotherapist Dr Denise Fournier. “In pragmatic terms, it is the practice of translating something from thought and idea into a tangible reality. It is a nuanced way of using intention to create an image of a goal you want to achieve and then cultivating discipline and actions that keep you oriented towards that goal.”

If we forget about the New Age claptrap, this does not seem like the dumbest idea we have heard today. It provides an antidote to something that therapists have been promoting for quite some time. Therapists, especially the sophisticated credentialed variety, want you to get into your mind. They want you to ponder your ponderings, to feel your feelings, to explore your childhood, and whatever. Clearly psycho analysis began this aberration, and we know that psycho analysis has nothing whatever to say about how you set goals, develop discipline, make plans and work to achieve goals. In Freudian terms, such an approach would be a sign of bad toilet training, or some such.

If we overcome the suggestion, which we owe to the secret, that you need but ask the universe for a parking place, and lo and behold, one will appear, we can find some manifest advice that provides a worthy corrective to therapy practice.

Kalia continues:

“It’s positive thinking,” agrees Doyle. “I always had impostor syndrome, but manifestation has helped me believe more in my life and its possibility. I break my goals down and put action into them until I start to notice things popping up.” Each morning, she writes down 10 things for which she is grateful, before spending time visualising her goals, then writing her next steps in her journal.

Now, putting ideas into action seems like an excellent idea. We recall that Admiral William McRaven once told a graduating class at the University of Texas that they should begin their day by making their bed. 

In truth, this does not require positive thinking. It is not a secret. It does not require to ask God for a parking place. It does require discipline and organization. It involves making a new habit, the better to replace old habits. And it involves doing it without knowing why you are doing it. Knowing why comes after the fact. So says the admiral, and he is right.

So, if we ignore the psycho blather, we find that manifesting involves making an action plan and sticking to it. In truth, people tend to find this devilishly difficult, so having a mental trick does not seem like such a bad idea:

Idecide to narrow my goal of “wealth and leisure” into something more achievable, so that I can visualise it. One of my long-held dreams is to become an author. I finished writing a novel last year, but have been dithering about sending it to agents and publishers. Now, I decide to take a leaf out of Doyle’s book and make a daily visualisation practice to become a published author. I start setting myself “actionable steps”, or tasks: editing the text, selecting agents, sending out emails. I find myself beginning each morning picturing myself wearing tweed jackets and grandly declining an OBE for services to literature, while my days are surrounded by sheets of paper and scraps of notes for edits and pitches. This is starting to feel a lot like work and a lot less like magical thinking.

Yes, indeed. Once it feels more like work, you are making progress. If it continues to feel like magical thinking about parking places, it becomes vapid and uninteresting.

Kalia adds this, from a real neuroscientist:

But another neuroscientist offers a note of caution about the use of scientific terminology. “There is a danger to using terms like epigenetics – the science of cell development, turning genes on and off to create a cellular memory,” says Dr Kevin Mitchell, an associate professor of genetics and neuroscience at Trinity College Dublin. It lends an aura of respectability to something that he describes as “woo-woo”.

“The idea of a cellular memory can be conflated with psychological memory – and neuroplasticity can be broadened to encompass any changes in behaviour. Genes only influence our personality, rather than determine it,” he says. “The only positives of manifestation I see are in becoming more aware of our behaviours and paying attention to them, like in mindfulness. Habits can change, but it takes effort and determination – there is no magic of the universe at play.”

So, its about find a way to change habits. It does not matter quite as much that you are aware of whatever. It matters that you make a plan and stick to it. You can revise it. You can judge its results-- roughly as a government would re-evaluate policy. But, it would be wrong to consider it magic, or hocus pocus.


Anonymous said...

Manifesting is an old idea associated with God-Consciousness or mind over matter in the expression of Christian Metaphysics. I contemplated these efforts way back in 1994 after reading some books by Emmet Fox. This video describes the basic effort:

The godless Sigmund Freud, who describes himself as a godless Jew, says the ego, the effort to govern action in the sensory world, is born helpless in relation to the It. The It has two components: the inner drives (id) and external reality. The ego does not know anything about the id or reality so the It is the existential mystery. If the ego is unable to become happy and remain so then this is caused by the fact that the ego is born helpless and cannot become strong enough to cope with the id and reality. So some effort to gain vitality via the effort to govern action is necessary but never sufficient to overcome the superior power of the It.

lgbtq said...
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Webutante said...

The concept of manifesting your own reality is not new but evidently a long standing teaching of the New Age movement. There were so called 'channels' where spirits spoke through chosen mediums and taught that hocus pocus. Interesting to see it's moved into more mainstream therapy.