A Critical Approach to Manifestation
As a Tarot Card Reader, Mental Health Counsellor and PhD candidate specializing in Critical Theory, I find myself pulled between two positions in the discourse about the validity of manifestation as a spiritual practice. The popular spiritual concept of manifestation is based on the Law of Attraction, which contends that your emotional energy attracts like circumstances.
The Law has often been taken up to suggest that if you are grateful, optimistic and trust that abundance is available to you, you will attract everything you desire. Critics of the Law of Attraction and the practice of manifestation observe its potential to ignore the very real material limitations that prevent access to infinite abundance and prosperity.
Practitioners in the New Age Wellness industry advise about ways to manifest wealth, love and freedom through visualization, meditation and affirmations. Of course, building awareness around your mental and emotional states, and learning how to maintain a positive outlook are invaluable effects of these exercises.
But, the emphasis on positive thinking as a method for overriding the influence of material and systemic barriers belies an ignorant and harmful assumption already implicit in neoliberal ideology: individuals are solely responsible for the conditions of their lives. This way of thinking absolves the governing systems and institutions of accountability for structural violence in forms like wealth inequality, structural racism, ableism, gender inequality and hetero-sexism.
In this way, manifestation discourse can function as a form of spiritual bypassing, which is a term used to describe a form of tone policing that aims to discredit those who express negative emotions or skepticism about spiritual ideas. We might also consider spiritual bypassing to be a kind of gaslighting, in the sense that its aim is to mitigate criticism by encouraging people to embrace love and light as the antidote to all of their problems. Spiritual bypassing is often weaponized against marginalized people whose experiences disrupt the capitalist fantasy that wealth and privilege are divine gifts for good behaviour.
Moreover, from a critical mental health perspective, the rhetoric of “good vibes only” promotes emotional repression and contributes to the gaslighting experienced by marginalized groups at the hands of the systems that benefit from their exploitation. When we tell people they shouldn’t feel what they feel, shame is the byproduct.
Shame is the most insidious affect in the way that it inhibits positive relationships, thwarts emotional stability and perpetuates self-neglect and abandonment. So, the way I see it, this kind of manifestation discourse actually contributes to the problem it aims to resolve.
Does this mean that manifestation is just a sham and a capitalist ploy? Not necessarily. I would suggest that western culture has misappropriated the Law of Attraction, and that there is validity in the notion that action aligned with self-worth can produce positive effects in one’s life. From a mental health and trauma-informed perspective, I do not denounce the validity of the practice of manifestation altogether, but I would refocus on the emotional and relational dynamics of it.
Manifestation is not simply a process of faking it til you make it. Rather, it is about reprogramming subconscious beliefs about your value, loveability and right to experience ease in your life. In some cases, especially for those of us navigating experiences of oppression, a great deal of work will be required to reprogram subconscious beliefs that tell us we are not worthy of what we are calling in. This reprogramming can feel like trying to stop a moving train with one arm.
It is important to recognize that we are not reprogramming a belief acquired one time many years ago, but rather, the trauma of oppression is an ongoing, persistent and chronic attack on the mind, heart, body and spirit. Everywhere we turn, we are reminded that our society has deemed us unworthy of protection, healthy love, respect, self determination and fair pay (nevermind abundant wealth!).
As such, oppression undermines the belief that you are deserving of what you desire, keeping many stuck in thought and behavioural patterns fueled by shame. Material conditions cannot necessarily be manipulated through positive thinking, and it’s a disempowering, shame-based approach to imply that one simply needs to think positively to have a better life. For many of us, visualizing our way to heaven on earth might only be good for a bit of escapist reprieve from the grind.
The question becomes, can we heal from trauma while simultaneously experiencing it? And honestly, I’m still trying to figure that out.
Healing is, for so many, a non linear path with no certain destination. So, if you’re having trouble manifesting, it’s not your fault! Instead of repressing your feelings about the challenges in your life, I would suggest focusing on making space for people, places and things that validate your worth, offer you support when you need it, and advocate on your behalf.
I propose to re-frame manifestation as an act of resistance that requires a confrontation with the affective byproducts of systemic trauma, and a persistent committment to our well-being in the face of forces that serve to undermine it. Manifestation can be part of a collective effort toward liberation and system change, if we use it to assert our worth and support our communities in resistance.
I believe that true magic is made in community. Community connection is a key factor in maintaining mental health and emotional stability. We experience the divine in ourselves by witnessing it in others. It is in this place between the self and the collective that real possibilities for abundance emerge.