A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

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Manifesting is allegedly a way for the average person, without need of paranormal or divine powers, to do magick and perform miracles. All one needs is the will to exercise one's magic on the universe. "Manifesting is the art of creating what you want at the time that you want it," says John Payne (aka Omni, a "being of light" channeled by Mr. Payne).

Manifesting is an eclectic hodgepodge of CYOR (create your own reality), visualization techniques, positive thinking, goal-setting, self-analysis, selective thinking, and post hoc reasoning, supported by tons of anecdotes. The purpose of manifesting is to get what you want by actively making your dreams come true, rather than passively waiting for someone to fulfill your dreams. For example, Anne Marie Evers recommends "affirmation" as the best way to manifest one's desires. She has written a book titled Affirmations: Your Passport To Happiness. Ms. Evers writes:

What Is An Affirmation: An Affirmation is a declaration of acceptance used to fill oneself with an abundance of freedom, prosperity and peace. An Affirmation is the vehicle of the manifestation of your desires. Affirmations are powerful, positive statements of belief recited consistently out loud and sent out into the Universe. The spoken word drives thoughts and images deep into both our conscious and subconscious minds. Slowly, firmly, concentrate on each word, phrase and the idea behind it. We know repetition is the Mother of Learning.

According to Ms. Evers, the first step to getting what you want is to "prepare the soil of your subconscious mind by forgiving everyone and everything that has EVER hurt you, then forgive yourself." This may seem to be a bit too dramatic if all one wants to do is, say, fix a broken garage door. Jeannine, for example, didn't seem too concerned about forgiveness when her garage door was broken. She followed the advice of self-proclaimed expert manifesters Fred Fengler and Todd Varnum, authors of Manifesting Your Heart's Desire.

I remembered reading your book and decided to manifest a fix. I started talking to the door and asking it to work. I . . . used to talk to plants and they tended to grow better so I talked to the door. After a few minutes of communicating with the door I pushed the button and the door worked perfectly.

Fengler and Varnum give other examples of successful manifesters. For example, an anonymous writer told them how he or she sold a business.

I decided to manifest using my will power. As I went to sleep, I said out loud, "OK universe, this is what I want. I want an offer. I want a good offer. In fact I want TWO offers. In fact I want them TOMORROW!"

The next day was perfectly normal. I "reminded" the universe it was 4 PM and the office would close at 5:30. I felt confident that the universe would take care of me no matter what happened. Within ten minutes, I had a call from one prospect who said he had an offer and would be right over. Ten minutes after he left the offer off, I got a call from my business consultant. He told me that a second offer was being written and it would be on my desk in 24 hours, which it was.

I accepted the first offer, and we flawlessly closed the deal in less than two weeks.

That's all there is to it. You let the universe know what you want and you'll get it! This should be good news to those superstitious folks who try to sell real estate by burying a statue of St. Joseph on the property. There is an easier way: manifesting!

Varnum explains that by asserting yourself to the universe you express extra energy in your emotion. The universe listens to people with extra energy as long as one has no fear and is willing to accept whatever the universe hands out. Varnum's caveat reminds me of the warnings of faith healers who tell those who can't get rid of their cancer by faith that they don't really have faith. If the universe fails to give you what you demand, it is because your desire is not coming from the right place. If you get what you desire, then your desire came from the right place.

no coincidences

Manifesting is another New Age technique which denies there is any such thing as coincidence. For example, Fengler and Varnum, in recommending a book on manifesting write:

Some people call it luck or coincidence--or just plain magic. It is the gift of being in the right place at the right time, of having opportunity fall into your lap. But what if you could create your own luck, make "coincidences" happen, even bring a few miracles into your daily life? Drawing on over twenty years of teaching the art of manifestation, David Spangler shows you how to do just that. Called a "strikingly new, spiritually aware approach to personal power and the fulfillment of your dreams," this new book [Everyday Miracles: The Inner Art of Manifestation] is a complete rewriting and updating of David's classic book, Manifestation.

Fengler and Varnum's own book, Manifesting Your Heart's Desire, is hailed by the authors as a three year "study," but it is little more than a collection of stories from a group of people who met regularly to learn a variety of manifesting techniques. One of the more popular techniques is visualization.

One of Fengler and Varnum's anecdotes involves a girl who was having trouble learning to ride a horse. She visualized riding the way her instructor told her to ride and at the next lesson she was riding well. Visualization seems quite different from talking to your garage door or vocalizing your wishes so the whole universe can hear them. Yet, the practices share much in common. Visualization is mental practice. It is a way to boost confidence. It requires clarifying goals. All of these can help a person who is trying to accomplish some physical feat, like riding a horse or hitting a golf ball. But no amount of visualization will create reality. A golfer can visualize hitting a hole-in-one from now until doomsday without it ever happening. There are some people who believe they can fight cancer by visualizing little cellular warriors killing off cancer cells. The likelihood of such visualization creating the reality desired is near zero. You might as well visualize yourself flying or being in six places at once. Manifesters need not be concerned that James Randi will no longer allow them to try for the million dollar prize by demonstrating their powers to fix flat tires with their minds. Manifesters don't need Randi; they can get a million dollars just by visualizing it or letting the universe know that that's what they want.

Another manifester is John Payne of Omni World, who channels a being he calls Omni. According to Payne,

manifesting is the art of creating what you want at the time that you want it. Many of you are becoming aware that you create your own reality....Each and every object and event in your life has been created by you, whether or not you are conscious of the fact. Your reality, the Earth plane, is the result of the mass consciousness of all souls that are incarnate within your system of things. Each and every event in your life can be traced back to a belief and emotion that originated the impulse for it to manifest itself into reality as you experience it at present. In our realms, the realms of pure essence and light, we can create what we want at an instant. We the Beings of Light have mastered our emotions and thoughts and can therefore direct our energies with precision and clarity so that we may create what we want. You are also learning this skill in this lifetime and you can choose to change what you experience in your reality at any moment you wish to.

If Payne and the other beings of light can create what they want in an instant, then they must not want very much, except maybe a few followers who might buy their books, tapes, crystals, etc. If these beings are so powerful, why don't they end the ethnic hatred in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, the Middle East, etc? Payne is telling us that he and the other beings of pure essence and light could make this world a better place but for some reason they choose not to. I think we all know the reason: they are powerless.

If Payne restricted himself to gibberish about Omni and the beings of light we might do well to ignore him, but it is because of the sensible advice he sprinkles in amongst the metaphysical gobbledygook, that Payne is worthy of consideration. For example, he offers the quite reasonable advice to write down a list of things that give you joy and things you desire to "create." (Let's give Payne the benefit of loose linguistics and call the desire to quit smoking, for example, the desire to create yourself as a non-smoker.) He also advises that you write up a list of fears you have regarding what you want to create, i.e., consider the obstacles to achieving your goal. Writing is a form of "thinking out loud." But the difference between thinking about quitting smoking and writing the words "I am going to quit smoking on November 17th" and saying those words to others is enormous. A silent thought or wish does not pack the wallop of a stated commitment, nor is it as likely to be acted upon.

Unfortunately, Payne clothes his good advice in bad metaphysics. He recommends that you write your goals down

making use of the non-dominant hand. If you are right handed then the non-dominant hand is the left hand and if you are left handed, the non-dominant hand is the right hand. By using your non-dominant hand to write out the answers when uncovering your hidden beliefs, you can tap into the deep inner wisdom of the inner child and your soul. This system of uncovering your inner self and it's [sic] truths can lead to unprecedented levels of healing and harmony.

Why using your non-dominant hand should be the gateway to deep anything is not mentioned.

Payne also recommends visualizing the achievement of your goals and keeping a diary or journal. This is sound advice for people who have trouble clearly identifying their goals and ways to achieve them, as well as for those who have so many goals that it difficult to keep track of them all, much less develop plans to fulfill them. He also advises that you set aside some time each day where you will not be disturbed.  Payne advises to use the time to pray, create sacred ceremonies or write a mantra. The time might be better spent thinking, planning, and writing in a journal.

Payne also recommends networking with friends. Create a group where you discuss your goals and plans for achieving them. This is not a bad idea if you have friends with the same goals you have. But it is unlikely to work if you all have different goals, unless the focus of the group is something very general such as "achieving your goals." But then Payne, not one to leave well enough alone, advises that we call out his name three times when we start our group so he can energize our goals.

Despite the obvious falsity of the main claims of manifesters, some of the techniques they recommend are quite good. For example, if you do not specify a goal, but merely express some vague wish like "someday I'm going to go to New Zealand," then you probably won't ever get your wish. But if you specify your desire, insist on having it satisfied, clarify the obstacles in the way of having it satisfied, determine what is needed to have your will be done, and create a plan for achieving your goal, then you have a very good chance of getting what you want. On the other hand, a lot of manifesting seems to be little more than refusing to accept co-incidence as a fact of life, peppered with a lot of post hoc reasoning and selective thinking.

One good thing about manifesting is that it could take a person's attention away from the many bad things in life over which we have no control. By focusing on what you want, you may not dwell so much on the bad hand life has dealt you. By specifying your goals, you will be more likely to see troubles as obstacles to overcome rather than as hindrances blocking your chance of success.

On the other hand, it could also be very depressing to think that the only reason you are not getting what you want is because your desires are not coming from the right place.

Finally, there is no better example of manifesting than Rhonda Byrne's repackaging it as the law of attraction in The Secret.

See also control study, confirmation bias, and magical thinking, and New Thought.

reader comments

further reading

Skeptico on "The Secret"

Mike's Weekly Skeptic Rant (on "The Secret")

Self-help gone nutty - A craze called 'The Secret' blends Tony Robbins with 'The Da Vinci Code,' telling people to have it all without trying - by Karin Klein, Los Angelis Times

The Secret of Delusion - The Second Sight blog

The Secret of Success by Jeffrey Ressner, Time

'The Secret' to Success? by Frank Mastropolo, ABC News

Mike's Skeptical Rant: "Here's the Secret: Blame the Victim"

Andy Wibbels: "The Secret Skeptic" and his Secret Movie 30-day Challenge

The Secret Behind The Secret What is Attracting Millions to the Law of Attraction? by Ingrid Hansen Smythe

Anita Quigley: "Focus on the Things You Want"

Watch "The Secret" preview on YouTube

Secrets of the rich and credulous - The Independent

Think Negative!Oprah, it's time to come clean about The Secret by John Gravois

Last updated 19-Dec-2013

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