Manifestation is the wellness industry’s version of the prosperity gospel.

Manifestation is the wellness industry’s version of the prosperity gospel.

The wellness industry has a manifestation problem.

From yoga teachers to life coaches, some members of the wellness industry espouse the idea that through positive thinking, focused meditation, or communing with a divine source, you can bring your hopes, dreams, and desires for financial solvency to life. 

Manifestation can sometimes feel like the wellness industry’s version of the prosperity gospel…Both imagine Jesus and the universe as benevolent capitalists who measure success in coins and job opportunities, granting them to the people who figure out the right way to ask for divine blessings.

Manifestation can sometimes feel like the wellness industry’s version of the prosperity gospel. The prosperity gospel says that Jesus wants you to be rich and have everything you dream of. The manifestation gospel swaps out Jesus for the universe and adds a whiff of palo santo for good measure. Both imagine Jesus and the universe as benevolent capitalists who measure success in coins and job opportunities, granting them to the people who figure out the right way to ask for divine blessings.

Rather than the Bible, manifestation evangelists quote Paulo Coelho, saying that “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” And they seem to be right. They post about how they manifested a book deal, a job offer, or a passion they have turned into a career. 

Manifestation is a tantalizing philosophy, one that I am most drawn to when I feel vulnerable and unsure. When I had my yoga business a few years ago and became an entrepreneur, it was tempting to believe that my business would multiply itself if I could just believe in and manifest its success. I imagined full classes every week and moving to a bright shiny studio to replace the room I rented out in a fitness center. I meditated and set intentions and prayed. 

When yoga students filled my little room, I felt as though my manifestation worked. When they didn’t, I interrogated myself. Did I ask for the wrong thing? Say the wrong words? Did I not manifest hard enough? Even worse, I felt that God and the universe were sending me a sign that my deepest desires weren’t worthy of bringing into fruition. In these moments, I tried to remind myself that building a business takes money, marketing, and time to build word of mouth – no matter how many good vibes you send into the universe.

It’s not that I don’t believe your attitude can affect your outcome. It can. If you’re looking for trouble, you’ll probably find it. If you’re looking for good people, you’ll probably find them too. And plenty of studies have shown that expressing gratitude daily improves mental health.  

But manifestation has its limits. Positive thinking doesn’t guarantee your dreams or inoculate you from suffering. I have known very positive people who have lost their jobs or who have been diagnosed with cancer. 

That’s because you can’t always manifest your way into the life you desire. If that were true, then why haven’t people manifested themselves out of war, genocide, abuse, and poverty? Do we truly believe it’s because they lack the ability to manifest? Did they not really want something enough for the universe to help them out? 

Like the prosperity gospel, the manifestation gospel can feel especially problematic when sold to people whom racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, colonialism, and capitalism have systematically hindered the most.

In a viral Instagram post a few years ago, writer Rachel Cargle wrote, “Maybe you manifested it[.] Maybe it’s white privilege.” In the post, she points out that we sometimes attribute blessings to manifestation when they have been heavily assisted by our privilege.

Systemic racism, Cargle adds, has hindered Black America in ways that are extremely difficult to wholly manifest your way out of. If your family members were redlined out of purchasing a home, prohibited from attending nearby universities, wrongfully incarcerated, or excluded from certain careers, they were less likely to generate an inheritance that could float your manifestation dreams. Ditto if they were traumatized through violence or the constant threat of violence. If this has not been a part of your family’s story, it may be easier to cobble together the down payment for you dream home, to find family investors for your startup, or to call in favors from family friends who can put in a good word for you when there is an opening for a job. This is the work of privilege, not manifestation.

Indeed, manifesting something into existence is easier when you have time, money, less stress, and societal backing. You can, for example, meditate to clarify your goals and then begin working toward them. You can pause from work and take time to focus on your passion project. You can invest your savings, your inheritance, your trust fund, or monetary gifts from your family into a dream experience, a fun trip, or a new business. Or maybe you can focus your brain on manifesting because you feel safe in your body since the world accepts its social status, color, gender, and form. 

I’m not telling anyone to stop believing in manifestation or the prosperity gospel. And I’m not saying that God or the universe doesn’t care about our dreams. I honestly don’t know how God or the universe handle our earthly requests. (Let me know if you’ve got a fool-proof way for figuring that out.) Besides, we all need something to help us get through the uncertainty and messiness of life, and if manifestation makes us feel as though we can steer our lives toward good things, so be it.

When we worship at the altar of manifestation, it’s easy to get a little superstitious and a lot self-righteous. If something bad happens to us, we may feel it happened because we had bad thoughts. If something bad happens to someone else, we may find ourselves judging them, wondering what they thought or did to rain down misfortune upon themselves.

What I suppose I have a problem with is selling manifestation without interrogating and acknowledging the role privilege plays in financial and social success. Like the prosperity gospel, the manifestation gospel can feel especially problematic when sold to people whom racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, colonialism, and capitalism have systematically hindered the most. These gospels can feel like an accusation when we who have been affected by these systems can’t manifest ourselves into material comfort. 

Besides, when we worship at the altar of manifestation, it’s easy to get a little superstitious and a lot self-righteous. If something bad happens to us, we may feel it happened because we had bad thoughts. If something bad happens to someone else, we may find ourselves judging them, wondering what they thought or did to rain down misfortune upon themselves. We may also wonder to ourselves why they were unable to manifest the life of their dreams.

There is nothing wrong with admitting that our privileges have enabled our success. This doesn’t make us bad people or mean we haven’t worked hard – or prayed and manifested mightily – on our paths to success. It just means we’re honest that privilege is part of the mojo that has propelled us. 

But, as the Bible says, the rain falls on the just and the unjust and the sun shines on both good people and bad. Being a good person with good thoughts doesn’t automatically mean you get to be a millionaire. But having a family inheritance and a privileged body can help. 

As entrepreneur Jason Ford has written, privilege helped him forge his path to “self-made” millionaire status. He says:

“I attribute a majority of my success to the generational privilege that comes from being a middle-class White American male. And from my perspective, the rest had more to do with the talented people I worked alongside than with me. While I may have some natural ability and put in my share of sweat and tears, the best pilot in the world can not fly to the moon unless someone provides them with a rocket ship. Seen in this light, my privilege is the vehicle most responsible for my success. I may have flown it a little further than most, but I would be nowhere without it.”

There is nothing wrong with admitting that our privileges have enabled our success. This doesn’t make us bad people or mean we haven’t worked hard – or prayed and manifested mightily – on our paths to success. It just means we’re honest that privilege is part of the mojo that has propelled us. 

I have not brought all my dreams into reality, and if I’m honest, I don’t believe that manifesting will take me there – but hard work, luck, and privilege probably will.

I try to examine how privilege works in my life on a regular basis. Sure, I have had opportunities and strokes of luck that have baffled me and that I cannot explain. I also know that I am smart, I have had people advocate on my behalf, and I have worked hard to make the most of the opportunities I have been given. At the same time, I have received certain privileges that come with being American, Christian, straight, cisgender, thin, light-skinned, able-bodied, and married to a white man. I also have the privilege of time on the weekends to clarify my desires, and the privilege of money that allows me to take vacations occasionally so I can rest, recharge, and dream anew. 

I have not brought all my dreams into reality, and if I’m honest, I don’t believe that manifesting will take me there – but hard work, luck, and privilege probably will.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: