Tonight is a hard night for the community where I run my private practice. In Waterdown, Ontario, a beautiful little ten-year old girl lost her life tonight in a tragic car accident where she was hit on a local road. The lives of these families will never be the same. The classmates of this ten-year-old will know death far too soon.
Throughout my time in counselling, I have worked with so many people who are experiencing the worst that life has to offer. Young women who have been sexually assaulted and raped. Children whose parents have died or been diagnosed with cancer. Young people suffering diagnoses of life altering illnesses. People suffering through job loss, health changes, and, like tonight, lives that have been ended far too soon.
Yet at the same time, I see books on the shelf and I hear people saying things like…
“What you think about you bring about.”
“If you believe in it strongly enough, it will happen.”
“If you give yourself over to something becoming a reality, you will manifest it into reality.”
People saying that things will manifest… things will appear because you thought it into reality.
I can’t even begin to express my problems with this thinking philosophy.
I get the theory behind it. It’s the Law of Attraction and the backing of books like The Secret. Some of it makes sense, like the fact that being positive and friendly and optimistic will attract more positive relationships and opportunities, because, hey, who doesn’t like being around someone that makes them smile and feel good about themselves? So yes, some of what you “put out into the world” does come back to you. If you show love to others, they are more likely to show it back to you. If you let someone else know you think highly of them, they are more likely to think highly of you. Interpersonally, this Law of Attraction can be very true, in many ways. But then this theory takes a turn to the dark side. To manifesting. To the rock-solid belief that your thoughts entirely create the world around you.
It’s so tantalizing to believe that if we think positively all the time, bad things won’t happen to us. Or, if bad things do happen, we can turn those things around just by the power of our thoughts and “the vibrations we send out into the universe.” If things aren’t going our way, we can just “vibrate at a different energy level” and turn things around. If we believe that we are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and this money will just appear if we keep working and keep believing. There are life coaches and business coaches that make millions upon millions of dollars selling this idea to people.
But now riddle me this. What did this little ten year old girl think about to bring about her own death? What did this family “think about” to cause this tragedy? What energy level were they “vibrating at?” That’s correct. Nothing. They did nothing to bring this about. Bad things happen in this world, and sometimes they simply don’t make any sense at all. In our desire to bring more order to a world that sometimes exists only in chaos, we have taken the beginnings of a good idea and have turned it into something horrible.
“Manifesting” is – at its deepest level – actually the same thing as victim-blaming. To put the entire onus on a person’s thoughts for what their life will bring them is unkind, unfair, and unrealistic. Bad things happen to good people. Good things happen to bad people. People can work their whole lives with passion and integrity and still never “make it big.” People can do everything right with their health and diet and thoughts still become ill and die. Mothers who want their babies more than anything in the world have miscarriages. Women that never wanted to become pregnant find themselves with child. Things don’t always make sense and we don’t always get what we want, or even what we deserve.
We can’t control a huge portion of life. We can’t control what happens and what doesn’t happen in our world with any semblance of absolute certainty. Sometimes life isn’t “testing us.” Sometimes, it simply sucks. Life has times where it’s just plain hard and awful and it just doesn’t make any sense at all. We don’t need to be telling each other that the good things only happen if you think good thoughts, and the bad things happen if you don’t believe in something strongly enough or want something badly enough.
Just because you hear famous people say that manifesting is what worked for them, doesn’t make it real. Of course someone is going to say it worked for them – because something they’ve already made it! Sometimes, it’s honestly just a stroke of good luck mixed with hard work. No one is successful without hard work, but not everyone who works hard will be successful (the same logic that says all dachshunds are dogs, but not all dogs are dachshunds… follow?). Interview 1000 other “real life people” and ask them how much they wanted something and believed in it and tried to “manifest it” and it didn’t work – we just don’t hear those stories. We don’t ask those people. But I talk to those people. I hear their stories. Those people want things and dream things just as much as the next person and sometimes it just doesn’t work out.
So next time you think of “manifesting things into reality,” I want you to think of that family whose daughter was killed tonight. Imagine saying that to them. I want you to think of my clients whose family members have been diagnosed with cancer and tell them they didn’t think positively enough and that’s why this happened. I want you to think of that girl who was raped at a party, and think of telling her about manifesting her reality, to her face. When you put this in context, I hope you, too, can see the problems with “manifesting.”
By all means, please, please think positively, and believe in yourself, and follow your dreams, and work hard. Because a positive attitude and an optimistic outlook will never be a bad choice, and will only serve you well in your life and in your relationships. It will generally attract positive people to your life, which can bring opportunity and can bring meaningful relationships to you as well. But don’t subscribe to the manifesting theory – because this feeds into victim blaming, and it allows people to sell scam-y products to dreamers with stars in their eyes, taking more of their hard earned time and money, selling them snake oil and calling it reality.
Sometimes the world is just senseless. And sometimes things don’t happen for a reason. But we can climb back out of the flames in time, with the support, understanding, and compassion of our friends and neighbours. We’re all in this crazy world together, and we need each and every one of us to stand up with compassion and understanding in difficult times. But we can’t run away from discomfort by creating a false reality that soothes us in times of uncertainty. Even the times when the senseless nature of the world scares us into wishing we had more control over what happens in our lives.
Hug someone you love tonight, and please, keep this family, and our community, in your thoughts today as we once again wrestle with the uncertainty of life and work to support each other through the most challenging things that life can bring.