Does Manifesting Work? Can Our Thoughts Control What Happens to Us?
I want to talk today about whether manifesting works to change our lives.
Thank you Sheri for requesting this topic and encourage you to suggest yours. You could say Sheri manifested it.
Manifestation is a popular expression primarily in the New Age community where an individual can put something that is put into your physical reality through positive thought, feelings, and beliefs. It has become very popular in the rising generation and the new age movement.
At first glance, the idea that you can change your situation through requesting it from the universe sounds a lot like prayer, which is part and parcel of the Christian faith. We spend a portion of our time each week asking God for things we need. Jesus tells his followers to ask for things in his name and it will be granted.
But manifesting is different.
Manifesting is something we can do by changing our thought energy that changes our reality.
Our question for us today is can we use manifesting to change our physical reality by simply changing our thoughts?
Like most of my answers on these topics, the answer is that is complicated. To understand it, we need a quick history lesson.
History of New Thought
Its origins really come into play through the ideas of Dr. Franz Mesmer whose cures came to prominence and the early 1800s. He believed we were connected to energy fields and we could align them to achieve health. He put people in trances to align their energy flow pioneering the field of hypnosis. His healings grew in popularity to the point where the king of France put together a commission to study it that included Ben Franklin, though the committee found no scientific basis in it.
In his book, “One Simple Idea, How the Lesson of Positive Thought Re-Shaped Modern Life,” Mitch Horowitz reports that manifesting or positive thinking has another root in the teachings of Swedenborg that we live in both the physical and spiritual world at the same time, and we were actually spiritual beings in a physical existence. Swedenborg taught our thoughts were things and they had a great impact in attracting good or evil spiritual energy.
He taught that through our thoughts and actions and what we loved, we attract spiritual energy that led us on a path toward heaven or hell. Even more important than what religion you believed was the degree that you loved others. This loving energy of others draws you into angelic energy that supports your life while being selfish brought in hellish energy.
A Swedenborgian minister named Warren Felt Evans appears to have mixed Mesmer with Swedenborg’s teachings believing that our thought could heal us. In a book called “The New Age and its Messenger” referring to Emanual Swedenborg as the messenger, he mixes Swedenborgian theology with insights gained from a mind-cure healer Phineas Quimby.
The use of the phrase “new age” in Rev. Evan’s book is the phrase we use to this day. Another friend of Evans, named Mary Baker Eddy, created a systemic religion based on mind cures called today the Christian Science church.
In addition to health, a prosperity gospel grew out of this manifestation idea that if you only imagined yourself as rich, God would make you rich. New Thought philosophy mixed well with America’s growing capitalism produced books like “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill published in 1937 is still read today. This positive thought often merged into churches, most notably, in the book “The Power of Positive Thinking” a best seller by Rev. Norman Vincent Peale of Marble Colgate Church in New York who brought this into every home in American teaching “You and God can do anything” Rev. Oral Roberts the father of the mega-church incorporated this into evangelical Christianity. Unity Church, Science and Mind Church, and Agape Church trace their roots back to these writings. The Agape Church, featured in The Secret, makes an annual pilgrimage to Wayfarers Chapel our Swedenborgian Church in Los Angeles to bring a gift and honor his legacy.
It seems that every twenty years a new writer comes out with a book that repackages this philosophy and teaches this positive thought in the language of the current generation. This happened in 2006 when a book called “The Law of Attraction” written by Esther Hicks was produced. She claimed it came through a spirit named Abraham, but the title was taken from books written in the 1800s by Russian occultist Helena Blavatsky. Hicks became is the modern messenger of the idea that our ideas create our physical reality.
The Law of Attraction says that you will attract into your life whatever you focus on. Whatever you give your energy and attention to will come back to you. So, if you stay focused on the good and positive things in your life, you will automatically attract positive things into your life. The first law of the seven laws of attraction is the law of manifestation.
This book was essentially turned into a movie in a very popular 2007 called “The Secret,” which suggests this is ancient wisdom now revealed.
The movie and the promotion of the book on Oprah Winfrey launched the new age concept that your thoughts create your life for an entirely new generation. Instead of prayers, Millennials often say, “sending positive thoughts” or when setting goals say they will “manifest it.” This has led to practice where people spend hours saying a mantra, “I will be rich” over and over again. As they change their thoughts they get rich. The producer of “The Secret” tells how she imagined her bills were checked instead, and soon, she became a multi-millionaire.
We tend to think of crystals, hot coals, and hippies embracing these beliefs in a commune. But you’ll be surprised just how widespread New Thought is on the right as well.
Ronald Reagan studied the book “The Secret Teachings of All Ages” and “The Secret Destiny of America,” by Manly P. Hall that was written in 1928 that taught among other things the power of positive thinking and later books the unique role of the United States. At a CPAC conference in 1974, Regan said “You can call it mysticism if you want to, but I have always believed that there was some divine plan that placed this great continent between two oceans to be sought out by those who were possessed of an abiding love of freedom and a special kind of courage.” Regan practiced a sunny style of always being a positive way of being in his life and politics. Regan would later give Norman Vincent Peale the Presidential Medal of Honor.
Our former President Trump grew up in Norman Vincent Peale’s church hearing sermons on the importance of positive thinking and manifesting your future. He performed two of Trump’s weddings. It’s been noted that Donald Trump couldn’t admit mistakes or even acknowledge losing which is tied to the new thought principle that agreeing to negative beliefs creates them. Trump said the mind can overcome any obstacle. I never think of the negative.” In 2016, he said, “Reverend Peale was the type of minister that I liked. He instilled a very positive feeling about God that also made me feel positive about myself.” Peale taught, “Believe you are defeated, believe it long enough, and it is likely to become a fact.”
The power of New Thought or Positive Thinking is so profound in American culture that we are not even aware of it. It has influenced our politicians, churches, our beliefs about wealth and health. Now you know.
Okay, so now that we have a brief history of manifesting, does it work in our life?
The idea that you control your thoughts, and they can lead toward good, or evil is a foundation we can agree on. But here’s where we are different.
New Thought teaches that I manifest everything in our life for good or bad. That would include diseases I have and the disasters in my life. The amount of money in my checkbook is a product of my belief.
We believe that there are physical laws like gravity, for example, that you cannot change simply by changing your thoughts. Our tradition believes that evil things happen to good people. We Jesus said it rains on the just and the unjust when asked what sin his parents had committed to lead to his disease. This is in contrast to new thought, on the other hand, who teaches that the attack on 911 was a group manifestation of thoughts of all of those involved. People who have cancer brought it on themselves and people who are poor are a product of their own limited thinking.
Another big difference between what our tradition teaches and what new thought philosophy suggests I control the energies around me by my thoughts. Our tradition teaches that I control nothing but have free will to choose good or evil, when I chose good, I’m supported by the Lord. In other words, our belief is in God, manifesting is within ourselves.
When I watched the movie “The Secret” I felt awful watching images of teaching children to manifest bikes and adults to manifest houses. For years after the movie, I heard stories of people depressed because their manifesting didn’t heal their illness nor give them wealth. Manifesting often leads to magical thinking and inaction.
Our tradition would suggest the priority needs to be shifted. There’s nothing wrong with a great house or a bike, but if your focus is selfishness, you are inviting in hellish energy of selfishness.
The key question to ask is what is your priority, simply yourself or others?
Our tradition teaches our purpose is to show compassion to others, and in so doing, we love God, outside our selfishness. The manifesting of new thought is often very self-absorbed. It’s about “me, my, I.” New age thinking often leads embraces some of the worst individualism. narcissism and consumerism in our culture.
The real secret is to align your loves in priority.
Love God, then others, and all these things will be added to you.
The desire for wealth and status are the two primary spiritual temptations we face being on earth. It shouldn’t surprise us that marketers will keep finding ways to resell this package to a new generation saying you can have it all.
The person viewing it looks at the successful mega pastor, TV celebrity, politician, and famous author and sees that they are widely celebrated and rich. What better testimony of their power of positive thinking. However, look closely you see that these leaders are often wealthy and have celebrity, but their followers not so much, instead they are consumers who buy the books, cast the votes, or watch the show that makes the leaders wealthy.
The reality is great wealth is s spiritual challenge. Very few people can pull off great wealth and status and remain deeply humble and spiritual. Most people who achieve great wealth find it hard not to be condescending and self-important.
Where does this leave the power of prayer I spoke about at the beginning?
Prayer is our time to raise our intentions to God for what we believe is in our best interest. Faith is believing that there’s a force greater than myself that sees an even bigger picture. We often ask for things based on our limited perspective, but we conclude “thy will be done,” in the humility that we can’t hold the perspective of God.
Is there anything valuable in the manifesting movement?
I’d say for sure. Every time we create a strategy for our life we have to imagine a world that doesn’t exist. Our imagination is our creative force. Things we can’t imagine are often outside our ability to achieve. Having positive thoughts for the future can help create new life strategies.
In my coaching practice, I’ve discovered the barrier to most of our advancement is limiting beliefs that are not true. We all have them. The beginning of spiritual growth is self-awareness of limiting belief. When you find yourself, saying “I could never…” take a moment to reflect on this limiting belief. Often a coach, pastor or therapist, or trusted friend can help us reflect on what’s holding us back.
Also, we’ve all experienced people who bring energy to us and those who are vampires and take it away. It’s hard to measure this energy, but we are all aware of it.
We also agree what you put into the world you get back, from Swedenborg’s reading: “Such is the law of the spiritual world. People who do heartfelt good to another in that world receive the same good in return. People who do heartfelt evil to another receive the same evil in return. Heartfelt good carries its own reward, and heartfelt evil carries its own punishment. That is the source of heaven for the good and of hell for the evil.”
What we put out into the world we get back.
Also, another area of similar is a key to our theology is the importance of free-will. God gives us the ability to love or hate, to do good or to do bad. That means that our agency is a big deal. We can create a life for ourselves and make a difference. This can only be done with God’s help. In addition to self-awareness, the good spiritual practice requires humility.
Also, we are co-creators of this world with God. If we align with the Lord and develop enough self-examination to see our truest motivations we can humbly play a part in making this world a better place. This will happen through a transformation on our inside first and then able to impact our world on the outside, but the motivation must be as pure as possible.
Our work together at the Church of the Holy City is a good example. We are trying to save a church community here that was pretty much given up for dead a few years ago. We imagined a different future. We worked really hard to come up with plans and we’re seeing change. But all of that change is the Lord working through us. We are humbled by it. And it might fail tomorrow and that doesn’t mean we are faithful either. Life is a series of trying, learning through good times, and in the midst of evil we always seeking God’s help and accomplished through God’s power not our own.
It is a matter of priorities. Seek first the kingdom of God and service to others, everything else comes next.
With love and service as our greatest goal, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.