July 27, 2010

The Difference Between Manifesting and Gardening.

Way to kill a word that once meant something.

The word “manifest” may once have had some actual meaning, but it has now hit its tipping point of overuse. It’s actually gotten to the point where every time I hear this word, my eyes roll involuntarily.

My latest unfortunate run-in with the word “manifest” went like this:

I had found some old packets of wildflower seeds in a drawer—all different sorts that I must have bought months ago in a fit of ambition—and I decided to throw them in a pot of dirt I had lying around from some other less fortunate plant’s demise. Lo and behold, one of them sprouted! I was astonished, and decided to devote my life to my little baby plant from that moment on, 24-7.

Not really. But I was pretty fastidious about keeping an eye on it. I had no idea what kind of plant it was going to turn out to be, but I was giddy with anticipation. I watched as my little tiny plant grew a quarter of an inch… then another half… then a few inches. Eventually it grew starchy, working class leaves, and a priceless little bud appeared. I was diligent in my watering duties, made sure it got plenty of sun and just as much shade, and basically attended to its every need. I gave it enthusiastic pep talks every day.

One morning, I woke up to an exquisite purple blossom like I had never seen before. Borage! I felt proud, and humbled by nature’s amazing powers.

I posted a picture of my prize borage flower on my Facebook page. I got the usual humoring “likes.”  Then a yoga acquaintance of mine posted a comment. Verbatim, she said:

“Keep manifesting and bringing in the magic!”

Huh? Unless I am missing something, what I was doing is called gardening. Not manifesting. Gardening.

When did this word “manifest” start to become a catchall for any positive thing that one makes happen? I read The Secret; I live in the Bay Area, the new age hub of the universe; I was heavily involved with the yoga scene for many years. So I am used to this kind of talk. But, that doesn’t mean I like it.

I didn’t manifest diddly. The truth is, I got my hands dirty. I harnessed the time-tested tenets of actual science—along with good old-fashioned luck and patience—in order to sprout a seed for the very purpose of growing a plant. It could easily have not worked out. My cat could have dug up the sprout and had it for lunch, as she has so many times in the past. She is strangely unaffected by the alleged magical power of my thoughts.

To imply that I “manifested” this real live plant from some sort of good intention I had… does that mean that I harnessed my good attitude and The Power of Positivity to grow real live flora without ever lifting an actual finger, as if I have telekinetic powers? To be fair, The Secret does explain—in the fine print—that you actually have to follow through on your good intentions with Right Action if you want things to happen. But still, the innocent insertion of that word, “manifest,” makes me feel like I lie somewhere on the spectrum between a voodoo magician and just one lucky son of a gun. It’s disempowering.

In fact, there was nothing magical about my endeavor. It was pure logic. I planted a seed that had been genetically chosen to be the most likely sort to grow; I took care of it; and voila, it grew. It was a pretty simple affair. There may have been some luck involved, but certainly no magic and definitely no manifesting.

What does that even mean: to manifest something?

It’s a word I hear thrown around a lot these days. I looked it up. This is what the dictionary says:



  1. to make clear or evident to the eye or the understanding; show plainly: He manifested his approval with a hearty laugh.
  2. to prove; put beyond doubt or question: The evidence manifests the guilt of the defendant.
  3. to record in a ship’s manifest

Hmm. I didn’t “show,” “prove,” or “record” my baby borage plant. I grew it. Why couldn’t she just say, “Keep growing things”?

I’ll tell you why. Because “manifest” is one of the top five catchwords that people in the pseudo-spiritual scene are conditioned to use these days. “Manifest” is an all-encompassing verb/adjective/noun that implies harnessing the alleged Power of Positive Thinking in order to achieve our egocentric desires. A few years ago, a wealthy friend of mine who had just read The Secret told me he was going to manifest himself a Ducati motorcycle. Then he bought a Ducati. I said, “Let’s be honest, didn’t you just already have the money to buy a Ducati?” He was not amused by my deflation of his spiritual beliefs around how he acquired his Ducati.

And therein lies the problem. If I solve world hunger purely by the power of my good attitude, then please, by all means, congratulate me on my awesome manifestation skills. But, until then, lay off the spiro-speak and please, please, just say what you mean.

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