Have you succumbed to these common manifestation misunderstandings?

I’d like to share with you some thoughts about manifestation. Not so much how to do it: you can find that information all over, in bestsellers like The Secret or Ask and it is Given, or in articles like this one in Oprah’s ”O”magazine. It’s called “How to Manifest Anything.”

Instead, I’d like to talk about the ways I’ve gotten stuck over the years with manifestation. I used to confuse myself into a state of paralysis, because I misunderstood how the whole thing works.

I’ve seen these same misunderstandings in enough clients to suspect that highly sensitive people (HSPs) may be particularly susceptible. Perhaps it’s because we are so conscientious and process things so deeply. These HSP strengths have a downside: we’ll take a false belief and go downhill quickly with it, arriving at the kind of confusion and paralysis I’ve experienced.

In any case, let’s take a look at the ways you can get your knickers in a twist around manifesting what you want and need. Then we’ll look at how to free yourself up again.

Unpacking the pitfalls

Oprah’s article lays out four main steps for manifestation:

  1. Know what you want
  2. Ask for it: writing it down is particularly powerful
  3. Express gratitude for what you have
  4. Let go of limiting beliefs

All this makes sense. For starters, if you don’t know what you want, you’ll find it tough to move towards getting it. So, knowing what you want is an obvious first step. Writing that down can help you make sure you are really clear and intentional about whatever it is you want and need.

When you take the third step and express gratitude for what you already have, you invoke another powerful form of intentionality. Specifically, you start to notice where you are directing your attention. Over time, you develop the habit of seeing what is here, not just what isn’t here.

Again, this makes sense, because this habit literally changes what you see. For example, after we bought a red Prius in 2009, I suddenly started seeing red Priuses all over town. Clearly, they hadn’t multiplied overnight; I was simply paying attention in a different way. In essence, those Priuses didn’t exist for me, before; afterwards, they did.

The fourth item on Oprah’s list, “let go of limiting beliefs,” is not as simple. We’ll get to that in a minute. But first I want to name my first revelation: manifestation does not have to be a big deal! In fact, you do it all the time.

Manifestation is not a big deal

Example: I’m making cookies. I use up the last of the chocolate chips (a minor crisis around here.) I put chocolate chips on the list. I buy them the next time I go to the store. Simple, right? If you have doubts about your ability to manifest things, consider whether you are discounting seemingly simple examples like this chocolate chip scenario.

Now, you might say, “Well, that doesn’t count. You know you can go get chocolate chips at the store! No faith is required, no positive attitude, and not really any gratitude either.” I understand. I used to make the same argument. However, the fact remains that in this common scenario, two elements of manifestation are present:

  • You needed something
  • You wrote it down (on your grocery list).

You didn’t need the gratitude step, because your trust was already high that chocolate chips exist at the store. And you likely don’t have many limiting beliefs about chocolate chips, so you simply went out and bought them.

But there’s a key pitfall here. With this chocolate chip example, I could easily think I did it. Thinking you have to manifest things, or that you even could if you wanted to, is mistaken. You can absolutely take Oprah’s four steps to create the right conditions, but in the end it is by a kind of mysterious grace that we receive things.

Does this sound woo-woo? Maybe. I know it’s true, though, because of events I’ve experienced that left me in awe of the mysterious generosity of the universe. Here’s my favorite:

The magic zucchini

One Saturday last fall, I set about making organic chicken vegetable soup. That’s what I eat for lunch on weekdays, so I make a pot every two weeks and freeze some of it. The last step is to chop and add a zucchini to the soup. I got to that last step and opened the fridge. No zucchini. I had completely forgotten to buy one.

I cursed my forgetfulness. Then I resigned myself to zucchini-less soup, and moved on with my day. That afternoon I decided to take a walk around the neighborhood. As I rounded the corner onto Clover Street, I saw something in the road.

You may not believe this. I wouldn’t believe it, if I hadn’t been there myself. There, in the road, was a zucchini. An organic zucchini, no less. I laughed out loud with the crazy wonderfulness of it. Then I comically strained my brain trying to imagine scenarios that would have led to this vegetable ending up in the road.

Somebody had chewed on it a bit (see picture above), but nothing a bit of trimming couldn’t fix. Besides, how could I say no to such a magnificent instance of cosmic humor? I took the zucchini home and put it in my soup. (Evidently nothing was wrong with it, since I’m still here.)

I tell you this story to say that the universe isn’t punctilious. I didn’t write down that I wanted a zucchini. I didn’t do a vision board with a zucchini on it. I didn’t offer gratitude for all the past zucchinis I’d eaten. All I did was to curse my forgetfulness, then go for a walk.

On the other hand…

…there is a backstory to the zucchini miracle (it really did feel miraculous.) For one thing, I genuinely, and generally, feel grateful these days. I truly appreciate my life. I also put daily effort into maintaining a sturdy personal infrastructure. Specifically, I—

  • Meditate and read spiritual works
  • Do self-regulating breath practices
  • Exercise
  • Eat healthy meals
  • Get ample sleep
  • Maintain an is HSP-friendly schedule

This kind of thorough, consistent self-care is essential for HSPs. We need it to stay sane. HSPs go downhill rapidly when we scrimp on sleep or food, push ourselves too hard all the time, or neglect our bodies and nervous systems. Equally importantly, taking good care of ourselves primes the pump for us to manifest what we want and need.

There is one catch, though. Even if your physical self-care is great, you can still stress yourself out if your inner relationship is harsh. Do you—

  • Vigilantly watch yourself for any “negativity” in your thoughts or emotions?
  • Tell yourself, “Oh no, my vibration is too low—I’ll never be able to manifest what I need”?
  • Berate yourself for not feeling enough gratitude”
  • Get scared, when you realize you feel sad or angry or hopeless, that you are going to manifest bad things?

If so, you are allowing a part of you to run the show. This, in my experience, is the single biggest manifestation pitfall for HSPs. Ironically, you are most prone to fall into this pit at the toughest times—the very times when you most need to trust your ability to invoke abundance.

How you hold your feelings makes all the difference

When the going gets rough and you are up against it, you will understandably feel a range of painful emotions. You may feel sad or discouraged, bitter and resentful, anxious or depressed.

If on top of that you scare yourself, telling yourself these emotions will “manifest bad things” or “make you sick,” you’ll send yourself into a downward spiral. Then, if you go online and read passages like this one from the “O” magazine article, you’ll well and truly panic:

One thing Oprah knows for sure? Energy is everything. “The energy we put out in the world is the energy we get back,” she says in The Wisdom of Sundays. Which means if you are continually sending out negative energy—through either your thoughts or feelings—you will attract that same energy back to you, according to Oprah’s Super Soul Conversation with Michael Bernard Beckwith.

What an impossible dilemma. The fact is, we all feel lousy sometimes. Does that doom us to manifest awful things? No. It doesn’t. And thank goodness, for that, because life would be impossible for HSPs otherwise.

There’s a simple but powerful way out of this cycle. Turn towards your feelings and hold them. Name them. Witness them with compassion and curiosity. Then, listen to what they are trying to tell you.

Presence language to the rescue

Inner Relationship Focusing provides us with an elegant language process to support this inward turn towards compassion. Here are a few examples of Presence Language, with gratitude to Ann Weiser Cornell and Barbara McGavin:

I’m sensing something in me that feels…[name what you are feeling]
I’m aware of a thought that…[describe what you are thinking]
I’m hearing a voice in my mind saying…[say what you are hearing]

The “I” in each of these sentences represents a bigger, more spacious “you”—a “you” capable of backing up just enough to take in the whole picture of what you are feeling, instead of being completely “in the river” with it.

Think of these inner thoughts and emotions as guests in the guest house of your psyche. You are the host. It is your job to be curious and open to any guests that show up, even the ones that (as Rumi put it) throw around the furniture.

Remember the fourth item on Oprah’s manifestation process above? “Let go of limiting beliefs.” Now you know how you can actually do that. Turn towards whatever is going on in you and keep it company. Your limiting beliefs will float to the surface as you listen with curiosity and compassion to your inner guests.

Here’s the amazing thing: when you hold your painful feelings this way, you create a safe container in which you can learn what information they are trying to give you. Furthermore, this safe container lives up to its name: it contains your painful emotions so they don’t radiate out of you.

In other words, what happens in the guest house, stays in the guest house. It doesn’t “leak out” of you or “send out negative energy.” It doesn’t cause bad things to happen to you. The key is to stay in the driver’s seat. Don’t let your scared parts run the show. They’ll just pull up the carrot every five minutes to make sure it’s growing.

You can stop pressuring yourself not to feel “negative emotions”

Once you understand all this, you can let go of the paralyzing, demoralizing belief that feeling any sort of negative emotions means making bad things happen in your life. On the contrary. Our emotions are simply messengers. Our job is to open the mail.

We can do this in the privacy of our own inner guest house, or with a trusted friend or practitioner. The more you practice this inner listening, the healthier your inner relationship will get. You’ll find gratitude flows naturally then, along with a flow of abundance…sometimes in the most unexpected zucchini-ish ways.

Image: ©2023 Emily Agnew