Soul work is classically defined as having two major components: healing and manifestation. Another term for manifestation would be creativity or creative expression.
Healing at the level of the soul involves a release of negative soul conditioning (often called karma). There are patterns that lie at the level of our energy. These patterns have been cut into deep grooves and from there shape our lives in ways we are often only dimly conscious of. Soul healing purifies personal karma, ancestral karma, even at times our own participation in collective human karma. Soul healing requires coming to face and embrace and love our shadow–to find the light always hidden with the darkness and to release that light.
Soul healing calls forth a posture of welcome. Soul healing demands we welcome the full range of our human emotions and grasping the wisdom of each, even emotions like shame and fear. Soul healing is an affirmation of the nature of our soul, i.e. our unique personal expression of The Divine. It is a healing act to learn and to feel validated at the deepest personal level of our existence, to learn the kinds of energies that fundamentally drive our being, the inherent gifts as well as challenges of being who each soul is. In soul healing we come to realize the fundamental truth of our singular expression and identity.
Manifestation work, however, is aligning with the soul’s deepest desires and works to make those desires concrete. Manifestation is following the creative process to its fulfillment–in some concrete, material expression. For example studying to be a counsellor and then developing an actual practice with real live clients. Creating a work of art.
I freely admit I’ve had a bias towards healing. Soul healing seemed real, mature, and sane whereas manifestation can seem very ungrounded, excessively fake, and too happy. (I’m after all the guy whose on record as being against high vibrations!). It’s also true that the healing side of the soul dyad has always come easier to me. I have more natural gifting for it than manifestation work. So to be fair, it’s been safer for me.
It’s clear however that both personally and in my ongoing work with individuals that manifestation is calling to me. Creative expression is finally starting to burn deeply in my gut. While I haven’t been denying that creative impulse, I haven’t known really what to do with it either. In some ways I still don’t, at least not fully. I figure I’ll take one step at a time and learn along the road.
But I am starting to think about what manifestation really means. As I do, one question keeps gnawing at me as I contemplate this possibility:
What is the proper context for teaching on manifestation?
I think this is a hugely under asked question.
One reason why it’s an under-explored question is that very many spiritually inclined traditions simply don’t address the question of creativity and manifestation. They are typically much more interested in spiritual awakening and therefore the question doesn’t really arise in the first place. The question of purpose or vocation or creative expression comes from the soul not the spirit. Therefore spiritual teachings that bypass the soul usually leave out this dimension of being human. Consequently the question of creativity has deeper roots in the worlds of art, drama, sport, and music than spiritual practice.
In the Western spiritual tradition manifestation work has predominantly come through the New Thought and New Age traditions. For better and for worse, it’s to these we’ll need to look for guidance. These teachings have set the context for the majority of folk exploring the topic of manifestation.
The issue is the context and background set of assumptions from those traditions is highly problematic in my estimation.
I don’t normally break out the old four quadrant map from integral theory anymore, but this is a good moment to do so–it reveals a really important point about why the context of manifestation teachings is often so confused and problematic.
In this map you see there is individual inner experience (Upper Left), individual outer physical form and behavior (Upper Right), external collective structure or social reality (Lower Right), and interior cultural reality (Lower Left). The map states that each moment in time is all four these dimensions of existence–no quadrant is superior or more primary than another. An integrated pattern therefore is one that takes into account all four dimensions. Anything less than all four is by definition less than integrated.
Why this schema matters is because manifestation teachings of The New Thought/New Age variety emphasize inner individual experience (Upper Left), outer action and spiritual laws (Upper Right). They also spend a good deal of time discussing how to relate to the social networks of the day (Lower Right).
What that leaves out is culture or what is known as the intersubjective (Lower Left). The intersubjective space is the source of our ethics, cultural narratives, and worldviews. The intersubjective points to the truth that all of us always arise in relationships, from specific languages, cultures, nationalities, and histories. These aspects of our being-in-the-world inevitably influence and effect the ways in which we see the world.
To paraphrase the philosopher Wittgenstein, if your language does not have a word for something it doesn’t exist in your world. It’s a thought you can’t think.
That’s the intersubjective. And that is the one that’s missing in most, if not all, manifestation teachings. For the record the cultural-intersubjective is basically missing in all personal growth or spiritual practice of any variety. These cultural factors often are held as deep unconscious biases within spiritual communities and The New Thought/New Age manifestation traditions are no different in that regard.
When the intersubjective goes unacknowledged it simply goes underground. It’s influence is still present, the influence however has become unconscious. What that means in this case is that manifestation teachings unconsciously continue to replicate the cultural biases of 19th and 20th century America (the historical context that gave birth to New Thought and New Age teaching).
In other words, almost all manifestation teachings unconsciously assume a very modernist, North American culture. That culture has its roots in what Max Weber called The Protestant Work Ethic. The Protestant Work Ethic is the belief that if one was healthy and prosperous it was a sign of blessing from God. Therefore a strong value is placed on thrift, hard work, efficiency, and rugged individualism–because those values will help accrue wealth and therefore retroactively prove blessing from God. In the United States particularly The Protestant Work Ethic became fused with the American mythology of being a land of total freedom where everyone could succeed if they were simply hard working enough.
The dark side of such a view is that if one is poor or suffering it’s one’s own fault. Such a person is lazy or stupid or consistently making bad choices. This view undergirds most conservative US political philosophy and leads to criticisms of the welfare state as a form of “handouts” to the “takers”.
And the key point here is that manifestation teachings from the New Thought tradition (and later New Age) have essentially replicated this ideology. It’s no longer that being rich is a sign of blessing from God per se although that is still explicitly the case in some such teachings like the prosperity gospel movement. Rather in most New Thought/New Age traditions health and wealth are signs of being fully actualized in one’s true self. It’s a sign of holding true abundance consciousness and not therefore poverty consciousness.
Consequently if one doesn’t have material wealth, physical health, fulfilling work, and emotionally satisfying intimate relationship then one has clearly not manifested properly. Just as with the Protestant Work Ethic there is a real dark side in this teaching, namely that failure to manifest one’s dreams is one’s own fault.
Looking at the integral map we see that the context (Lower Left) of a teaching, its practice (Upper Right), and its social vision (Lower Right) is as important as its inner experience (Upper Left). It’s only North American European-descended culture that describes itself as having no culture–as being a place of individuals. It’s a culture of individualism. It’s a culture which is unconscious of its own cultural influence.
And up until now manifestation teachings have been almost, if not, entirely unaware of that gigantic blind spot. Modernist Western philosophy recognized the validity of the Upper Left, the Upper Right, and the Lower Right quadrants but didn’t recognize the Lower Left (the cultural or intersubjective). Manifestation teachings all arose during the modernist era, hence they are typically ignorant of the intersubjective realm. Consequently, the assumed cultural norms under which they were born are simply passed on.
This flaw is true of all the big name manifestation texts–The Course in Miracles, The Secret, you name it–as well as a host of lesser-known ones.
There’s a dark underbelly of personal shaming, spiritual bypassing, and problematic political and social views in this world. For nearly 200 years, manifestation teachings have essentially been fused with the dominant North American individualist lifestyle. Again consider titles like “Think And Grow Rich”, “The Power of Positive Thinking”, and so on.
Now someone might well say, ‘what’s wrong with healthy relationships, financial stability, personal health and creative meaningful work?’
Nothing obviously. Those are good things. But why is it that manifestation teachings focus on those? Well in truth it’s basically because for middle and upper class North Americans those are essentially the only things they have in their life–along with, for some, a desire for some kind of spiritual life however they define and practice it. Oh and nowadays a very reeved up sexual existence.
Most manifestation teachings assume the culture of North American individualist consumerism. They then try, within the bounds of such a culture, to help people make the best of their lives.
But what if the cultural pattern itself is sick? What if individually adjusting well to a maladjusted reality isn’t really health?
It’s worth saying that it would definitely be easy to dismiss that entire tradition of manifestation work. There’s no lack of room for criticism of positive thinking and the damage it can do to people (especially ones with low self-esteem). It has no real understanding about what would be a just distribution of goods creatively manifested. It basically assumes the dominant capitalistic model of North American society with its so-called free-market bias. The winners have earned their spoils and deserve them. And so on and so forth.
Now while it would be easy to simply stop there, the reason these teachings continue to persist is that, in their best moments, they are actually onto something. They are (partially) right. That partial right-ness however is wedded to a series of very problematic elements. From within the world of such manifestation teachings, the problematic elements are rarely, if ever, exposed and critiqued. From outside that world, the problematic elements are criticized, but the partial truth is then ignored or denied (goodbye baby with bathwater).
What I’m interested in is the possibility of incorporating the valid aspects of these teachings but placing them within a very different cultural, political, economic, and social framework. (Or at least for now imagining how that could be achieved).
To get to the partial truth though we need to proceed by a process of elimination–getting rid of the problematic elements.
Manifestation teachings always begin with the notion that Consciousness or Mind or Intelligence is the primary reality and materiality is only a secondary outflow of Consciousness. (It’s biased towards the upper left hand quadrant in integral terms). In other words, material reality has no agency of its own–it’s simply the result of consciousness, particularly thought. Hence New Thought.
Given that bias, these teachings have no real understanding of the material, structural reality of money. For manifestation teachings money, like any material reality, is simply the inevitable outcome of thought and consciousness. Money is often described (in manifestation works) as simply a neutral energy. In and of itself it is neither positive nor negative. It is what we do (or don’t do) with this energy of money that is positive or negative.
Money however isn’t entirely or even predominantly neutral. And it’s not simply an energy. There is no room within the teaching itself to view money from its actual historical, structural history. How it was created, how it functions, how it replicates itself (hint: it’s not by people meditating on the energy of money and imagining more of it coming into existence).
Consequently, these teachings are, for example, radically naive about the ways in which our current dominant money system creates debt–not as a bug but as a feature. They can’t point to the work of say a Thomas Piketty who has shown that absent a collective political will installed in the legal system, investments and financial instruments always increase at a higher rate of return than income, leading inevitably to massive wealth inequality and social injustice in capitalist societies.
That occurs not because a bunch of people lack abundance consciousness but as a consequence of the social structure of money within a capitalist system (Lower Right Quadrant).
Again, I’m not saying these teachings have nothing to offer. It’s just that they are missing hugely important elements.
Money consciousness teachings of whatever variety place the emphasis on connecting to the consciousness or money through individual meditation. They deal with individual beliefs around money. They emphasize individual behavioral practices, e.g. paying oneself first, paying down debt. They suggest ways of functionally adapting and fitting within the existing structural channels of moneymaking (e.g. internet marketing, online courses, global trade, etc.).
What I guarantee they never do is show you the history of currencies. It won’t cover the history of state domination or colonialism. It won’t bring up the realm of ethics or norms. To do so would upset the apple cart.
The advice in such works is simply and always to charge for your services what the market will bear, never asking if that is a just thing. Recent economic research has shown that markets aren’t inherently always so intelligent and all-knowing as they were made out to be in modern Western economics (i.e. the so-called invisible hand.)
But nobody seems to want to focus on that. That’s seems so mental and judgmental and spirituality is all supposed to be about how I feel inside (again a modernist value). When we deny the intersubjective, we deny the fact that we have responsibility to one another. We deny that we are alive through what Thich Naht Hanh calls inter-being. We inter-are.
Culture and society is not simply what happens when we add up all the individuals. Culture (Lower Left) and Society (Lower Right) are intrinsic aspects of being-in-the-world.
The key wisdom of the intersubjective is profoundly missing from the manifestation world which is simply a reflection of the larger cultural problem of our contemporary age.
Manifestation teachings typically spend a great deal of time focused on what an individual’s authentic desires truly are. It turns out that framing the search as one for authentic personal individual meaning is a cultural trope. I’m not saying it’s inherently wrong as a cultural form but it is a cultural form. It’s a cultural form that’s not recognizing itself as a cultural form. That’s the problem.
As a result a bunch of individuals think they are simply meditating and connecting into their individual personal inner space and finding their truest most authentic desires and wants. And those authentic desires and wants, it turns out, look pretty similar to everyone else’s. Because after all it’s an unconscious cultural pattern.
Just a reminder I’m not saying all manifestation teachings are bunk. Or that the practices in those teachings aren’t valid. It’s just that they need to become conscious of their cultural setting.
Once we highlight the Lower Left, the cultural intersubjective sphere, then we can start to inquire into what kind of culture we want to participate in creating. Without making the intersubjective conscious we have (collectively) no choice nor responsibility. When we do make it conscious, we make such conscious creativity and responsibility possible.
In sum, then before we even get into the manifestation teachings themselves we need to first acknowledge major foundational flaws intrinsic to them. These holes I believe can be patched up leading to the possibility of their wisdom becoming more readily available in a much healthier form. Nevertheless that change isn’t possible until first there’s an honest recognition of the flaws.