I’m sitting in a Manhattan yoga studio where they’re serving Instagrammable lavender-tinted Goji water in little plastic cups. Meditation music is playing as we’re asked to ground our energy by visualizing two things: what we want to manifest today, and a succulent. We’re then told to imagine placing what we’re manifesting on top of the succulent. Meanwhile, we’re also supposed to breathe.
I feel like I’m at hippie church. And this, I suppose, would make Lacy Phillips — a woman with shiny long brown hair and many gold rings, who is overlooking the hundred or so of us from her perch atop an altar decked out in white fuzzy rugs — my hippie pastor. Phillips teaches the art of manifestation, a practice she defines as raising your self-worth to prepare to receive what you want, be it a partner, money, or a new apartment. She claims her process is based on neuroscience, psychology, and “a little spirituality sprinkled on top,” and that it doesn’t rely on positive thinking or New Age superstitions like vision boards. She is here to lead a sold-out, $30 class on “Learning the Power of Accountability and Celebrating Rejection to Harness Magnetic Projection.” I am here to see what all the hype is about.
Manifesting has lately become something of a wellness trend, and from what I gather by listening to a few L.A.-based podcasts (Almost 30, Morning Matcha, and Love, Alexi), the West Coast is especially receptive. A handful of new self-help gurus are expanding on Rhonda Byrne’s “Law of Attraction,” introduced to the mainstream in her best-seller The Secret in 2006. Today, there’s the Oprah-approved motivational speaker Gabrielle Bernstein, who will teach manifestation at her popular $2,000 “Spirit Junkie” weekend seminar in New York this June. CAP Beauty (the natural Sephora) recently hosted speaker Katie Dalebout at its Manhattan location, where she taught a “Journaling to Manifest” course. But what might cement manifestation’s trendy status is the fact that it’s been parodied: Stephen Colbert teamed up with Gynweth Paltrow’s Goop to offer a $900 “manifestation loofah”: Whisper your hopes and dreams into its “aspiration crevice,” then “sit back, relax, and watch all your hopes and dreams come true.”
Phillips’s site, Free and Native, does not offer parody loofahs. It’s an earnest, aspirational space full of straw hats, white linens, and holistic living advice. There are also $68 online courses, in case you can’t attend one of the workshops Phillips holds every couple of months in Los Angeles (where she’s based), New York, Paris, or London. Over 5,000 members are committed to raising the “collective consciousness” in Lacy’s Manifestation Secret Society Facebook Group, too. Phillips’s private sessions are booked out for the next nine months and seeing her can run you a few hundred dollars. Most of her clients are women, as is apparent in the room.
Up until attending Phillips’s workshop, the extent of my manifesting experience mostly included making lists and vaguely believing in the power of the universe. But I was open to seeing how this cool girl from Echo Park could make me better at getting what I want.
And yet at the class, I struggle to focus on one goal during the warm-up meditation. I finally settle on something work-related: a story I wrote about an up-and-coming musician. I was proud of the piece, but I wish more people had read it. This, I decided, would be what I would manifest: extra clicks on a months-old internet article. I’m halfway through placing this idea onto my imaginary succulent, but before I can do so, Phillips interrupts. “There’s nothing too big as long as your subconscious believes it’s possible,” she says of our dreams.
“To get what you want,” Phillips, who’s managed to wear an all-white painter jumpsuit without looking like a member of The Leftovers cult, continues, “you need to expand your subconscious.” In other words: Deep down, I need to be confident that what I desire is possible. To do this, I must “unblock,” by figuring out what from my upbringing is stopping me. I’ll know I’m ready to receive what I’m manifesting when I’ve passed certain tests — for instance, not moving into the first apartment I get approved for if my gut is telling me it’s not the right place. It dawns on me, as my knees touch with strangers’ in the too-warm room, this could take a while, which means I definitely won’t have my million views on an article I wrote in December by the time the session is over. Phillips has seen these steps take as long as six months to complete.
Then again, you could do every step right and still not get what you want if you start with the wrong intentions, she cautions. “If you’re manifesting a trip to Iceland because you broke up with your ex and you want him and his new girlfriend to see how great your life is on Instagram … that’s from your ego,” Phillips says, sounding like a tough older sister. “Two things are going to happen: (a) It’s not going to happen, (b) A great beautiful lesson is coming to earthquake you into your authentic self.” I remind myself striving for better traffic goals shouldn’t be motivated by Twitter retweet dopamine hits; it’d be more “magnetic” of me to selflessly focus on exposing the songwriter I profiled to a new audience instead.
Next thing I know I’m lying on the floor, picturing warm liquid gold pouring over my entire body. It’s like being at an adult slumber party, but instead of doing a séance, my new chill friend is leading us through a deep imagining exercise, Phillips’s version of hypnosis. We trace back our childhoods and learn that the root of every issue stems from either feeling unlovable or having underdeveloped self-esteem. I reflect on not getting the first summer job I wanted at the very competitive local Ben & Jerry’s. If I can go back and correct that feeling of rejection I associate with work in my subconscious, maybe I’ll have the confidence I need to feel worthy of receiving what I’m manifesting.
This is starting to sound a lot like basic psychology, which means it’s a bit too familiar for me, as the daughter of a therapist who pushed self-help books and Deepak Chopra. It’s all very Psych 101, but I can get down with cozy group therapy.
Soon, Phillips imparts her final piece of wisdom, and everyone is audibly stumped: “You cannot manifest a specific thing in a situation — you can’t manifest that your husband communicates better. You can’t manifest for others and you can’t manifest specifics.” As an example, she used a pair of one of-a-kind vintage jeans that you’d like to magically get your hands on. Maybe a similar pair will come into your life, but not one straight out of Alexa Chung’s closet. The piece I’m hoping will get more attention probably won’t at this point, but if I don’t strive for success out of ego, maybe I’ll become a better-known writer over time.
At this, we split into groups according to our desires, be they romance, work, or real estate. I head to the career group with my friend. The objective is to help each other meet or hear about expanders —someone who had a similar life experience as you, who’s achieved the same success you’re after. Expanders can be friends or mentors, but they can even be someone you don’t actually know but occasionally stalk on social media. In my group, I’m optimistic after sensing several women in the circle work in similar industries. I don’t end up meeting an expander, but am inspired by the vulnerability in the room.
On the way out, I catch Phillips, who asks me if I received clarity. In the spirit of authenticity, I answer honestly: I don’t know. She hugs me anyway. While I can’t afford to go on a complete manifestation journey with Phillips any time soon, she reminds me how much I can achieve when I reflect, and get out of my own way. It’s now been a few weeks since attending the class, and traffic to my posts hasn’t exactly skyrocketed. Then again, I still haven’t bought Phillips’s video “Unblocked.”