When she was growing up, Natascha Shah filled her art diary with imagined scenes from her future life. A few years later, she realised she was living many of those scenarios, including going to Australia for a postgraduate degree.
At the time, in 2004, she was unaware of manifestation, a self-help technique that requires focusing one’s thoughts on a desired outcome. After the concept began to rise in popularity — thanks to Rhonda Byrne’s 2006 book The Secret, as well as with celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey — Shah began to draw parallels with her own practice.
Now a manifestation coach in Delhi, Shah says while writing can be effective, she prefers drawing as a tool to articulate her goals. “Among manifestation techniques, like writing or speaking, I find drawing to be more focused, creative and effective,” she says.
She shares her manifestation art, which includes whimsical and intricate black ink sketches, on social media. One intended to unleash creativity, for instance, shows a woman with cascading hair holding a sitar, sitting amid swirling leaves and dancing vines. Meanwhile a cosy cottage surrounded by mountains, pine trees and twirling smoke, spangled with stars and a crescent moon unfurling from the chimney, is symbolic of new beginnings.
Eyes on the prize
Critics question manifestation’s pseudoscientific basis, but the global popularity of this practice, with its comforting premise of “believe and you shall receive”, is undeniable.
“The practice of setting intentions is a valuable one. Through it, we focus our mind on the goal we want to attain and minimise the unlimited distractions that will keep us from reaching that goal,” says Dr Paul Hokemeyer, clinical psychotherapist and founding principal of Drayson Mews clinic in London.
Advocates of drawing as a manifestation tool believe it to be more effective because humans are visual creatures. “When we see an image explaining a complex idea, it helps us further our understanding and go deeper with it,” says artist Leeanne Brennan, from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who was drawn to manifestation in 2012. “Because I'm an artist, the way I learn is by drawing out complex information into easy-to-understand visuals.”
Through her company, Epic Bones, Brennan creates manifestation art and guidance programmes to “unblock limiting beliefs”.
Artistic skills are not a prerequisite for creating manifestation drawings, however. “Even stick figures and squiggles are fantastic because you are not distracted by the ‘beauty’ of the art. Manifestation art is powerful because of the meaning and deeper understanding it creates for you, not anyone else,” says Brennan, who creates simple black and white drawings including a figure going through what it feels like to break through to the other side of what one desires.
A clean slate
But it’s not as simple as just drawing. Shah highlights the importance of the pre-drawing process to create space mentally by releasing any emotional blocks or trauma that may be inhibiting you. “Many people skip this first step before drawing. If I want to manifest a certain goal, but I don’t have the space for that kind of energy, I need to first accept these emotions, and face and release them before moving on,” says Shah, who teaches various release techniques in her manifestation drawing workshops, encouraging clients to practise these for a few weeks before attempting their drawings.
Drawing concepts such as transition or growth can be difficult, Shah says. It led to her compiling a list of symbols from various world mythologies that represent a range of emotions and concepts. “I share this list with clients, but encourage them to incorporate personal symbols," she says. "If you associate balloons with happiness, then use that symbol in your drawing."
The aesthetics, then, are inconsequential. Brennan says" “It is the act of having the image come through your hand that is important. Focus on the meaning.”
Brennan and Shah credit their manifestation practice with several fulfilled goals, including travel, career changes, education, dream homes and more. “It may take time, but I’ve even had clients tell me their goal materialised within a week of creating their drawing,” says Shah.
Determination may motivate you towards a goal, but it is insufficient without action. “Focusing one’s thoughts is not enough,” says Hokemeyer. “Dreams do not manifest in a vacuum. They manifest through discipline, hard work, resilience and grit.”
Shah agrees that one cannot wait for things to happen. “Manifestation prepares your mind to work towards a goal. When your thought is right, energy aligns and action synchronises accordingly.”
Further, the practice is not suitable, in and of itself, for everyone. For instance, there is the risk of people with anxiety manifesting their negative thoughts into reality, which can do more harm than good.
“The practice of visualisations can be unhealthy for those suffering from mood, personality and mental health disorders, including depression, borderline personality disorders, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia,” says Hokemeyer. “They could project features of their disorders into their images. If they then focus on these images, they run the risk of amplifying negative outcomes.”
However, he suggests manifestation as a reparative clinical intervention, supervised by a trained mental health professional. “A trusted professional or even a friend can help see them through negative thoughts, and work to enable them to move from despair to a place of healing and hope.”