Making real people pay money to banish their poverty or grow their wealth through manifestation can be dangerous and ignorant to realities that we sometimes cannot control.
BY LISA MARIE BASILE
Updated 12/16/16: I do urge readers to check out the comments below, as they flush out the many perspectives (which I think is important to consider before paying for Prout's — or anyone's — sort of products). I've had quite a few email demands for me to take this piece down. I've been threatened legally as well, which I think is against all good, as my personal goal is to spare people further pain or financial hardship. I believe it's important to consider the ramifications of products peddled by self-help and manifestation blogs. While I am positive most of these blogs and their owners have good intentions, their products demand a discussion around ethics. That is why this piece is still live.
About a month ago, I was up late, steeped in cell-phone-light insomnia. I was on the brink of big life changes – a new job, a new apartment, and I was traveling in between jobs. In my head, it was all finances, my future, my relationship – swirling around, flotsam and jetsam, detached. I was falling down the rabbit hole that is late-night reading, thinking about myself and my meaning, or what all of it meant.
I felt this need to manifest, to create change. Part of me has always felt it took so much more than manifestation energy to transcend rent and phone bills, medical bills and long commutes, poverty and racism, oppression and judgement.
That night I stumbled upon "metaphysician and entrepreneur" Sarah Prout’s website. On it, she says, "I believe that we are spiritual beings having a physical experience and that our day-to-day lives and the fabric of our reality is constructed by our thoughts, feelings and vibration. Our innate super-powers are sparked by the things we love and our connection to the Divine within.”
Now, her blog is all about manifesting money and prosperity and goodness; one look at her Facebook threads and you’ll see people saying things like, “I manifested 1000 dollars in a month” or “I wished for 5000 dollars and didn’t get it yet, but I did save money at the grocery store.” One feels a bit like they’re peeping in on someone at their most desperate.
So, Sarah Prout offered a guide called “Ancient Manifesting Ritual.” Out of some weird (maybe vulnerable, maybe journalistic?) curiosity, of course, I paid a couple of dollars for the guide. When I downloaded it, it was pretty — pink and swirly and Urban Outfitter-styled New Age-y. Using the guide, one is supposed to, "Discover the Ancient Manifesting Ritual that will boost your manifesting super-powers....Over 10,000+ of my students have manifested ABUNDANCE, love, health and even babies with this incredible process.”
Where did this process come from, I wondered? "The Ancient Ritual you’re about to discover is a massive part of the creation process. It’s a ritual that has been used for thousands of years, from the ancient Egyptians to the teachers of the New Thought Movement in the 1800s.”
She learned it, as she says, from her late teacher Sri Bhai Sahib. I wonder if he knew she'd be selling his knowledge?
The guide tells me to write down my desire 55 times for 5 nights.
Logic tells me that if I spend enough time writing down my goals then they’ll likely be on my mind.
Having goals on your mind never hurt anyone, right? This makes sense. But what if, instead of writing our goals down 55 times for 5 nights – based on some co-opted and appropriated “Egyptian ritual," that is – we actively worked toward our goals? What if we didn’t pay lunch money to write our goals down in a diary? What if it wasn’t about repetitively writing something down and more about her guiding us to unblock the parts of ourselves that puts up barriers? What if it was about brainstorming real actions we could do in our lives? And, on top of that, to find autonomy in a world that creates barriers. What if it was more interactive, more thoughtful?
There’s journaling (which is great) and then there was this. It seemed a tenuous, questionable link to Egyptian magic.
My hand was certainly hurting after day one (yes, I tried the ritual). But more importantly, what if creating real change wasn't an option? What if the system was rigged against you based on socioeconomic, cultural or identity factors?
Many new-age manifestation blogs offer ethically irresponsible products which sully name of metaphysics. (TWEET THIS!)
I run a quick search on Prout, who is likely as invested in metaphysics as she says (after all, she’s built a money-making site based on it and I don't want to doubt her intentions). Her LinkedIn page says she went to college for two years – she didn’t study Metaphysics. That’s OK – I’m offering a pass; a college degree is not and should not be the marker for success or knowledge. Something felt off. Maybe it’s that there felt like a lack of heart here; it felt like money was the goal.
And Prout is really good at building a brand and using the internet to make real money. She wrote a whole book on it, for Wiley, in fact. And her Instagram account is full of empty, feel-good slogans like, “Trust yourself” and “I am ready to manifest.” It all seems harmless, but then I come back to ancient rituals.
I also know she does live chats on Facebook and talks a lot about manifesting energy. Her words are simple, clear and effective, but they do not appear to be poignant; they seem designed to pander to her audience: if you think hard enough, you will make more money.
In the other night's live chat, I asked her a question about she reconciles cultural and social issues when manifesting. No answer, but of course there were hundreds watching her. Still, it makes me feel sad for her customers. I want to tell them Prout is not the answer, but it's hard when I don't know the solution.
As the founder of Luna Luna, one might suspect that I am all about the ritual – that the ouija boards and tarot cards and expensive colored candles at the East Village occult shop lead my life. That’s false. I’m interested in ritual for various aesthetic and personal reasons, but I'm also interested in active change.
I believe in using our energy to create real, sustainable change and to help ourselves and other people grow. I think there's maybe more to thinking your way through poorness and debt. I may meditate and focus on sustenance and prosperity and protection from negative energy, but the real struggle is on the street. I can’t manifest social change, and I can’t manifest the end of systemic poverty and oppression.
This isn’t to say Prout hasn't had a hard life. I am sure she has struggled (in fact, I know she has, according to things she's written). But that doesn't justify this sort of modern, new-age televangelism. Setting intentions is moot; far from it, really – we have the ability to vibrate beauty into the world, but we have to do so in a realistic manner; depending solely on guidance blogs and manifestation guide downloads (which we pay for) is not probably the way. And these gurus should make sure that when they offer these guides that they’re also tackling REAL issues. Talking about real problems. It’s true: heavy is the head that wears a crown of influence.
Today, when I opened up my email, I saw, “7 Reasons Your Intentions Aren’t Manifesting Yet.” This worries me.
The reasons are all over the place, with a few that smack eerily of placing blame on the reader. YOU'RE NOT MANIFESTING HARD ENOUGH, OK?
I believe Prout is wrong in her approach. If she wants to sell her help, I can't stop her. There's a market for it. Prout's, like many new age manifestation blogs, offers an ethically irresponsible product that does a disservice to its customer and sullies the name of metaphysics, magic, and personal development.
I do think, however, that in this case, we should consider the context within which businesses are run. Clothing stores take flack when they use sweatshops, magazines take flack when they don’t represent diversity. Preachers take flack when they preach modesty but have sex with their followers or go home to opulence. Prout, too, is in a position of enough privilege to live well, write books, and run a website designed to help others achieve their dreams in a way that feels as hokey as a Victorian widow paying money to see a stocking-stuffed throat “ectoplasm.”
That's how she runs her business. Not a bad or good thing — just a fact.
It may be that Prout's method does encourage healing and growth, but I can’t help but feel it’s still exploitative and doesn’t solve the root issue. Do not let your heart be exploited.
Not all people are as lucky as Prout; many people are dealing with social issues that can’t be solved by manifestations: This includes the woman who had to drop out of college to take care of her dying father, the guy who deals with racism every day, the woman who was born into poverty and can’t escape its grip, the overeducated mother of two who is up to her feet in loan debt and who works 60-hour weeks, the uneducated man who pays for her medical bills without much left to spare.
These social ailments are real; they’re not always a curse, nor are they always permanent. These are the vulnerable people who flock to magic, and that’s because magic gives us autonomy and insight. But only if it’s offered and performed safely.
In short, it takes a lot more than good vibrations to heal the system. If Prout acknowledged this, or if she offered real, strategic career or money-making advice that was augmented by magic (and if many of her shorter e-books were free), I think her brand would be more ethical, more responsible, and more aware. Then, you can manifest all you want while informing your audience that you understand their pain points stem from bigger issues. She might even partner with a site that offers actual career or savings advice. I'm not her, I can't say.
One can change their attitude. One can change their drive. One can become resilient. But one doesn’t need to pay Sarah Prout to do so.
Update: Sarah Prout responded with this blog post.
I find it very interesting that she'd claim her hardship as a justification for the exploitation of others.
Rising from pain is commendable and I applaud her as a woman and as a person; charging people for a false sense of power is not.
It's also worth noting that she tries to sell you something at the end of the post.
Lisa Marie Basile is a NYC-based poet, editor, and writer. She’s the founding editor-in-chief of Luna Luna Magazine, and her work has appeared in The Establishment, Bust, Bustle, Hello Giggles, The Gloss, xoJane, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, and The Huffington Post, among other sites. She is the author of Apocryphal(Noctuary Press, Uni of Buffalo) and a few chapbooks. Her work as a poet and editor have been featured in Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, The New York Daily News, Best American Poetry, and The Rumpus, and PANK, among others. You can find all of her poetry here.