How to Manifest: a Cat Lesson
Warning: this is a rather silly essay. I mean you knew that already: the word “cat” is in the title. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.
For my daughter’s sixth birthday, we got a black shorthaired kitten. My husband says she’s probably a Bombay breed, with a stray tucked into the wood pile (she’s all black except two giant white spots on her belly). Her face is shaped exactly like the cartoon Pink Panther, and her shiny, lean body is shaped like an actual tiny panther, and her eyes are so big and yellow that when she opens them she looks like the dragon from How to Train Your Dragon.
When she sits in the window, she looks like a Halloween cutout. Her purr sounds like a boat motor, and is every bit as loud.
She’s so damn cute it’s unbearable. And she fucking knows it.
What the hell does your cat have to do with manifesting, you say? Hang on — I’m getting there. I promise.
Indie (short for Indigo) will sit on her favorite black chair, three feet away from the couch where I sit, sleeping and flipping into ridiculous postures. When she decides she hasn’t had enough attention, she’ll look at me and start to purr her jet engine purr. In fits and snorts, as she blinks her giant yellow orbs at me lazily and heaves heavy sighs. Just exactly as if she was being pet — but she isn’t. Nothing is happening to her to make her be so happy — nothing except Indie’s little kitty brain thinking about how much she likes to be pet.
So what’s my instinctive reaction? What do I have no choice but to immediately do?
Pet the kitty.
How could you not?
And it occurs to me that this is a piece of the puzzle of understanding the nature of our relationship to the Universe around us. As demonstrated by an obnoxiously cute cat.
As I continue to move away from the Judeo-Christian narrative (not to be confused with Jesus’ message, which I continue to remain very much aligned with), away from the fundamental premise that it’s “ordained” for things to happen to us, and towards the idea that living beings — all living beings — have agency, it feels both empowering and overwhelming. If it’s true that we have, in whatever capacity, agency over what happens to us in our lives, then it implies that we are at least in part responsible for the bad things that happen to use as well.
You can’t believe it’s possible to create good things in your life if you can’t also believe that you’re somewhat responsible for creating the bad things in your life, too. There lies personal accountability, but also dragons.
We all, I think, accept both these premises to a certain extent — hence the common self-improvement mantras to get a good education so you can get a good job, so you can…be happier, or whatever. Eat healthy; meditate; “follow your bliss,” as Joe Campbell likes to say.
But when we talk about manifestation, we take that concept further, and more literally. There are gurus aplenty on YouTube talking about how to manifest good relationships, a good job, money — you know the drill.
There are plenty of avenues and techniques. You can use mantras and mudras or cast spells; you can use focused meditation. All these techniques point towards integrating a focused intention into our lives. A specific set of attitudes which lay the stage for that intention to become reality.
Say, for example, gratitude. Any life coach, guru, or priest will tell you that carrying a mentality of gratitude will lighten your spirit and open paths for you. It doesn’t matter all that much what you’re grateful for — gratitude for breath is always a great place to start. What matters is the practice of feeling grateful. Like exercising muscles in our bodies, a focused attitude of gratitude primes our emotional muscles to exist in a healthier state.
Think of it like this: if you’re constantly feeling like you don’t have enough for whatever legitimate reasons XYZ, and are caught in a spiral of negative feelings which you associate with your environment, is it realistic to think that a sudden change in your environment would have a unilateral effect on your emotional state? In other words: if you’re used to feeling bad, why would you suddenly stop feeling bad cold turkey in a nicer house, or with less credit card debt?
This is the part where I take a time-out to acknowledge that abuse, inequity, and injustice do exist in the world as external forces which are put upon people by other people. That I’m not saying that everything that bad that happens to people is somehow, mystically, their fault. That a child born into a sexually abusive situation somehow “deserved it,” or that people born to wealth must be more highly ascended souls than those born into poverty, or anything in between. No — that’s not what I’m saying. The best I can reckon from my spot on this tiny blue dot is that there are a whole lot of variables that go in to such things, first and foremost being luck of the draw.
Also: I’m not saying that a family of four experiencing homelessness just needs to focus on being positive to find housing. That’s a cruel and reductive attitude. What I am saying is that holding on to a thread of hope and positivity could help parents in that situation gather the strength and inspiration to seek out and find the help they need to get on their feet — from the people and organizations who exist to help them, because helping people is very, very important to our existence as humans.
What I am saying is that while there are many things we can’t control, the one thing we can control is what we do, and how we feel.
If you really want to feel good, it’s not just enough to change the wallpaper — you have to shore up the foundation.
If you want to feel good, then practice feeling good. If you want to be happy, then practice being happy.
If you want the Alpha She-Human to pet you, act like she’s already petting you.
Spells, mantras, meditation, life coaching, yoga, prayer — there are so many techniques for setting and manifesting our intention. Some of them work for some people and not for others. But they’re all focused on agency: on creating a positive existence by focusing our intention on something worthwhile.
I don’t have it all figured out, so you won’t see me posting any guru videos to YouTube anytime soon. It’s not like I’m sitting on a giant, sweaty wad of cash right now, or as if my rehab home was suddenly renovated overnight.
But little things. Little things come easier. Remembering how to feel happy is like climbing into crow — I don’t always feel like it, but I’ve done it enough times that the muscle memory takes over when the spirit is weak.
I’ve started to become that crunchy new ager who makes statements like “we have lots of money!” with a smile, as I march around on ancient, cat pee-stained carpets under a half-demolished ceiling. Partly because I’m a hopeless nutcase. But also, very honestly, because it’s true from a certain perspective. I have a relatively very cushy life, and I don’t have to play the comparison game to see how rich my life is: we want for nothing, and my partner and I both have highly marketable skills. All that on top of the fact that I have a close, loving family.
It’s like William Carlos Williams says in my favorite of his longforms — Asphodel, that greeny flower:
Having your love / I was rich.
I’ve come to understand that the Universe, very much like our families and other living things around us, respond to the energy and intention we put out. That our energy — whether intentional or not — lays a down a path for our reality to follow. That the attitudes and intentions of our internal lives build our reality as concretely as a contractor constructs a house.
Does purring and acting all adorable guarantee Indie will be pet? No. But it greatly increases her chances. And if she keeps at it, she’s bound to get someone to pet her eventually.
Because who or what force on earth could resist that kind of positive energy?