One New Year’s Day, on the brink of my fiftieth year, I took stock of my life--and the tally was grim. I was alone after a long marriage, seemingly doomed to perpetual house rental, and separated from the spiritual community that had once sustained me. Though skeptical of "create your own reality" thinking, I launched a year-long experiment in wishing—to see if there was, indeed, any power in "putting it out there," as so many people proclaim. It wasn't easy, but I forced myself to suspend my doubts and go for it all: a new love, a healed soul, and the sweet stucco house of my dreams.
Over the course of the year, I was amazed to discover that all three of my wishes really did come true—in ways that met, subverted, and overflowed my expectations. Based on the experiences recounted in my new book "The Wishing Year," here's how to launch your own year of wishing.
It's OK to Wish for Things
Early on in my quest, one of my great epiphanies was that, inadvertently, I was a terrible “wish snob.” I had grown up with the very strong belief that it was acceptable to wish for spiritual qualities and for cosmic conditions—such as grace, forgiveness, world peace—but not for tangible personal desires like a nice house and a romantic love. But gradually, I began to see that it’s simply a very human quality to wish for a great range of things: from a nice pair of shoes to a world without war. I began to appreciate that, from ancient times, human beings have regarded the most simple material things as being sacred: corn, rain, arrows, the reeds from which to make baskets, and the art of basket-weaving itself. The ancients couldn't afford to be snobs about wishing for tangible things because their very survival depended on them.
Why This Works: Once you let go of rigid compartments, the “spiritual” and “material” dimensions begin to intertwine in surprising ways. For instance, a Buddhist teacher asked me to edit his book, and that connection was both spiritually healing for me…and helped to pay for the down payment on my house!
Set Aside Doubts
For me the beautiful phrase “a willing suspension of disbelief,” coined by the American psychologist William James, was the perfect antidote to my skeptical nature. I learned that when you dare to “put your wishes out there,” you don’t have to commit to a new set of beliefs. All you have to do is to set your doubts aside for long enough to see what happens. I eventually discovered that many of my doubts were themselves quite superstitious--the result of certain unquestioned fears and habitual patterns of resignation, like assuming that someone like me could never afford to buy a house in my expensive northern California town!
Why This Works: When I put my doubts temporarily out of play, it gave me a chance to notice opportunities, accept support, and be receptive to new possibilities that previously wouldn’t have shown up on my radar. For instance, I met a young Japanese flamenco dancer who was looking for a room to rent, and she became the first of several wonderful tenants who have broadened my horizons…and helped me to afford my “impossible” mortgage.
Try This Time-Tested Strategy
I permitted myself to discover what sort of strategy seemed to work best for what sort of wish. When it came to my wish for a new love, for example, I chose a combination of the apparent and the hidden. In fact, I resorted to the old-fashioned ritual of writing down my wish on a piece of paper and slipping it under my mattress! When it comes to the desire for a new love, we can’t just will that new love into being. We can articulate what it is we desire, we can make ourselves available to receiving it, but on some level we have to let go and surrender—and what better way than to sleep on it? Amazingly, within a matter of weeks, the man I wished for came into my life. Having read a book of mine, he called to see if he could meet me—and, believe it or not, this was exactly the way that I had wished to meet a man.
Why This Works: As silly as this may seem, writing down a wish and burying it is actually a potent metaphor for the bringing together of conscious and subconscious forces.
Make It Tangible
When you attempt to make a wish come true, you’re attempting to move from the possible to the actual. For this reason, it’s very helpful to make a three-dimensional object to represent your wish, whether in the form of a shrine, a home altar, or a collage. Because I had such difficulty believing that I could actually own a house, it seemed especially important for me to make this wish concrete and keep it in view. I actually made a little money shrine, filled with gold coins and miniature dollar bills. At first it felt like quite a transgression to do so, as though I were mixing the sacred and the profane. But within months I had gathered a down payment and the house was mine!
Why This Works: When you make a symbolic object, it helps you to acknowledge that you truly do wish for something, to clarify what it is, to honor and stay focused on your goal. And these behaviors are much more likely to bring that goal about.
Wishing and Working Go Together
From my experience, the people who are best at fulfilling their dreams are those who permit themselves to make a wish--and then work like dogs to make it happen! Certainly this is true of my “wish-muse,” Carole Watanabe, whom I write about in the book. She’ll announce a wish, build a shrine--and then spend months making contacts, raising funds, researching sites, renovating properties…doing whatever it takes to actualize her vision. For me, this dual approach was confirmed when I reread the book "Magic, Science and Religion" by anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski. He wrote that in ancient and indigenous cultures, people evoke magic at the start of a new venture in order to help them face those mysterious and unpredictable forces that are beyond human control. But then they do everything within their own power to grow their crops, hunt for food, and vanquish their enemies.
Why This Works: Divine magic, it seems, is most likely to happen when we’ve done our human homework.
Attract Others to Your Wish
One of the things that happens when you openly announce a wish and remain committed to it is that others become attracted to your wish. You let friends know that you want to buy a house in a certain area within a certain price range, and all kinds of people come out of the woodwork to give you the information you need. In my case—once I’d come out with my desire for a house and dared to make my money shrine—a family member suddenly woke up in the wee hours of the night and remembered that, years ago, she’d put a little stash of money in case she needed to buy a car. She had completely forgotten about this account. Since she no longer needed a car where she lived, she gave me the money toward my down payment. And though it wasn’t a large amount, it definitely helped me round the bend from possible to actual.
Why This Works: When you commit to your wish, it creates a certain momentum.That momentum intensifies when others come on board and contribute their resources to your objective, whether in the form of time, money, labor, materials, sound advice or simple encouragement.
Savor What Is
One of the dangers of wishing is that we forget to appreciate what we already have. It’s in the very nature of a wish to be oriented toward the future—and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, so long as we remember that it is in the present moment that we are actually living our lives. Sages the world over have told us that the greatest happiness comes when what we wish for comes together with what is. The simple term for that is gratitude.
Why This Works: Savoring is a way of noticing and appreciating the wishes that have already come true in our lives and saying thank you. It stops us from dispersing our energy in constant, restless wanting and keeps us strong, calm, and grounded. And that’s precisely the sort of launching pad that is most likely to result in successful wishes!