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Welcome to my blog, where you'll find substantive, well-researched articles that blend neuroscience, philosophy, poetry, personal reflection, and the latest life coaching tools in service of helping people engage their full potential. 


Resisting vs. Receiving

Kirstin Hotelling Zona

Hello, Lovelies. In my last blog post, I explored the difference between manifesting on purpose and manipulating to get what we want, and I provided a Five Step Process that will help you shift from the former into the latter. Knowing the difference between manifesting and manipulating is key, because this knowledge helps guide us in moments of duress or conflict towards decisions and actions that free us from, rather than perpetuate our pain and confusion.

To illustrate this teaching, I’d like to tell you a story.

Shortly before my ex-husband, Thomas, and I built the little cabin in Maine from which I’m now writing, we decided to take a huge leap and buy a house—our first—in central Illinois. Despite our resistance to settling in the Midwest (away from family and friends and land that felt like home), I fell in love with an old yellow foursquare, a bucolic farmhouse surrounded by tall white oaks alongside a winding river. Vegetable garden, barn, a big lazy porch. It even came with a dog.

As I drove past the yellow house en route to work, I conjured a vision of it as the answer to our struggles: I’d write prodigiously from my office on the uppermost floor, looking over the prairie as if from the crow’s nest of a mighty ship at sea. My new husband would finally feel content with me, pulling up carpet and stripping pine floors, making a home for us and our future children. This house would make us happy.

Within hours of putting in our offer, another couple offered more. And so began a bidding war that consumed me. Despite my assistant-professor wages, plenty of debt from graduate school, and the sizeable mortgage we couldn’t really afford, I convinced my husband that the yellow house was meant to be ours. So we bested the other offer. And did so again. And again. Finally, we “won.”

The yellow house became for me a promise of hope, renewal, and something like salvation. I’d go to bed thinking about it and wake the same way. Potential obstacles—money, the commute, a school system I found wanting—didn’t deter me. My very capacity to commit to a life in Illinois, and my related hope that our marriage would find its legs, had quickly twined around those wooden clapboards, the old oak trees, the smells of river and corn chaff wafting over the porch. And so, when the well water tested dangerously unclean, I didn’t think twice and insisted it be fixed. When the sellers stalled, I remained undeterred—and, blinded by my will, oblivious.

On the day before our closing, when the owners sold the house without warning and without a word to the couple against whom we’d been bidding, I was crushed. I canceled my classes. I felt dizzy, numb, and strangely detached from my body. I remember walking down the hallway at work, feeling as though I’d endured a death.

How could something that felt so right turn out to be wrong?

How could I feel so sure, so electric and fierce in my knowing, only to have it yanked away?

Unwilling to accept this reality, I set out on a search for the new owners. I sleuthed, I queried. I called lots of wrong numbers. Eventually, I found the mild-mannered husband at work. Tearfully and, in retrospect, with embarrassing desperation, I told him how convinced I was that the yellow house was meant to be ours. I painted a vivid picture of our plans for inside, and out. I pleaded. I cried. He listened, kindly, but didn’t, of course, change his mind. Three weeks later on my way to work, I saw their little girl playing with a dog in the yard.

As I nursed my wounds over the next few months, I found myself thinking about my age-old dream of a cabin by the sea: small, cozy, perched at water’s edge, a woodstove crackling in the cool morning air. A horizon line over the ocean that would coax the writer out of me. The yellow house would not have allowed this dream: caring for the farm would have been a year-round job, a total immersion in midwestern rural life.

I started browsing real estate listings for undeveloped land in downeast Maine, the outermost reach of the eastern seaboard where we could still afford to buy. Soon, Thomas and I were talking seriously. It seemed crazy—we’d not yet bought a house of our own, and buying this land would compromise our ability to secure a mortgage in Illinois. And we didn’t have a lot of money. But something about it also felt right—not in an urgent way, but organically. Energizing. Opening. It felt like possibility.

Thomas and I grew closer, bound by a shared vision. Together, we filled sketchbooks with drawings of the cabin we wanted to build. We made dates devoted to dreaming about the little details: the pitch of the roof, the rise of the gables. The shape of a driveway. The slope of a yard.

Slowly, I began to see that the yellow house had been less an authentic dream than a powerful distraction—from the challenges of living so far away from family and friends and a land we both loved, and from the pain of our mercurial marriage.

Within a year, we took the money we’d saved for a down payment on the yellow house and bought fourteen acres of land in Machiasport, Maine, a strong stone’s throw from the Canadian border. We camped for two summers, with our baby daughter, to get to know the land by foot-feel, smell, weather, and season. We had another baby, our son, and introduced him as a newborn to the special world we hoped he and his sister would know as the place they could always come home to.

Our new friends in Maine flocked to help us—dinner invitations, home-cooked meals delivered to our tent, warm showers and washing machines, babysitting, advice about everything from electrical cable to cedar shingles. In stark contrast to the yellow house experience, every ounce of effort we spent on making a life in Maine was met and doubled by the generosity of those we encountered. 


Looking back, I now see that my pursuit of the yellow house was fraught with urgency, a sensation of do-or-die, whereas my desire for the cabin in Maine felt quieter, deeper, more of-my-body; something we could afford, in all senses of the word, to lean into and be led by. Throughout the yellow house adventure I was riddled with adrenaline—I felt excited, intoxicated, and often exhausted. In contrast, while creating the cabin wasn’t easy, it was, overall, a nourishing process: to think about, plan for, and take action in its name was hope-making, healing, and physically rewarding.

Though I couldn’t see it at the time, fear is what fed the urgency that fueled my quest for the yellow house, while my pursuit of Maine was motivated by something more expansive—my own desire, yes, but a synchronicity and bringing-together, a healing and generative energy, that transcended my own local wants. Maybe the best way to say it is that the yellow house effort was borne on the back of excessive will, while Maine was midwifed through equal parts intention and allowing.

In my last blog post, I noted that “manipulation sometimes works—but usually in the short run, and always at a cost.” That said, I don’t know that I’d have been raw enough, open enough, perceptive enough, or sufficiently self-aware enough to seek out and find that land in Maine had I not experienced the visceral sensation of loss that I did with the yellow house.

Often, it’s precisely a rigorous attempt (or a few) at manipulation that paves the way for manifesting what it is we truly desire: pursuing fiercely, then losing, the yellow house catalyzed an opening in me, a sinking into myself as I sought to reckon with and understand what felt like an out-sized degree of distress. Why had I grown so ferociously attached? Why did I feel such loss? How could I trust my own convictions?

It was here, in the thick of engaging these questions, that I found new footing. Not in Maine, not even in my marriage, but in myself: in my deepening capacity for self-understanding, surrender, and revision. In a subtle but growing awareness that my tendency to push for what I think I want (I can be a master manipulator) is sometimes at odds with feeling, and therefore receiving, what it is I truly desire.

Today, though Thomas and I ended our marriage, the cabin we built still stands, and welcomes us back each year. We no longer share the bed overlooking the sea, but I do spend half my summer nights in its sheets lulled to sleep by the waves below, still soothed by the audible breaths of my now-teenage kids sleeping nearby. Thomas and I no longer live as a couple inside its walls, but are spread instead across tent platforms and crazy-long extension cords and meandering paths into the woods. The little cabin we made has proven capacious enough to grow with us despite our parting, reminding us of the love that brought our dreams into being, a love that can’t be reduced to the marriage it nourished, then nursed, then laid to rest.


This story is about the difference between manipulating and manifesting to attract what we want in life, but it’s also about the process of loss that this journey entails, and the rewards of letting go.

As you reflect on your own habits in preparation for manifesting on purpose what it is you most want, I invite you to think about what it is you’re holding onto that doesn’t serve the version of yourself you really want to become. Maybe it’s a situation in your life, or maybe it’s a habit, a belief, or a way of thinking about your past.

To that end, here are 7 questions that will help you locate the lessons embedded in your “losses” so that you can stop ruminating about what you don’t have or what you’ve lost and start attracting what it is you truly want.

How to Manifest on Purpose: 7 Key Questions That Will Shift You from Resistant to Receptive

You might carve out a chunk of time and work through these questions all at once, or you may wish to go slow and deep, answering one question a day for one week. Either way, be sure to scan your life with honesty and wonder. Don’t judge, don’t label. Just observe with curiosity.

1. Looking back over your life, is there a time when you tried to force something that really wasn’t meant to be, convinced that it was?

2. If so, why did you want this so badly? How did you think having it would make you feel?

3. How did you experience it not working out the way you wanted?

4. What have you made this loss mean?

5. Did this “failed” experience give way to a better one?

6. If so, how in particular did your response to this loss help you manifest a better experience?

7. If not, do you think you’ve been holding onto your loss as a way of holding back from claiming what it is you really want?

As always, I’d love to know what you discover about yourself in this process of writing and reflection. Send me your comments and questions and I’ll happily respond!

Have a beautiful day.



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