Trickle Down Wellness: The Lesson Insta-fluencers Will Never Learn

Spiritual concierge services have arrived.

In his Cross of Gold speech, William Jennings Bryan examined two prominent ideologies in American governance. Republicans, he said, favor the most prosperous members of society, whose riches then “leak through on those below.” Democrats, by contrast, desired to make the “masses prosperous,” which would then positively impact everyone. 

In 1932, 36 years after Bryan’s speech, humorist Will Rogers coined the phrase “trickle-up economics.” It took another 12 years for trickle-up to become an adjective, with the “trickle-down theory” of economics finally taking form in 1954. 

The idea, perfected during Ronald Reagan’s tenure, haunts us today: stop taxing the rich because the more money they make, the more money flows downward. No such flow occurred in the eighties; 40 years later, we’re worse off than ever before

The pandemic, which could have equalized the nation philosophically as well as financially, did the opposite: America’s 664 billionaires watched their wealth increase by 44 percent. As of 2019, the bottom half of the country owned just 1 percent of the nation’s wealth; the top 10 percent own 76 percent. 

What to do? 

Bang a gong, obviously.

Trickle-Down Wellness

Bang a gong during a psychedelic ceremony in which you’re being assured by the ceremonial leader, adorned in all white (because white is the ultimate symbol of purity), that your thoughts create reality, to be more specific. 

That’s the take from a recent NY Times article about the burgeoning “spiritual concierge” industry taking root in New York and Los Angeles.

The lowdown: luxury apartments are upselling by offering spiritualists-on-demand to sage away your bad vibes. 

No, seriously. 

Looking to woo buyers and renters who are open to the, well, woo-woo, several new developments around the country are offering meditation, healers, shaman and spiritual concierge programs — taking wellness offerings several steps beyond on-site yoga and Pilates.

The featured property is framed in the most American sentence of all time: 

Leah Forester, a ceremonialist, leads the first spiritual concierge community event at Jardine, a new apartment complex on the Hollywood campus of Netflix in Los Angeles. 

The development manager of another holistically-marketed property, Gardenhouse, waxes poetic about how a spiritual concierge program “really aligns with the goal of bringing wellness into the homes of our buyers,” who will shell out a minimum of $2.95 million for a Beverly Hills apartment. On tap at Gardenhouse: lunar cycle spiritual experiences and shaman-led cacao ceremonies. 

Back to Jardine. I needed to check in on how the ceremonialists are framing the press. First up is the lead gong player, Leah Forester, who wrote on Instagram

It gives me joy to share these sound practices with influential creatives — because it filters through media and therefore society in a subtle but powerful way, reaching many more people. When we heal one by one we can create a more harmonious world.

In other words, it trickles down. 

Trickle-down wellness. 

Reminder: between 1989 and 2016, the wealth gap between America’s richest and poorest families more than doubled. Since the pandemic began, drug overdoses and homicides have increased dramatically due to economic circumstances; alcohol-related liver disease skyrocketed over the last year, while new research discovered that breast cancer mortality rates are likely to increase due to lockdown-era measures that restricted screenings. 

But if only those billionaires experienced cryotherapy-induced nirvana...

Any conspiritualist tale of “creating your reality” would not be complete without psychedelics, which concierge #2, Aree Khodai, reveals led to securing a spot at Jardine.

“Sitting in ceremony”—doing ayahuasca—“paved the way for my true dharma- to be a conduit of healing across the globe.” She then connects offering wealthy Americans concierge services to something the Dalai Lama said, the most tone-deaf connection to anyone that’s studied the man’s biography.

Finally, Scarlett Delatorre and whatever this is—selling three products on a conspiritualist downline while admitting she’s never had to do pedestrian activities like “cook and clean,” but since Dyson offered an affiliate code, doesn’t matter.

In her humblebrag about the NY Times article, she exclaims, 

Music and Plants are going to save the world!

Actually, a politically engaged electorate that forces its government to address longstanding inequality, racism and xenophobia, and climate change would be appropriate first steps, but who am I to ruin a sponsored Instagram feed filled with meaningless platitudes? 

Spirituality on Steroids

Near the end of the NY Times article, Khodai walks through Jardine’s $20,000/month penthouse, claiming it would be a wonderful space for a “healing ceremony.” A few miles southeast sits Skid Row, the infamous homeless encampment (and part of Los Angeles’s 41k+ homeless population) whose residents would find $20,000 a lot more beneficial than whoever moves into this space. 

But they probably can’t afford the cacao, so...

Trickle-down wellness, like its predecessor, doesn’t work. At the beginning of the pandemic, when I co-founded the Conspirituality podcast with Matthew Remski and Julian Walker, I truly hoped wellness influencers would learn from the mistakes of the last decade (and last few centuries) of importing spiritual philosophies from afar and attempting to fit them into a neoliberal economy. 

I hoped they would stop selling bogus and unproven supplements and essential oils; stop promising their followers that thoughts create reality; and stop spreading anti-vax propaganda because they don’t know how to read a credible scientific study. 

I was wrong. 

The wellness community has not only continued its shameful rhetoric; with “spiritual concierge” services, it’s now on steroids, promising the rich that their manifestation of riches is karmic, the result of their positive vibes.

It’s not that wealthy people cannot be earnest; plenty of people partake in well-intentioned philanthropy. They’re certainly welcome to have spiritual practices. Self-examination is available to all. 

There’s simply something gross about pretending that spirituality will trickle down to the masses. If you haven’t noticed, many people aren’t doing great in America right now. Instead of co-opting the Dalai Lama, let’s recall his remarks from 2007:

The gap between rich and poor is growing, it's huge. This is not only morally wrong, but practically it's a source of the problem. We have to reduce this gap.

We haven’t reduced the gap. The chasm has only grown larger. Pretending economic shaktipat is going to magically manifest at a penthouse cacao ceremony isn’t spiritual. It’s part of the indoctrination process that has led us to where we are today: the largest economic gap in the nation’s history.

Rent and food don’t trickle down from the top. Those resources remain circulating high in the clouds—as the last month has shown, even beyond the atmosphere. Time to bring them back down to earth where they’re actually needed.