Spiritual (Gangster) But Not Religious

Last month, I finally gave in to a bombardment of Facebook ads and ordered my first top from the brand Spiritual Gangster: a black, oversized long-sleeve with the words “we are all connected” in minimalist white letters on the front, a compass-rose-meets-illuminati-triangle design on the back. Honestly, I congratulated myself on holding out for so long — the alluring ads were undoubtedly generated from Google searches like “yoga in New Haven” and my inability to resist clicking on hyperlinks like “how to incorporate mindfulness into your life.” Yes, I occasionally meditate in the evenings, keep both a yoga mat and a foam roller in my dorm room, and frequent the Good Life Center. You might say I aspire to be a “Spiritual Gangster.”

A luxury brand associated with the upsurge in mindfulness, yoga studios, and self-love through self-care, Spiritual Gangster puts a price tag on identifying as “spiritual but not religious.” Their online storefront offers a selection of tie-dyed cotton tops, chic fleece sweatpants, and numerous athleisure staples. Phrases like “We are all spiritual beings,” “LOVE,” and “Meditate meditate meditate” splay across breast pockets, pant legs, and behinds. Oh, and did I mention most pieces cost upward of $100?

Spiritual Gangster situates itself among a broader consumer trend that blurs the line between the commercial and the spiritual. Anyone who has encountered Gwyneth Paltrow and her lifestyle brand Goop is familiar with the business of juxtaposing self-avowed spirituality and self-care expertise, as well as exorbitantly priced products to help you best take advantage of such expertise (think $80 “rose quartz bottle” that “invigorates your chakra”). It’s impossible to peruse Paltrow’s website in search of healthy snack recipes or bougie horoscopes without an ad for a product like “Morning Skin Superpowder” lurking at the edges of my window. Websites like Goop promise anything from self-reinvention to divine inspiration but inevitably leave me wondering if I need the $27 “Psychic Vampire Repellent” to “conjure up positivity” in my life. Maybe I can’t do it on my own?

Perhaps this trend of investing in your spirituality is not as novel as we think. After all, Catholic disciples saved up to purchase indulgences from the Church as a get-out-of-Purgatory-free card long before I ever clicked on that picture of a smiling model posing in a shirt reading “Peace, love, and all the things.”

Even so, at least the Vatican patrons of the Middle Ages consciously tied their discretionary expenditures to hopes of eternal salvation. My motives for buying a top that says “We are all connected” are entirely cosmetic, separate from my motives for practicing yoga, meditating, and entertaining the thought that we are, indeed, all connected. If brands like Spiritual Gangster and Goop merely package spirituality as a luxury good to consume, only the well-off can afford true enlightenment.

Even if I can separate buying the shirt and buying into the lifestyle the shirt claims to embody, my desire for both originate in the same attraction to a novel, almost transcendental ethos espoused by such metaphysical slogans. The notion that there is positivity to conjure up or higher spiritual awareness to attain is not routine in many people’s daily lives — but neither is a graphic t-shirt we don’t yet own, nor psychic vampire repellent, nor any luxury material good.

Our attraction to the material and our attraction to the spiritual resemble each other in this respect. They’re special occasions, a break from routine and a departure from the ordinary. Whether a transcendental proposition, an imaginative horoscope, or a new tie-dyed sweatshirt, we gravitate towards that which contradicts the familiar. Maybe that is what spirituality is all about — anything so at odds with everyday life that it gives meaning to what occasionally seems a meaningless existence. We don’t even have to believe in anything religious — we just need to feel something spiritual.

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