Buddhist Chanting with Courtney Love Changed My Life

By Alex Catarinella 01/02/18
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The paparazzi are not waiting for me as I exit the Mercer Hotel post-ugly cry. Shame, because it’d be a Daily Mail picture perfection documentation of a tragic “What does he even do?” celeb, if, you know, I was famous.

I’m not looking so cute, so I guess it’s a good thing my RSVP for that night’s Katy Perry-hosted Met Gala after-party at the Boom Boom Room was denied. I hate black tie events, anyway. And people. People scare me.

I’m rocking a so me cat-fur-covered-from-head-to-toe look: adidas track pants, a Champion (or, “SO Vetements!” – as a socialite recently vocal fried...ugh!) baseball hat paired with a Spice Girls reunion circa 2007 tour t-shirt. My most prized fashion-forward possession is under an equally as spicy dud – a bomber I was gifted the morning prior, when I was stable/happy-ish wrapping up a press trip in Mexico City. On the back of the bomber, it reads MEXICO IS THE SHIT in gold lamé. This punk-ass piece was a bit Lost In Translation in CDMX – my farewell-amazing-city selfie was photobombed by a local’s middle finger.

Anyway, the terrifying paps are unraveling because Kendall and Kylie Jenner are in town for the Met Gala and are staying at the luxe hotel. I learned this from Courtney Love, who’s also in town for the Met – she and Frances Bean will be Marc Jacobs’ dates – because I’ve just left her room where we Buddhist chanted for over an hour.

“Nam-myoho-renge-kyo! Nam-myoho-renge-kyo!” we chant with another Buddhist on a puffy couch and with roaring lioness-in-heat vibrations. It’s all about the vibrations and, as a trio, ours are kind of like a triple layered guttural Hole chorus. We’re in this harmonious thing together.

Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is meant to be “like the roar of a lion,” said Nichiren Daishonin, a 13th-century Buddhist monk who insisted that chanting NMRK (and portions of the Lotus Sutra) would provide wondrous soul-soothing benefits – tapping into every human’s inherent Buddha nature, transforming sufferings into happiness, accomplishing one’s human revolution, changing one’s destiny and fulfilling dreams in the present and the future. These are teachings which members of Buddhist lay organisation, the monk-less Soka Gakkai (translation: Value-Creating Society) International, follow to obtain peace, love and happiness. To be BFF with the universe! There’s no high like a Buddhist high. I would know! (And there’s no comedown. Well, except for that first Monday of May you’re currently reading about.)

In other words, Courtney Love basically summoned my hibernating spirit. And with perfect timing! I’ve hit many a rock bottom, though the ringing in 2015 by smooching an Ezra Miller-y-looking indie rocker when the clock struck midnight in an embarrassing Brooklyn music venue’s bathroom while his girlfriend wondered where he was rocked my world in a catastrophic natural disaster kind of way. Yet I survived, as always. It was pretty fucking bad though. Also pretty bad/sad was when a Pitchfork/David Lynch/fashion world favorite (and whom some – not me! – have called a wannabe Courtney Love) accused all of us of stealing her pills from her thrift purse in the green room. I was never a pillhead, I shakily shouted, before Uber ghosting and zipping over the Williamsburg bridge to my second home: a grimy gay bathhouse, where amphetamine-sharing bottoms were perpetually aplenty.

AAAAH!!! ‘Twas the final cocaine straw! New Year’s Resolution: Get your shit together. Get tested. Don’t die. Etc. Maybe the severe nostril popper burns were what woke me the fuck up on January 1, 2015. They hurt! They were ugly! I couldn’t do this shit anymore. This wasn’t me. I was, Courtney iconic album title reference, Pretty On The Inside, dammit. I would not be a victim of my mental disorder(s) and delusions! I’d soon learn that chanting is all about wiping off your spiritual cocaine-smudged Ikea mirror, and seeing yourself how you want to be seen. The true you. Chanting/praying for your inherent Buddhahood to emerge. (“Buddha” means “Enlightened One,” which, for me, translates to just being your best, non-messy, victorious slaying self.)

Let’s rewind: I met and interviewed Courtney back in 2013 at a Coachella after-party at the Parker Palm Springs’ luxe Gene Autry Residence (basically a fat ass house hidden amidst a secret garden) where she was staying, and where I think I remembered her ordering a $1000 caviar quiche to her room. I was also meant to stay at the pimped-out pad, but I was sort of kicked out by association with a problematic publicist (not by the lovely Love – long story). Anyway, we developed a mostly industry-related on-and-off text relationship, and I’d go on to interview her several times.

About a week following that New Year’s Eve/morning rock-bottom, and like a true compulsive Bipolar, I emailed Courtney’s publicist and nabbed a comped ticket to a Courtney-starring experimental-ish rock-pop musical theater piece. I needed some healthy self-medication/inspiration, AKA a distraction from the fuckery flickering like a tweaking-out strobe light in my defective brain. Also, any excuse to get out of bed. It was gonna be quite the experience! This wasn’t an arena rock show with a mosh-pitting audience – it took place in a 60 people black-box theater, where a lot of minor keys and cello playing happened. I went alone. I like being alone when I’m sad. But Courtney’s uber-vulnerable performance resuscitated my soul, which resulted in me texting her a bit after to congratulate her on being so amazing, so damn fearless – I was beer brave, gulping post-show Stellas with a friend/fellow mentally ill sexual compulsive at Metropolitan, a gay beard-heavy hangout in Williamsburg.

“It’s all from chanting man!” she texted re: all of her recent successes, including an upcoming guest-starring role on Empire.

I didn’t know what the fuck she was talking about.

I responded: “Oh wow! I wish I could chant. I can’t even do yoga!!”

“I’ll teach you! Come over at 10 tomorrow morning.”

“Ok cool… do I wear sweats or something?”

“JUST COME!”

Fuck me with a yoga block in child’s pose. I am terrified. I assume it’ll be some Hollywood intimidating shit, miserable wealthy skeletons cross-legged on Persian rugs whilst chain-smoking. It’s not like I was starstruck or anything – but why would a rock ‘n’ roll icon want to help little tragic me? Maybe Courtney sensed my darkness via my penchant for the side-eyeing moon emoji. Empathy is probably important in Buddhism, I thought. JUST COME!

A bathrobe-clad Courtney greeted shaky ass me at the door of her West Village townhouse with a Marlboro Lights kiss on the lips. (She’s since quit.) I was blushing and sweating, so I removed my American Apparel hoodie. She then plopped onto the floor on a Persian rug surrounded by construction paper and colored pencils where she’d get back to sketching self-portraits. She doesn’t look up when she barks “Alex is a mess!” to Genie, who appears to be zenned out on an antique chair in front of Courtney’s Buddhist altar – there’s burning incense, a couple prayer beads and a singing bowl. I love those things. Also, an enshrined scroll of sorts with a bunch of Chinese Sanskrit characters all over it. I carefully tiptoe toward Genie, through Courtney’s maze of designer pumps. Genie’s angel energy chills me out. She tells me in yoga voice that the scroll is called the Gohonzon. It’s “the object of devotion” and, as SGI’s prayer book describes, the “embodiment of the Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, expressing the life-state of Buddhahood, which all people inherently possess.” Oh, ok! (Just Google it.)

While Courtney goes the effective tough love route (“Help him!!!”), Genie is the soul sis type – she’s obviously a Pisces (Courtney is not down with Astrology) who teaches yoga to children and, like Courtney, boasts the kindest of hypnotic heaven blue eyes. And really good glowy skin. It’s that enlightened glow that got me. Sign me the fuck up!

My editors were ignoring me that week, which was a blessing in disguise, because I then was available to chant with Courtney twice a day, morning and night, for hours, and for what felt like a Buddhist boot camp of a week. (In between, we binge-watched season two of The Comeback, proving Courtney has immaculate taste.) Giving chanting a chance was crazy because I used to hate the vomitous universe chatter. Like, REALLY HATE. Soul rot would commence as soon as the It Girl of the month hyper-blabbered about karma and the planets or what-irritating-ever in the bathroom of a disheveled-hipster haunt, the Beatrice Inn (RIP), so I’d quickly scoop up and feed her cocaine key bumps to shut her the fuck up. An Olsen was always waiting in line and I didn’t want to be rude!

But I was so desperate to cease feeling so doomed. I’d try anything, so long as it was free or comped by my Medicaid. I wouldn’t say I’m now enlightened or anything – that’s so dramatic – but, ever since miraculously joining SGI in early 2015, I’m better than ever. And I’ve tried it all. Really. My most recent shrink told me to “picture a lamp in your heart,” so I quit. I still see a psychiatrist, though, who recently upped my Wellbutrin and Lamictal another 100 MG when I begged to go holistic. He’s a great listener. There’s also that one week in an LGBTQ-only rehab – refer to my previous essay. I’m so done with AstrologyZone.com every other week, and fuck right off Reiki – the “healer” told me I was “spiritually a mess” followed by spritzing my face with lavender essential oil before offering me a “very reasonable for NYC” packaged payment plan. Off to 15th Street’s SGI culture center, I went. Chanting is always there for me, and it doesn’t cost a thing. It deducts your misery bit by Buddhist bit. You should be jealous of my soul’s credit score. Or, as we practicing SGI Buddhists call it, my life condition.

Unlike my freelance schedule, the twice-a-day chanting gives me a healthy, and even an inspiring routine. For example, I’ll convince myself that my Mercer Hotel breakdown was a karma-clearing breakthrough. Because it’s totally okay to cry for absolutely no reason! I’ll turn “poison into medicine” (this is very big in SGI)! I’ll slay my fundamental darkness and joyfully jump out of bed and chug a cold brew pre-morning chanting and look up to my colorful inspiration wall above my desk, with a quote from Courtney on a hot pink post-it that reads: “Just create value every day. When you inspire people, you create value.” And a neon yellow post-it with Genie’s cute advice to tell the unhappy thoughts that’ll inevitably arise in an attempt to ruin my happy: “Cancel, Cancel!”

I’ll metaphorically Windex the shit out of my Gohonzon, my spiritual mirror. And I’ll see myself how I wanna be seen. The Windex is the Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, and with it, I’ll polish my life condition, fulfil my present and future dreams, and cancel, cancel the “You’re so fucking crazy” mess I’ve heard from many an asshole (and from myself) for so long. I can finally see my true self! Because everything you need is inside of you, that is, if I’m listening to the teachings. Depends on the day.

The aforementioned good vibes is me on a good day when I’m really dedicated to taking care of my spiritual hygiene. Commitment, passion, an actual attention-span, optimism, a zest for life – they’re fleeting. Definitely not listed on my resume. In other words, I’m not the most active of Buddhists in my organisation. Chanting is not a madness cure-all for me. It’s like highly concentrated vitamins. But Bipolar II disorder is a condition that can’t be cured. That’s just a fact. The masochistic compulsive behavior, the cameo clouds of depression, feeling inadequate and the crushing guilt over being so sad in an already sad enough world. It’s all there, along with the “What’s the point of even waking up?” I’m very aware that all of this is in the shadows, waiting to pounce on my stability when I least expect it, when I finally feel worthy of being happy.

So, I nervously wrote these essays. To reflect, to research and to I guess understand why I’m like this. To laugh at the absurdity, to remind myself that, though it doesn’t feel like it, I’m not alone. According to a Google search, there’s 200 classified types of mental motherfucking disorders! It’s sad and annoying that so many of us are accustomed to putting on a rehearsed smile and/or isolating underneath cigarette-burnt sheets... because we don’t want the world to see our ugly. Unless you’re Lana Del Rey, it’s not cute to be a Debbie Downer.

Many with mental disorders aren’t even here anymore. The worst is finding out this kind of news via social media, which tends to result in me stalking the dead’s memorialized Facebook account, combing through the “she was full of light!” and “rest easy” comments. Where the fuck were you when they needed you the most? Well, to be honest, you probably didn’t know. They would never allow that. In their defense, they were protecting you and keeping you away from their internal hell. I get it.

I also get how I’m coming across to some readers: you might be hate-reading this because you’ve heard this all before. Or you really cannot relate. Lucky! So many of us are “sick”, so many of us get puke-y with those who tweet about “suffering from mental illness” and who write mental-health-related think-pieces. Same! Wow, another delusional, mediocre writer who’s branding him/herself/they as a mess? So lovable. Another privileged narcissist details his/her/their unremarkable rehab stint and learns nothing? Groundbreaking. If he hates his career so much, why doesn’t he just quit? He’s not made for New York. He’s not Bipolar, he’s just an attention whore! Stop right there. I own it. I get it. I am trying to get it. Still trying. So I will choose to push through the pain and panic because I know that I’ll be stable and, gasp, even happy hopefully soon-ish.

I power pumped through the paparazzi as I made my Mercer Hotel exit with Genie. They were disappointed that we were not the Jenners. But we didn’t care. They were just doing their jobs, and I was just trying to get it together, which is basically my full-time job. In my Buddhist practice, we’re taught that we are all the same, anyway. The Jenners, the psych ward patients, and Courtney Love, who some might see as a salacious celebrity, but who I see as my Buddhist sponsor.

I never needed to be on the front-page of The Daily Mail to show me who I am not. I just needed some tough love to remind me of who I am and who I can be. I’m not my illness.

I’m also not great at writing Lifetime-y happy endings. I’ve got self-diagnosed PTSD from all of the years of faking it. Instead, I’ll just write my own headline. I’ll even put it on a post-it.

Affirmation: I’M PRETTY ON THE INSIDE. That’s good enough for me.

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This essay was first released on DazedDigital.com as the fifth and final essay from Alex's mental health-related series, 'Fashion Weak.' To read the series, head here: http://www.dazeddigital.com/fashion-weak

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