If I have unrealistic expectations, don’t blame me. Blame Tina Turner. Witnessing Tina Turner live and onstage at age 12 has forever warped my expectations of what mere mortals should be able to do. I thought that every woman could dance and run around for 90 minutes in 7 inch high heels (they cannot). I thought that every person in their 50’s looked and acted like her (they do not). Much to my dismay, I also thought that every soul diva to come after her would be just as excellent and as we know they are not. In fact, I really blame Tina Turner for me not loving Beyoncé. Had I never seen Tina Turner live and experienced her funky rock and roll voodoo in person maybe I’d be more impressed with Beyoncé. Alas, I did see her on tour (with Stevie Wonder no less!) and therefore I am decidedly not. This is not Beyoncé’s fault. I am just rewired differently because of this experience. Having not seen many live performances at that age I still knew on a cellular level that this firestorm of a person was incredible. Every song, every dance move, every interaction with the audience was a masterclass on how rock and roll should be done. On spiritual level, I think needed this cosmic interaction with Tina Turner as a 12-year-old. Maybe her resilience and survival were subconsciously telling me to hang in there or maybe she was just incredibly fierce and ran around non-stop in leather.
Either way, my expectations were high and made even higher when I saw What’s Love Got To Do With It? in theaters in 1993. Please watch this immediately to properly find your way to the Church of Tina Turner. Anchored by two of the best performances of the 1990s courtesy of Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburn, the film tells Tina’s life story and her escape from her abusive marriage to Ike Turner. It’s a phenomenal film made even better by the packed house of primarily black women where I saw it on opening weekend. The scene in the limo where Tina finally leaves is powerful on its own but gets rocketed into a whole other dimension of amazing when the audience is hollering at the screen, “That’s right, girl! Leave his ass!” Yet the scene that really stuck with me was when Tina gets introduced to Buddhism by one of the Ikettes. She is shown chanting, “nam myoho renge kyo.” I was almost 21 when I saw that movie and seeking something else. By then, I’d already done enough ecstasy that it stopped working and moved my car over into the meth lane to disastrous results. So this 3 minutes of spirituality on film was powerful for some reason.
Flash forward to the summer of 2009. I had moved from the East side to the West Side in Los Angeles which is a cultural faux pas akin to leaving the Democratic party to become a Republican. But I did it to get sober. Thankfully, my roommate at the time was also sober and practicing Daishonin Buddhism. The religion, as it turns out, is primarily based on chanting “nam myoho renge kyo.” When she asked if I was familiar, I of course acted like an expert. But the reality was all I knew of nam myoho renge kyo was the 3 minutes from the movie. Still, it worked for Tina Turner and it looked like it was working for my roommate and her friends so I thought I’d give it a try. She taught me how to chant at home, took me to Buddhist events and I started to read more about it. Listen, I was in bad shape after 20 years of drugs and alcohol and I was pretty much open to anything. It felt good when I chanted and it didn’t seem like it couldn’t hurt. The idea to go get tested for HIV came to me while chanting. It had been years and it was way past due. Chanting also brought up strong and difficult emotions about the past. When I got my positive diagnosis and other parts of my life started to fall apart, I realized that maybe I was a tad out of depth with this chanting thing. Maybe my Tina Turner expectations around my newfound spirituality were unrealistic too?
Like a good drug addict, I wanted all of my recovery and spirituality to work fast and make me instantly feel better. So when chanting brought up difficult stuff, it scared the hell out of me. At the time, I felt like I unleashed a whirlwind with this spiritual tool and I was freaked out. Pretty quickly, I dropped chanting as a practice. However, the reality was my life was fucked up thanks to the damage I did. Chanting just brought it all to the surface. The shit was destined to hit the fan (and continue to do so for several months) and chanting just expedited it. Also, those three minutes in the movie, although powerful, don’t tell the whole story. Any good Tina fan knows that her battles with Ike and struggles to get her career back were just beginning so chanting was just a practice and not some cure-all for her either. She continued chanting and her life, as we know, gradually improved.
Even though I stopped chanting, my life improved too. Feeling like I fast tracked a religious life too quickly, I just went to meetings and tried to keep my life simple. It was going to take a lot of time to get honest, to change my thinking and to stop feeling horrible. My spiritual life was stripped down to the basics. Prayers in the morning and at night and that was it. That’s all my little drug damaged head could handle. I introduced more meditation at a year and a half sober but I naturally did that alcoholically too at 30 minutes a day and was forced to make that easier as well.
This morning, I meditated while the sun came up for ten minutes as the cats took turns walking across my lap. I giggled at them and took sips of coffee and gently pushed my thoughts back to meditation. I’m not exactly levitating these days or being sought after for spiritual advice. But my prayer and meditation feels honest which for a lying addict like me is huge. What’s more is the thing I really loved about Tina Turner, her spirit of survival and ability to come out the other side of horrific times, is something I get to see in real life when I hang out everyday with other sober addicts and alcoholics. And I even get to see it in myself and I don’t even have to wear leather or high heels.