"Do you want to come to my house on Friday night and join a group of us to do some chanting?" the actress asked.
My gut screamed, "Nope. No. Definitely not. Don't do it." But my eyes took in her semi-famous glow and before my gut could override it, my mouth said, "Yaaassssss!"
There are several rites of passage to becoming an Angeleno and I believe one of them is attending a spiritual gathering involving a semi-famous celebrity. It took me seven years of living here, but I can finally check this one off my list. All thanks to an actress I met at a dog park.
While our dogs were playing, the actress and I chatted about -- what else? -- dogs and then we hit a lull. Since there was a full moon coming up, I started talking about astrology (naturally). From there we veered into Buddhism, which I'd studied briefly in college (Humanities credits).
At this point, I was oblivious to the actress' fame. She seemed vaguely familiar, but I just figured it was from the park. Someone came over and asked her if she was working on the new season of a Showtime series that's not Homeland or Shameless (and maybe rhymes with Shmay Shmonovan.) While I haven't watched this show, I recognized the name. When she asked me if I wanted to come to her house for a "chanting meeting," I. WAS. SO. IN. I had no idea what she was talking about but this is the kind of weird, voyeuristic, literally only-in-LA run-ins I live for.
The meeting was being held at her Hollywood Hills house on Friday night at 7pm. Having no idea what one wears to chant, I just put on jeans and a T-shirt and grabbed the horchata iced latte I'd been nursing from earlier in the day because it's always good to have a prop in awkward situations. From where I parked a block away, I could see people walking up the hill toward where my iPhone confidently said the house was located. No one was wearing robes or turbans or matching track suits (RIP Heaven's Gate cult) so I took a deep breath, cleared my throat, and headed toward chanting central.
As I walked into the home, a man standing in the doorway introduced himself as Chantz. Seriously. That’s what he said his name was.
"I had a boyfriend in college named Chance!" I said in a fit of nervousness. "My parents were like, 'Maybe you should consider dating a guy with a tinge more definiteness to his name.'"
"With a CE?" he asked.
"Yes?" I said confused. How the hell else would you spell it?
"Well, I'm with a TZ."
I had to type it out on my brain's computer screen before I got it. Of course. I was at a chanting ceremony. And he renamed himself because he chants with an edge. Sweet Jesus, what did I get myself into?
Before I could turn around and flee, Chantz and chanting cult mountain, the actress saw me and guided me over to a spot on the floor, where about 30 people were already seated and staring at a piece of paper with Japanese writing on the wall. Each was chanting a phrase over and over. Some seemed in a trance, (or should that be Trantz??) others were singing, and all seemed committed to the show. My new friend handed me a card with the phrase and guided me through the pronunciation. I felt like I was speaking in tongues. Or gobbledeegook.
After 15 minutes of the repetition, our host for the evening stepped to the front of the room and gave a run-down of the agenda. She pulled out a book of phonetically written phrases, which we shared, and the entire group chanted several pages of phrases from it. I still had no idea what I was saying or if I was even in the right spot. I just kept kind of humming and moving my mouth. People were intensely reading these passages like religious pilgrims at a holy site. At the 25-minute mark, I was tired of reading things I didn't understand and was wondering how much more of this I was going to have to take. And then -- thank, uh, the heavens?? -- a dancer appeared before my eyes.
The dancer gave a theatrical speech about how chanting changed his life. He said when he started chanting, he made a list of 10 things he wanted in his life, like a part in a musical and a new car (duh). He shared that he got a new car a few months after committing to chanting on a daily basis... and becoming a member of the group. While it was unclear what membership entailed, it seemed clear that paying money was part of it. Was this like a weird network marketing scheme where everyone sings the praises of alkaline water... er, chanting? If you brought in enough people, did a chanting version of Oprah bring you a car? Most importantly, was it a Maserati?
He renamed himself Chantz because he chants with an edge. What did I get myself into?
Before my brain could tornado into lots of car scenarios, I was jolted back to the room by the appearance of a cake. Now we were talking... or chanting. Anyway, I got excited. Because I love a frosted, delicious sheet cake.
The cake was handed to a guy for his one-year chanting anniversary. The cake winner said, "Chanting changed my life! I wouldn't have all of the blessings in my life without it!" That brought about a bunch of questions, like: what blessings? How did it work? And, most importantly, when was I going to get some cake?
Next on the agenda was newcomer introductions. Each of us newbies looked like deer in headlights as we said things like, "Yeah, so happy to be here!" and "It seems like chanting is great!" I boldly went where the other newcomers didn't. "When do we get cake?" Everyone laughed.
No one answered.
One older woman stepped in to say she knew how we felt and that she was lost 20 years ago before she began chanting. And you know what? Chanting changed her life.
I sensed a theme.
But thankfully, she did elaborate on the how: by chanting this phrase repeatedly, one vibrates in harmony with the Universe, which is what allows for manifestations. That cleared up... not a whole lot.
I didn't know if I really wanted to change my life. I like a lot of it as it is, except for the cake part. It had disappeared faster than a Scientologist from a Katie Holmes movie. Had the cake wisely escaped? Was it being locked up like a bad chanter? I had so many questions and no cake.
At the end of the meeting, members swarmed the new people. Each of them said, again, how chanting changed their lives and, "It works if you keep coming back." Basically it was like Alcoholics Anonymous, but for chanting.
Overall, I did feel good, but I attribute it to the horchata iced latte (caffeine + sugar = heaven) and the fact that I was about to escape. Thank God I brought my delicious prop because it was my ticket out of there. I excused myself from the cult induction committee by explaining I had to pee and booked it for the front door.
When I got to my car, I locked the doors, released a big sigh of relief and raced home because I really did have to pee. I chocked the whole experience up to a weird LA rite of passage until the actress texted me the next day saying she'd love for me to come over and chant again.
Uh, sorry, no. Who wants to be part of a group that doesn’t share cake?
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Kerry Quinn is a blogger for The Kerry Diaries and writer based in Los Angeles. She sucks at chanting but is easily won over by chocolate sheet cakes. Follow her: @kerrylquinn.