When Erykah Badu told me, “You ain’t shit,” all I could do was laugh.
It seemed like the thing to do at the time. After all, being read by the legendary soul singer who created Baduizm and Mama’s Gun is an honor in some respects. I hadn’t expected the harshness, though.
Let me back up: To commemorate her return to the hosting gig at BET’s Soul Train Awards, a small group of media was given the unique opportunity to participate in “Soul Therapy” — a guided meditation session and chakra reading lead by Ms. Badu herself.
I’ll be honest, the sum total of my knowledge of new age philosophy and chakras comes from the “Guru” episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender. That is to say, my experience with this stuff could be described as cursory at best.
So I didn’t know exactly what to expect when I showed up to the Le Parc Suite Hotel in West Hollywood, but my excitement was electric. I could feel anticipation vibrating in my molecules. Little did I know that vibrations would come to play such a tremendous role in the evening’s events.
Entering the suite where the meditation session was scheduled to take place, I was greeted with the pungent smells of vegan cuisine, including the infamous buffalo cauliflower chicken wing substitute that was once met with derision online, and an oddly spicy green juice concoction that opened up my sinuses and seemed sure to cleanse some part of my body… if not my soul.
When Badu arrived, a hush fell over the room. “Don’t everybody speak at once,” she joked, before instructing us all to sit down. A small circle of chairs had been set up around a strange geometric centerpiece and a pile of candles. Badu dismissed it later as “some Satanic shit.”
For those used to two decades of gauzy fabrics, flowy dresses, African-themed headdresses and mountainous headwraps, our host’s outfit for the evening may have elicited a double take, as she was dressed comfortably in an enormous purple hoodie, with a colorful pair of boxer’s trunks (like the actual athletic short pants Muhammad Ali would have been seen wearing in the ring) over blue tights, and a pair of well-worn Chuck Taylor All Stars.
Of course, she was adorned with her traditional elaborate array of crystals and chunky gold rings, along with jangly belled anklets I never quite worked up the nerve to ask about. She burned an incense stick of sandalwood and sage as she arranged herself at the head of our circle. We all introduced ourselves before she passed around a pillowcase full of large crayons, telling us that we had already selected our colors before we’d even entered the room.
Everybody reached into the pillowcase and pulled out a crayon. Mine was red. Badu facetiously explained those of us who’d selected this color, “are the motherfuckers who steal shit.” My deepest apologies to all the hotels I’ve stayed in for the last year or so because this cold-reading was absolutely true.
She continued to roast us by color group. The lone woman who’d selected a green crayon in the room was advised that she liked to fight. Our blues were declared to be “slow,” needing instructions to be explained repeatedly before they stuck. The purples were privileged; they could “walk down Wall Street and trip over a bag of money,” and their ancestors likely owned some of the other participants’ ancestors not that long ago. Yes, they were people of European descent. The room chuckled nervously. Badu has the ability to be at once unnerving and disarming.
These games were all just lighthearted icebreakers, meant to entertain more than inform. But when Badu grabbed a poster board and a handful of colorful markers it was clear things were getting more serious. The singer explained how our colors related to each of the seven meridian points on the body, how they were associated with different emotions and aspects of our personalities, how they vibrated at different frequencies and rotated clockwise and counter to balance one another, and how they connected us to the earth, the universe, ourselves, and each other as human beings.
For instance, red is the color of the root; it affects our relationships with our family and our tribe. It’s all about our associations and affiliations and grounds the entire hierarchy of chakras. It is located at the base of the spine and is associated with the element of earth, the sense of smell and the sexual organs. So… I guess that explains a lot about me.
She brought out a collection of tuning forks and explained that the low, almost-inaudible tone of “F” was both the frequency of the earth’s own vibration and that of the blue heart chakra, and how to search for the stillness as a remedy for any and all ailments. She related how she used each of those tones in her songs to elicit a different emotion and feeling. She even demonstrated, with the aid of her laptop and Serato, how the intro to “20 Feet Tall” from New Amerykah, Vol. 1 was her sneaky way of raising listeners’ vibrations without them even realizing it.
As Badu explained the basics of how all of this worked, the group as a whole settled into the discussion. Our very famous instructor asked questions — like a true teacher — learning about us as we learned about ourselves. She answered our questions, too. There were questions about healing and about chakras, of course, but her answers related more to how these principles applied to our daily lives, how we treat people, how we treat ourselves.
Throughout, she was charming, witty, gracious, but always patently and completely herself. She was as willing to tease her own starstruck nervousness at meeting Chaka Khan as she was mine at meeting her. Taking away the diagram, the incense, the colorful demonstration, and all, I think I learned the most just from being in the room, growing in understanding of how to see and be with other people.
The lesson, for lack of a better word, concluded as simply as it began. Badu simply said, “Well, it’s time for me to get to bed.” She answered one last question, mine, about where she got her leather backpack. It was molded in the style of an African mask. She told me she got it in Germany from a certain craftsman. It was Erykah Badu in a nutshell; forthcoming, yet mysterious, affable, yet aloof. Always an icon, always one of a kind.
I don’t know how much of the spiritualism and philosophy I can buy into. It’s just not my nature (which is, apparently, due to my spiritual color, that of the root, the lowest vibration). But the real lessons, about connection, about love, about grace, about finding the stillness, those stuck with me. Those are the practices that I can try to live out the rest of my days.
The jury is still out on whether or not I still ain’t shit, though. Namaste.