Once the 70’s literary "It" Girl and icily beautiful Manhattan socialite both lauded for her intellectual brilliance and loathed for her feminist bite, today Sally Kempton, a.k.a. Swami Durgananda, is among the most dynamic, insightful, and sought-after teachers of Siddha Yoga, and is author of the celebrated guide to spiritual practice, Heart Of Meditation: Pathways To Deeper Experience.
Born to socially-conscious parents (her father was a Pulitzer Prize-winning liberal news columnist), Sally went on to a brilliant career as a feminist activist and participated in a sit-in against the Ladies Home Journal, censured Playboy's Hugh Hefner on national television, and at age twenty-six published in Esquire the feminist confessional/manifesto Cutting Loose, wherein she juxtaposed issues of rage and dependency and admitted a "compulsive desire to seduce men," earning her the reputation among many male intellectuals as a "dangerous woman." (from an article on Sally by Sara Davidson)
Hailed as a literary luminary with work featured in The New York Times, The Village Voice, Rolling Stone, Harpers, and other premier publications, Sally was yet fraught with anxiety and began more and more to explore the contours of her own suffering, musing in retrospect, "I was looking for happiness, but since I was a political-intellectual-left wing person, I couldn't go straight to God. The road was twisty."
The labyrinth-walk of Sally’s search and self-examination, formally inaugurated by a peak experience undergone while listening to the Grateful Dead's Ripple, eventually led her to meditation classes where she was beset by kundalini experiences so alarmingly intense that she was forced to concede the necessity of a spiritual guide.
Confronted in 1974 with the first glimpse of her future guru Swami Mutkananda, and flooded with an "implosion" of love in his presence, Sally had a classic conversion experience, describing her inner state as "accelerating from zero to sixty in fifteen minutes." Two years later, at age thirty-three, she was living the austere life of an ordained monastic.
Sally spent the 1980’s teaching in California and at this time realized she had psychological issues to address when the disowned facets of her personality "the bohemian, rebellious, intellectual, ironic radical" came painfully to the fore. Recognizing this experience as a "yogic cleansing," and a call for further integration and evolution, she began experimenting with various techniques, exploring and mapping her consciousness, and embodying her commitment to "take responsibility for the inner drilling." In 1989 she reached some sort of equilibrium, and still teaching, ventured out for the first time in nearly two decades into a world of friends, novels, movies, and mundane pleasures to resume her passion for writing.
From this transpersonally-informed passion came Sally’s book The Heart Of Meditation, an offering rich with personal anecdotes, gentle suggestions, a full-spectrum embrace of both Eastern and Western wisdom traditions. The book was a gift to aspiring meditation students and seasoned spiritual practitioners alike.
Creating innovate workshops, sponsoring meditation trainings, and writing extensively on all aspects of spiritual life, Sally currently contributes the Inner Life column for Yoga Journal, and has recently been a featured guest at Boulder's Naropa University. Says Kempton of her return to the proverbial marketplace:
I always intended to return; I felt that it would be better for me to teach from a place where people are at in the world. It was time to do something different—it feels like an adventure.