EAST HAMPTON, N.Y. — This is the height of the season in the Hamptons. Pick up a newspaper or click on a local Web site and you’ll see celebrities shopping, dining, partying, even fighting. The Hollywood A-list, politicians (Clintons, Bidens), billionaires, journalists and socialites are ubiquitous.
Not one person I have spoken with these past two weeks has mentioned Anthony Weiner. Not one. The pending sale of The Washington Post has hardly been a topic of conversation. Forget foreign policy. I have attended several events and seen at least 250 people and everyone is surprisingly focused on the same issues: Health, wellness, spirituality, yoga and self-realization (even if the latter includes facelifts).
One of the popular draws this August has been spiritual teacher, former swami and author Sally Kempton (“Meditation for the Love of It” and “Awakening Shakti: The Transformative Power of the Goddesses of Yoga.”)
The calm, reassuring Kempton spoke about life and how to achieve true enlightenment during several sessions at the Ross Wellness Center.
After a few meditation exercises (Close your eyes and ask yourself, what kind of love do you long for? Do you feel love in this room?), she got right into it: “Many of us have a hole in our hearts where we’ve felt the blows of life,” she said to knowing nods from a rapt group of seekers.
Kempton does not set herself up as an all-knowing guru, but as a fellow traveler. She uses anecdotes to describe her own experiences. She tells about seeing an old friend who had always led “an A-list life. It all fell apart a year ago. He’s a serious mess and he doesn’t know how to deal with it.” Kempton didn’t either, she admits. “I’m a compassionate person,” she says, “but all parts of me are afraid of being a mess. I tried to hide it.” In the end, she said, she had a conversation with him that was “one of the most liberating conversations I’ve ever had.”
It brought her back to a saying to live by, one of the most important things a former teacher had taught: “Wake up, grow up and show up.”
“Wake up and shift out of your ordinary shape,” she says. “Grow up and see what is destructive in your life.” And show up? “It’s one of the hardest things in life. . . . To show up. To be completely there — in the present moment.” Kempton sees life as a cycle of transformative experience. Everyone rises and falls and rises again. The question is how to deal with it. She draws a circle on a blackboard. At the top of the cycle is waking up, then the cycle moves to practice, then the honeymoon period, then a fall, more practice and waking up again. “If you’re not rising,” she says, “you’re falling.”
One can’t help but think of the lives of all the celebrities swirling about the Hamptons: One day a huge star, the next on the skids; one day a powerful politician, the next a loser; one day having billions in investments, the next going bankrupt.
Kempton says that sometimes in the middle of the day she will be “overwhelmed by a sense of incredible happiness, thinking: “Oh, this is how my life is supposed to be!”
“Inevitably, there’s the fall,” she says. “You’re going to hell, you’re doomed, and your 12 years of sobriety are over.” This cycle, she says, will go on, over and over. It goes on until you realize that you are never going to be perfectly enlightened, that you are vulnerable, that you’re going to realize that “I’m just a human being.” Then she says, you realize that “there is a door out. Inside the darkness is light, is the Golden Door.”
Kempton gives the group an exercise: Choose a partner and tell that person what your greatness is. She wants everyone to have the experience of being able to speak to things they don’t normally “cop to.” The exercise is enlightening for many in the room.
The irony is that this is exactly what is wrong with so many “A-listers” in the Hamptons. They spend so much time proclaiming their greatness that they don’t know who they are. After 40 years of coming here each summer, witnessing the rise and fall and rise and fall of the glamorous — the grasping, the preening, the striving and the palpable desperation — it’s a wonder everyone doesn’t realize how thin a reed we are all clinging to. The fear is always of falling.
But as Kempton puts it, “the greater the weight is, coming from a fall, the greater is the lightness.”