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Remembering Jamie Zimmerman: Reflections on the loss of an IDP Sangha Member

“Wounds still fresh, [my leg] isn’t quite ready to bear my weight. I typically walk with a brisk pace, but today my stride is necessarily deliberate…”  —Jamie Zimmerman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I can’t remember the first conversation I had with Jamie. We were introduced, like many of us have been, by a mutual friend after class at The Interdependence Project. Once we caught each other’s names, she hugged me as if I was an old friend who was recently found, and listened as if we were alone in the room. I was pretty sure for a long time that I was the only one she paid such close attention to. Until I realized that this was a gift she gave to everyone she met. I don’t remember what we talked about, but I distinctly remember being disarmed by her gentleness. I remember how she made me feel. Special. Seen. 

It was also apparent from the get-go that social pretense wouldn’t do here. That was not her currency. And so I let my armor drop.

In her words, “…these self-constructed confines do nothing to protect. Instead, they trap us within the walls of what we think others deem acceptable, and they keep our lives small.” 

Jamie Zimmerman passed away 3 weeks ago, at the age of 31, after being pulled out to sea while crossing the Lumahai river in Kauai, Hawaii. In the weeks that have followed, I've found myself sifting through the words of her writing. To cobble together some sense from the seemingly senseless. To connect with her voice. To find solace in her meditations. The only certainty I can find is that the way Jamie expressed herself in life was a calling card for courageous, open hearted living. 

As a teenager, she followed her bliss to Hollywood, acting in television shows such as 7th Heaven, The Practice, and Boston Public. It was around this time that she developed a meditation practice at 16, after attending a workshop with Deepak Chopra; whom she recently collaborated with on a video series, fulfilling a long-held dream. 

She was inspired as a lifelong humanitarian, who seemed to walk through the world with her eyes on the question of “How can I be of benefit?”. As an undergrad, she was honored with UCLA’s prestigious Charles E. Young Humanitarian Award, and was nominated as a Rhodes Scholar finalist. This inspiration led her to help Congolese refugees in Zambia, to build classrooms in Uganda, and enlist as a United Nations Global Health representative in Haiti, amongst other international service work. 

One powerful way to create “perfect love”, Jamie writes, “is to seek to be of benefit to others, rather than focusing on how others can benefit us. If you find yourself mired in a fear, I recommend asking the simple question: How can I serve?”

How Can I Serve? Open Hearted or Bust.

One of Jamie’s most admirable qualities was how she communicated what she believed in past the point of words; her beliefs were felt in her presence and witnessed in her actions. There’s a phrase that comes to mind when I think of how Jamie moved through her life which is “the medium is the message.” She didn’t just tell us how to be be courageous and kind; she showed us. By giving herself permission. By chasing her heart’s calling, from Hollywood to Hawaii. But not back again. 

That part is never promised, and if I’m being honest, I think she knew that. 

Almost everything we want lies beyond the edge of our comfort zone…It may seem scary to take a leap, but isn’t it scarier to imagine reaching the end of your life realizing you never fully lived?” 

She had a beautiful integrity. 

This was part of Jamie’s magic. 

After earning the title of Medical Doctor at Mount Sinai Medical School, she began leaning into the question of how to unite Western science and spirituality, frequently lecturing on “meditation medicine”— the topic of her heartfelt TEDx talk — to foster healing on the individual and global levels. She ushered this ethos into her workplace, as a Medical Correspondent for ABC News, where she regularly taught meditation to her colleagues, and developed a health and wellness speaker series. 

“An alchemist doesn’t create gold from thin air, but rather takes baser metals and transforms them into gold. Similarly, we have the power to transmute our life circumstances by being the change we wish to see, and this capacity extends to the workplace.”

The last time we broke bread together in her living room, she was effervescent with ideas, singularly purposed to be of benefit. She had been invited to co-author a book through her work teaching meditation with the Hawn Foundation. She was fresh off the heels of a Speakeasy talk at Wanderlust Festival, and preparing to invite others to live their calling through her “Passion Paycheck” series. She was following the crumb trail left by her heart, and continuing to say YES to all of it. 

 

In the wake of her death, I’ve struggled for words to make sense of what I feel. So far, I’ve only found 4. Heartbroken. Shocked. Angry. Guilty. Wash, rinse, repeat. Sometimes I find myself telling her that I’m sorry. I’m so so sorry that she won’t get to do all of those beautiful things. And she was going to do so many more beautiful things.

“The physical sensations of this walk aren’t exactly pleasant. Yet, something remarkable emerges. As I hobble along at half my normal pace, the beauty that surrounds me shifts into focus.”

I’ve begun to suspect that perhaps Jamie’s greatest teaching was her final one. A teaching on Bodhichitta and the genuine heart of sadness. I may be trying to find meaning in tragedy where there is none. However, what I feel in her loss was at the core of her message; in a way that’s beyond explanation. It needed to be experienced to be understood. She didn’t tell us how to crack our hearts open, she showed us. She gave us no choice, really. Open Hearted or Bust. As was her style. 

“Indeed, courage describes living with our whole hearts. To live with courage is to be willing to feel all of our emotions.”

In grief we become more penetrable. More vulnerable. More awake. I’ve noticed with sobering clarity how I’m pulled to shutter my doors and numb my heart, but the tenderness of loss opens me back up again. I read the stories online of how people knew Jamie— and who they knew her to be— and I feel touched by our connection to each other. The invisible thread of humanity made visible through our collective loss. 

Perhaps the loss of her life is the medium.  

And the tender openness of our broken hearts is the message. 

“Each moment of our lives is like a grain of sand in an hourglass, part of a finite supply. Each moment is unspeakably precious—once it passes, it’s gone forever, except as a dulled memory. None of us know how many moments we have left. Still, we march on as if there’s a never-ending surplus. We lose touch with the sacred, as routine and stress gradually drown our joy. 

We forget that every moment is an exquisite reflection of an unimaginable miracle. Even if we wouldn’t choose what’s happening in this moment, we can still embrace the fullness of now. “

Thank you, Jamie, for disarming us. And for all of the beautiful things. 

 

Links to contribute:

•The Remembering Jamie Zimmerman Fund: for adequate signage on the Kauai River, and to support future Mindfulness programming in her name: 

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/remembering-jamie-zimmerman-md--2#/

•Zimmerman Memorial Scholarship at her alma mater, The Institute for Compassionate Leadership:

 http://instituteforcompassionateleadership.org/zimmerman-memorial-scholarship/

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