When we think of the word embodiment, spiritual teacher Jeannie Zandi comes to mind. Her organization, Living as Love, is dedicated to helping people connect with their true selves through a variety of felt-sense practices designed to help us drop out of our ever-spinning minds, into our bodies, and into our hearts.
If you’re feeling disconnected or stressed out, you’re not alone. As a culture, we’re in an epidemic of being disembodied and disconnected. For many, many reasons, people are feeling more disconnected than ever. In Jeannie’s words: “As a society today we’re not as in tune with the nature of our physical bodies and the earth as we were in past times and this loss has led to a disconnect from our innate spiritual wholeness.” But the pathway back to inner groundedness is actually not through ‘figuring it out’ – it’s through the experience of the felt senses of the body.
Jeannie Zandi teaches embodiment unlike any other. She brings a uniquely earthy type of wisdom to her teachings that many of us need right now. Her perspective is similar to other beloved teachers like Eckhart Tolle, Richard Rohr, and Adyashanti, but her emphasis on physical groundedness has a language of it’s own, that many are resonating with. Enjoy this Q + A with Jeannie Zandi, and the guided meditation she offers below.
Head + Heart: Can you tell us a little about your personal journey and how you’ve come to be a spiritual teacher?
Jeannie Zandi: All my life I’ve been interested in what’s real. When I was 11 years old, I remember lying on my bed trying to know and remember the feeling of what it was like to be 11. You could say I’ve always been inquiring. I grew up with a skeptical agnostic dad and a Catholic mom so I also had a spiritual dichotomy to bridge within myself that spawned exploration. In my 20’s, I became really interested in personal inquiry, and discovered some of the basics of what I teach today. That is, I discovered that if I was afraid or behaved in a suboptimal way, I could turn my attention into my felt experience to locate the pain at the bottom of whatever surface issue had risen, and essentially, that I could unwind the suffering through meeting that pain. This profound discovery helped me to reclaim the natural flow of emotional energy in my body that had been stopped up through repression. I had been taught to overcome things, but I discovered that befriending the creature of the body allowed whatever pain and funky beliefs were there to rise and be questioned and moved through.
This discovery provided a great foundation for living through a 5-year dark night of the soul that caused the entire structure of my personhood to be deconstructed and seen through, as the pain and fear that held it in place rose to be met. I found that the simple directly experienced flow of life, of presence and sensation, took the place of the “me” I thought I was and with that, suffering departed and a sense of unity replaced it.
At some point one of my teachers invited me to teach, and now I offer my direct experience to others who find it supportive in stepping into a deeper sense of who they are and how they can be here on the planet. I now teach in the United States and Canada as well as online, holding space for a growing community of people who want to find a way to live from their essence.
H+H: Who are the teachers that have shaped you the most so far?
H+H: Given that busyness and stress is such a big issue for so many of us, can you recommend some practices to support embodiment?
JZ: To live these teachings, it’s important to do the work of embodiment. But for each of us, embodiment can look very different. In my experience, it’s a practice of softening and opening the body to receive and know itself as a field of presence, letting go of the entrenched grip of fear. But we also can’t be chasing a state and expect to know the truth. Though we might do a lot of physical activity to unburden the body of stress or cry a lot, it’s important to get to the roots of the stress. And to do this is a continual questioning of the assumptions about our reality that keep us in fear and over effort from a place of “not enoughness.” It requires a willingness to face off with our deeply held assumptions about life, which may feel like a complete deconstruction. For many, having a teacher or supportive group in place can be really important in this process.
H+H: Do you have any tips or advice for students who are new to your practice or even totally new to meditation?
JZ: Whether we consider ourselves spiritual, whether we believe in God or not, we’ve all experienced the need to drop out of our minds. This is what embodiment means. This is the reason we love vacations, and nature and pets; they draw our attention out of rumination and into a direct felt experience of living. For people who are new to this idea, I suggest simply bringing their attention to the feel of wind, to the feel of their weight in their seat, the feel of breath, the sound of birds. This shift in attention doesn’t suddenly mean we’re free of our minds, but it is an important shift in perspective: to be open to the possibility of what we really are in this moment and to notice what is right now. This in itself can be a very powerful pointer to opening. Start by considering that what you believe about what you are may not be the whole story and then be open and curious about what you can experience outside of what the mind says.