News and Tribune

May 17, 2013

Helping out His Holiness: Woman takes on busy task of coordinating Dalai Lama’s events

By AMANDA BEAM
newsroom@newsandtribune.com

BLOOMINGTON —

If you need a real-life example of karma in action, look no further than Lisa Morrison. As the director of media relations for His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Louisville, the Bloomington native illustrates how unexpected outcomes can come from some of life’s most simple choices. 

For more than 10 years, Morrison has dedicated much of her time to advancing compassion and the Tibetan cause through her work with the Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center, or TMBCC. Even more interestingly, she doesn’t receive a dime for all her volunteer contributions. Of course, Morrison will argue these acts of service bring her a spiritual satisfaction far greater than any monetary wealth. 

Others who know her agree. 

“I have found Lisa to be a very generous, open and compassionate soul. Taking on the enormous responsibility of handling the media and public relations for His Holiness’s visit to Louisville speaks volumes for her dedication and passion for the Dalai Lama and his message of compassion,” said Jeanie B. Kahnke, senior director of public relations and external affairs for the Muhammad Ali Center. “I know Lisa has a full-time business outside of this project, so that really illustrates a lot about her character.”

Morrison wasn’t always involved with Buddhism. Back in Southern Indiana, she enjoyed all the benefits of a traditional American childhood. Dancing and twirling occupied her days, and Sundays at First Christian Church were standard. By her senior year at Bloomington North High School, Morrison switched gears and started down a different road. 

“Spring break senior year, defining moment, all my friends went to Florida for spring break, but I stayed home because I had called up the local radio station and landed an interview,” she said. “I didn’t know anybody there, but I was going to go and see them and ask for an internship. So I did it.” 

Tenacity paid off. She landed the internship at WTTS and eventually hosted her own radio program. At this time, Morrison started attending Franklin College, a hotbed for interfaith dialogue. Eventually she would return to Bloomington and develop a public-interest talk show that would turn out to change her life. 

Chance meetings, some believe, might not always be entirely by chance. Fate may have indeed had a hand in delivering Jigme Norbu to Morrison’s studio at the early part of the decade. A professor at Indiana University and a high-ranking lama in his own right, Norbu might be best known as being the current Dalai Lama’s older brother. His hard work in founding the TMBCC and championing the Tibetan cause is legendary. Maybe that was part of the amazing power Morrison felt radiating from him during their first meeting.  

“He filled the room with this energy, this charisma. I’d never met anyone like him before. He literally just blew me away with his presence,” she said. “I also knew intuitively that I had met someone very, very special. I didn’t know what it all meant but I knew that he had sold me on their need for support and the plight for the Tibetan people.”

In 2003, Morrison began to volunteer with the TMBCC. Of course, her work with her radio show didn’t go away. Neither did her duties as a single mom to a young son. Prior to this time, a marketing and media firm bearing her name was also founded. Life, already busy for the budding entrepreneur, was about to get much busier.

Only 30 days after the broadcaster first signed on to help the TMBCC, the Dalai Lama was scheduled to pay a visit to Bloomington. This would be the first of four occasions she would help coordinate the media for His Holiness’s Indiana teachings and public speeches.

First times are often the most memorable. Morrison remembered meeting the Dalai Lama in Bloomington during a private audience. Even though she stepped back to avoid crowding him as he exited a room, he walked directly to her and touched her hand. 

“Through this whole thing he didn’t say a single word to me. Not a single word. But he was communicating with his smile and his heart,” Morrison said. “And then when he dropped my hand he laughed. He giggled all the way down the hall. I’ll never forget that laugh.”

Due to an illness, His Holiness’s brother Norbu stepped down as leader of the TMBCC and a new lama, Arjia Rinpoche, took the reins of the organization in 2005. Immediately, Morrison found both a kindred spirit and, most importantly, a spiritual teacher in the new director. 

“Lisa Morrison has always been faithful in representing the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center to the public.  She has been our speech — our voice,” Rinpoche said. “In these days of the modern media, that is very important. I am very grateful to her for her services.”

Even after the Dalai Lama’s visit to Louisville concludes, Morrison still must balance the demands of her family, career and volunteer work. A trip to Mongolia has been planned for September so she can witness the opening of a cancer hospital Rinpoche has founded. Church remains a Sunday activity for the business woman, but Buddhist meditations and teachings continue to guide her through all aspects of her life. 

“What I’ve learned from Buddhism has just opened up my world so much. I had no idea. It didn’t come right away,” Morrison said. “It was part of the path.”