In My Own Words: the Inspiration behind Luminous Mind
by Rita Frizzell
The idea for Lumionus Mind began in a very personal way with the sudden passing of my 16-year-old nephew, Jordan, on July 5, 2007. He was a rising senior and the star pitcher of his baseball team. He was the only child in our family and the pride and joy of my brother and sister-in-law, and the whole family. I had gone to Murfreesboro to watch him play what turned out to be his last baseball game on July 4th, then spent the night with my parents so I could be on hand for my brother's surgery the next morning.
So I was there with my family around the breakfast table when we got the call that there'd been an accident and we needed to go to the Emergency Room immediately. As my mother and I ran to get dressed, my father made a phone call and within minutes, we knew he was already gone.
In that moment when it seemed the world was caving in on us, a remarkable thing happened. Years of meditation training clicked in and I was able to be immediately, pristinely present, focusing on being a beacon of light to my nephew and being there for my family. As a result, I was able to serve my family in meaningful, difficult ways... identifying Jordan's body, dealing with police and the media, and most poignantly, telling my brother that his only child had died. It was the hardest day we've ever gone through as individuals and as a family.
The next morning, my Dad said, "Rita, you were the strength of our family yesterday. I don't know what we would have done without you." He went on to express gratitude that I'd been able to maintain calm and handle things when the rest of the family was overcome with grief. I thanked him and told him that it wasn't something inherent in me and it hadn't happened accidentally; it was actually the result of the meditation I'd been doing for twelve years. My mother chimed in that when the emotion would come, she felt powerless... that it was like a waterfall that came over her completely and she couldn't help it. I told her this was actually one of the ways it's described in the literature... one thought toppling over another, in a seemingly unbroken torrent without any space between. The purpose of meditation is to open this space up, until it becomes like a rippling stream, then a river, then an ocean.
I told my parents that I would be happy to teach them some quick, easy techniques to help them during the coming days -- the funeral, visitation, and all the difficult times to come. They said they would like that, so I shared some basic methods of connecting to the breath and opening space. During the following days, they implemented the techniques and reported back that it worked, and that it helped them keep from falling apart time after time.
As I reflected on this later, I was incredibly grateful for every moment of instruction and meditation that had prepared me to serve my family that day. I also saw that in spite of my family's lifetime of abiding faith and church attendance, nothing in their training had prepared them to wrangle those powerful emotions in the moment they arose. I was grateful for my parents' openess to try something new. In that experience, they were able to see and experience for themselves that my spiritual path wasn't something to be scared of, but it was simply working with one's own mind. And at the same time, I knew that they would never darken the door of a Buddhist temple to learn those methods.
I realized that there are countless people like this, and that it was time for these powerful yet incredibly simple methods of mindfulness-awareness to be available to people without the barrier of cultural and religious obstacles. This is a contribution Buddhism can give to the world at large... just as when Christianity spread in the world, they brought countless good works with them — hospitals, orphanges, and charities of all types. A person doesn't need to be a Christian in order to receive treatment at a faith-based hospital, and what they are dispensed is medicine, not religion.
In the same way, I believe that what Buddhism has to offer to our culture is the ability to be present in our experience in the moment it arises.* This translates to being present in our families, our relationships, our jobs, and our lives. Learning how to be happy and to avoid harming ourselves and others.Having the resources to remain standing when the world falls in on us. And ultimately, to wake up to the mystery of life itself.
It was in this way that one of the darkest hours for my family became the inspiration for Luminous Mind. It started as a heart longing which I first shared with my teachers in January of 2008 and received their blessings to proceed. It eventually became a calling so powerful I could no longer ignore it.
Jordan, this one is for you. May it benefit all beings.
*According to Ken McLeod, the aim of Buddhist practice could be stated as, "to know one's experience as it arises, free from the projections of emotions and thought."