In conversation with... Rashmi Bismark

Following my discovery of the exquisite Finding Om, a children’s book about the power of meditation, I am very happy to share with you a Q&A with author Rashmi Bismark.

First, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to yoga? 

A: I’m a mom, author, and physician specialized in Preventive Medicine and Public Health whose clinical focus is teaching mindfulness-based programs for self-care and balanced well-being. I never “came to yoga”. As a life-long process of connecting to awareness within and around me, yoga keeps on unfolding for me and is an integral part of my South Asian cultural heritage. From childhood, I was inspired by the beautiful epic stories and daily rituals of remembrance shared by my parents from India to always seek connection to knowledge - both intellectual and heartfelt inner wisdom - as a guide towards healthy behaviours, wholesome living, and dynamic wellbeing.

What inspired you to write a children’s book? 

A: There were so many reasons, but my deepest aspiration was to create a beautiful picture book about meditation that could inspire curiosity and wonder in kids about themselves and their life experience. It was also very important for me to create something of cultural relevance for kids growing up in the South Asian diaspora that all children could celebrate.    

When I was a kid growing up in upstate, central NY in the 1980’s, the only picture storybooks I had to bring my heritage to life were a small collection of Amar Chitra Katha comics. The English was bad. The images were graphic, but I didn’t care. I just treasured being able to touch the pages of a story where I could see myself. Even then, images of darker skinned Indians were often the demons in the story, but at least there was something.  

Nowadays there are many authors sharing beautifully illustrated retellings of Indian mythology. Now imagine if there might be a book, or better yet, a series of books, that could bring the sacred philosophical teachings of South Asian heritage, like yoga and mindfulness, to life in the same way. Imagine if they could reflect the experiences of brown kids and mixed families who are part of the diaspora in ways that all kids could relate to... These were my inspirations.   

What was the process like, when it came to writing a children’s book? 

A: You always hear about people who talk of experiences where words just came to them in this seemingly otherworldly flow as they were creating their book… This rarely ever happens to me... but it happened here. I attribute this to a very clear intention and a purposeful openness to creativity. The period of time when I started writing happened to coincide with a period of time when I was waking up a little earlier to meditate for 20 minutes with my husband. In addition to my usual mid-morning meditation practice, I think this little extra time of resting into doing nothing, just being, allowed my mind to create fewer obstacles to flow when I’d sit down to write.     

Since I knew very little about kids lit, I was very fortunate to work closely to learn more about picture books from Mango and Marigold Press’ talented senior editor, Amy Maranville. You could say she gave me a kind of Kids Lit 101. Simple facts, like picture books have 32 pages (What?! How did I never know that?!) or that authors need to be very descriptive about illustration ideas as they may or may not have a relationship with their illustrator (never thought about that either), were so eye-opening. They gave me a whole new appreciation for the craft of picture book creation and guided my writing in powerful ways.  

Is this a part of a series?

A: Yes. Finding Om is the first book in an intended series to share concepts from South Asian philosophy like yoga (connection) and mindfulness (wise remembrance of innately present awareness) through treasured mantras from these traditions. 

Mantras are words, phrases, or short poetic verses that can be used as anchors to focus the mind for meditation. In addition to strengthening an effortless connection to presence and awareness, they may also be used to inspire contemplation and remembrance. They can be very instrumental for developing a relationship with a variety of mindful, heartful intentions and resources for living. These might include connections to a felt sense of equanimity, compassion, interconnectedness, generosity, creativity, wholeness, and so much more.  

What was your biggest take away in this process? 

A: It is so much fun to keep learning and growing. If you told me in medical school that I would be writing children’s books, I would never have believed you. Yet, here I am, entering a completely new field, learning so many fascinating new things. Even though the medium for impacting others’ lives might be different, the intention is still the same - to be of service to kids and families uncovering connections to inner nature, nurturing relationships with the world around them, and harnessing wise resources for health and resilience.

How did you come up with the concept for the book Finding Om

A: With this first book, I wanted to portray what meditation might look like for a child while including an exploration of some key aspects of practice like: (1) curiosity, courage, kindness, and trust; (2) focused and receptive attention; (3) present moment awareness of thinking, feeling, doing and being; (4) resting into that naturally whole, awareful presence; and (5) opening to the harmony, insight, and wisdom right here.  I wanted it to be a book about meditation and inquiry simply for the joy and wonder of it, versus being a tool or technique for handling stress or tough emotions.  It is definitely that too… and it can also be something more.      

It felt very natural to use my family as the characters. My father and my kids are some of my biggest teachers in life. Allowing their hearts to tell this story just made sense. In fact, much of the book portrays direct experiences my daughters have shared. Though Anu never had this exact interaction with Appuppa, it is an exchange that melds together both the girls’ and my own memories with him.  

If you’ve read the book, you may notice Appuppa never labels his suggestions for practice to Anu as meditation from the start. He just provides a framework, and she falls upon the rest all on her own. She brings it into her everyday life and then gets still with it. My dad loved to inspire learning in this way - rarely dogmatic, more about nurturing a love for the creative pursuit of knowledge and the growth that can bring about.   

Where did you start and how has your book changed? 

A: Interestingly, Finding Om wasn’t the first book I wrote for this intended series. I reached out to Sailaja and Mango and Marigold Press with four other manuscripts on four different mantras that my girls have loved. As I began working with Amy Maranville, their senior editor, she suggested making the introduction I had originally written for parents and educators about meditation into a first book. So I guess you could say the original first draft of Finding Om was more of an informative description of mantra, mindfulness, yoga, and meditation for adults. It was nowhere near a picture book! It has certainly come a long way.  

Once I started writing the story, it naturally evolved with the help of my girls and the memory of my father over the course of a few days. The most difficult part, as any picture book author might share, was trying to minimize words. Distilling it all down into what matters most was my biggest challenge. Luckily I was easily able to fall back into trusting that the children who read this book will fill in the rest from their own wise experiences.        

And of course I was able to rest into the beautiful illustrations created by our amazing artist, Morgan Huff. One of the reasons our whole family fell in love with Morgan’s work is her innate ability to fill her pieces with the softness, wonder, and beauty of childhood. The way she layers colors across a spread tells stories in itself. 

Do you have a favourite line in your book? 

A: For my entire family, our favorite exchange in the book is page 14 when Appuppa is talking to Anu about “not-knowing”. This is a common conversation in our house and a very important lesson in life and learning. It’s one I have to keep reminding myself of over and over and over again. It is okay to not know everything. It is okay to not have all the answers… And uncertainty can actually be an interesting feeling to sense into because under all that fear of not knowing is a boundless sea of possibilities. Rather than getting caught up in how uncomfortable that might feel, what can happen if we get curious about it and trust that we might know how to find some answers? How might it feel to lean into that courage to step towards an unknown, allowing a freshness of heart:mind - a little interest and care - to lead the way.   

What is it like working with Mango and Marigold Press

A: Working with the wonderful team at Mango and Marigold Press has been a tremendous joy. From the first email I ever sent them, they have been incredibly open-hearted and supportive. Even though we have yet to meet in “real” life, I feel so connected - not only to the publishing team, but even some of the other Mango and Marigold Press authors. It’s like being welcomed into a family.

Thank you for your time!

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