A Writer’s Perspective: An Interview with Sasha Parmasad
Sasha Kamini Parmasad, an educator, visual artist, and award-winning writer, is the daughter of a Trinidadian historian-poet-songwriter and a lawyer who devoted many years of their lives to the struggle for social justice. Sasha began composing poetry at age five and began performing her father’s Indian folk songs, poems, folktales, and calypsos before thousands in her native country from age six.
Her novel, Ink and Sugar, placed third in the national First Words Literary Contest for South Asian American Writers (2003) and her poetry placed first in the annual Poetry International Competition (2008). Her collection of poems titled No Poem: A Divine Rising will be published this year (2015).
She holds degrees from Williams College (B.A.) and Columbia University (M.F.A.), has taught Academic and Creative Writing classes at Columbia University and has worked as a Lecturer in the English Department at Maharishi University of Management. She recently completed the Transcendental Meditation Teacher Training Course, and is now a certified teacher of Transcendental Meditation.
I recently sat down with Sasha to find out what her experience as a writer has taught her about the creative process.
Helen: In your book No Poem: A Divine Rising you write:
To be a writer,
do not learn how to write.
Empty the imagination.
Are you explaining the creative process here?
Sasha: Well, remember that when I speak about the creative process I am speaking with a particular lens that is uniquely mine. The creative process is not a construct, but an exploration. Everyone has to discover her own process.
When I say “empty the imagination”, I mean go deeper than the imagination, the mind, and experience the pure silence of the Self. Once you experience the silence of the Self you no longer experience emptiness. For the silence of the Self is not an empty silence, it is potentially full.
Through the process of Transcendental Meditation you are going down to the depth of Being and coming back up to the surface of the mind. So the mind is expanding—there is more resonance and there is more depth. Now the mind is full of the lively silence of Being, the basis of imagination. You have this feeling of spaciousness, and you speak:
This space is always here.
This is what is present
I am this eternal space
not what appears
no matter what appears.
Helen: But how do you go about the process of actually writing a poem – committing the words to paper?
Sasha: When I start writing, I write with as little censorship as possible. This is a practice I have had since I was a child. It is not necessarily so easy because one of the fears that comes up is “who is going to read this”? We fear public exposure, but that is one of the reasons why the process is so private and sacred, because you are just speaking to yourself. I don’t think about right or wrong. I just experience the delight of asking and then I see what comes. It is a very innocent experience, because I do not know where I am going. But when I create there is so much light coming into my body, there is so much joy.
Helen: But the finished process has to make sense yes? Sasha: After something is written, then you bring in your intellect, your discriminative power, and ask, “Is this really what I want to say, how can I shape this so that it can be received by others?”
But in creative writing there is a lot of flexibility to write with the flow, you don’t necessarily have to make sure that everything is absolutely coherent, logical. To put it another way, there is always a deeper coherence, harmony, and flow at work than what we can conceive of with our logical, rational minds.
Some writers like Gertrude Stein and Samuel Beckett just enjoy speaking words, nonsense phrases, for the sake of the sound. There is something so beautiful about sound detached of meaning. For example, Lewis Carroll’s poem, “Jabberwocky”:
’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
My feeling about this poem is that it is very profoundly imbued with silence, because our narrative mind is unable to attach real meaning to the sounds. The nonsense sounds are pure, disassociated from meaning—there is this melodic playfulness, we feel the playfulness, we feel the musicality, the Beingness of the words and they put us in touch with something deep within ourselves.
Helen: You grew up in a family where the struggle for social justice was very important, and in 2006 you published an article in an anthology called Why We Write: The Politics and Practice of Writing for Social Change. Is writing an important tool for bringing about social change?
Sasha: Actually, I am completely committed to the reality of social change beginning within—inner peace creates outer peace; real change happens within the heart and mind and radiates out. Social change comes when we begin to understand and appreciate that we are here to love each other, serve each other.
We need to understand how we can appreciate ourselves and others at the same time. This kind of understanding comes when we are connected to that inner silence—pure consciousness—that sustains all of life. Then we see the love and divine in each other—it breaks down the separation between “you” and “me”. Boundaries are inevitable in this relative existence, but God is both the boundary and the boundless. When we are happy within ourselves, we have compassion for our imperfection because it is not imperfection, it is only God expressing within boundaries. It is not imperfection; it is just relative existence. There is nothing that is not Being, that is not God.
This is what the process of transcending though TM helps you realize. You transcend the sphere of thoughts, get in touch with silence, come out refreshed, elevated—this elevates the consciousness of the world. So the path to improving the world is simple. All we have to do is dip daily into that delicious ocean of silence, our essence, and enjoy ourselves. The light we access, we bring into the world, into our relationships. Writing as an act of seeing, emptying, also allows one to transcend the sphere of what is seen and engenders inner transformation.
I wrote that article when I was younger—I thought social change took so much effort, so much work. I thought it was the written product that transformed the world. Now I see it is the process of writing, seeing, transcending what is seen, that is deeply transformational. As you change, the world changes. You can bring about social change and also have fun—enjoy bathing in deep silence, enjoy loving others as yourself. You get to enjoy the process of changing the world—it’s beautiful.
About the Author
Helen Creighton is the national director of TM for Women in Canada.