There is something about immersing oneself in saltwater for extended periods of time and dodging walls of waves that lends to some deep thinking about life and our place in the world.
Surfing has recently produced some excellent works of nonfiction that have little to do with stoned-out surfer stereotypes. Last year’s Pulitzer Prize for autobiography went to William Finnegan for Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life. Steve Kotler’s West of Jesus: Surfing, Science and the Origins of Belief is a fine book on the intersection of surfing and spirituality. And I’ll add Jaimal Yogis’ new memoir, All Our Waves Are Water: Stumbling Toward Enlightenment and the Perfect Ride, to the mix.
Yogis, a San Francisco–based author, wrote the book as a follow-up to Saltwater Buddha, a coming-of-age story that blends surfing and spiritual seeking. All Our Waves picks up where he left off, and chronicles Yogis’ multidisciplinary spiritual quests and more earthbound struggles of career, friendship and starting a family. Yogis’ spiritual and physical journeys take him to the Himalayas, Jerusalem, a Washington Heights friary, Puerto Escondido, Mexico, and the cold water of San Francisco’s Ocean Beach.
Yogis sprinkles the book with quotable quotes that connect with the here and now: “God is a circle whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere” (Voltaire); “Without going into the ocean, it is impossible to find precious, priceless pearls” (Vimalakirti Sutra); and my favorite and most apt to this book, “You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop” (Rumi). Buddhism is the guiding light, and the book and Yogis offers a practical tour of Buddhist philosophy.
The subtext of All Our Waves is not surfing, but the search for the universal and the divine in whatever form she/he/it takes. “The word ‘spiritual’ can be a bit confusing,” Yogis says. “In Zen and other non-dual schools of spirituality like Vedanta yoga, everything is considered spiritual, even the most mundane tasks like washing dishes. So surfing is just one of the things I do because I love to do it.”
What Westerners are more likely to think of as “spiritual” also finds its place in that context: “Because I practice meditation and am interested in what you might call spiritual or philosophical questions—why are we here, how do we realize our potential, how do we reduce suffering—the sea becomes another place to practice.”
With equal doses of humor, self-deprecation and well-rendered storytelling, Yogis does a great job making these heady themes accessible and entertaining through personal experiences.
In the toxic fumes that characterizes American political and cultural discourse of late, All Our Waves Are Water is a lungful of fresh air and a poignant reminder of the wider world beyond the glow of the TV screen. Yogis is a sharp and insightful writer who has the good sense to temper his spiritual pursuits with a healthy dose of humility and humanity.
Jaimal Yogis will discuss Our Waves are Water at Bookshop Santa Cruz on Friday, July 14 at 7 p.m., at Bookshop Santa Cruz, 1520 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Free.