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More Information

Who: Jaimal Yogis reading from "All Our Waves are Water"

Where: Copperfield's Books, 138 N. Main St., Sebastopol

When: 7 p.m., Friday, June 7

More Information: copperfieldsbooks.com


Jaimal Yogis is sitting in his parked Honda Odyssey along San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, using it as a mobile office to return a reporter’s call.

The 37-year-old memoirist, who explores life’s deepest questions in the ocean on a surfboard, has just dropped his kids off at preschool and is on his way to a nearby cafe with his laptop.

This is his life right now, catching a wave outside his door and grabbing writing moments whenever he can, including slipping out of the small house on The Great Highway he shares with a wife and three kids for “a change of scenery” whenever possible.

“With writing,” he said of these tiny retreats, “you need a little carrot throughout the day to keep you going.”

Don’t look at this happily-ever-after scene as a spoiler to his latest memoir, “All Our Waves are Water: Stumbling Toward Enlightenment and the Perfect Ride,” (HarperCollins; $25.99). When the book opens, Yogis is nursing a heart broken by an Indian-American girl who left him for another guy. He has made his way to McLeod Ganj, a quaint village perched 6,000 feet up in the Indian Himalayas that since 1959 has been headquarters for the Tibetan government-in-exile.

Yogis alights at a monastery, where he meets Sonam, “a heartbroken monk who wanted to sing” and who becomes the first of a succession of people across the globe who will, each in their way, serve as unlikely teachers and way-showers who profoundly affect his perspective.

But knowing that the rootless young student winds up happily married with family and residing on the beach in San Francisco, doesn’t take away from the narrative, which turns on the Buddhist philosophy that “the journey is the destination.”

“I think when we fall on our face and when life seems hopeless, like we won’t recover, those are the moments we’re more forced to really re-evaluate why we’re here. What we really, truly care about,” Yogis said. For him, it was love lost. But it could be any kind of loss or cataclysmic change, that opens the path to enlightenment.

Yogis will share his story at 7 p.m. Friday, July 7, at Copperfield’s Books in Sebastopol.

“All Our Waves are Water” has been likened to a fusion of the journals of Thomas Merton and “Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life,” William Finnegan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir. But it also is a male variation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love,” where a breakup becomes the impetus for a journey of healing. Yogis, like Gilbert, comes to see that he is not broken, but broken open to a new way of living from within.

Yogis’ journey however, has more stops than Gilbert’s Rome/India/Bali itinerary. He zigzags from India to Mexico, to grad school at Columbia University (where he studied journalism and religion and become involved with a Franciscan friary in Washington Heights), to Jerusalem.

Inevitably, all waves and spiritual journeys seem to lead to Bali, where a spritely surfer named Jimmy, some world class waves and a dream, helped Yogis release the need for certainty and ruminating over his future — whether he would stay in journalism, stay with the same woman or stay in San Francisco, where he had done notable pieces for San Francisco Magazine.

More Information

Who: Jaimal Yogis reading from "All Our Waves are Water"

Where: Copperfield's Books, 138 N. Main St., Sebastopol

When: 7 p.m., Friday, June 7

More Information: copperfieldsbooks.com

It is set around surfing and the metaphor of water, which figures into religions traditions and rituals from Christianity’s baptism to Muslim’s ritual bathing before praying, to Buddhist offerings of bowls of water as a symbol of the enlightened mind.

The book picks up where Yogis left off in “Saltwater Buddha,” a coming-of-age memoir that recounts his early wanderings and self-discovery as a troubled 16-year-old who, armed with a copy of Hermann Hesse’s “Siddhartha,” runs away from his Sacramento home to surf in Hawaii and join a monastery. He finds a monk’s life doesn’t suit him but he discovers Zen in the salty swells. The book was made into a documentary released in 2016.

“There are people who love the outdoors who find peace and spiritual connection in nature, either in surfing or hiking or rafting. Surfing is just a part of my life,” said Yogis, who learned the sport as a small child living in the Azores, where his father was stationed in the military. “And because I like to talk about spirituality, the ocean offers a lot of profound metaphors … about trying hard and letting go at the same time.”

Yogis’ seeks connections between science and spirituality and notes that there is a strong human connection to the sea on multiple levels.

“Our blood is very chemically similar to water,“ he said. “Amniotic fluid is almost identical to the ocean. We’re made of water. Our brains are 80 percent water. Every time we get in the ocean it is literally a return to the source.”

Yogis maintains that the traditional firewall between science and spirituality is not as formidable as many people might assume.

“When you get to know scientists you see that a lot of them are incredibly open in their private lives to many of the possibilities of a soul or a consciousness going beyond the body. But they are worried they will lose their funding if they talk about it in public … or they’ll get labeled woo-woo.”

Yogis was born in 1979, on the cusp of two generations — Gen X and the millennials — and raised by baby boomers who were questioning or abandoning traditional churches and experimenting with different religious, spiritual and philosophical practices.

“My parents abandoned Catholicism and Judaism favor of practicing the Eastern traditions,” he said. “I was raised as a spiritual mutt.”

Yogis recognizes he’s not alone in this; spiritual eclecticism has left a generation spiritually unmoored; that may be confusing but not necessarily a bad thing.

“Its opened up a lot of questions about the genuine inquiry that can happen when you’re introduced to the big ideas and the big questions,” he said. “For a long time, religion was passed down and people were told this is what you will believe, It became more of a cultural identity,” he said.

The shedding of those traditions has left a lot of younger people, he observed, “lost in a sea of ideas.”

“Everything is scrambled eggs. There is an awakening in science and the vestiges of religious ideas. We also have a new spirituality and a New Age context and everybody is mixing them up. That can be confusing but it’s created an opportunity for our generation to open up to deep inquiry.”

Yogis mended his heart and is now married to Amy Duross, an intellectual powerhouse who, as an MBA candidate, co-wrote and headed up the campaign for Prop. 71, California’s $3 billion stem cell research initiative that passed in 2004. She’s now working with a company that is trying to streamline the regulatory process to make immunotherapy cancer drugs more available.

“She’s one of those people who pushes me to think different,” he said, “about life and what’s possible.”

He met her after another bad breakup that figures into his last book, “The Fear Project,” in which he embarks on a personal quest to understand and confront his own fears, including the recently canceled Mavericks surf contest in which the world’s top surfers face waves of up to 60 feet. In the process he draws upon neuroscientific research and consults experts in psychology and mindfulness, to come up with a prescription for dealing with the paralysis of fear.

He’s still seeking thrills, meditation and enlightenment on his surfboard. But there are no long odysseys, just short jaunts.

“I’m on a surgical strike mission to have 45 minutes to an hour free between work and picking up my kids,” he said. “I have very few standards. Before I was waiting for the perfect wave. But now I’ll run across the street and just plunge right in.”

Staff Writer Meg McConahey can be reached at 707-521-5204 or meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @megmcconahey.