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.