Review : All Our Waves are Water

all our waves

Forgive the bad joke, but I’ve really done a deep dive into Jaimal Yogis body of work this past week. I watched the documentary about his life – Saltwater Buddha while reading his latest book released in July 2017 titled All Our Waves are Water – Stumbling Towards Enlightenment and the Perfect Ride . I fully enjoyed the road trip by journeying along through Jaimal’s life and times through both celluloid and print.

All Our Waves are Water is a continuation of Jaimal’s book Saltwater Buddha in which he takes readers on his journey from boy to man – or grommet to older surf dude (I have no idea what the accepted surfer vernacular is around this – forgive me). It’s a wild trip taken by someone who started out like many of us – seeking escape from suffering through drugs, drink and running away from home. He comes to develop a solid relationship with surfing, spirituality and seeing the world as a means of self-discovery, relaxation and personal goal setting. As he says in the book, “Surfing was Zen for the stormy world.”

Carrying the torch from Saltwater Buddha, All Our Waves picks up with a 23-year old Jaimal in India to try to secure credentials to help him get into Columbia Journalism school. He bounced around looking for work and eventually found a job as an English translator for a young Tibetan monk named Sonam. This auspicious meeting was one that transformed Jaimal greatly as Sonam’s outlook towards life was something that changed his outlook as well. The story of their friendship gives all kinds of good heart feels. The young monk’s memories of Tibet and his family are bittersweet, and his wish to return is painful to read.

Jaimal finds the beauty and the wisdom in everything that surrounds him, and the foundation of this book relates to exactly this level of perception of his environment – both internal and external. This book is like sitting around the campfire with an old friend who tells the best stories.

He has a profound ability to create the most vivid and beautiful landscapes through his descriptions of the many locations he has visited. India, Mexico, Israel, Bali – heck even New York City in winter becomes magical through his descriptive lens. It’s clear that he’s connected to nature and has a profound gift for being able to detail what he witnesses around him. Beyond the settings he exposes readers to, he provides insight into the people he meets on his various journeys. You’ll discover the “Queen of Ocean Beach,” Sari a boatload of surfers, and other assorted characters– each person dropping wisdom in Jaimal’s life.

He quotes Rumi in capturing the essence of what his writing is about as he says, “this book is an attempt to understand the ocean in a drop.” As such, the ocean is a central character in the book. We’re gifted with the words of a ‘spiritual surfer’ – someone who asks the deep questions and plunges into the rip curl even though they are scared witless. Jaimal’s understanding of Buddhism is placed in the context of surfing. Emptiness, nonduality, compassion, interdependence, enlightenment – it’s all par for the course when you’re floating on your board waiting to catch the next wave. He has many other experiences, notably at the Wailing Wall that encompass Christianity so this book can best be defined as spiritual rather than exclusively Buddhist in tone.

As you would expect is the case with someone who both travels to remote locales as well as cavorting on monster-sized waves, there are accidents, bails, and near-death experiences. There are also stories from being away on retreat, something that can also feel like a death-defying drop into a rogue wave the size of a building. He deftly describes the mental and physical processes he experienced while on retreat or during meditation – something that helps other practitioners see that they’re not alone in having loopy feelings or thoughts arise when on the cushion.

Fear is another central theme in the book, and it’s something that Jaimal has explored in a previous book titled The Fear Project . He has no shame in speaking to his fears – worries about grad school, about surfing, about his relationships – he gets into all areas of his life where fear lurks below the surface.

All Our Waves are Water is a surf travelogue blended with the journey of a spiritually minded individual. For those who aren’t familiar with either the landscape of surfing or the spiritual space, you’ll discover new lands and take an interest in Jaimal’s experiences as he navigates through his youth and the challenges and joys found in the process of finding (and losing, then rediscovering) oneself. It’s an engaging read that kept me highly interested, and for anyone who enjoys books about travel from the first person point of view, you won’t be disappointed. I’m looking forward to Jaimal’s next book as he transitions from a young father to a grizzled old spiritual surf dude.

Finished Reading – The Bright Hour – A Memoir of Living and Dying

The Bright Hour

A direct descendant of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nina Riggs inherited a love of the written word and graduated with an MFA in poetry. She went on to have a book of poetry titled Lucky, Lucky published in 2009. In 2015 she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 37. She decided to document her experiences on her blog Suspicious Country where she shared what it was like to be a married, young mother of two with this disease.

Readers are fortunate that Nina was able to write her story, The Bright Hour – A Memoir of Living and Dying before her death in 2017. This book is a bittersweet one that left me with gratitude for her ability to transform the ordinary bits of day-to-day life into opportunities for deep reflection.

Her writing is honest and exquisite.  She bares all and explores all of her emotions – from dark humor to joy, hopelessness, horror, magic, and beauty. It’s all part of the landscape. She sees the good and bad in all of this and says, “I never stop being amazed by how simultaneously cruel and beautiful this world can be.”

Nina’s writing is evocative. She describes people, moments, relationships, and landscapes much in the way that Emerson does. The relationship she has with her mother – the ups and downs, and the details of her decline and subsequent death in some ways set the stage for much of what Nina covers in this book. It’s a memoir of her experience as a daughter who accompanies her mother into death, and then not long after- faces her own. Nina’s love for her children, husband, father, and friends shine throughout these pages. Her appreciation for nature is also featured prominently, and she sees herself reflected in all of it. She punctuates her story with many details from history and a variety of facts – all of which help to serve as anchors for her experience.

She cleverly names the chapters of this book based on stages, and this serves as a way to see both the progression of the disease as well as the decline and realizations that come from the passage of time. The book begins with her speaking to her mother having terminal cancer and then months later; she is in treatment for incurable metastatic cancer. The Bright Hour is an attempt to describe the indescribable. She offers her insight into the landscape of the medical industry and the language of cancer via her experience. Nina writes with the knowledge that she’s dying and she’s so honest about it all.

The Bright Hour is a philosophical examination of illness and of life and death. It’s a gift that she’s left for readers – a vehicle for us to see what it’s like to travel on uncharted waters into the face of one’s mortality. It tells the story of family and how we fumble through our relationships, make mistakes and do the awkward dance of being honest and hiding for fear of hurting our loved ones. It speaks to what it means to live and die with authenticity and helps to advance the death positivity movement. To read Nina’s words is to be fearless and brave and glance into a life that is coming to an end and the powerlessness that can be felt from this reality.

Bodhisattvas and Boundaries

Someone around me is drinking himself to death. It’s not anyone in my immediate family or a friend – but that doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking to watch. It’s made me keenly aware of the sense of powerless that comes when addiction grabs hold of a person and won’t let go. It’s also made me keenly aware of the boundaries that exist between people. There is also an acknowledgment of letting go.

I remember back to a few years ago – I submitted a question to a teacher who was a guest on the Buddhist Geeks podcast related to the concept of “bodhisattva burnout” and what to do if you felt exhausted from running around trying to save the world. She replied something to the effect of ‘if you’re a true bodhisattva, you won’t burn out.”

Uh.

That didn’t really help. I felt like I did when I first discovered Wonder Woman as a child. I dressed up as her one Halloween and then decided that I would adopt a superheroine ethos and truly embody her full time. I’d run around our neighborhood asking people if they needed help with anything. Usually I’d be helping people hang laundry up, or sometimes they’d need help with eating the extra cookies they made. That part wasn’t so bad.

Discovering Buddhism led me to some pretty great new ways of living in the world and relating to others – all while exploring myself. The drawback though was that I found Buddhism at a time where let’s say my self-esteem and self-concept wasn’t fully realized. I think for a good chunk of my ‘Buddhist career’ we can say this has been the case. Without a solid grip and solid instructions on what it means to be a bodhisattva, it’s easy to see how I could feel much like that kid in the costume, running from house to house, breathlessly trying to save the world.

Now I have a sense of my own self-preservation. I am consciously checking in to see when I start to feel that burnout and know to engage in self-care and chillaxation.

I’m also aware of the boundaries that exist for another ‘self.’ I’ve become more attuned to how individuals are – the forces that come about in their lives to help them become who they are and make the decisions they make. The self-work I’ve done has helped me gain a deeper perspective into this kind of stuff. It’s mind-blowing and life changing really.

I now see that not everyone is going to take the help a bodhisattva offers. I no longer take this personally or think that I’ve failed and need to grind myself to a paste to force what I want to happen. The ideal ending for the story sometimes doesn’t get written.

I practice letting go of the outcome I have in mind and working with the outcome that is. I generate compassion for myself in knowing that I tried my best to save the world – even if those actions seem so small and meaningless.

I no longer feel like I’m burning out because there’s always an opportunity to practice loving-kindness and compassion. There’s always a living being that is in need of aid. True change can only come through the relationship that that other being has in taking the help offered. I’m in no way in any sense of the word someone who understands karma, but I see that some outcomes are beyond what I can influence. There is both a sense of freedom in seeing this as well as a complete sense of powerlessness. I’m learning to dwell in both areas and stay with the discomfort.

Dream Time

With the summer months comes  the need for open windows. And with open windows comes the sounds of the cityscape floating through my drapes. Lately the space I live in has been thrown into a bit of high amplification due to one of our neighbors. For nights in a row, I’ve been woken up between 3-4am. And then when I do get back to sleep, I’m treated to some pretty dynamic dreamscapes.

I’ve dreamed about being at schook in two dreams – one dream involved me being in law school, sitting in a classs, and the other, where I was sitting outside of university with a group of people. One of the guys in the group I was with flipped a cigarette to a girl who was facing us. She looked like Kim Kardashian with a light moustache and had a giant black snake tattooed from the back of her leg, extending up her butt and onwards to her back.

Another dream was of my dead mother. She was wearing a purple sweatshirt and her hair was longer than I had ever seen it. She was smiling and happy and just waved.

I also dreampt of a new house we were going to visit in real life. After the walkthrough, the person turned to me and said, “Does owning a home make you feel secure? Does it make you feel like you have achieved something in your life?”

So I’m left to unpack some of these messages. They’re simply dreams. No different than the thoughts that float through my head while sitting on the cushion. While eating dinner. While taking a poop.

But the analyst in me loves to examine and question. Of course my mind turns to what the Buddhists say about this topic. Urban Dharma has an interesting recap on A Buddhist Approach to Dreams – Jung and Junti – Dreams West and East. 

Do you have an active dream life? Do you keep a dream journal? Or do you let ’em go and practice non-attachment? Any books or articles on the topic that you recommend I check out? I’d love to hear from you.