The image that left a wake in my world

This. This is the image that I discovered a couple of weeks ago, and it continues to move me so profoundly. When I first saw it, I felt it – it was as if the whole world were placed on pause for just a second. It was like looking at a photo of a wave at its peak, just before it crashes down. It spoke to me so deeply about all that is juxtaposed within it  – movement and stillness, outer and inner, control and freedom, contraction and expansion, noise and silence, uncertainty and knowingness, density and lightness, resistance and flow, imagined fears and unimaginable bravery. As I looked at it, I felt like the split second captured in the photo somehow defined or influenced the subsequent moments, and yet I knew that the image could have a very different meaning, depending on what actually happened next. And so I needed to know, to become a witness to what happened next. Who was this man, and how did this story continue? Was it how I wanted to imagine it did?

I found a comment saying that the image had been captured just a few days earlier by a talented South African photographer Nicky Newman during a peaceful protest on Muizenberg Beach, in Cape Town. The comment went on to explain that moments after, other protestors started pouring onto the beach, and the police left. The following day, the beaches were opened up to the public after being closed for about 1.5 months.

Was the protest a key reason for that? Or was it just a simple coincidence, and the government had already decided to do it before the protest took place? Could it also be that things don’t always work in a straightforward cause-and-effect logic? Maybe there was something much greater at play here? Maybe events build up – like a wave – and every single one of them matters in the creation of that tipping point, even if by itself they wouldn’t have been enough? As I looked at the photo, I really felt that this moment was part of that wave and the events that followed. Something somewhere would have happened differently without it.

I got in touch with Nicky and the man who is meditating in the photo – Dave – on social media, and they both kindly agreed to answer a few of my questions. Like the photo itself, their responses continue to inspire me and touch me so deeply. Somehow I can imagine how decades from now, my kids or my grandchildren will ask me about the times we are currently living in, and I will look for this photo to show them. “This,” I will say, “This is the image that left its wake in my world.”


Asta: It feels like there is a long story before this story begins. Could you share a little bit about the path that has led you to Cape Town? 

Nicky: I was born in Cape Town. I left to study and lived in various other cities and countries before returning about 15 years ago. I studied Journalism and Psychology, and that lovely combination led me to setting up a production company and making documentary films. But photography has always been my first love.

Dave: Yes, that’s a very long story indeed that might become a couple of books one day. I am not sure where I should begin but I lost the big Love of my life, I lost my business and I lost my animal companion. It made me question everything and look deeper than I had dared before. It sent me on a journey to heal and to look for some answers, and one day I found myself praying on the beach of the Moroccan coast. I went out to surf and as I caught a right-hand wave, everything just clicked in full alignment, and I was awake. Everyday I would walk barefoot, pray, surf, do my yoga, spend time with the street dogs and sit by the fire at night. People called me Dave the Wave, and I’ve never been given so much love.

Every evening by the fire we would sing, drum, dance, talk, laugh, cry and hug. “This is life,” I said to myself, “this is how I heal myself, this is how I live from now on and how I heal others and the planet.”

After going back to my country, I realized that this was just the start, because I had lost something else. I had been disillusioned and had no interest in being part of the rat race anymore, what mattered was going down the spiritual path and being an advocate of Nature. The Moroccan street dogs were howling in my heart, they wouldn’t let me sleep. Such feral beasts they are, there is so much sadness and fear in their eyes, but still they chose to trust me. When they, who have been beaten with sticks and have had rocks thrown at and were chased away, when they dare to wrestle you in the Ocean and trust you enough to bite you just a little bit too hard with a funny smiling glare in their eyes, then I know we can all heal. To then sit together with animals like these, back to back and feel that they trust you with their life, then I know we can do this. The love we shared, the trust, the pack can only be described by maybe Hafiz or Rumi, and it paved the way for all of this. Nature had chosen me, liberated me, loved me and I was commanded to serve. I got rid of most of what I owned, emptied a big three room apartment full of way too many things and left. I only have a big backpack since that day with what I can carry with me. I wanted to be mobile and to go where I was wanted and needed and volunteer work, share my knowledge of organic holistic gardening and greenify the planet. I needed to be barefoot to ground myself and close to the Ocean where I hear everything the clearest. I can’t explain why but I just felt drawn to South Africa and the areas around Cape Town. I think it was the raw beauty of nature here and the name, The Rainbow Nation. What a perfect place to sow seeds, to grow trees and to unite.

Asta: What happened right before this photo was taken? What led you to the beach on that day? Dave, what inspired you to sit in meditation?

Nicky: South Africa had been in lockdown for some time, in various stages of severity. It’s summer here, so it’s really hot. Our beaches can get crowded over the holiday season which is why they were closed to public, as were the parks and other open spaces. On one level I understand this, but on another level it didn’t make sense given that casinos were open and other indoor places where crowding takes place. We know that Vitamin D, being outdoors with fresh air and space to exercise are all very important for our immune systems, so it felt counter-intuitive to close off the beaches. I heard about this protest and wanted to take part in it and also to document it as I’ve been documenting spaces in Cape Town since the beginning of lockdown in March 2020.

Dave: I had been living in the Karoo in an old goat shed for two months when the Ocean called me. She said, “Either you come to me now or I will come to you.” It felt ominous, so I quickly packed my bag, said goodbye to the desert and traveled to the coast. Upon my arrival to Muizenberg, I felt sorrow and saw hollowness in people’s eyes. They seemed to be more dried out than me, and it broke my heart to see my fish people struggling on land.  So many had told me in just one day how desperately they longed for the Ocean, and I couldn’t stand not seeing the sea in their eyes. And I get it because it is where I am held, it is where I heal, it is where I pray, it is where I praise. So I walked down to the Ocean and asked her, “Why, why do you show me this?” I asked. There was no answer so I walked up the road and into a café. I ran into a beloved old friend and after a lot of wild tail wagging she brought me to her human. I was told that there was going to be a peaceful protest the next day for the right to be in nature.

I wanted to support that because how could it ever be illegal to be in nature, to breathe fresh air and to take care of your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. Nature is our birthright, it is what we are! The days of oppression are over as we stand together and move into a new timeline of unity and peace.

I had just walked down to the beach and saw everyone that had gathered there. I sat on the pier among them and listened to what was being said around me. I saw that the police had gathered on the sand and people seemed worried, a bit worked up and maybe afraid to get arrested, and it felt a bit like a stand-off. I sat there for a while and wondered what time it was. “Now,” the Ocean answered me. “Come,” she said. “Come, my coral heart, let’s pray and be together.” She took my feet and walked me, she sat me down and showed me grace. To sit in meditation is just one of the ways I sit, and it was the right time.

Asta: What is happening within you and around you in that now-moment of the photograph? What are you feeling? What are you aware of? Did you feel scared at any point?

Nicky: I’m normally right in the centre of the action when making pictures but on this day I was talking to someone and was on the side, so I had a wider view than the one I usually do. The first thing that happened was that a mother and her daughter walked to the water and were escorted back by two law enforcement officers. There was one moment that absolutely broke my heart. This young girl, masked, was being walked away from the water. The three people had their heads down, and it felt very heavy to be witnessing this moment. That was when Dave stepped onto the empty beach, alone, and sat down. He stretched and settled into himself, and there were a few tense moments as the police observed him and then made their way to him.

Dave: I asked for protection and then looked for peace in my heart. I can’t explain it in any other way than that I was shown grace. I was aligned and both in complete stillness and felt the fire of a thousand stars burning in me. I was aware of the police calling for my attention two times and then only peace. I felt scared for a split second on the pier before my feet touched the sand. But if I’m not allowed to be with the ocean then I am already unfree, living in a cell, so what could I lose?

Asta: Nicky, what happened in the moments right after you took the photo? Dave, how long was your meditation and what happened in the moments after it?

Nicky: Everyone stepped onto the beach, and the officers made a line between the people and the sea but everyone just moved towards the water.

Dave: Later I saw on a video that a woman had joined me and that people came onto the beach behind me. But by then, all I knew was the energy emanating through me and out. Suddenly, I felt pain in my face and as if I was being baked by the sun. I realized, I must have been sitting there for a long time and had burnt in the sun. I opened my eyes and saw people standing smiling on the beach, some children were swimming and a dog jumped around and looked so happy. It gave me a deep sense of transmutation, I stood up, walked to the Ocean and went for a swim.

Asta: What ripple effect do you think that moment had on a bigger scale? How do you think the wave it caused continues to create shifts and changes?

Nicky: I think that everything affects everything else. At the moment it feels as if everything is shifting and changing, breaking up, breaking open. Change is definitely upon us, with old systems cracking, the invisible is being made visible and even if it’s scary and dark, it’s great because we can at least deal with it now that it’s out in the open.

The image summed up the polarity that we are facing at the moment, the heavy-handed system and the single man, gentle yet strong in himself. Two very different views of power.

As I shot these photos, I knew they were powerful in that moment. When I got home and looked at them, I had to really debate with myself whether to publish them or not. I knew they would create a stir, which is why I made sure to contextualize them with writing, but the photo got separated from the album of photos and the text and off it went!

Dave: We united in peace that day and that will echo out into eternity. The photo seems to have gone a bit viral, and I hope it leads to constructive or – perhaps, I should say – deconstructive conversations. But what will come of it I cannot say, that is up to everyone, up to you who reads this and it’s determined by how present you are in each moment from now on.

The only way we can come together and have peace is if we find it in ourselves.

Asta: Dave, in your Instagram you shared a thank-you note to these police officers. Why? Tell me more about your appreciation towards them. Nicky, what would you say to them?

Nicky: What I find interesting is that although he was surrounded by the police in that moment, their individual body language was non-threatening, hands behind their backs, more curious than confrontational.  And even though they represent the system, they are still individual people, and I’m sorry for the personal comments that this image attracted.

Dave: These are police officers that have to see and experience a lot of brutal violence that naturally will desensitize them. They have a lot of eyes on them and pressure from above to follow orders and to perform. I presume they probably just wanted to finish their work day and go home to their families without some strange guy sitting on the beach in lotus. They could have just decided to end the whole thing by throwing me into the back of a van and arrest anyone else that stepped onto the beach. But they chose peace, they were brave enough to remain calm no matter all the pressure and to bear whatever they felt. I can’t help but admire them because I would not have wanted to be in their shoes. If any of those officers reads this, thank you, thank you for showing me respect and choosing peace.

Asta: How can we all step into more bravery and ease in our now-moments? What helps you access those aligned peaceful states?

Nicky: We know that duality exists and always will. We get to choose where we put our attention and focus. The media tends to play up the fear and disconnection story way more than the love and connection story. And in turn, that affects our very worldview and our stress levels which have a massive impact on our bodies and lives. It’s imperative that we take responsibility and control of our own mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health right now. I access peaceful states using my breath first and foremost. By grounding and being mindful of staying in a high frequency, no matter what. By finding and sharing stories of courage, love and new ways of being. And cats. 🙂 Also, I think that we often get overwhelmed with the scope of problems we see and are left feeling powerless. But if we begin with ourselves and then do what we can from where we are, that’s a good start.

Dave: That is a million dollar question, isn’t it? I have been afraid of everything my whole life, and many days extreme anxiety kept me from even opening the front door.

To find bravery isn’t so easy when one struggles with fear, and when one lets go of fear, there is no need for bravery. Confucius said, “We have two lives, and the second begins when we realize we only have one.”

You see, when we dare to stop, just breathe and really be honest with ourselves, when we look deep and can bear the uncomfortable truth of life and death, we can’t help but to wake up. We are not getting out of this alive, and it will go by in a blink of an eye. We have nothing to lose because there is nothing to keep. And with this realisation one naturally gravitates to aligned action. What helps me is a daily morning practice of gratitude, breathing and looking for peace within. I try to meditate daily, eat healthy, move and stretch. I do my best to be aware of every moment throughout the day and strive to be in meditation even when meeting people and in conversation. To observe myself breathe, listen, feel, think, react and speak. I try to slow it down and remind myself to not take myself so seriously. Like Alan Watts said – to not be serious but sincere. But hey, don’t stress it, we are all just waves returning to the Ocean.

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