Daughter, mother, and the sea.
Words by Aoise Tutty & Shona Jackson & photos by Aoise Tutty & Shona Jackson
There should be a word for that moment where a dawning occurs within you, where that saying or thing you’ve always described and thought you understood suddenly becomes cellular, the intellectualisation merges into experience and your depth of understanding broadens like a vast horizon. This year for me has been filled with moments like this. I count myself lucky. To begin to understand the depth of human experience on this level is nothing short of miraculous and yet it has come with the greatest of challenges. My faith has been anything but unwavering and the dark nights of the soul have often lead me to crave a simple state of ignorance that no longer feels possible on this journey I have embarked upon.
In the midst of these transitory times, it has been the act of ritual that has surfaced as the most important and necessary aid to this unfurling within me. The more consistently I have practised these rituals in my life, the more my growth and healing have been transmuted. I have meditated, manifested, affirmed, practised yoga, barefoot grounded myself, shook, written and sung. Sometimes I have managed to practice these all within in one day though this is rare. More often, one of these practices has taken over from the other or a melange of some have wound up in my day to day.
It was when I ended up spending four months back in Ireland, in my Mother’s home again for the first significant amount of time in thirteen years that the ritual documented below emerged. I was going through a huge personal healing process regarding health issues at the time and one piece of advice a local therapist had given me was to walk into the sea up to my knees every day. This was a part of me getting back in touch with my inner child, learning the power of play again. I took this on with full vitality and began to do this every single day despite the rain, wind or bitter frost. Developing a relationship with the sea and the land in this way, in a place I had known since childhood, was one of these ‘should be a word’ moments for me. I began to know it in a way I had never expected. It was transformative. My mother often accompanied me on these morning rites but, despite my encouragement for her to join me, I was met with an often humorous yelp of protest and resistance. I decided not to push the matter. After a few days of performing this ritual, I realised that this could be a beautiful chance to document the passage of time, the subtle changes on a personal level of committing to these practices alongside the visually striking changes in the day to day of the natural environment. I initially thought I would set up the camera myself and use a timer to capture my passage, however, it became immediately apparent that this was not the way to go.
I had already discussed the idea of working on a project alongside my mother, who is also a visual artist. A growing awareness of the generational baggage we carry, passed on from womb to womb in a mother and daughter scenario, was something we had discussed at length. A realisation that my patterns of behaviour, particularly around sexuality, relationships, financial stability and using control as a coping mechanism were indeed inherent in my mother also opened the floor for us to dig into these themes together, two spades surely better than one at digging out and turning these patterns around. So, when this idea blossomed, I asked her if she would be keen to help me to document this journey. She captured me as I ventured ‘courageously’ into the sea. I captured her as we wound our way home. We both captured our elderly canine companion, Tequila. The days grew shorter, the weather colder. At first, it was just my feet but, as the time wore on, I began to hunger for more, and then, one day after a meditation practice left me feeling more ’embodied’ than I had in weeks, I decided to march down, strip bare and run into the icy water. The feeling of the cold sea on my skin was exhilarating. I felt like every single cell in my body ‘woke up’ and this feeling carried me joyfully into the rest of my day. I had begun a new stage in my transformation and I would not look back.
This is not to say that I didn’t face fear and, at times, an overriding feeling of ‘can I really do it again today?’ as I sometimes marched, sometimes dragged my heels into the tempestuous ocean but, facing into these fears, the ritual of overcoming them day in, day out has slowly begun to reshape my inner workings. The process is ongoing, it requires persistence and I feel above all that it is a practice of patience.
When I sat down in a coffee shop in Cape Town, in the midst of summer a month or so later, looking back at these photos, I got a true sense of the ebbs and flows of both mine and my mother’s journey during this time. Like the tide, some days high, some days low, it flowed in a way that only life can. The true power that the ritual held, however, hit me from an unexpected angle. Despite all my encouragement of her joining me in the sea and all the resistance my Mother showed in that time, it was via a phone call a month or so later when she informed me that she had, in fact, finally come around to the idea of putting her feet in the sea. My heart skipped a beat. A few days later she began to swim.
In January she leaves these Northern shores and heads for Africa.
I walk down to the beach.
I have replaced the camera with a very small towel.
In my head, I hear my daughter singing her song of affirmation,
Now it is mine.
I slowly take off my shoes, roll up my trousers, and peel off my thick warm socks.
The water swishes in bringing with it seaweed, feathers, and sticks.
Taking a deep breath, I walk in.
It is FREEZING.
I can only stand there for a few seconds.
But, the next day, I am there again.