By Ede Virata, MamaP Contributor
“I think a spiritual journey goes on hand in hand with an environmental one.” Greg Hart, a regenerative agriculturist in Mangarara, New Zealand
I grew up in a Catholic household and went to a Catholic school my whole life but I was never religious. I found our religion to be unrelatable: too eurocentric and too patriarchal. One evening after Sunday mass I even asked my dad if god was an alien. He laughed, and since I was maybe only nine years old, he didn’t take me seriously. But it felt to me that way, god was someone I couldn’t feel or understand, and religion was something everyone simply obeyed. It was only in college when I found something I could finally believe in.
My religion professor told us on the first day of class that since we were in a Catholic university, he was only allowed to teach us about Roman Catholicism. But the library, he said, would be our other classroom. He told us to read the Koran and the Bible and see how similar they were. He told us that Hinduism doesn’t have one god, but many, and that that was religion, too. I followed his advice. We would learn about the crusades in his class, but in the library, I learned about Siddhartha. I learned about Zen Buddhism and the catharsis of road trips. I read Rumi, I read Gibran, I read Greek mythology, I read Nietzsche, I read Camus. Sometimes god was female and gentle, sometimes god was always drunk (with wine or with wisdom, with music, as he chooses!), sometimes god was me, and sometimes god was dead. They all made sense to me because finally I realized, in learning about these religions or the examinations of them, that it wasn’t whether these gods existed that truly mattered. To me what mattered was that I finally had a personal connection with the things I believed in. I didn’t believe in one religion, I believe in bits and pieces of many, and that to me, is my spirituality.
Photo of author surfing
Soon after college I experienced something spiritual and close to divine. I was learning how to surf and about a year in, I experienced something called stoke. It felt exactly how more seasoned surfers described it: an exhilarating feeling almost indescribable to people who’d never surfed before. This was a new book to explore in my spiritual library. It opened me to a kind of spirituality I could feel: in riding a wave, all thought would disappear and it only felt like I was hitching a ride with one small part of the ocean. It humbled me and amazed me all at the same time. Every surf trip now was something like going to church, except I didn’t go there to simply obey. I went to feel, I went to experience clarity, and I went to be in awe of how small I was in the greatness of mother nature.
With that awe came deep empathy. Soon I felt more and more. I felt sad when there weren’t any waves to ride, but I felt sadder when it was because the local government started building a boardwalk on one of my favorite beaches. Waves couldn’t break as well as they used to because people had tampered with their natural state. I felt in awe once again when I got to ride a long, slidy, gentle righthander for the first time but felt angry when I saw plastic and diapers getting washed up on its shore. I felt in awe once again when I got to sit in the lineup of a backless point break and watch more experienced surfers ride its barrels, but felt angry once again when I scraped so much of my skin from its sharp, dead corals. I felt as if my god, the most beautiful thing I have ever experienced, mother nature and her oceans, were being harmed by people. I felt as if all the religions in the world had failed to enlighten us because the one amazing thing that keeps on giving us life is the one we keep destroying, with our industrial progress, our indestructible inventions, and our selfishness.
The more I felt the more I became exposed to ways of handling these emotions. I became acquainted with a new book in my growing spiritual library: mindfulness. Meditation was always present in my afternoons with Siddhartha, and even Walt Whitman. But it was only recently that I experienced what focusing on the breath (and nothing else) felt like. It feels like stoke, but instead of the ocean’s waves giving me stoke, it was just my breath. Meditation made me realize that with practice, I can surf my emotions into calm awareness with or without going into the water. It made me see instead of just feeling. Mindfulness, beginning with meditation, makes me see everything a little more clearly.
I saw clearly that my environmentalism was not mindful. I only cared about the environment I surfed in.
Credit: Eric Riseberg / AP
This year, 2020, has been dark to say the least. We’re still fighting forest fires, plastic pollution, and climate change. We’re also still fighting for Black Lives, LGBTQIA+ rights, women’s rights, hunger, and poverty. All of this while battling a worldwide pandemic. In June of 2020 lockdowns became futile as protests happened all over the world. In the US, we protest against racism. In my home, the Philippines, we protest against a tyrannical government determined to silence democracy with media shutdowns and an inhumane anti-terror law, while demeaning women and blaming us for our own rapes and harassments.
I felt more once again. I felt more angry. I felt angry towards people too selfish to see that these fires and viruses are all happening because of humans’ mistreatment of mother nature, but I felt angrier at the racism and sexism we still endure today. Do I put my environmentalism aside while I fight against the injustices in my country and in other parts of the world?
Source: Intersectional Environmentalist
In July of 2020 I came across an Instagram account, @intersectionalenvironmentalist. It was a post saying “environmentalists for Black Lives Matter” that got me interested. This led me to their website where I read about founder Leah Thomas, an environmentalist who fights for protection of the planet as well as the vulnerable. I realized this was an important addition to my growing spiritual library: a mindful approach to environmentalism. One that not only allows us to see clearly, but to see clearly through diverse lenses.
I’m not here to tell you what intersectional environmentalism is all about. In writing this blog post I found out that it was inspired by a badass lawyer, professor, and civil rights advocate named Kimberle Crenshaw who first coined the term Intersectionality in 1989 in her paper, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex.” In writing this blog post I read that several injustices are interconnected to one another: that three of the five biggest landfills in the US are located in BIPOC communities because of segregation, that hemp and cannabis prohibition was the result of racism and xenophobia, that capitalism can be sexist and insensitive to women’s rights, and that the only way to move forward, to heal, is to see everything with an intersectional lens.
In writing this blog post I realized that for our environmentalism to be less selfish, it has to be more mindful. And for our environmentalism to be more mindful, it has to be intersectional. As intersectional environmentalists, we have the responsibility to see if our zero-waste practices are inclusive to people in food deserts who have no access to fresh produce and can only buy plastic-packaged food in corner stores. As intersectional environmentalists we have the responsibility to see if our strict veganism attacks Indigenous tribes more than industrial agriculture and factory farming, our real enemies. As intersectional environmentalists, we have the responsibility to see if our biodegradable alternatives stand up against other injustices too.
I’m proud to be part of the team here at Mama P who cares about mental health, women’s rights, LGBTQIA+ rights, saving the bees our great pollinators as well as our ever-giving oceans while protecting the planet one biodegradable toothbrush at a time. But we have more reading to do in our growing spiritual library.
I invite you to learn with us as we become more intersectional in our environmentalism.
Here’s where to start:
- The Intersectional Environmentalist website: https://www.intersectionalenvironmentalist.com/; browse each topic for more information and resources on racial, gender, sexuality, class, and environmental injustices in agriculture, waste, fashion, cannabis, etc.: https://www.intersectionalenvironmentalist.com/topics; and follow @intersectionalenvironmentalist on Instagram
- A crash course on intersectional environmentalism by Climate Conscious: https://medium.com/climate-conscious/intersectional-environmentalism-a-crash-course-6a0c495ace91
About the author: Ede Virata is a writer and intersectional activist based in the Philippines. Her hobbies include surfing, music, and edible gardening.