The Amphibian

The planet wants us to die

Joyful militancy and expanding beyond our siloed selves.

“I’ve never seen you more you,” one of my longest friends told me. C is from Singapore, my old home. She’s known me for five years and first met me as a fresh-faced high school graduate and baby poet, when we found ourselves in the same spoken word poetry bar. Giddy from her message, I reflected that I did feel different and more myself. I felt strong and happy. My cheeks looked filled out, and I actually believed I was beautiful. 

The younger me, full of insecurities, would’ve looked at me now with a distant awe, unable to see herself. She might not understand that who I am now is everything she wanted to be because of her. She longed for meaningful friendships after watching her classmates hug each other tearfully during graduation, and so she learned how to be courageously vulnerable. New and cherished friendships grew because of her. Most days, younger me didn’t know if she could do it any more, plagued by a fear that she would never amount to anything. Yet, here she is. Here we are. Here I am. 

My conversation with C made me reflect on evolution, transformations, then somehow to death, something my mind has been returning to lately. Although we joked about Pokémon evolutions – in which progress can be mapped on a predictable curve—in real life, evolving requires a type of death, a significant loss. To compost old ways, patterns, and selves, one needs to let go of what has served them for so long but does not suit them anymore. When someone is conscious of the world and their inner selves, a call to transform is eventually inevitable. The conditions we endure demand it, and this transformation will bring death. 

While I’ve been experiencing the slow death of my old self, I’ve met friends who echo this journey in their own lives. For one friend, it was the death of a self addicted to drinking and numbing. For another, it was the death of a narcissistic ego that kept them from true connection. This loss, which one must consent to, is a call to become greater than oneself. I don’t mean this in the hyper-individualistic, New York Time’s best-selling self-help book way. Greater than oneself doesn’t mean “becoming the best you!” It means becoming more connected, rooted, and aligned with a collective consciousness. 

All of this is to say that I am more comfortable being dependent on others because I no longer feel the need to prove anything. I have become more powerful because I accept my part in the collective. 

Loss often brings about greater capacities and connections because it demands change from a person. After the Covid-19 pandemic and worsening unprecedented climate disasters worldwide, it feels like the planet wants us to die. The past three years could be framed as Earth finally getting us back for all that we’ve, as a species, done to her. However, if loss precedes transformation, what if the planet has been asking us to evolve? What if the planet is inviting us to expand our consciousness beyond our ordinary, siloed selves to become more free, together? 

Through the pandemic prompting me to return to the Philippines and through allying myself with the broader national struggle for liberation, multiple deaths of my selves occurred. I let go of dreams and expectations for a completely different life in the West, where I imagine I would’ve been independent (although isolated) from family. I let go of all conventional notions of success and accepted the help that my family gives me, which allows me to advocate and write. The change I’ve undergone involved a shift in the way I see myself, too. I am embarrassed to admit it, but I fantasized of being a savior for the environmental and social justice movement, when really, I am just a small part. 

All of this is to say that I am more comfortable being dependent on others because I no longer feel the need to prove anything. I have become more powerful because I accept my part in the collective. 

Unraveling my old self and allowing old selves to die has led, and is still leading, to the kind of joy that “looks and feels like growing more powerful together,” as Nick Montgomery and Carla Bergman write in their book “Joyful Militancy: Building Thriving Resistance in Toxic Times.” On the other side of loss, there is the potential to be more free—through greater individual and collective capacity for uncertainty and through the disintegration of false borders of the ego. 

We are more than just our siloed selves. If every one of us believed this, how would we wake up in the morning? How would our practices shift? Could we create more avenues for mutual aid, providing for each other’s needs without participating in the state’s financial system? Could we support multiple sectors in our advocacies, recognizing that all of them are connected? Could we be honest with each other when we are tired or grieving, trusting that others will step up to do the work if we rest? 

If we believed we are more than just ourselves, I suspect we would resist more creatively and collaboratively, knowing that who we are is a constant collective becoming. That we can and should make mistakes, that we will honor our losses, and that we will still rise and resist another day.