Winter Solstice Reflections: Returning to Light, Swimming Against the Tide

Lately I have been feeling that I am constantly struggling against a strong current pulling me away from the work I want to be doing.

The current is composed of all the day-to-day chores of life, along with all the busyness of the holiday season, and the relentless tide of bad news about the state of our beloved planet and her living communities, from trees to fish to birds and bees.

The more I become aware of the dire ecological state of our planet, the more I want to devote myself to swimming against that current of devastation, trying to bring our planetary systems back into balance.

I want to do that work on the personal level, starting with my own life, and moving out into my community and the broader Earth communities in which we all live.

The climate issue, like no other in human history, has made our planetary connectedness clear. We must work together, from pole to pole, to solve the problem of climate instability that industrial civilization has wrought.

If we don’t get on in immediately, we may very well spiral into another Great Extinction, possibly soon enough for current generations of humans—me and my children and their children—to live and die through.

Faced with a negative reality of this magnitude, many of us tend to just turn away in numbed grief and try to ignore it because, sadly, “there’s nothing we can do about it.”

My own sense of being caught in a tidal current pulling me back from whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing may have a lot to do with the despairing feeling that whatever I try to do will not be enough.

But I have to do it anyway, and so do you.

Winter Solstice is the time of year when I try to retreat from the furious churning of life and recalibrate, retune, reflect.

How can I use the gifts I have been given to make a positive difference, moving outward from myself, my family and local community, to the larger circles of life I love?

My greatest gift and abiding passion has always been writing. As soon as I learned to write, I began writing stories and poems that celebrated the natural world and honored the spirits of the Earth.

As a 21st century writer, I have the ability to project my words and perspectives far beyond the confines of the old spiral-bound notebooks I used to keep as a child. I have the potential to engage in dialogue with people all across the globe, and if you’re reading this, so do you.

As a teacher, I have the ability to begin conversations with students about the difficult ecological crises that are already beginning to unfold, and the social and environmental injustices that they are spawning. I can offer students the tools and strategies for continuing these conversations across the globe through our amazing new digital technologies.

In the past year, without a great deal of focus on my part, my blog has been viewed more than 20,000 times by visitors from more than 130 countries around the world.

My little blog is just a very small drop in the great ocean of digital conversations, but even so, it is possible that some of those 20,000 readers came away with a new idea or an affirmation of their own thinking, or a challenge to their habitual perspectives, that could start a chain reaction among their friends and digital connections that could, seriously, change the world.

Rupert Sheldrake argues that “The fields organizing the activity of the nervous system are inherited through morphic resonance, conveying a collective, instinctive memory. Each individual both draws upon and contributes to the collective memory of the species. This means that new patterns of behaviour can spread more rapidly than would otherwise be possible.”

Sheldrake’s theory is exciting and controversial because if it’s true, it means that none of us has to be bound by the heavy burden of habit and cultural inertia, the industrial tide that seems to sweep us along so inexorably.

We have a choice. We can pick up our heads, think for ourselves, seek out others who also want to preserve the ecological health of the planet, and together use our great digitally connected human brain trust to steward and safeguard this planet, not destroy her.

Working together, we could, within a couple of generations, be swimming together joyously in an entirely different sea.

As the Earth wheels slowly back towards the Sun today, this is my steady vow: to keep my head above water, to reach out a hand to others who share my reverence for our beautiful planet and its magnificent life, and to give myself without reserve to the mission of building a strong interconnected movement dedicated to the shift into a sustainable, ecologically sound, joyful future.

Browdy de Hernandez 2013

c. Browdy de Hernandez 2013

Leave a comment


  1. Carole Spearin McCauley

     /  December 21, 2013

    Dear Jenny, Thanks for the cogent blog about how to keep on going when the going gets tough. I too experience this in my personal and my work life. Cheerful holidays from Carole Spearin McCauley

  2. Rupert Sheldrake is right with his assessment, that “…each individual both draws upon and contributes to the collective memory of the species.” He is also correct to assume, that new patterns of behavior can spread rapidly.

    But one can reach the same conclusion without referring to parapsychological phenomena.

    First about the collective memory of the species: I wrote already in earlier comments, the human brains plasticity allows us to change our habits, customs, our whole personality profoundly, even completely. We may be to a limited extent preprogrammed when we are born (though a baby will not be able to survive without years of nurture and education), but the astonishing ability of our brain to create new synaptic connections, eliminate old ones, and reorganize/restructure whole areas of the brain (after a stroke or a traumatic brain injury for instance) allows us to overwrite every instinct, to completely change our psyche and mental disposition, to abandon old believes, habits, customs, obsessions, addictions, and to replace detrimental customs, habits, traditions, ethical beliefs with new, more appropriate ones.
    We can reinvent ourselves, and there are many examples of people throughout history who did that (Siddhartha Gautama, Francis of Assisi, and many other persons who turned their life around, changed sides, dropped out, and started again as a completely different person).

    We need only focus, resolve, perseverance, willpower.

    We have to eliminate the distractions of modern life (and especially the distractions of Western consumer society and of the virtual world brought to us by smartphone-, computer-, and TV-screens).

    We have to train willpower by meditation and by mental exercises (exercises who systematically increase the control of our peripheral and emotional brain areas via the working memory (the “central executive”)).

    If many people do that at the same time and if these people interconnect to encourage and support each other, humanity will change.

    Second about the spread of new behavior: New patterns of behavior can spread rapidly indeed, even without morphic resonance, telepathy, or other parapsychological phenomena. Nature is a dynamical, nonlinear system where extreme high amplification factors can occur (chaos theory’s well worn example of a butterfly flopping its wings to cause a severe storm).

    Our tiny efforts could be amplified a thousand times, a million times even. They could be amplified, there could be synergistic effects, we should not forget, that we are not alone in our efforts, we are part of a broad movement. This movement simmers under the surface, but in face of ecological armageddon it will get stronger and stronger and finally will erupt with the force of a volcano and burry the old order based on deception, exploitation, hubris, and cupidity.

    Fellow blogger Dr. Steve Best dropped out to start gardening. Cindy Sheehan made a bicycle tour across the USA (Tour de Peace). She doesn’t pay taxes (and therefore is in a constant struggle with the IRS) because she doesn’t want to support the war machine. Many people drop out, or quietly lay the groundwork to jump ship. Many people abandon their senseless, useless job, their car, their old habits of consumerism.

    People defy consumerism and experiment with alternatives: Transition towns, co-operatives, local economy, DIY-networks, farmers markets, slow food, barter, swap meet, counter currencies, credit unions.

    Many people reorganize and slim down their personal lives to minimize their carbon footprint. There is a thriving counter culture ready to take over when the old system falls into pieces.

    Change yourself and you will change the world. Don’t believe the cynics who discard this saying as a useless platitude — they only need an excuse for not changing their own lives.

    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  December 22, 2013

      Thank you Mato for these stirring words and the affirmation that yes, changing ourselves and the world is possible, not just a pipe dream of idealist armchair activists! Lately I’ve been thinking again how remarkably FAST ideas and innovations are moving when they’re carried along by the willing hands and eyes of the millions of users of the World Wide Web.
      It truly is as though we’re creating a globally interconnected collaborative brain, and that brain is still, for all the efforts of governments and corporations to control and limit it, surprisingly free and nimble.

      I do worry about the fragility of this marvelous collective human brain, because of course without electricity and the industries that produce our computers, we’d lose it all, at least as a widely available, distributed, relatively open technology. While we’ve got it, we need to use it to the max to try to move industrial societies quickly along a greener path.

      Dropping out and reducing our dependency on the grid and industrial agriculture is one approach–very tempting to me sometimes, and I am glad there are many who are already paving the way along these lines, such as Transition Towns and eco-villages worldwide.

      But right now I feel like I need to use my position in the heart of Empire, as a writer, media producer and teacher, to get the ideas out to more people. The more people who are awakened from the consumer/entertainment/finance trance, as you say, the faster and stronger the wave of this movement to a New World will become.

      To Life!

  3. Thank you for an introspective way to be extrospective in this time of world turning…..

  4. Gerry

     /  December 23, 2013

    Multiple brief comments:

    “Cynical realism—it’s the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation.”

    I was looking for an interesting quote about probability of failure when you try and when you don’t try, but could not find it. But there are interesting quotes here:
    Here’s a good one from there:
    “The only real failure in life is the failure to try.” Anonymous

    I think we often take seriously the predictions by “experts”. But consider these predictions:

    I don’t know why I say it after reading those predictions, but I think the web can transform humanity in some amazing ways, because it allows anyone to provide info at one time that can be read by anyone at any later time, at a very small fraction of the cost of any other method (book, newspapers, cds, dvds, …). At least as long as we have net neutrality, which apparently is at risk now.


  5. Anna

     /  December 23, 2013

    True, the Internet can be a force for social change, but positive social change depends entirely on what type of online connections are made.

    It troubles me to realize that many school-aged children and teens lack practical knowledge about the interconnectedness of the natural world. Too many of them spend their precious time mucking about in the swamp lands of online fantasy, seeking the latest and most shock valued claymation and gaming sites. And of course this trash gets circulated among their friends.

    As a guitar instructor, I work with young people from private and public elementary, middle and high schools. I hear the oddest comments from students and parents. Most concerning is the storage of textbooks and/or computers/tablets in classrooms. I know families (with children in public schools) who’ve had to purchase expensive textbooks because students aren’t issued books. During classes they share books but aren’t allowed to take them home for study or homework.

    What and how are kids learning without access to up-to-date textbooks or with a very limited number of computers in their classrooms? From my brief conversations with students, they don’t seem to know much about the world outside of their schools, or beyond their texting and online adventures.

    “In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught”

    – Baba Dioum, Senegalese Conservationist

  6. Anna

     /  December 23, 2013

    EDIT. . .
    I hear the oddest comments from students and parents. Most concerning is the SHORTAGE of textbooks and/or computers/tablets in classrooms.

  7. Jennifer, I totally agree about the necessity of trying and I also believe that small individual acts combined with efforts to engage and collaborate with others will make a difference. Enough of a difference? Remains to be seen. But we must try. So I will be there with you on the way to that future you describe.
    Sheldrake and Carl Jung both give us ways to think about how humans are tied together at a deep level of memory and understanding. Maybe this is the era during which people around the globe will learn to use that collective store of experience to protect our environment and to affirm our mutual interdependence.
    p.s. I think Gerry is right about the power of the web. I wonder if net neutrality will have to be our next cause….


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