Rocks, Flowers, Circles: Sustenance During Troubling Times by Elizabeth Cunningham

Elizabeth_Author Photo 2I had planned to write my October post about the election. Out of respect for everyone’s election fatigue, I’ll give the subject one paragraph only. I voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary. Like Bernie himself, I will vote for Hillary Clinton in November. To Bernie supporters who intend to vote for a third party candidate or abstain, because they cannot in good conscience vote for Hillary, my own conscience prompts me to make one appeal. Forget Hillary. Vote for the people and the principles she is pledged to represent. Flawed as the two party system may be, there are stark differences between the Democratic and Republican platforms in this election. Reproductive rights hang in the balance as well as whether this nation will address or deny climate change, just to name two of a host of critical issues. Enough said.

No matter what happens on November 8th, we will still face the challenges of climate change, global strife, populations displaced by war and catastrophe, the clash of cultures.  The rest of this post may be irrelevant to someone who is struggling for survival. I know I am lucky to have a relatively peaceful place to live and the means to sustain myself. But for what it’s worth here are three sources I turn to for comfort, strength, and perspective in troubling times.

cunninghamrocksRocks. Three years ago, I moved to the Shawangunk Ridge, known for its many and various rock formations. Each one is so distinct, I think of the formations as communities of stone people. Whenever I go to visit the stone people, I become quiet, attentive, awed. Some of the communities may have been formed by the cataclysm of the ice age. Now they are changing more slowly with the coming and going of water and vegetation. They remind me that my time, all times, are fleeting; my human perspective, small. Here is one attempt to translate what I sense from the stones.  

song of the stones 

why do you say ‘heart of stone?’
what do you know of either?

we could teach you lessons
of catastrophe, the violent heave,
the deafening tumble, then
the silence, the silence,
endurance, the slow sweetness
and sorrow of water shifting
our shape, finding our faces.

here is what we ask of you:
walk among us, stand,
sit still. look till you see
our faces, till you know our faces,
learn them by heart, turn
your hearts to stone.  

cunninghamblack-eyed-susan-1Flowers. I came to gardening late in life and still don’t know what I am doing. Fortunately the plants are more certain of their purpose and are generous in responding to kindly intent. Instead of over eons, plants go through cycles every season in waves: the early and late spring flowers, the high summer flowers, the late summer and autumn flowers. Always something coming into bloom as something else dies. I go through  cycles of marveling and mourning with each plant. Gardening is practical exercise in momento mori. I don’t know why I find this contemplation comforting, but I do. With climate change, even the seasons and what will thrive is no longer predictable. I mourn that loss, too. Still the tiniest bloom can fill me with joy. Here is a recent poem about the late-season garden.

aging garden

how much more lenient I am
(though I still keep pulling knotgrass)
and deadheading and pruning away
dead branches) mostly
I just look, let you surprise me
with your quirky grace,
yellowing hosta leaves
red lily of the valley berries
fallen leaves from the butternut tree
caught in the black-eyed susans
who are beginning to dry and brown.
there’s wild beauty in the overgrown
downhill tangle, small orchid-like
purple flowers mixed
with yellow and orange jewel weed,
and a plant attacked by beetles
in yellow bloom again.
here and there fronds
of something edged with white.
I know you all even if
I don’t know all your names,
your aging bravado, your daring
second blooms, your brown
seedy ghosts (I have not cut down
the dry sentinel mullein towers.)
you show me my own time of life
and give me the courage
to go on surprising myself.

cunninghamholding-handsCircles. Over the years, I have participated in many circles, ritual and otherwise. They have their own ebb and flow. Last week I met with two different circles in two days. I was reminded that something as simple as sitting in a circle can offer great sustenance in troubling times.

circles of women

two women’s circles in two days,
one outside at a medicine wheel,
one around a kitchen counter,
food and talk and comfort.
then we sit on the bare floor
knees touching, holding hands,
and pray for as long as our joints allow.

so many intersecting circles
past and present and to come.
somehow they still exist
even when we rarely meet.
what are these circles of women?
drops in some still, deep water
rippling out beyond our sight.

I would love to hear from FAR readers and writers about what sustains you in these times.


Elizabeth Cunningham is best known as the author of The Maeve Chronicles, a series of award-winning novels, featuring a feisty Celtic Magdalen who is no one’s disciple. Her debut mystery novel, Murder at the Rummage Sale, has just been published. So Ecstasy Can Find You is her most recent collection of poems. An interfaith minister and counselor, she lives in New York State’s Hudson Valley. She is a fellow emeritus of Black Earth Institute.

Categories: Belief, Earth-based spirituality, Nature, Poetry

36 replies

  1. Thanks, Elizabeth. You asked this question: “I would love to hear from FAR readers and writers about what sustains you in these times.”

    For me, these times involve a deep interest in the possibility of electing our first woman President. The breakthrough if it happens, if Hillary Clinton wins the election, is huge, that is, in terms of the history of feminism. Following the election for me has mostly been via the Rachel Maddow show on I give kudos to Maddow too on how well she does in handling her coverage of the election, including various interviews and balanced editorial insights. Hillary also seems to me fearless in facing into the huge challenge in front of her, neither does she seem in any way intimidated by Trump’s threats or lewd comments caught on tape, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As far as the November 8 election

    Ladies get your heads out of the sand

    Do your hard core research

    This election is not about reproductive rights aka abortion so please don’t be brainwashed into that

    We are facing much more serious issues


    Trump = Americanism

    Hillary = Globalism

    Americanism so the American people can keep our freedoms and for America to keep it’s sovereignty

    Globalism is a One World Government or as some know it as NWO aka New World Order in which as Americans we will be governed by a few Globalist Elites

    Those Globalist Elite could be those from any Country such as China ~ North Korea or perhaps Saudi Arabia which is a country where husbands beating their wives is legal ~ rape is legal ~ being gay is against the law punishable by death ~ abortion is not legal

    How does that sound to you?

    If you are unfamiliar with those terms feel free to fact check them

    Hillary Clinton is a Globalist Elite her main money man is George Soros fact check him learn teach yourself the truth

    What are your thoughts on Hillary Clinton deleting 33,000 emails under subpoena

    Do you believe you would get away with that

    Of course not we would be in jail

    Why are the laws different for Hillary Clinton

    If you have a moment fact check Benghazi

    These are the cold hard facts of who Hillary Clinton really is

    Before you cast your vote on November 8th do your homework


    • Whoever is elected the whole world, all its peoples, all life on this planet will be affected. We need to recognize the impact of this country on the world and be responsible global citizens.


      • Frankly, I am not that enamoured of Trump’s locker-room Americanism. Will anti-rape laws continue to be enforced? Will abortion protection be overturned? What about the environment? I’m afraid that the US under Trump will move closer to the Saudi Arabian model rather than the other way around.


      • Agreed, Judith! Thanks!


  3. Beautiful post. I will reply on the substance shortly. On the subject of the election, my issue with Hillary is her overt support for militarism. I will nevertheless vote for her, because I vote in Virginia. If there is someone on this list who is in a state where it doesn’t matter, who would cast a vote for Jill Stein on my behalf, I would appreciate it.


    • Thanks, Judith. Hillary’s vote for the Iraq war was one of the chief reasons I voted for Bernie in addition to wanting to back his message of economic justice for all. I have a hope, that I pray will be founded, that Hillary can and will not only be competent but is someone who can grow and change, not just repeat mistakes or defend them but learn from them, deepen in moral courage and stature. That is my prayer for her and for us.


  4. What a beautiful and thought-provoking post, Elizabeth! Thank you. You know I will be thinking about this all day. You’ve made me think about stones, ageless and yet changing. Like you, I’ve come to gardening late in life but my little granddaughter’s delight in harvesting our “crops” is worth all the weed-pulling and watering.

    What sustains me is the love of my family, the hope for the human race embodied in my grandchildren, the turn of the seasons during the Wheel of the Year, and my deep friendships with my daughter, nieces, great-nieces, and my ex-Circle Sisters. (We disbanded because it was too hard to get together, given our disparate lifestyles and where we live.)

    I voted eagerly for Secretary Clinton in the primary and will happily vote for her in a few weeks. Twenty-five years of right-wing smears, the deeply entrenched misogyny of the media, and the outright hatred of the right and extreme left have not dimmed my admiration of her and respect for her manifold accomplishments. (Joe Biden and John Kerry also voted for the AUMF, but somehow that’s okay because they’re male.) It wasn’t a male senator who worked to get the Children’s Health Insurance Program going, it was Senator Clinton. Thousands of poor children who otherwise wouldn’t have health insurance have it because of her efforts, her reaching across the aisle to get the legislation passed. Legislators who actually know her and have worked with her on the Hill say that she is warm, funny, engaging, works extremely hard, and works well with both Republicans and Democrats.

    It’s hard to express how deeply I admire this woman who has been subjected to the cruelest smears by right and left since, well, Eleanor Roosevelt. She could have retired from public life and played with her grandchildren, but she chose to endure a very nasty and troubling campaign because she hopes to make life better for all of us, not merely the rich.

    May she succeed, and may we all live far more happily than we would under a President Trump.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much for your kind words! You make a good point. Hillary’s foreign policy decisions are out there for us to see and contend with. But much of what people hold against Hillary is rumor and innuendo and plain old projection generated by right-wing organizations like Breitbart,

      I could write a whole other blog about how Trump’s demeanor is, for me, raising the spectre of age-old horrors like droit de seigneur and witch hunts. I need the rocks and the flowers and the women’s circles to cope with the memories, personal and historical, that are resurfacing for so many women.

      Also, I do not want to give Hillary’s opponent any more cyber ink.


      • And thank you so much for sharing what sustains you and for pointing out the good Hillary has done. Her courage, composure and determination under attack are an inspiration.


    • Amen. Hillary has endured so much at the hands of the people she wants to serve. Hillary has my vote – one without reservations.


  5. I will be away from the computer for the next few hours but will respond when I can.


  6. Thanks for writing the poems. They do indeed bring us some calm when we seem to be falling into despair over what The Donald does and threatens to do. (Only dictators put their opponents in jail.) Your poems give us a bigger picture. They let us rise above our worries for a little while. I’m still trying to decide what to write for my November 6 blog here on FAR. You’ve inspired me to avoid writing about the election. (But it’ll still be hard to resist.)


  7. I loved your poems Elizabeth. It sounds like you have discovered the holiness of your place and both enjoy it and share it.

    One of my neighbours has a garden that displays flowers all year long – each in it’s season. I love walking by her place, not only for the sight, but for the smell. The earth is so fascinating, so awesome, and so sacred.


  8. Forget whether or not you like Hillary – vote for the people. Amen.

    The poems are beautiful…

    What I do to sustain myself is to put myself in the hands of the astonishing beauty that surrounds me. I allow the desert to help by engaging with her creatures… and I write.


  9. Oh, Elizabeth! I have loved you and your work for years since I first met you at an ASWM conference and your post is so timely and perfect. I want to respond to both parts. Like goddessfiction, I too am happily and eagerly voting for Hillary in just a few short weeks. (I will be voting early.) I cannot wait to cast my Goddess-loving, Feminist-leaning, Tree-Hugging vote for a WOMAN, and one that is SO accomplished and amazing. She is, without a doubt, the MOST qualified candidate we have EVER had running for this office in the history of this country. I am thrilled to be alive to see her run, and I am working my Witchen butt off to get her elected in November!

    As to what sustains me in these troubling times, it is the love of my families; family-of-blood and family-of-the-heart. I am fortunate to be Mother and Grandmother and partner to lovely people who bring me laughter and love and High Priestess to a thriving and growing Coven who bring me magic and joy. I too, have lately turned to gardening to enter into relationship with my little piece of this earth and I find so much fulfillment in the cycles as you mentioned.

    It is lovely to see you on here. Sending you all my best!



    • Beautiful, Faelind! Thank you so much for sharing the beauty of your life. I am also delighted to hear that your Witchen butt is so hard at work for Hillary. She is the most qualified candidate we’ve had opposing one who is the least. Goddess with us all!


  10. A wonderful, beautiful post that is so sorely needed these days – a cool drink of water in the proverbial desert. You ask what sustains us, and I would say your three choices, but then add two more – large bodies of water and imagination. I grew up spending many summer hours dipping my toes into Lake Michigan and now that I live in New England I also do the same with the Atlantic Ocean and these two bodies of water never fail to calm, soothe, energize and put everything into perspective. My other sustenance is imagination – not so much fantasy, though that can be delightful, but the kind of imagination that envisions into reality new ways of being. The hard work of dismantling all forms of bigotry and hatred is only half the job – the other half is boldly imagining a new kind of world where love, compassion, creativity, justice and peace reign so that we know where we are going as we progress. When I experience this kind of imagination – as in your novels, for example! — I am heartened and uplifted.


    • Hi Carolyn —

      For me walking by a lake, stream, or ocean brings me back to center, as well (For me it doesn’t have to be a large body of water, because I grew up in the summers on a small lake). And family can sustain or depress me, depending on what is happening to the people I love. AND song, singing, especially with other people and especially chanting with lots of harmonies, uplifts me and keeps me sane.


  11. Thank you, Carolyn! I am heartened and uplifted by hearing about what sustains you. I love the Atlantic Ocean and just spent some magical restorative time on the Maine Coast. So happy for you that you live near that ocean. Thank you for your testimony to imagination which can take so many forms. A great inner and interpersonal natural resource for us all. We just have to remember it is there. Thank you for this beautiful reminder.


  12. Thanks, Elizabeth, for this lovely post. I guess I have to add to what I said to Carolyn above, because your poetry also brought a taste of beauty into my life, and, as you said above, beauty is “humbling, healing, and joy-making.”


    • Thanks, Nancy. And I loved your reply to Carolyn. Singing is sustaining. Thanks for the timely reminder. Sing on!


      • I’ve been contemplating what sustains me, which is very appropriate at this time of year in the Jewish calendar. What I have come up with is – unexpected beauty. Your poetry about stones (which have great messages, they just move slowly). Getting a drum rhythm exactly right. Suddenly seeing the rust-red colour of trees and plants in my garden. Hearing about a successful political action. The moon appearing between the trees. The smell of curry as I’m walking home. My laundry on the clothesline. The texture of my bathrobe. Preparing a delicious dinner or eating food made by others at a potluck. Anticipating the fall colours as I take the train to a conference. In short, gratitude for all of the beauty in my life, and for the fact that I can appreciate it.


  13. So beautiful, so beautiful, so beautiful, Judith! Thank you for your attention to sensual detail. This is where we live, really live! I had a bathrobe whose scent I loved. Then I realized it was my own scent. I was so touched to find the scent of my own body beautiful and comforting. Tender blessings to you and to us all!


  14. Thanks Elizabeth for your beautiful poems. I was struck by the one to the rocks. Science tells us that rocks are not alive. I personally do not believe that. Your poem touches that feeling of the living nature of rocks for me.

    On the election, I also voted for Bernie in the primary but support Hilary now. Though I am uncomfortable with her imperialistic stance I do feel that she will listen. It’s up to us to continue speaking loudly about the balance, loving world we want and pray for.

    The things that sustain me in these troubling times are family and friends, the beauty of the Earth even as She struggles to regain balance, watching my bees in the late afternoon with their wings glistening gold as they fly home, painting and drawing, pondering the night skies, sunsets, trees, gardening.


  15. So beautiful, Judith. Thank you! Blesed Bees!


  16. Blessed Bees!


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