The first time I heard the word plethora, I sat in a teacher-development intensive course to practice stress reduction for my life passages, body aches and pains, aging, the slings and arrows the universe sends us all. I had completed years of study to learn to help others do the same.

Our teachers talked about the plethora of thoughts in our jangled brains. They said, “We, like you, are addicted to a plethora of mind-habits, emotions and behaviors.”

Susan Lebel Young, a retired psychotherapist and mindfulness teacher, is the author of three books, one of which is “Food Fix: Ancient Nourishment for Modern Hungers.” Learn more at or email [email protected]

I didn’t know what plethora meant, but I sensed “excess” by its use. I knew my own excesses: to-do lists, junk food, busyness, piles of unread books on my nightstand. So I listened to our teachers. They quoted ancient poets like Rumi: “Let yourself become living poetry.” I didn’t know what that meant, either. Yet the teachers repeated poems, inviting us to “let poetry change your life.”

The images in verse often bypass the conscious mind and land in the heart. The teachers suggested, “Read poetry daily. Let poems work stress-management magic.”

Joy Harjo, 23rd Poet Laureate of the United States, writes in “Becoming Seventy”:

“It was impossible to make it through the tragedy

Without poetry …

Wherever you are, enjoy the evening, how the sun walks the horizon …

Sunrise occurs everywhere, in lizard time, human time, or a fern uncurling time. …

The sun crowns us at noon.

It’s that time of year …We eat latkes … We light candles, make fires to make the way for a newborn child, for fresh understanding.”

Even in the midst of Black Fridays and Cyber Mondays, even with the plethora of holiday projects, this poem beckons us to enjoy simple stress-shrinking delights. Sunrises. Sunsets. Candles. Fires.

I looked up the word plethora and found synonyms: overfullness, superabundance, surfeit. Then I drove to the store. Displayed were myriad holiday cards, a cornucopia of gifts, an overabundance of sparkly slippers, huge surpluses of stocking stuffers and a superfluity of candy. I felt the onslaught of the plethora my teachers had noted, the glut of thoughts: “I need this festive chocolate I’ve never had, gift wrapped in glittery red and green tinfoil. And maybe I need … ”

Then I wondered, “Is there a poem for this?”

The poets’ answer is, “Yes.” American poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti asked, “What is the use of poetry?” Good question in the frenzy of pre-Jan. 1. He answered, “The state of the world calls out for poetry to save it.”

Poet, writer and physician William Carlos Williams wrote, “It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”

So, in our “I want that next shiny thing,” we might listen to poets. First Rumi: “I should be suspicious of what I want.” And Mary Oliver: “… we hear … the complaint that something is missing from your life.”

Is what’s missing Thanksgiving pie and stuffing? Next up are Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s, with the plethora of food, alcohol, festivities and obligations.

David Whyte wrote in the antidote “Enough”:

“These few words are enough.

If not these words, this breath.

If not this breath, this sitting here.

This opening to the life

we have refused

again and again

until now.”

What if, during this season, we remember that life itself is a gift, that life is the holiday present, wrapped in beautiful packaging my dad called “waking up on the right side of the grass”? Maybe the question this season reaches beyond “What should I buy, eat or drink?” What if we ask a more easeful question: “What is enough?”

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