The first time I heard the word, “plethora,” I sat in a teacher development intensive to practice stress reduction for my life passages, body aches and pains, aging, the universal thises and thats that we all suffer. I had signed up for 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.”
I didn’t know what plethora meant, but I sensed “excess” by its use. I knew my own excesses: to-do lists, junk food, busy-ness, 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 by-pass 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
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, “Oh! I need this festive chocolate I’ve never had, giftwrapped in glittery red and green tinfoil. And maybe I need….” Then I wondered, “is there a poem for this?”
Poets answer, “yes.” American poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti asked, “What is the use of poetry?” Good question in the frenzy of pre-January first. 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 (sic and women) 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 an 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
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?”