Up before my husband, I gather my journal and pen and wind down the narrow cobblestone path, looking for coffee. The gorgeous Santorini sun reflects off the Aegean Sea, blinding me momentarily. I choose the balcony of the café, order yogurt with honey and a pot of rich, black coffee, settle in to write.
A man sits at the next table and lights a cigarette. It is impossible to guess his age. He could be 50 or 90, but the smile that breaks through his sun-weathered face seems sincere enough. I write, he smokes, we both occasionally gaze at the water and share smiles.
He rises to leave, stopping by my table. He taps his finger on my journal, places his hand over his heart. “Meraki, no?” He smiles one last time and saunters off.
I quickly jot it down. Meh-Rah-Kee, I write, having no idea how to spell it. Then I promptly forget about it, so enchanted am I with this Greek island.
Years later, I am skimming through my travel journal when I come across the note. A quick Google search gives me both the correct spelling and the definition. Meraki is a Greek verb or adverb that literally means to leave a piece of yourself on the table. This lyrical, untranslatable expression refers to doing something with passion and devotion, to act with undivided attention.
The old man was acknowledging my light, noticing that I was engaged in an endeavor of soul. Writing is definitely an act of meraki. Every word is a slice of your deepest truth. Writing chose me, not the other way around; it arises from a need to understand and navigate the world. Writing reveals my authentic voice; I’ve uncovered things about myself I would never have discovered otherwise. I’ve found that there is no despair so deep that it cannot be kept at bay with the right words. I write for those rare glimpses of the coy, temperamental Muse. Journaling is, in equal measure, a retreat, an agony, an accomplishment. It’s a way to connect with strangers and leave my story for my daughter. Whether anyone reads or resonates with what I write is beside the point. (Though if you’re an agent for Harper Collins, I’m totally open to a book deal.)
Writing is certainly meraki; when I’m in the writing flow, it’s definitely magical. The same can be said for teaching yoga, playing guitar, meditating and hiking in the woods.
But meraki shouldn’t just be what I do, it should be who I am.
How can we transfer the same qualities of creative power into cleaning the toilets and parenting teenagers and shaving our legs and sitting in the school pick-up line and trying to get rid of the ants in the kitchen? Do we trust there is significance in the insignificant? If so, how can we cultivate meraki so that each breath arises less from our lungs and more from our souls? How can we find the magic in the monotonous and mundane?
In A Course In Miracles, Marianne Williamson calls this practice living in the holy instant. The holy instant is each and every moment, regardless of how epic or irrelevant it feels, a moment where non-events become holy love. It’s holy because it is a gift from God, a renewable chance to choose forgiveness, gratitude, joy and compassion. It’s meraki in practice. Because when we love, we leave that love not only on the table, but everywhere we go.
Beauty and wonder lie in even the most trivial or boring. Anyone can see the wonder in the wedding, the birth, the leaves of the ancient oak. Could we choose to be so woke that the same grace and magic is evident while stuck in traffic? When we’re in line at the DMV? As we say a final goodbye by a hospital bed? When we hate our hair or our spouses or the hot mess we’ve allowed our lives to become?
Moments are gifts from God, one breath after another, one constantly renewing opportunity to create meaning and connection. Given that we can only act in this moment, how do you choose to use it? We’re promised more mundane than mountaintop moments. We must live them all with joy and gratitude. The humdrum. The tears. The vomit. We have 1,440 minutes each day. We cannot waste time. Time is what it is. We can only forget to experience it. When we choose to be present to our minutes, we choose the magic of meraki.
As the great mindfulness teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn reminds us, “The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little.”