Church on the Greek island of Santorini

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. One syn­onym for mer­a­ki is mind­ful. Another is mag­ic.

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 deep truth. Writing chose me, not the oth­er way around; it aris­es from a need to under­stand and nav­i­gate the world. Writing reveals things about myself I would nev­er have dis­cov­ered oth­er­wise. 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.

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?

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 non­events 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 the gods, 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 can­not waste time. 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.”

  • Erin Skinner Smith

    Erin Skinner Smith wants every­one to slow down, eat real food, move their bod­ies, go out­side, and hit the pil­low a lit­tle ear­li­er for a more pur­pose­ful exis­tence. She is a pub­lished writer, yoga teacher, and mind­ful­ness coach. When she’s not stand­ing on her head or typ­ing on her trusty lap­top, you’ll find her read­ing, play­ing gui­tar, enjoy­ing a glass of bour­bon, or snug­gling on the couch with her peo­ple and pets. Send her a dig­i­tal high five at erintheomplace.net.