In his book In Other Words: A Language Lover’s Guide to the Most Intriguing Words Around the World, linguist Christopher J. Moore says: “This [meraki] is a word that modern Greeks often use to describe doing something with soul, creativity, or love — when you put “something of yourself” into what you’re doing, whatever it may be.” For a glimpse into the meaning of meraki that shall (I wept..of course) viscerally transpose you, I give you Tom Booker, the horse whisperer:
Tom is something of a recluse, though quietly invested, but uncompromising, driven you might say, in his focused commitment to his companions. What is it about the Tom Bookers of the world that moves us? It’s his presence. His spirit. His manner of being. There’s no extravagance. Nothing showy or grandiose about him. He’s purposive, without being directional. Communicative, mostly in words spoken in silence. It’s a language quite foreign to those of us unaccustomed, uncomfortable, with emptiness, confusing it as we do with that intrusive, annihilating void that leaves us feeling quite vulnerable. We say too much, and too often. Tom is a man of patience; but not of idle waiting. Agriculturalists know about this. They tend to their land, waking before dawn, working alone or alongside others in silent understanding; they have a deep respect for life – animal and plant life. They know nature has her own delicate plan that can’t be rushed, but only tamed into loving “submission”.
It is the same with his companions: these beauties. Pilgrim is not just a horse. And Tom doesn’t just bring technical expertise to the fore. He knows his craft, of that there is no doubt. But he does not just execute techniques known to any horse trainer. Indeed that which is unique to one of meraki is not so much the excellence with which one executes one’s craft, but the manner in which it is accomplished. We do not speak of just one who may be loving or care about horses (or whatever the object of one’s involvement may be), of course, since inherent to meraki is the love that evolves from that invested, truly anchored, and personalized cultivation of one’s craft. It grows as one’s immersed understanding of one’s craft evolves, and transforms one from that person who performs certain activities to a horse whisperer as such. Horse training then is not something one does, it is who one is.
Sometimes readers are baffled that this profound manner of being could be captured in setting a table or cooking a meal. But one does not just set a table. One anticipates one’s dinner companions, contemplating all that might bring the mood of being present to the table. One then sets out to find the right decorative ensemble to make the table, shops for all the ingredients wherever such markets might take you, selectively placing each item into the shopping cart. Every task leading to the finale – the cooked meal, served at the table – will be deliberatively and caringly performed and hence not executed with anxiety, nor with a sense of rush or extrinsic standards, nor still with the desire to please. No, what moves one of meraki is her devotion in a mode of care.
Annie, a successful, hyperactive and obsessively controlling mother is lost in the fury of activities that arrest time, robbing her as becomes apparent, from the possibility of anything meaningful. She’s rushed because she works towards deadlines, scripting her success against masterfully executing high standards for her craft. She’s that technician of virtues devoid of heart.
Slow down. Let go. Be in the moment. In every moment.