The art of noticing your three square feet

We’ve been in small-town France for about a week and a half as of this post. After almost six months of traipsing around Asia, Australia, and Africa, we’re in a land that feels a bit milk and honey-ish, if I’m being honest. The quiet rolling hills of Provence, the quaint shops, and the food—oh, the glorious food. I don’t need to tell you about the food. You know about it because it’s famous.

But this place isn’t perfect. We’ve already had a few good laughs about the dog poop on the sidewalk or the construction zones with scaffolding—“Dogs don’t poop here. This is provincial France!” Because like all places and situations, what appears one particular way at a macro level looks a bit different on a micro level.

This has been a recurring theme on our entire trip. Restaurants run out of favorites in even the most forward-thinking locations, there is litter on the streets of Singapore, and the cheetahs in Kenya simply don’t feel like showing their faces. If we’re honest, we shrug our shoulders in circumstances in more chaotic places, where this feels expected, but it’s mildly humorous how it takes us aback when it happens in postcard-picture settings.

purple flowers in new zealand

It’s actually been a good thing to be reminded of the unpredictability, which of course happens in the predictable places. Because life is life everywhere.

I’m far from any expert on the world, by any means, but I feel like I’ve been gifted with this unusual, fleeting perspective at the moment. It’s not everyday that I’m currently in France after being in Morocco just two weeks prior, with previous weeks played out in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Sri Lanka. Let’s face it—that’s downright bizarre.

Barbara Brown Taylor says this in a book of hers I’m currently reading:

“The easiest practice of reverence I know is simply to sit down somewhere outside, preferably near a body of water, and pay attention for a least twenty minutes. It is not necessary to take on the whole world at first. Just take the three square feet of earth on which you are sitting, paying close attention to everything that lives within that small estate.”

finn in sri lanka

There is an inevitable reverence birthed from sitting on three square feet and paying attention for twenty minutes, whether that patch of grass overlooks a dingy, forgotten bus stop in Colombo or the quiet, empty-fullness of a hidden lake near Queenstown. Because when you stop and notice everything that lives in that small estate, your soul can’t help but stir to a slow reverence for life and her magic gifts.

As much as I love the diversity of the world’s people and places, I find that lately, I’m grateful for its universal similarities. I’ve grown to appreciate that things that bind us together as one race of humanity on one planet. I really and truly like that it rains on our outdoor plans regardless whether we’re in southeastern Asia or southern Europe. We’re not all that different, all spread out and living life.

mossy tree

“With any luck, you will soon begin to see the souls in pebbles, ants, small mounds of moss, and the acorn on its way to becoming an oak tree. …You may even feel the beating of your own heart, that miracle of ingenuity that does its work with no thought or instruction from you. You did not make your heart, any more than you made a tree. You are a guest here. You have been given a free pass to this modest domain and everything in it.” -Taylor

What does your three square feet look like today? What can you see when you punch your free pass and pay attention for twenty minutes? Your view might be the Pacific coastline or the hammock in the backyard, or it might be the gray canvas walls of your cubicle or the stained terrycloth on your diaper changing station. No matter your view today, no matter my view, we practice the art of reverence by paying attention to life infused everywhere. Everywhere.

On any given day, life almost never works like clockwork. The dogs poop on the sidewalks. Stuff breaks. Trash needs collecting. Gas stations are closed on Sundays. And that’s alright. Life is mostly a chaotic messy-beautiful. It’s easy to forget this when we don’t practice the fine art of paying attention.

I love that in every corner of the world, in every sort of culture, for anyone in any life stage, there is beauty offered to us as gift, even in the chaos. We collectively spin on our planet with the common blessings of sky, of water, of fellow humans sharing our airspace, breathing in and out in tandem. It’s almost like we can’t help but find reasons to stand in awe at life. We just have to notice it.

“crackingourshinsonaltarsEarth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars.” -Barbara Brown Taylor

As Taylor also says, “Earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars.”

On what altars can you crack your shins today? Tell me what your three feet of modest domain looks like right now, right around you.

Psst… I’ve taken a liking to sharing books I’m currently reading in my monthly personal newsletter. I love hearing what my friends are reading, so I thought I’d let you peek on to my virtual nightstand as well. Last month I shared four, and this month I’m sharing four more (including the one I quoted in this post). Curious? Head here to sign up—I’m sending the next one in just a few days.

22 Comments

  1. Leslie

    The Germans’ take on flowers in spring takes my breath away. In the US, we separate flowers and grass—we have big lawns of grass, then a border like bricks and flower beds behind them. There seems to be a strict divison between lawn and flowers. Living here in Germany, there are tulips and crocuses growing right out of the lawn. The entire lawn becomes a beautiful spring garden of flowers. These flowers only open when it is sunny so somedays you will walk out to beautiful fields of flowers and other days, the lawn is all green. I want to take this home with me to America if I ever relocate to my homeland. This is the altar right in my ownn neighborhood.

    • Sarah

      When I studied in Brittany, France, I noticed that about the lawns there, too. The grass never looked mown, but it was never shabby-looking, either, and hundreds of asters would dot them like stars. It’s one of my fondest memories of living there 🙂

  2. Melissa Rank

    Hey Tsh!
    When are you headed to Turkey? You haves some readers here in Istanbul who’d love to meet up with you if possible! And, of course, if you have any questions about enjoying the land with kids we can give you some ideas (Although, I’m sure you’ve got quite a few already.)

  3. Mrs. Frugalwoods

    I’m glad you included cubicle walls since that’s what I’ll be looking at today ;). My favorite time to observe is when we’re hiking. I love sitting on a rock and staring at the trees, letting my wind constructively wander. We live in the middle of a city at present, but we plan to move to a homestead in the woods in 2 years, which will give us ample time and space to stare at trees.

    But your point to enjoy any surrounding is a good reminder that there’s beauty everywhere and there’s something to learn from every environment. I’ll keep this in mind today while on the bus and in a cubicle!

  4. Ashley R

    How funny! I just started reading this book yesterday on our way home from Thailand, and I am loving it. It’s such a challenge to me, coming from three weeks in a place with so much color and beauty back to this gray, polluted, dusty city. Part of my Lenten observance this year is to limit my time online and indoors and to take time to really be present to this place and these people, to practice reverence for my three square feet, wherever they may be here in Asia. Today, I noticed the beauty of clean windows, dinner in the fridge, and a precious gift of fresh strawberries all from our dear househelper who came in to prepare our house for our return.

  5. Devi

    My three feet is the stained IKEA couch, and the paint-splattered coffee table covered with books, I have my feet up on it, and beyond is a train track full of Thomas and his friends, dishes with left over food sit on the dining table to my right. The boys are both sleeping, and the only noise I hear is the song of birds and a random vehicle that drives by.

    Thank you for this beautiful post, a wonderful reminder to celebrate my very ordinary, beautiful life.

  6. Linda Sand

    I am home with a bad head cold being grateful for my computer, electricity, and Kleenex.

  7. Sarah M

    An Altar in the World is one of my favorites. It was such a surprise to read it (I picked it up for the cover, I admit) and I just savored it. I loved that last quote you shared and remembered it even though I read the book a few years ago.
    I recently finished A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle…I think I found that title here-or maybe your newsletter? Anyway, it was charming and I loved it. Excellent writing and perfectly lovely to read while it had been raining and dreary here for weeks! 🙂
    Sarah M

  8. Dulcie

    Right now a brightly lit computer lab in an elementary school, no windows and thirty computers softly humming. In twenty minutes a boisterous group of 25 third graders will file in. Filling the room with lots of chatter, laughter and all the other noises a group of kids will make. It’s hard not to live in the moment when you are the only adult teaching a large gaggle of kids. Sometimes it feels like your crowd surfing with all of that energy and then they drop you off as the last one files out the door.

  9. melro

    great, great post!

    Today I spent (more than) 20′ hearing just one song (a french one by the way, of a french musician living in New Zealand – Franck Monnet, “Différents” song – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=de5hrOzUVBI ) and crying A LOT. I was just being aware of the lyrics and the music my emotions to it.
    Like the song, I’m also quite nostalgic about the intense present I’m currently living, mothering a 1 month old beautiful baby boy 😉

    profitez bien en France, and PLEASE say something if you do come to Lisbon!

    à bientôt!
    bisous

  10. Dana

    My 3 feet today includes my desk in my new studio ( which I am so grateful for) with a bird’s eye view out the window looking at the yards of my neighbors and my street. It is a cold, rainy day here but looking out I see stye so many signs of spring getting ready to burst forth: the tress are covered with buds, the daffodils have pushed up and will be blooming soon, the brown grass of winter is slowly disappearing as the new bright green grass is creeping along the yards, robins are out looking for nesting spots and even the first shoots of weeds in the flower beds makes me glad…Spring is coming! I am grateful to live in a beautiful city of majestic old growth trees and flowering shrubs. It is a gorgeous city in spring with he azaleas and flowers. I am also grateful for my crowded desk full of books and mementoes that remind me of things I have accomplished and new dreams to pursue.

    Thanks, for reminding to look around and notice all my blessings!

  11. Keijo

    Right now, my “three feet” includes a diaper changing station, a boppy, a carseat strewn on the floor, a southern hemisphere winter season tree standing outside the window, and a fly scurring across the floor. There are also beautiful photos taken by my husband in front of that changing table. Photos of nature that somehow match our wall wonderfully.

  12. Jo

    Bonjour! We LOVE France! If you get to St Malo then you can always get the boat to visit Guernsey in the Channel Islands or the teeny tiny islands Herm and Sark where there are no cars, just quaint areas, lovely walks and beautiful beaches *sigh https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vmm_PV1Z3dg

  13. Jenn

    Lovely post, and important reminder! The ordinary and everyday are beautiful and worth celebrating.

    My baby girl is asleep in her crib, her soft snores barely discernible over the sound of the cello coming from the music player. I sit here in the rocker in the corner, ready to get some writing done and to offer the gentle shushing that will ease her back to sleep should she wake early. I close my eyes and breathe, deeply grateful for this particular three feet I have been given.

  14. priest's wife (@byzcathwife)

    My ‘three feet’ is sitting on the couch for the second day in a row- speed reading aloud Little House to my 7 and 5 year olds….it is such a great book- I am the one saying -“one more chapter”!

  15. Christina @ Embracing Simple

    My three feet is on the floor of my family room surrounded by my baby girl’s toys and her giggling ferociously at one of them. Thanks for such a wonderful post to remind me to enjoy these moments 🙂

  16. jessica saunders

    Ah, my three feet is in the South of France also. My two beautiful girls, my husband who is on break from his classes for an MBA he is completing here in Aix en Provence, and our tiny 700sf house for the year. Talk about living simply. The girls are on a two week break from school, so lots of reading time, and playing outside when the weather allows.
    Your first picture looks like it could be our neighboring town of Vanelle. We love this area, but yes, dog doo is everywhere unfortunately. The people are SO friendly, and the weather is gorgeous, most of the time. Today not so much, but yesterday was like a beautiful spring day!
    Thanks for the excellent post. If you are in the Aix area and need ideas of something to do give me a yell. I also know of a great English speaking church to worship at. iccpaix.org
    Cheers!
    Jessica

  17. MiChal

    My copy of An Altar in the World is a beautiful mess of highlights and notes. After reading your post listing the books you’ve been reading, I did the audiobook version of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikrey. I really enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing your readings!

  18. Sarah

    Such a nice post, thank you for the reminder. I don’t even have to look three square feet– I can look straight down at my 8-month-preggy self and marvel that there is a HUMAN BEING growing in there. TRIP. OUT. Life is so fragile and so resilient (don’t you just love how God does that whole paradox thing?). This is all holy ground. God is good.

    • Sarah

      P.S. The top image looks so much like a pic I took of Sault!: (http://www.freeimages.com/photo/250811) Where was this one taken? Drink an aperitif for moi! 🙂

  19. Alison hill

    It’s 5:15 am. My three feet is my morning couch and my lamp. I have a blanket( made with my children) for warmth, a steaming cup of coffee for a,surprisingly chilly 30 degree morning on the Gulf Coast , a ragga comfortable sweater my favorite cousin gave me and the Word of God at my fingertips. Thank you for this wonderful noticing gift today. I plan to use it all day long as my three square feet changes

  20. Regina S.

    What a beautiful thought. I love the direction your blog has been taking – really inspiring thoughts that are relevant to any stage of life. My three feet…usually our backyard since I’m home with small kids. We live in Eastern MA, where there is about 4-5 feet of snow on the ground. On a sunny day, it is stunning.

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