The Art of Noticing Your 3 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.
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.”
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.
“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.
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.”
You May Also Like:
Get the weekly email called 5 Quick Things,
where Tsh shares stuff she either created herself or loved from others. (It can be read in under a minute, pinky-swear.)
You’ll also get an excerpt from her latest book, At Home in the World, a memoir about the school year her family backpacked around the world.