Four Rules for Living, #2, Pay Attention

Show up. Pay attention. Tell the truth. Don’t be attached to the outcome.


(pay attention to the passing moments of this season, summer becomes autumn…)

Pay Attention

Pay attention means “pay attention” to what is. To “pay attention” is to see things for what they are, without judgment. Someone new or something new –  may signal something wrong – or not.  Someone missing may mean something is wrong – or not.  A change in the way things work may mean something is wrong – or not.  “Pay attention” means only that: to see what is there, to give your life active attention – to what is, without categorizing it as “good,” or “bad,” but as it is.

Our minds fall easily into the trap of seeing what is “right” or “wrong.” Both are sides of the same coin. If we have done the work to “show up,” then the natural outcome will be that we are able to “pay attention.”

See what’s there! Notice!  Observe your life, your surroundings, from moment to moment.

Surely this is easier said than done, for all of us.


I love confession scenes – in books, in the movies.  One of my favorite confession scenes takes place in the movie, “Moonstruck.”  Cher plays a young woman who becomes infatuated with the brother of the man she is engaged to marry.   After a lovely date with said brother, Cher awakes to find herself in his bed.  Still engaged to his elder brother, she promptly goes to confession.  Although she sits behind the traditional barrier between herself and the priest, both she and the priest know that this priest has known her for her whole life; he is her parish priest.

The young woman begins her confession, naming a list of everyday happenings, like “talking back to her mother.”  She speaks as quickly as she can, and she makes sure she throws into the mix of sins, “I slept with the brother of my fiance.”  She rapidly continues, not stopping for breath.  But the priest has been paying attention!  He returns to that hidden sin!

Then, he says, simply and with kindness:  “Reflect on your life.”

The priest’s own attention turns the young woman’s attention back on what needs to be attended to in life.  Pay attention! – he could have said.  What are you doing?  What does this mean about your life, about who you love – and don’t love?  “Pay attention!!!!”  Stop what you are doing long enough to  pay attention to what it is you are doing.


“Pay attention” is not simply another rule for living.  To pay attention may be at the heart of what is needed, now, for your life, for my life, for the life of the world.  “Pay attention!” we say to our lawmakers.  “Pay attention!” we say to our leaders, our friends, and – most whole-heartedly – to ourselves.

One of my neighbors works all the time. I never see him. He’s got important work, I know. But as far as being a neighbor – well, he’s hasn’t shown up for a long time! When an ambulance drives, siren shouting, in the neighborhood, others “show up” to “pay attention” to what is happening. Which home is the ambulance for? Is there something that can be done for the folks in that home? Who will talk to the paramedics to see if someone can be called?  How can my neighbor pay attention if he is preoccupied with “life,”- with important things – and if he cannot even show up?

How can I do this?  Or you?  Or any one of us?

And so it follows:  show up – pay attention.  (Simple, but not easy… another practice for our spirit…)