Recognition: To work with something we first have to recognize that it exists. Stopping and paying attention helps us to recognize what is. For example, we may recognize a part of us that is wounded, and we may also recognize a part of us that might be called the “inner critic,” the part that is saying, “you should” or “you ought to” or “you need to.”

Acceptance: Once we recognize that something exists, we then can fully acknowledge its existence and allow ourselves to open up to it from the heart in a nonjudgmental way. Acceptance does not mean approval but simply acknowledgment that this is the way it is. In the example above we would then make space for both the part of us that is wounded and the part that is the inner critic, without preference for one or the other, giving both acknowledgment and acceptance.

Investigation: Once we have recognized and accepted something, then we are in a position to be able to investigate it. Investigation can be a slow and gentle process, handled with patience, and cultivated by awareness of the interrelationships of our thoughts, emotions and body sensations. Again in the example above we can give presence for both the wounded part and the inner critic, allowing both to be “heard” in their own time. To heal does not mean “to cure,” but rather “to make whole.” Giving an impartial voice to all parts of our inner world that need to be heard allows us to heal.

Non-identification: There is much more to us than anything we are presently working with. When we can step out of identifying with something in our inner world, we can more effectively give it presence. Thus, when something comes up, we neither identify with it nor dissociate from it but rather give it our full attention with impartial awareness. How we use language is very important here: We avoid saying, for example, “I am useless” in favor of saying “a part of me wants to say that I am useless.” Or instead of “I am hurt” we could say, “I am noticing a feeling of being hurt.” Our thinking mind may not notice much difference, but our emotional mind contained deep within the brain (the limbic system) really takes such things to heart without our realizing it.