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Tapping Our Spiritual Intelligence

By Kimberly Weichel and Judi Neal

So much has been said about the importance of developing our IQ, our rational intelligence, and more recently about EQ, our emotional intelligence. We now understand that our emotional intelligence is as important, if not more important, than our IQ in determining our future success in life. But how about spiritual intelligence?

Spiritual Intelligence (SQ) is the intelligence with which we address and solve problems of meaning and value. As Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall said in their book SQ, Connecting with our Spiritual Intelligence, “It provides a context for our actions, as well as the way we assess whether one course of action or one life-path is more meaningful than another. SQ is the necessary foundation for the effective functioning of both IQ and EQ. It is our ultimate intelligence.”

In Daniel Goleman’s groundbreaking book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, he explains, “we have two brains, two minds – and two different kinds of intelligence: rational and emotional.” We would argue, along with Howard Gardner that there are multiple intelligences and that our spiritual intelligence is vital to our sense of fulfillment and satisfaction in life.

Thinking is not an entirely cerebral process, not just a matter of IQ. Zohar and Marshall explain, “We think not only with our heads, but also with our emotions and our bodies (EQ) and with our spirits, our visions, our hopes, our sense of meaning and value (SQ).  SQ operates out of the brain’s center, from the neurological unifying function, it integrates all of our intelligences, and makes us the fully intellectual, emotional and spiritual creatures we are.”

Our spiritual intelligence allows us to be creative, and to think ‘outside the box’. It gives us the ability to change the rules, and to alter situations. It allows us to deal with ambiguity and gives us a capacity for paradox. Importantly, SQ enables us to choose the ‘right thing to do’, whether it’s the right thing for ourselves, or for a group, or situation. We have the ability to weigh many factors in deciphering a decision. We use our spiritual intelligence to wrestle with problems of good and evil, problems of life and death.

Spiritual intelligence enables us to think about the whole and make decisions about what’s best for the group or collective, and not just ourselves. Our SQ is the awareness of others beyond self, and an awareness of the impact of our actions and words on others. Our spiritual awareness teaches us that we are part of something larger, that we are interconnected with others and with the planet. All of our actions have an impact.

Cindy Wigglesworth, founder of Conscious Pursuits, Inc., and creator of a program called “Spiritual Intelligence at Work,” defines spiritual intelligence as “The ability to behave with wisdom and compassion while maintaining inner and outer peace (equanimity) regardless of the situation.”  She states that wisdom and compassion are two essential elements of successful leadership in today’s challenging business environment, and that the development of spiritual intelligence will help to give an organization its competitive edge.

Cultivating our SQ is important in cultivating wisdom. Wisdom comes from an inner knowing, which comes from our many life lessons and what we’ve acquired through a lifetime of experience.

What are some of the indicators of a highly developed SQ? Zohar and Marshall cite the following:

The capacity to be flexible
A high degree of self-awareness
A capacity to face and use suffering
A capacity to face and transcend pain
The quality of being inspired by vision and values
A reluctance to cause unnecessary harm
A tendency to see the connections between diverse things
A tendency to ask Why or ‘What if’ questions and to seek fundamental answers

To have high SQ is to be able to use the spiritual to bring greater context and meaning to living a richer and more meaningful life, to achieve a sense of personal wholeness, purpose and direction.

How do we cultivate our spiritual intelligence? It begins with the development of spiritual awareness, which can often happen with a life crisis: a divorce, death in the family, major illness, or sudden loss of a job. These can jar us out of a routine or comfortable existence to exploring the deeper questions of life: Why did this happen? What can I learn from it? What is my purpose? How can I serve?

Yet our spiritual awareness can also come out of moments of joy, the birth of a child, and other times when we are struck by the awe of life. It can come by hearing an inner call, by feelings of deep connection to a spiritual community or loved one, or by finding work that deeply fulfills us. We all come to our spiritual awareness in different ways.

In many ways spiritual intelligence goes against the socialization in our culture. We are taught by our media and advertisers to look smart, know the answers, make quick decisions, take care of ‘Number 1’, buy products to make us happy, make money, rise the corporate ladder, etc. Yet the way we cultivate our spiritual intelligence is in many ways just the opposite: slow down, listen, think and take care of others as well as ourselves, focus on meaningful work, etc.

Collective SQ is low in modern society. Zohar and Marshall, “We live in a spiritually dumb culture characterized by materialism, expediency, narrow self-centeredness, lack of meaning and dearth of commitment. But as individuals we can act to raise our personal SQ – the further evolution of society depends upon enough individuals doing so.

They continue by saying, “SQ is the soul’s intelligence. It is the intelligence with which we heal ourselves and with which we make ourselves whole. SQ is the intelligence that rests in that deep part of the self that is connected to wisdom from beyond the ego, or conscious mind. It is not culture-dependent or value-dependent. It is our deep, intuitive sense of meaning and value, it is our guide at the edge, our conscience.”

So how do you develop your spiritual intelligence?  If we observe the leaders in our society that we wish to emulate - those who demonstrate compassion, wisdom and vision - we find that they consciously work on developing their inner life and are committed to aligning their deepest values and actions.  Here are some examples of practices we can embrace that will help develop our SQ:

  1. Adopt or deepen a contemplative practice. Contemplative practices include meditation, centering prayer, journaling, and spending time in nature.  These practices help you to create an “observer mind” and to sense your connection to something greater than yourself.

  2. Study with a spiritual or religious teacher, or someone who seems to have a high degree of spiritual intelligence. It helps to get guidance from someone who may be a bit further down the path than we are, and who can help us to take a more conscious and mindful approach to our life and work.  It is especially useful to have a guide like this during difficult times of transition.

  3. Read inspirational literature, spiritual or holy books, and/or inspiring poetry. There is an incredible amount of wisdom available in books these days, and it helps to read the words of inspired teachers who have made this journey before us.  Often we find that when we have a particular dilemma or spiritual growth challenge that what we read in spiritual literature has direct application to the situation we are facing.

  4. Become involved in a community or fellowship of other spiritual seekers. Most of us begin our spiritual development as a quiet, inner, lonely path, and this has a lot of value as we go deeply within and begin to find our unique contribution in the world.  But if we are to continue the development of our spiritual intelligence, there is much to be gained by being connected to a group of like-minded people who are also working on themselves.  This tends to speed up our growth.

  5. Set intentions for your spiritual state of being when you wake up in the morning, and take inventory of your thoughts, actions, and state of being before you go to sleep at night. This type of daily practice reinforces your commitment to live your life from a place of spiritual values, such as compassion, forgiveness, joy, and creativity.

  6. Focus on being of service. An attitude of service is at the core of all the world’s spiritual traditions, and it is what provides a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives.  Take the time to examine who it is you serve, what gifts you have to offer, and what work you feel called to do.  When you focus on being of service, your life provides countless opportunities for the development of your spiritual intelligence, and you are more likely to help others to develop their SQ as well. 

People who develop their spiritual intelligence have a powerful and positive impact on a great many people.  It is like a multiplier effect.  Like the ripple effect that comes from throwing a stone in a pond.  So although it can seem a daunting and lonely task at times, it is worth it to continue to work on yourself, because you touch so many others, and it is through this kind of work that the world becomes a better place.

Kimberly Weichel is a social pioneer and specialist in global communications and international projects. She is executive director of Pathways To Peace, a global pioneer in the field of peace building, and teaches courses on the Practice of Peace. She is co-founder of Our Media Voice: Campaign for Accountability, a national coalition for media reform. She is producing training materials for companies and organizations on ways to foster Spirit at Work, and is on the Council of the Bay Area Spirit At Work chapter.

Dr. Judi Neal is the Executive Director of the Center for Spirit at Work at the University of New Haven, and the Founder of the Association for Spirit at Work; a professional membership organization for change agents in the field of spirituality in the workplace.  She received her Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior from Yale University and was a manager of organizational development at Honeywell, and at Circuit-Wise, Inc.  She is currently completing two books:  “The Change Agent’s Guide to Transforming Your Workplace,” and “Virtues at Work:  A 12 Month Program” with Dorothy Marcic and Steven Karnik, and is doing research for a book called “Edgewalkers:  The New Global Human.”  Her website is www.spiritatwork.org.

 

 


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