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Spiritually Speaking

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Learning how to balance emotional intelligence, spiritual intelligence, and traditional intelligence can be a recipe for stability.

By Shamontiel L. Vaughn

1. Something that in ecclesiastical law belongs to the church or to a cleric as such.
2. Clergy.
3. Sensitivity or attachment to religious values.
4. The quality or state of being concerned with religion or religious matters.

These are standard definitions for the word “spirituality.” But should “spiritual intelligence” be associated with these definitions in the same way?

Dr. Kirwan Rockefeller
Dr. Kirwan Rockefeller

“I personally define spiritual intelligence as a way to make meaning in life,” says Dr. Kirwan Rockefeller, faculty in Saybrook University’s Mind-Body Medicine program. “To live from a place of wisdom, compassion, self-compassion, and inner peace.”

And according to Dr. Donald Moss, dean of the College of Integrative Medicine and Health Sciences, spiritual intelligence is most likely to be utilized in significant key moments in a person’s life.

“I think spiritual intelligence consists of being open to finding something larger and more important than our own personal wants and needs in life,” Dr. Moss says. “Beyond that, it’s an openness to things that are not just everydayness. Carl Jung—a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst—said that it’s a universal tendency of human cultures to create symbols and create mythologies. Human beings are driven to make sense of what’s going on around us. And I think the ability to be open to symbols and metaphors and stories is a strong part of spiritual intelligence.”

But for those who are more spiritual and less religious, could the term spiritual intelligence be off-putting?

Dr. Robert Schmitt
Dr. Robert Schmitt

Dr. Robert Schmitt, director of Saybrook’s Consciousness, Spirituality and Integrative Health Specialization, sees an upside and a downside to the word “spiritual.”

“When I was the dean of the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, I started a training program in spiritual direction,” says Dr. Schmitt, who was a Jesuit priest for 32 years. “And one of the people who took the program became a consultant to Fortune 500 companies. He said that when he worked with companies, he used a lot of the principles of spirituality but he never used the word ‘spirituality.’

But for those who are more spiritual and less religious, could the term spiritual intelligence be off-putting?

“Being spiritual gets tied into religion, and many people begin to reject that label because religion is based on dogma and what you have to believe. The word in itself is troublesome. But the reality is not troublesome. Ideally we’re trying to get ‘spirituality’ and spiritual intelligence to point to something far more than believing in a certain religion.”


Which is more important: Emotional, spiritual, or traditional intelligence?

There are moments when all three types of intelligences are best suited. Traditional intelligence may come in handy in a classroom or a work meeting (ex., solving a math problem or answering follow-up questions after a PowerPoint presentation). Emotional intelligence is useful for recognizing the root causes of other people’s emotions, along with keeping one’s own emotions under control or expressing them in a productive way. So where does spiritual intelligence fit in?

According to Dr. Schmitt, depending on the circumstances, one form of intelligence may be more reliable.

“Let’s use drug addiction as an example,” Dr. Schmitt says. “The body and emotions are screaming for the person to give them more of a type of drug. Their intellect is telling this inner voice that a decision like drug use is crazy, will risk one’s family, and could possibly be fatal. Ideally though, traditional intelligence would be their best friend in terms of talking them out of this decision. Obviously this is a case where other factors may need to come into play to help a person become more productive in their life decisions. But this still sheds light on how one form of intelligence may be more reliable in a specific situation."

Devorah Curtis
Dr. Devorah Curtis

While Moss and Rockefeller were also hesitant to declare one form of intelligence as more important than the other, Dr. Devorah Curtis, department chair of Mind-Body Medicine programs in Saybrook’s College of Integrative Medicine and Health Sciences, shared a different perspective. She identifies spiritual intelligence as a “crossover” or integration between traditional intelligence and emotional intelligence.

“When I need to figure out how to approach a conflicting situation or make a difficult decision, I pray about the circumstances before doing anything else,” says Dr. Curtis, who self-identifies as an “integrationist” and has a background in psychology and pastoral counseling. “Discernment through prayer is what leads me to make decisions about how I am going to respond and determine a way forward. For me, listening for guidance while managing emotions is not easy and requires strength to act. I would call this a process of ‘spiritual discernment’ because the term is more familiar than ‘spiritual intelligence.’ Others may view the two as one and the same. However, I also believe that all of the intelligences are important.”


When spiritual intelligence gets challenged by believers and nonbelievers

“We tend to use the phrase ‘mind, body, spirit’ in our culture, but many times we leave out the ‘spirit’ part until a crisis happens, such as a health diagnosis, divorce, death of a loved one, accidents, terrorism, or other things like that,” Dr. Rockefeller says. “I believe we are a culture in deep longing for a sense of connection to transcendence, something bigger than ourselves to give us meaning and purpose, and an integration of psyche.”

Dr. Rockefeller also agrees with Dr. Curtis regarding the “crossover” effect. According to him, “Spirituality and spiritual intelligence are a bridge that connects the whole brain.”

But what happens when people start making irrational decisions to force a “bridge” to a spiritual connection?

Donald Moss
Dr. Donald Moss

“This becomes an important issue for human beings dealing with mental illness,” Dr. Moss says. “Many can have delusions about special meaning in their lives or some special communication from the divine. But even then, there are some psychologists who would say that we have to respect delusions because they may be the dawning for some emergent meaning for the person that they just haven’t found the correct perspective on yet. For example, the Swiss psychiatrist Medard Boss would try to guide his mentally disturbed patients to discover a more meaningful and useful perspective in their mental illness and delusions.

“And it’s really hard to judge because when we study religions, we see Moses finding God in a burning bush. We find many everyday human beings who walk through the forest or walk along the shore of the lake, and in that encounter with nature they have a spiritual renewal. Sometimes it’s our contact with other human beings that we care about or someone whose life we touch and change that we find a sense of meaning for ourselves.”

Whether that “meaning” in life is in a church, a classroom, or a social group, the bigger goal is to find a healthy way to utilize spiritual intelligence.

“Healthy spirituality recognizes we live in a world of mystery,” Dr. Schmitt says. “There’s a saying in the Christian tradition of Gregory: ‘Abraham knew he was following God because he didn’t know where he was going.’ Life is a journey and takes on so many different forms. Enjoy the wonder of it instead of trying to be in control and protecting every moment at all costs—the spiritual side, the psychological side, the intellectual side, and the whole person.”

According to Dr. Rockefeller, “Spirituality and spiritual intelligence are a bridge that connects the whole brain.”

“And it’s really hard to judge because when we study religions, we see Moses finding God in a burning bush. We find many everyday human beings who walk through the forest or walk along the shore of the lake, and in that encounter with nature they have a spiritual renewal. Sometimes it’s our contact with other human beings that we care about or someone whose life we touch and change that we find a sense of meaning for ourselves.”

Whether that “meaning” in life is in a church, a classroom, or a social group, the bigger goal is to find a healthy way to utilize spiritual intelligence.

“Healthy spirituality recognizes we live in a world of mystery,” Dr. Schmitt says. “There’s a saying in the Christian tradition of Gregory: ‘Abraham knew he was following God because he didn’t know where he was going.’ Life is a journey and takes on so many different forms. Enjoy the wonder of it instead of trying to be in control and protecting every moment at all costs—the spiritual side, the psychological side, the intellectual side, and the whole person.”

To learn more about Saybrook's M.A. in Consciousness, Spirituality, and Integrative Health Specialization, visit here. For the Ph.D. program, visit here. For more information on Saybrook's Mind-Body Medicine degree programs, visit here.