Becoming fully human is a great adventure — one that requires us to grow and stretch ourselves. Do you feel the call to grow? Some of us go through childhood with this yearning. Others discover that restless self later in life. Once this hunger awakens, no distractions, purchases, or promotions will satisfy it. You just know there is “something more.”
We are drawn toward our own higher potential; we are seeking something. Yet, we often cannot describe the discontent we feel or how we would go about reaching the place we are trying to “get to.” Even the experts — the mystics, teachers, saints, and sages from the great wisdom traditions — don’t seem to agree when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of spiritual transformation. There are numerous names for this goal: self-actualization, self-transcendence, spiritual realization or awakening, enlightenment, individuation, and many more. And each culture and faith tradition has its own path, while some faiths seem convinced that the way they describe is the only true one.
This tendency to be exclusive and to make other paths wrong has troubled me for most of my life. Should it not be possible to describe our human development in a faith-neutral and objective way? Using tools pioneered by psychology and other sciences, should we not be able to create and refine a statistically reliable system by which progress in the spiritual dimension of human development can be measured? Within such a structure, each spiritual path could continue to teach its adherents how to grow, and yet we could show that many other paths can work also.
My life and work have been dedicated for the past few decades to this possibility. I began with two simple questions: Whom do I admire as a spiritual leader? And why? I have asked these questions to thousands of people from a variety of spiritual or religious persuasions — from devoted believers to avowed atheists. What I find both reassuring and fascinating is when asked this simple question, we agree much more than one might expect.
The names that come up are fairly consistent and tend to fall into predictable categories: major religious figures, great political leaders, peace activists or freedom fighters, prominent cultural figures and television personalities, fictional characters, and various relatives, local or current religious or spiritual teachers, guidance counselors or school teachers, friends or sometimes even a boss, who inspire us in our day-to-day lives.
More importantly, when people are asked to describe the particular traits that cause them to admire these people, the words that come back are strikingly similar. Some traits of spiritual leaders include:
- Calm and centered
- Courageous, passionately committed
- Authentic, walks-the-talk
- Peaceful, nonviolent
What the consistency of the responses tells me is that beyond religious and cultural differences, we already have a general perception of what makes someone worthy of our admiration and possibly our emulation. We recognize a fuller, higher expression of humanity when we see one.Â We have a natural “spiritual compass.” We know what nobility looks like, and are drawn towards to the full expression of our own human potential.
The question remains: How do we get there? How do we become more like Gandhi, Jesus, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, or the wise teacher who inspired us as a child? While we have an innate sense of where we need to go, most of us have not been taught the specific skills and abilities we are trying to attain. Nor have we had any means of measuring where we are on the journey towards developing these skills.
What we need, I believe, is not to find a new spiritual path, or to figure out which path is better than all the others. We need an approach that can be applied to whatever particular path you are on — to make that path more effective, more deliberate, and more clearly transformative. This approach is the cultivation of what I call “Spiritual Intelligence.” Spiritual Intelligence — or “SQ” — is a set of skills we develop over time, with practice, either within or independent of a religious belief or tradition. Developing our SQ, in conjunction with the other “intelligences” that may be more familiar to us –IQ (cognitive intelligence), EQ (emotional intelligence), and PQ (physical intelligence) — is the key to becoming fully human.
I define spiritual intelligence as: The ability to behave with wisdom and compassion, while maintaining inner and outer peace, regardless of the situation.Â
I believe this definition distills the essence of what we find so inspiring and exemplary in our spiritual heroes. And it is a powerful definition, because it can be broken down into 21 specific “skills” that we can measure, thereby empowering us to take our development into our own hands.
SQ21 is available by clicking here.