In touch, in tune
Developing spiritual intelligence may be key to finding a sense of purpose in our secular world.
When the Hubble Space Telescope was launched in 1990, it brought to life just how tiny and seemingly insignificant we really are. The images it has captured — of our planet as a tiny speck in relation to the vast universe — cannot but leave us with a long list of big questions such as how, what, when, and most importantly, why. Why are we here? What is our purpose?
Organised religion has, for centuries, attempted to provide various answers to these questions, but the inflexibility of its dogma, some believe, has led to a wider exploration of the universe and a steady decline in numbers subscribing to a single, structured religion.
It is estimated that roughly one in eight people across the globe (the fourth largest group after Christianity with 32% of the population, Islam 19% and Hinduism 13%) no longer subscribe to a particular religion — but they haven’t discarded the idea of God altogether either, according to www.religioustolerance.org. Instead, they believe in something greater than themselves, but that “something” is undefined and quite possibly undefinable beyond the somewhat ambiguous realm of “spirituality”.
“When people hear ‘spirituality’, they often imagine a bunch of grubby hippy types who live on wheatgrass and soya beans,” says Stephanie Vermeulen, author of EQ: Emotional Intelligence for Everyone (Zebra). The reality is that everyone has spiritual needs, and while some fulfil these through organised religion, others may seek to explore their spirituality on their own terms.
“Our normal, human spiritual need is not something that requires rituals or practices beyond day-by-day living,” Vermeulen says. “Simply living is a spiritual act and spirituality can be defined as the thoughts, beliefs or actions that give our life its deepest meaning.”
In modern society we might choose meditation over prayer, but the desire to connect to something greater than ourselves remains the same. “The driving factor behind the various spiritual movements of today is that people are feeling a deep-seated need to connect with their inner selves,” says Belinda Doveston, co-founder of Metavarsity College of Metaphysical Studies. “People are hungering to find their purpose in life, and this starts with the self, but inevitably leads to a need to help others too.”
Whatever your belief system is, that is your spirituality, Doveston says, whether it’s religion, charity work, or even the green movement. Basically, it’s about finding a cause you can relate to, that you think is important beyond yourself and your own personal gain.
“Making a difference to others is a fundamental human need and it is only by fulfilling this spiritual quest that we can generate happiness in the long term,” Vermeulen says. This is what is known as spiritual intelligence, or your spiritual quotient, or SQ.
“Spiritual maturity, which is the product of spiritual intelligence, is not concerned with holding power over others, or amassing personal wealth. But rather with the wellbeing of the universe and all who live there,” writes Michal Levin in Spiritual Intelligence: Awakening the Power of Your Spirituality and Intuition (Coronet).
Our subconscious mind already knows the kind of life we want to live, but we need to make ourselves more consciously aware of this, Vermeulen says. Imagine yourself on your deathbed. What kind of life would you like to look back and see? What difference would your life have made?
Sounds good in theory, but how do you really find this sense of purpose? Our moment-by-moment emotions are an invaluable guide, Vermeulen says. “Feeling enthusiastic is a key emotion in identifying our passion and purpose, and it’s no coincidence that the stem of the word ‘enthusiasm’ is the Greek phrase ‘entheos’ meaning ‘inspired by God’.” In order to fulfil our spiritual quest, we need to pay attention to the things we do that generate enthusiasm, as this fills us with potent natural energy that will lead us to purpose.
How do I become more spiritually intelligent?
To achieve a high level of spiritual consciousness, we need to surrender our ego drives and let go of our materialistic attachments, says life coach Lynelle Smith. Follow this guide to uncover and connect with your spiritual side — and boost your SQ:
1. Become aware
“We can start developing our spiritual side when we become aware of our internal ‘animalistic’ instincts and drives, and break through the old patterns of our egos,” Smith says. When we take time out to really get in touch with ourselves, we start to appreciate the beauty of life — whether it be in nature, listening to music, or simply spending time with someone you truly love.
“Stress and a feeling of dissatisfaction are driving people to meditation,” says meditation instructor, Berryl Schutten. “I call it the ‘if-only’ syndrome. They think ‘if only I had a boyfriend, or a better job, then I’d be happier’.”
What we don’t realise is that this mentality never ends — once you’ve achieved one ‘if only’, there’s always another waiting in line. “It’s a constant looking ‘out there’ for happiness,” Schutten says. “But happiness is always within, and meditation can help you uncover that.”
To find a meditation class near you, go to www.kagyu.org.za.
3. Receive wisdom
We prepare for our calling through identifying what makes us tick. “These revelations come in stillness, through creativity, reflection, or simply an ‘aha’ moment when something just feels right,” Smith says. Learning to trust your intuition is important as this is a reflection of your unique needs and values.
Take time out to reflect on the days, months, or even years gone by. Ask what each experience reflects about you. “There’s an old saying that ‘if you spot it, you got it,’” says Metavarsity’s Karen Barensché, and often the negative traits you recognise in other people are an indication of issues you need to address within yourself.
5. Create a vision
“The brain doesn’t distinguish between what it sees with eyes closed and what it sees with eyes open, so visualise the life you want to live,” Doveston says. It’s essential that you make an effort to figure out what your core values are and then find ways to practically apply these in your daily life. “Without a vision, we have nothing to live for, we stagnate and get bored,” Smith says.
6. Join a group
Whether it’s a study group, yoga, or book club (provided it’s not the “cheese and whine” kind of club that promotes a lot of negative energy), the important thing is to find an environment where you feel safe enough to share your feelings with those around you. When you’re in a group you benefit from other people’s experience, because they have different perspectives.
7. Take responsibility for your thoughts
What you focus on can become reality, so practise affirmations daily. Try to focus on only the good. Once you’ve established a pattern of seeing the positive, you’ll begin to feel youself living in harmony with your surroundings.
8. Spend time in nature
Nine out of 10 people interviewed for this article said they feel most in touch with their spiritual side when they are outdoors, surrounded by natural beauty.
(This article originally appeared in Shape magazine. For more great stories from Shape, go to www.shapemag.co.za.)