Expressing spiritual qualities

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SQ = Spiritual Quotient


Aspects of spiritual intelligence are measured through ones ability to be introspective, and existential intelligence is the ability to tackle questions about existence and the meaning of life.   Some people are able to do this much better than others.  Expanding further on the subject of Spiritual Quotient (SQ), Danah Zohar has defined 12 underlying aspects of spiritual intelligence by which a person’s spiritual development can be measured.  These are:

  • Self-awareness:  knowing what I believe in and value, and what deeply motivates me.
  • Spontaneity:  living in and being responsive to the moment.
  • Being vision- and value-led:  acting from principles and deep beliefs, and living accordingly.
  • Holism:  seeing larger patterns, relationships, and connections; having a sense of belonging.
  • Compassion:  having the quality of “feeling-with” and deep empathy.
  • Celebration of diversity:  valuing other people for their differences, not despite them.
  • Field independence:  standing against the crowd and having one’s own convictions.
  • Humility:  having the sense of being a player in a larger drama, of one’s true place in the world.
  • Tendency to ask fundamental “Why?” questions:  needing to understand things and get to the bottom of them.
  • Ability to reframe:  standing back from a situation or problem and seeing the bigger picture or wider context.
  • Positive use of adversity:  learning and growing from mistakes, setbacks, and suffering.
  • Sense of vocation:  feeling called upon to serve, to give something back.

How do our spiritual qualities express?

Let’s have a look at some of the spiritual or soul-qualities we discussed above.  Which parts of the brain are necessary to express these qualities?  We are dealing with facets of the conscious brain and qualities that appear to be unique to human beings.  Whilst some animals do have a prefrontal cortex (and in some cases this can be as physically large or larger than that in humans), other mammals and primates do not demonstrate these spiritual qualities to any significant extent.  Something sets human beings apart from other animals and primates.

taichimanPhysically – acrobatic feats, and mindful pursuits such as Hatha Yoga and Tai Chi (even juggling!).  Although these are acts of the physical body, they are deliberate conscious acts driven by instructions from the prefrontal cortex with plenty of sensory feedback from the stretch receptors in the limbs.  These type of exercises are known to help fire the neurons in the prefrontal cortex, keeping it healthy and active too.  The stretching exercises testing the limits of the body (in a gentle way) help the brain to build its picture of where it is – the conscious proprioceptive element.

caregiver.pngEmotionally.  Many of the spiritual qualities require a well-developed set of moral emotions.  Patience and tolerance, unconditional love and compassion for other people requires us to hold our own emotions in check (the moral emotions).  Empathy for what others are feeling requires us to be in touch with our senses so as to get accurate feedback as to the emotional state of those around us.  We can’t be day-dreaming in a world of our own.  This requires our Default Mode Network (DMN), our referential awareness where the world revolves around “me”, to be in the background and the Central Executive Network (CEN) to be active.  Observing others, checking our own emotions, and determining strategies resulting in acts and speech to aid others.  We need to have a record of our past experiences to call upon in our memory branks, to verify our successes or failures in the past.

Humility is acting without the ego.  We don’t actually need the ego – as adults we should be able to work perfectly well receiving sensory inputs and determining how to act based on our past experience and the moral principles we have learned.  We can act sensibly and with wisdom without self-interest.

Natural joy/happiness arises as the ultimate emotional state when all the bodies are in a state of balance and contentment.  There is no pull towards addictions or other desires or attachments.  Again, the DMN is not significantly active; the salience network has switched and activated the CEN.  The CEN whilst active does not need to be solving difficult problems or strategizing or decision-making.  It can be fully alert receiving and acknowledging sensory inputs but has no necessity to act upon them.  This is a different state of being from the default state of DMN activity.

Mentally.  Being self-aware requires mental awareness, and also physical awareness.  The larger the picture the brain builds through its proprioceptive sense, the larger will be our self-awareness experience.  With the ego out of the way and a good set of moral principles, the qualities of Holism and the appreciation for diversity around us become apparent.  Not being attached to ideas (having a quiet DMN) and being free from addictions in the limbic brain, we can be very open-minded.

The reasoning part of the CEN which is integrating the inputs from all areas of the higher brain is a natural inquirer.  It is not concerned with the imaginings of the DMN or desires of the limbic brain and physical body.  When the moral values recognise things that are wrong in the world, it can feel a sense of calling and be prepared to do whatever it takes to fight for a worthwhile cause.  Not because of the ego and self-interest, but because we believe it is the right thing to do in the higher order of things.  Some people feel that it is God that has  spoken to them and given them a higher purpose.

The ability to re-frame is one of the higher mental functions that is able to express when the higher mental functions of planning and strategizing are working well.  This is where we can really think laterally and come up with completely new plans or ideas.  The DMN can be consciously engaged to think abstractly and creatively.  We can discover, invent and create.

We should all be familiar with these terms and feel that we have all experienced most of these qualities at various times of our lives.  What sets people apart, is how much and how often we express these qualities, and how much conscious control we have over their expression.  How well we do this depends on how well we utilise our higher brain functions.