Presence as a present: Practising spiritual intelligence

Monday, 29 August 2016 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

 Untitled-11I read a refreshingly resourceful book titled, ‘You are here’. It is written by Rev. Thich Nhat Hanh                    (pronounced tick not hon). He is a world-renowned Zen monk, poet and peace activist. His book echoes the vibrancy of spiritual intelligence. It invites us to appreciate our presence as a present. Today’s column is a reflection of spirituality in the management context, stemming from the idea that ‘You are here’. 


Untitled-8“What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow; our life is the creation of our mind,” so said the Buddha while highlighting the significance of the mind-body relationship. 

As he vividly puts it: “’Samma Ditti’ (right seeing) leads to ‘Samma Vayama’ (right action). You can’t go ahead and achieve something noble unless you see it clearly. In simple terms, clear thinking leads to clever action. 

“Every breath we take, every step we make, can be filled with peace, joy and serenity,” so said Rev. Hanh. He invites us to discover the magic of the present moment. “People sacrifice the present for the future. But life is available only in the present. That is why we should walk in such a way that every step can bring us to the here and the now,” he further elaborates. 

The whole issue is about whether we either live in the past or the future. Psychologists often observe that people need to practice present moment living. It links to the broader aspect of spirituality. 


Let’s view spirituality from a management perspective.  It involves a term for many beliefs and practices intended to develop one’s inner life. It is associated with a feeling of interconnectedness. In other words, it is the vital principle that gives a breath of life to a physical organism. 

“Freedom is not given to us by anyone; we have to cultivate it ourselves. It is a daily practice…No one can prevent you from being aware of each step you take or each breath in and breath out,” says Rev. Hanh. 

This beautifully blends with what Dan Zoar, the author of ‘Spiritual Intelligence’ shares. According to her, spirituality is to “know” who you are and spiritual intelligence is to “realise” who you are and to live life in that awareness. You have always been who you are and, in truth, you can never be anyone other than who you are, but it requires “realisation” i.e. that moment when you “see it”, when you “get it” and then you “be it”.

Spirituality is different from being religious. You can go to all the religious places in the world but if you do not demonstrate values in your action, you are not spiritual yet. Being spiritual is essentially about maintaining three connections. They are connecting to self, to others and to the universe (higher being). 

Spiritual intelligence

According to Zohar and Marshall (1997), it is intelligence that makes us whole, that gives us our integrity. It is the intelligence of the deep self. It is the intelligence with which we ask fundamental questions and with which we reframe our answers.

Kathleen Noble (2000) tells us that it is the conscious recognition that physical reality is embedded within a larger, multidimensional reality with which we interact, consciously and unconsciously, on a moment-to-moment basis.

In brief, it is the conscious pursuit of psychological health, not only for ourselves but also for the sake of the global community. It can even be simplified further as Tony Buzan (2001) does. Spiritual intelligence is the awareness of the world and your place in it. It is also the ability to act with wisdom and compassion, while maintaining inner and outer peace, regardless of the circumstances (Wigglesworth, 2004).

Therefore, it is interesting to see that a distinctly different intelligence is emerging in the form of spiritual intelligence. What are the ingredients of it? Let’s discover them now.

Components of spiritual intelligence

“It is possible to live happily in the here and now. So many conditions of happiness are available—more than enough for you to be happy right now. You don’t have to run into the future in order to get more,” says Rev. Hanh. What should we do then? Based on the work done by Zohar and Marshall (1997), the following have been highlighted as key components: 

  • Self-awareness: Knowing what I believe in and value, and what deeply motivates me. As Thich Nhat Hanh, a reputed Vietnamese monk, said: “Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”  
  • 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; seeing problems in a 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.

Having looked at the components of spiritual intelligence, it will be interesting to see its connection to values.

Values as the core

Jim Collins’ best-selling book ‘Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies’ concludes that truly great companies are visionary and value-driven. In his latest book, ‘Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t’, Collins researched 11 companies that made the transition from being good companies to “great” companies on par with the companies in “Built to Last”. A key finding was that each company had what he called “Level 5 Leadership” or in simple terms, leadership at its greatest level. 

The logical connection here is that great leaders seem to demonstrate most or all of the characteristics described as spiritual intelligence by Zohar. Great leaders showed a profound personal humility and a powerful faith that they and their company would prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties. “We humans have lost the wisdom of genuinely resting and relaxing. We worry too much. We don’t allow our bodies to heal and we don’t allow our minds and hearts to heal,” observes Rev. Hanh. 

Spiritual intelligence as five-fold capacities

Robert Emmons (2000) illuminates five key capacities of spiritual intelligence. They are as follows: 

  • The capacity to transcend the physical and material.

    This refers to the mental action of thinking beyond what is seen. It involves a deep level of thinking.

  • The capacity to experience heightened states of consciousness.

    This is essentially mindfulness. An area where conscious breathing can be of very high importance. 

  • The capacity to sanctify our everyday experience.

    This refers to accepting things as they are rather than as they ought to be. It makes one positive and constructive.

  • The capacity to utilise spiritual resources to solve problems.

    Relying on your ‘built-in wisdom’ or trusting your gut in approaching problems where there is no precedence is what this means. 

  • The capacity to be virtuous.

    The reference here is to be ethical in demonstrating values in action.

It seems the common thread that cuts across all the above aspects is connectivity. 

SI in action

Spirituality should be reflected in action. Four Zen-like principles which are simple as ideas yet so deep as actions shed light on this. 

  • Whoever comes is the right person.
  • Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happen.
  • Whenever it starts is the right time.
  • Whenever it is over, it is over.

Untitled-12By practicing spiritual intelligence, the seven sins of the world as identified by Mahatma Gandhi can be overcome, at least where an individual has some influence. 

  • Wealth without work
  • Pleasure before conscience
  • Knowledge without character
  • Commerce without morality
  • Science without humanity
  • Worship without sacrifice
  • Politics without principle

Way forward

What we have done so far is just experience a drop from a vast ocean. It is just an introduction to a theme which is vastly experiential. Our rational intelligence will tell us what we know. Our emotional intelligence will tell us how we feel. Our spiritual intelligence will tell us who we are. It is all about being. Let’s be human beings and not ‘human doings’ or ‘human undoings’. 

“It is possible to live happily in the here and now. So many conditions of happiness are available—more than enough for you to be happy right now. You don’t have to run into the future in order to get more,” says Rev. Thich Nhat Hanh while meaningfully summarising the power of presence. 

Discovering the magic of the present moment is more a journey than a destination. Let that inward journey be a meaningful one. 


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