Beyond reactivity: Cultivating Spiritual Intelligence

Many of us struggle with the challenge of emotional reactivity in our relationships. Often clients that I talk with are reluctant to bring up difficult or sensitive topics with their partner because they are worried that she/he will react emotionally – perhaps with anger, with tears or by withdrawing and shutting them out.

If their partner reacts, they worry that they will also react — or “lose it”. And a conflict may ensue that won’t be resolved positively. “I don’t want to make things worse than they already are” is the reason I often hear for avoiding these difficult conversations.

However, the cost of NOT addressing things that bother us can take another kind of toll on our relationships – such as growing resentment and/or emotional distancing. So we avoid these potentially reactivating conversations at our own peril.

So how can we learn to deal with our reactivity more constructively? Better yet, how can we prevent it from happening in the first place?

I have written two articles to help individuals prevent arguments (How to Avoid Triggering An Argument) and extricate themselves from unproductive conflict (When It’s Time to Stop Arguing: Understanding “Flooding”). This kind of tactical information can be very helpful in the face of reactivity. We are learning so much today about our brains and neuroscience, which can inform our understanding of how reactivity works.

The realm of spirituality also has much to offer those of us seeking to become less reactive. Interestingly enough, dealing constructively with reactivity has been the focus of various spiritual traditions and practices for many, many years.

In this vein, I want to share two recent articles in the Huffington Post Spiritual Intelligence: Living as Your Higher Self and Who Is Driving Your Life? They are written by a new teacher of mine, Cindy Wigglesworth. Cindy develops and explores the concept of Spiritual Intelligence (SQ), with a view to making the “skills” of living from our Higher Self more accessible. Cindy distinguishes between the immature, impulsive ego self and the calm, wise higher self. I think of them as the “me” that reacts, as opposed to the “me” that is able to respond.

We’re all familiar with the notion of IQ (Intellectual Intelligence) and the more recently identified EQ (Emotional Intelligence). Cindy goes on to explore the realm of SQ (Spiritual Intelligence) — the capacity to live as our noblest self; which is exemplified by our “spiritual heroes”, those individuals we admire and are inspired by.

Typically, says Cindy, these inspiring individuals “have high integrity and are courageous, loving, calm, visionary, selfless, inspiring and making a difference”.

Spiritual heroes come in all shapes and sizes, from all different religious traditions, spiritual paths and walks of life. Cindy has sought to develop a way to talk about the behaviours and skills of SQ that is “diversity-friendly” and not wedded to any particular tradition/religion.

At first I was taken aback by the notion of defining or quantifying spiritual intelligence. After all, one’s spiritual life is a very personal experience! Wouldn’t something be lost by TALKING ABOUT and DEFINING it?

Then I remembered the difference between a menu and the experience of eating. A menu can be very helpful in pointing us in the direction of the food experience we seek! And the description of food is not to be confused with the experience of eating it. Nor does it detract in any way from that experience.

Drawing on the traits common to spiritual exemplars, Cindy defines Spiritual Intelligence as “The ability to behave with wisdom and compassion, while maintaining inner and outer peace, regardless of the situation.”

Think about this definition for a moment. Imagine how our difficult relationship situations could transform if we improved our ability to “maintain inner and outer peace, regardless of the situation” and “behave with wisdom and compassion”!

Says Cindy, spiritual intelligence is an “essential component of both personal and professional development. With SQ we access the voice of our noblest self – our higher self – and let it drive our lives.”

Cindy has identified 21 measurable “skills” or “competencies” that are the components of Spiritual Intelligence, along with an assessment tool to measure them. As I continue my training in these skills and with this tool, I hope to share more about them with you.

In the meantime, check out her blog posts and visit her website at I’d love to hear your thoughts.

2 comments to Beyond reactivity: Cultivating Spiritual Intelligence

  • Exceptionally written article, Shirley. I love your analogy of the menu vs. the actual experience of consuming the food.

    I have recently seen a bold statement that the information age is over and we are currently in the spiritual age. I’m not entirely sure that I 100% agree but I definitely feel that we are in a place where recognizing and developing our spiritual intelligence is invaluable — not only to ourselves, but to making big changes in the world.

    Thanks for your insight on this subject. Looking forward to reading more!

    • Shirley

      I appreciate your comments Karen! Increasing our spiritual intelligence can not only help us MAKE wise changes in the world — it can also help us become more resilient in dealing with the inevitable changes that are beyond our control.