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Most of us aren't even aware that we have a spiritual "IQ," so to speak. But experts have found that spiritual intelligence is the very thing that helps us manage our reactions to frustrating situations, and therefore helps us reduce our stress.
"Spiritual intelligence is the capacity to sense, understand, and tap in to the highest part of ourselves, others, and the world around us," says consultant and researcher Paul G. Stoltz, PhD, author of The Adversity Quotient at Work (Morrow, 2000). He believes that this source of inner serenity may be our best defense against the hassles that barrage us every day.
According to Stoltz's polls of more than 100,000 men and women around the world, the number of adversities people report -- ranging from minor miseries to major blows -- has soared from seven a day 10 years ago to 23 today. Women report even more tribulations: a whopping 30 a day.
Sit quietly. The process of cultivating spiritual intelligence begins in solitude and silence. "Most spiritual traditions involve an inner wisdom," says Dean Ornish, MD, the pioneering cardiologist who incorporates spiritual intelligence into his mind-body therapies. "It speaks clearly, but very softly."
To tune in to its whisper, you have to turn down the volume in your busy, noisy, complicated life and force yourself to do nothing at all. Start small by creating islands of silence in your day. In the car, instead of reaching for the radio dial, use the time to reflect. At work, shut the door to your office between meetings, take a few deep breaths, and let them out very, very slowly. At home, create a quiet space for yourself. Take a few minutes each day, perhaps before dinner, to rest your eyes. Savor the stillness in your home after the kids are finally in bed.
Step outside. For many people, nature sets their spirit free. "Being outdoors gives us a sense of timelessness," says Stoltz. "It puts the hassles of daily living into perspective."
Go outside to watch a beautiful sunset. If you're walking the dog, take the time to admire an azalea bush in bloom. Follow the flight of a bird; watch clouds float overhead. Gaze into the night sky and think of the stars as holes in the darkness letting heaven shine through.
Find an activity you enjoy. Because so much of her work as a librarian involves mental labor, Dawn Work, 38, of Des Moines, needed a less cerebral way to tap in to her spirit. "I'm no good at meditation, so I've learned how to weave," she says. "To me, it's a means of getting to know myself."
It's important to find a hobby like Work's that helps you tune in to your spirit. Garden, walk or jog, arrange flowers, listen to music that touches your soul.
Ask questions of yourself. Some people use their contemplative time to focus on a line of Scripture. Others ask open-ended questions, such as "What am I feeling? What are my choices? Where am I heading?"
But don't expect an answer to arrive via some supernatural form of e-mail. "Rarely do I get an immediate answer to my questions," says the Reverend Joan Carter, a Presbyterian minister in Sausalito, California. "But later that day I suddenly find myself thinking about a problem from a perspective I never considered before."
Trust your spirit. Paula Luedtke, 47, had been hoping to heal a breach with her 26-year-old daughter. One day last summer, a woman telephoned her and said, "Mom?" For a moment Luedtke thought it might be her own daughter. When she discovered that it was a wrong number, she told the caller that she hadn't talked to her daughter for 10 years. "This stranger said, 'You should call her right now.' I realized I had just been sent a message: I called my daughter, and we talked for two hours."
Spiritual intelligence can speak not just through others, but through your own body. "Often, I feel a relaxation in my stomach," says Dawn Work. "I just know that something is right."
While most of us rely on gut feelings to alert us to danger, spiritual intelligence usually nudges us toward some action that will lead to a greater good.
This is a lesson that Charlene Baumbich, an author and speaker in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, has learned well. Several years ago she was convinced that she couldn't write a book she'd contracted to do. The day before she planned to scuttle the deal, she went to a crafts fair. There Baumbich found a photograph of a chubby toddler opening a treasure chest -- out of which flew butterflies.
"There was a voice that said, 'Just open the lid. Write the first word.'" So she did. And that book, How to Eat Humble Pie and Not Get Indigestion (Arbor Hill, 1997), was a success. Her advice to other women curious about tuning in to their inner wisdom: Take the first step. Peer inside yourself. And don't be surprised if you find butterflies.
To learn more about spiritual intelligence, experts recommend:
Meditation: The Complete Guide, by Patricia Monaghan (New World Library, 1999). A description of almost 50 types of meditative practices. Working on God, by Winifred Gallagher (Modern Library, 2000). A former Catholic and agnostic explores the roles religion and spirituality play in her life. A Woman's Journey to God, by Joan Borysenko (Riverhead, 2000). How to have a deeper, more meaningful spiritual life. The Spiritual Intelligence Handbook, by Father Paul Edwards (Emmanuel Meals, 1999). Also available at www.emmanuelfullerton.org. Practical advice on discovering and using inner wisdom. The Road Less Traveled, by M. Scott Peck (Simon & Schuster, 1997). The best-selling guide gives psychological and spiritual advice. www.spiritualityhealth.com Offers self-tests, guidance on spiritual practices, and resources for people on spiritual journeys. www.spirituality.org An interactive monthly magazine dedicated to current themes and questions concerning Christian faith. www.beliefnet.com An eclectic, informative guide to different forms of religion and spirituality.