Spiritual Intelligence

by Cindy Wigglesworth

What is spiritual intelligence?

Spirituality is the innate human need to connect with something larger than ourselves... something we consider divine or sacred.

Spirituality – this ‘something larger than ourselves’ (which we will call higher power or higher self) – pulls us beyond the ego self, or what we traditionally identify as ‘me’. Spirituality has both a vertical and a horizontal component:

  • The vertical component is a desire to connect with and be guided by that which is sacred, divine, timeless and placeless... Some phrases used to describe this include source, higher power, ultimate consciousness, God, but you may use whatever term you may prefer
  • The horizontal component is a desire to be of service to fellow humans and to the planet at large.


What does it mean to be spiritually intelligent?

On a piece of paper, try the following exercise:

  1. Write down the names of spiritual leaders/teachers you admire
  2. List the character traits that cause you to admire them.

Over many years, thousands of people have done this exercise and responded with very similar lists. The lists typically include major religious figures from various faith traditions, global peace activists (Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Thich Nhat Hanh and so on), local religious leaders, teachers, guidance counsellors, family members, spiritual writers and even fictional characters, such as Yoda from Star Wars. The descriptors for these ‘spiritual leaders’ typically include

  • Loving, kind, compassionate
  • Forgiving
  • Peaceful, calm, centred
  • Courageous
  • Honesty, integrity, authenticity
  • Humble
  • Generous
  • Persistent in the face of difficulties
  • Faithful
  • Wise
  • Inspiring
  • A good teacher, mentor
  • Sees the good in others
  • Acts in service to something larger than themselves.

Would any of these characteristics be undesirable in a leader? Most people say that they would love to work for someone, and indeed be someone, with these characteristics.

The consistency of the responses suggests that people know what makes someone ‘spiritually intelligent’, even without having any knowledge of spiritual intelligence. What’s needed is a faith-neutral way of describing spiritual intelligence, one that focuses on the traits we hope to cultivate when we seek spiritual growth.

Defining spiritual intelligence


Spiritual intelligence (SQ) is the ability to behave with wisdom and compassion while maintaining inner and outer peace (equanimity), regardless of the circumstances.

Let’s take the spiritual intelligence definition apart, piece by piece.

  • Wisdom and compassion together form the manifestation of love.
  • The word behave is important because it focuses on treating others with compassion and wisdom (love); it’s how we behave that shows our real SQ.
  • Regardless of the circumstances underscores the importance of maintaining both inner peace and outward loving behaviour, even under great stress, which is one of the key traits that we admire in our spiritual leaders.

Based on this definition, spiritual intelligence can be broken down into a series of 21 specific skills, organised into four categories in the model below.

A model of spiritual intelligence (SQ) skills

Higher self/ego-self awareness Universal awareness
  • Awareness of own worldview
  • Awareness of life purpose (mission)
  • Awareness of values hierarchy
  • Complexity of inner thought
  • Awareness of ego self/higher self 
  • Awareness of interconnectedness of all life
  • Awareness of worldviews of others
  • Breadth of time perception
  • Awareness of limitations/power of human perception
  • Awareness of spiritual laws
  • Experience of transcendent oneness
Higher self/ego- self mastery Social mastery/spiritual presence
  • Commitment to spiritual growth
  • Keeping higher self in charge
  • Living your purpose and values
  • Sustaining your faith
  • Seeking guidance from higher self
  • A wise and effective spiritual teacher/mentor
  • A wise and effective change agent
  • Makes compassionate and wise decisions
  • A calming, healing presence
  • Being aligned with the ebb and flow of life

Model is Copyright 2000-2010 Conscious Pursuits, Inc.

Proficiency with each of these skills progresses through five levels and can be assessed using the online SQi questionnaire.

Key message

Love is a bird with two wings. One wing is wisdom and the other is compassion. If either wing is broken, the bird cannot fly.

This metaphor tells us that we have to bring the best of both our head and our heart to behave with love.