Intelligence has always seemed like an abstract notion to me.
Growing up, we are told it has something to do with our grade point average—a myth that I put to rest early on. Then there’s street intelligence, knowing how to navigate our way through rough situations. This seemed limited to me as well, being that the street life could end so abruptly with one misstep or wrong turn. Then there is I.Q., which is yet another stark absurdity.
So, what is intelligence really?
I hadn’t given this much thought up until the last few years through contending with my illness. I always thought of intelligence as an intellectual attainment with perhaps bits and pieces of spiritual undertones, but once I became ill, the notion took on an entirely different interpretation.
When we are faced with tremendous adversity, whether it be illness or tragedy, it becomes fairly clear that our intellect won’t save us. Our capacity to solve advanced algorithms will not help us when the dark night of the soul comes ever so swiftly.
When we hit bottom, neither I.Q., nor street smarts, nor any material form of intelligence will give us the strength to handle ourselves.
Intelligence, to me, implies the capacity to delve deep into ourselves and unveil our most fundamental resources. It is the ability to navigate the movement of our perception, to be active participants in the flow of our consciousness.
I really don’t mean this to sound too mystical or abstract—the truth is that for me, this has been practical.
In essence, intelligence is the capacity to be here now, as the great spiritual teacher Ram Dass used to say.
It is the capacity to be aligned with the immediacy of our present moment experience, to bring about a kind of inward clarity when there ceases to be any outwardly. When we are present, which is to say when our attention is directed solely upon the here and now, then this sense of clarity is induced. At least, that has been the case in my experience.
Now, this is entirely different from thoughtfulness.
Having lots of thoughts doesn’t translate to the ability to be grounded in the present moment. The sheer volume of material floating around our minds confuses us more than it solves any real-world dilemmas. It is more the ability to calm the mind and slow down the movement of our thoughts that puts us in a position to cope with and solve the most profound problems that we are faced with.
My intellect proved rather futile when it came to enduring my symptoms. The more I thought about them, and the more I thought about the overarching debilitation of my condition and difficulty of my life situation, the more lost I felt. And I’m tired of feeling lost.
In contrast to this, when I allow myself to rest in the present moment, to have my awareness centralized in the now, which usually incorporates some kind of breathing technique or meditative practice, then I don’t feel so confused. Things make sense in some strange way, in spite of whatever it is that I’m dealing with.
As an example of this, when I envision my body as a kind of wave that rises and falls with each breath—the roaring rise of the water as I breathe in and the tremendous release and alleviation of the wave crashing as I breathe out (letting everything go)—I bring about a sense of presence and clarity. The more I engage in this practice, the more connected I feel.
True intelligence entails being mostly ourselves—acting out of our deepest and most intuitive drives. That is as far as I can boil it down. It is the uncovering of our most natural inclinations, our most foundational propensities, which implies going beyond the ego mind, beyond the realm of thought and knowledge.
As long as we continue to perceive intellect and thoughtfulness to be the furthest reaches of our intelligence, we will never unveil our greatest potential as human beings. I’ve learned this through my life experience. I don’t care what anyone says about the holiness of science and technology, because look where it has led us. We are destroying the plant, we are murdering each other, we can’t agree on anything, and we seem not to be able to put welfare and peace at the top of our priority list as a species.
The problem is not that we don’t have enough knowledge, rather the problem is that we don’t have enough intelligence.
We must see the distinction.
Again, I am only speaking from the vantage point of my own experience, and this transition from knowledge to intelligence is why I am alive. I would’ve gone mad if I continued to dwell solely in the realm of intellect. I would’ve lost my mind.
So, when we give credence to our more intuitive drives, our innate capacity to be immersed in the immediacy of our own experience, we then bring about this quality of intelligence. Where there is intelligence, then all of the manners of being that we so highly regard—love, joy, kindness, strength—are allowed to flourish.
Author: Samuel Kronen
Image: Hieu Le/Unsplash
Editor: Catherine Monkman