Journeying, Storytelling & Spiritual Intelligence
by Michael Berman

Before dealing with what has been called the third form of intelligence, it might be helpful to say a few words about the other two forms – IQ and EQ. IQ Tests were developed by Binet early in the 20 th century and were frequently used to assess the potential of children in schools until quite recently. Tests of this type, however, have now fallen into disrepute. All they test is linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence and this traditional definition of intelligence is now regarded as too narrow. The educational psychologist most responsible for this change of attitude is Howard Gardner, the creator of the Multiple Intelligence Theory.

Gardner’s work at the Boston University School of Medicine lead to the identification of eight criteria for the existence of intelligence types: potential isolation by brain damage, the existence of prodigies such as autistic savants, an identifiable set of core operations, a distinctive developmental history along with a definable set of expert end-state performances, an evolutionary history, support from experimental psychological tasks, support from psychometric findings, and susceptibility to an encoding symbol system. (see Gardner, 1983, for further details).

Gardner originally identified seven intelligence types which satisfy the above criteria and our intelligence profiles consist of combinations of the different types: linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal – the way we relate to others, and intrapersonal – our ability to self-evaluate.

The term Emotional Intelligence, popularised by Daniel Goleman (1996), covers what Gardner refers to as interpersonal plus intrapersonal intelligence, sub-divided into five domains – knowing your emotions, managing your emotions, motivating yourself, recognizing emotions in others, and handling relationships.

Gardner refers to intelligences as potentials that will or will not be activated, depending upon the values of a particular culture, the opportunities available in that culture, and the personal decisions made by individuals, their families, schoolteachers, and others.

A student who believes that intelligence can be developed is likely to be persistent and adventurous. However, a learner who thinks that ability is fixed, is more likely to get upset when faced with failure as it can only be construed as evidence of inadequate ability. The fluid “theory” of intelligence advocated by Gardner encourages students to stretch themselves.

In his book “Intelligence Reframed” Gardner adds Naturalist Intelligence, our talent for classifying and categorising, to the original Magnificent Seven. He also speculates on the possibility of their being both a spiritual intelligence and an existential intelligence but comes to no definite conclusions. Danah Zohar, however, makes out a convincing case for their being a Spiritual Intelligence in “Spiritual Intelligence The Ultimate Intelligence” (2000) and the way in which this can be activated in the classroom will be the subject of this article.

Does the fact that we each have a unique profile mean that we should plan individual lessons for everyone in the class to take this into account? Clearly this would be impractical and the solution lies in including material designed to appeal to each of the types in every lesson we give. The table presented below lists classroom activities that cater for the different Intelligence types. However, this classification is clearly subjective and dependent on individual teaching styles. Moreover, it should also be pointed out that a number of the activities cater for more than one Intelligence type and could consequently be placed in more than one category.

It is important to differentiate between the Learning styles referred to in Neuro-Linguistic Programming, the VAKOG model (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, olfactory, and gustatory), and Intelligence types as the two are often confused. Gardner suggests that it is the decision about how to use one’s favoured intelligences that reflects one’s preferred style.

It follows on from Gardner’s theory that unless we teach multi-modally and cater for all the intelligence types in each of our lessons, we will fail to reach all the learners in the group whichever approach to teaching we adopt. To explain it another way, Goethe said in his prologue to Faust, “Who offers many things will offer some to many a one” and the same can be said of teaching. Another reason for teaching multi-modally is that with high levels of stimulus and challenge there are higher ratios of synapses (connections) to the neurons in the brain. This means more routes for higher order cognitive functioning. The optimal conditions for synaptic growth would include multiple complex connective challenges where, in learning, we are actively engaged in multi-sensory immersion experiences.

MI theory, according to Gardner, is an endorsement of three key propositions:

  • We are not all the same.
  • We do not all have the same kinds of minds.
  • Education works most effectively if these differences are taken into account rather than denied or ignored.

He suggests that the challenge of the next millennium is whether we can make these differences central to teaching and learning or whether we will instead continue to treat everyone in a uniform way. Gardner proposes “individually configured education” – an education that takes individual differences seriously and crafts practices that serve different kinds of minds equally well. It should be pointed out, however, that Gardner himself is not a practising teacher, and it is up to those of us who are to devise ways of putting this into practice.

According to Zohar (2000), SQ (Spiritual Intelligence) can be defined as what we use to develop our longing and capacity for meaning, vision and value. It facilitates a dialogue between reason and emotion, between mind and body. SQ allows us to integrate the intrapersonal and the interpersonal, to transcend the gap between self and other.

There is believed to be a built-in spiritual centre located among neural connections in the temporal lobes of the brain. Evidence to support this hypothesis is based on scans taken with positron emission topography, which that these neural areas light up whenever research subjects are exposed to discussion of spiritual or religious topics. Neurobiologists have now dubbed the area of the temporal lobes concerned with religious or spiritual experience the ‘God spot’ or the ‘God module’.

One of the first people to consider this question was Mandell (1980), who suggested that physiological mechanisms associated with transcendent states are based in a common underlying neurobiological pathway involving the temporal lobe. He identified the hippocampus as ‘the focal point for the activities producing transcendent consciousness through the mechanisms that reduce the inhibitory serotonin regulation of temporal lobe limbic function’ (Winkelman, 2000, p.132).

Plenty of evidence can be found to support the case for their being a spiritual form of intelligence, for example in McClenon’s book:

People who report religious experiences are more likely than others to display enhanced temporal lobe signs, and temporal lobe epilepsy is associated with particular types or religiosity, suggesting that this region of the brain affects religious functioning. Kenneth Dewhurst and A.W. Beard surveyed patients with temporal lobe epilepsy; 38 percent showed particular interest in religion after the onset of their illness compared to 8 percent who showed religious interest before the onset of illness (McClenon, 2002, p.90).

Other researchers in “neurotheology” (using brain imaging techniques to study spiritual contemplatives) have also observed that prayer and meditation can bring about a shift in brain activity associated with such unitive experiences as “the presence of God” and “oneness with the universe” (see Newberg, d’Aquili, & Rause, 2001, pp. 115-116).

The brain’s unitive experience emanates from synchronous 40 Hz neural oscillations that travel across the whole brain. According to Zohar, the 40 Hz oscillations are the neural basis of SQ, a third intelligence that places our actions and experience in a larger context of meaning and value, thus rendering them more effective. Everything possesses a degree of proto-consciousness but only certain special structures, like brains, have what is needed to generate full-blown consciousness. In this case, we conscious human beings have our roots at the origin of the universe itself. Our spiritual intelligence grounds us in the wider cosmos, and life has purpose and meaning within the larger context of cosmic evolutionary processes.

The indications of a highly developed SQ listed by Zohar include flexibility, self-awareness, a capacity to face and transcend pain, the ability to be inspired by vision and values, a tendency to see the connections between diverse things, the ability to ask the right questions and to seek “fundamental” answers, and a facility for working against convention. And what becomes apparent when considering this list is how all the indications are qualities that shamans are traditionally believed to possess.

Peggy Ann Wright (1995), working at Lesley College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, studied the link between heightened temporal lobe activity and shamanistic experiences, and found that rhythmic drumming of the sort used in a vast range of spiritual rituals excites the temporal lobes and associated areas of the limbic system. As we have already shown, rhythmic drumming is only one of many ways of accessing conducive states for trancework. Guided visualisation can also be used to excite the temporal lobes and the process can be used in the classroom. In a similar way, every time you introduce a tale starting “once upon a time”, you are inviting your audience to transcend their linear concepts of time and space and so enter a light state of trance. Consequently, both guided imagery and story telling can be used in class to facilitate the development of SQ.

The material that follows can form the basis of a lesson that makes use of both story telling and visualisation and is designed to develop SQ. I have used it with adult students of English as a Foreign Language and it deals with the subject of equality:

Some people are so full of self-importance that they set themselves above the rest of us and we are equally to blame because we are prepared to bow down to them and to worship them as if they were Gods. That’s what this Native American tale is all about. The Native Americans believe humour is sacred and it is through the use of humour as a teaching tool that this story gets its message across.


Once a long time ago, the dogs were trying to elect a president. So one of them got up in the big dog convention and said: “I nominate the bulldog for president. He’s strong. He can fight.”

“But he can’t run,” said another dog. “What good is a fighter who can’t run? He won’t catch anybody.”

Then another dog got up and said: “I nominate the greyhound, because he can definitely run.

But the other dogs objected: “He can run all right but he can’t fight. When he catches up with somebody, what happens then? He gets beaten up, that’s what! So all he’s good for is running away.

Then an ugly little mongrel jumped up and said: “I nominate that dog for president who smells good underneath his tail.”

And immediately an equally ugly mongrel jumped up and yelled: “I second the motion.” At once all the dogs started sniffing underneath each other’s tails. A big chorus went up:

“Phew, he doesn’t smell good under his tail.”

“No, neither does this one.”

“He’s certainly no presidential prospect!”

“No, he’s no good, either.”

“This one certainly isn’t the people’s choice.”

When you go out for a walk, just watch the dogs. They’re still sniffing

underneath each other’s tails. They’re still looking for a good leader, and they still haven’t found him.


Pre-Listening: Some people say that all politicians are the same and it doesn’t matter very much who you vote for because nothing ever changes. Here’s an American Indian story which suggests an alternative way of choosing a suitable candidate! While you’re listening, find the answers to these questions:

Why was the bulldog an unsuitable candidate?

Why was the greyhound an unsuitable candidate?

What kind of dog suggested a solution to the problem?

What was the solution and what do you think of it?



A considerable number of initiatory motifs can be found in the literature that, from the twelfth century, gave a leading role to Arthur and the other heroes searching for the Holy Grail (1). Such romances invariably feature a long eventful quest for marvellous objects, which frequently involves the heroes’ entering other worlds. And the fact that such tales were so popular indicates that they must have satisfied a profound need in people at that time, indeed as they still do today (see Eliade, 2003, pp.123-125). Humans can be said to understand themselves, in mythological terms, as having been constituted by events that happened in the primal times. By recollecting these myths and re-enacting them in rituals, or by identifying with the characters in the stories, we can become contemporary with the powerful time of the beginnings once again, and this is what accounts for their appeal (see Doty, 2000, p.97).


SCRIPT FOR THE GUIDE: (To be read in a gentle trance-inducing voice.) Make yourself comfortable and close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths to help you relax. Breathe in the light and breathe out all your tightness. Feel the tension disappear stage by stage from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. Let your surroundings fade away as you gradually sink backwards through time and actuality and pass through the gateway of reality into the dreamtime. (When the participants are fully relaxed, begin the next stage.)

Sometimes, like all of us, you probably consider yourself unworthy and can’t resist the temptation to compare yourself to others. And perhaps, like me, you went to a school where everyone was given a class position at the end of term and you always came near the bottom. Not to worry because help is close at hand, probably closer than you realize.

You enter the doorway of what appears to be a Cathedral. Your name is being called and you hear a fanfare of trumpets. As if in a dream, you are lead down the central aisle. Smell the incense being burned and listen to the singing of the choir. Each of the stained glass windows in the walls depicts a scene from history – pictures of all the great artists, writers, composers, scientists, politicians, inventors and discoverers. Take a minute of clock time, equal to all the time you need, to study the pictures ….

At the far end you see an enormous round table. All the seats are taken except for one. You look around at the faces and see all the people you’ve ever admired seated in a circle. Who should be sitting in the empty chair? Perhaps the teacher who used to read out the list of class positions at the end of each term, or the pupil who was always captain of the school team and who never picked you. Wait a minute. The people at the table seem to be pointing in your direction. You look behind you to see who might be there. After all, it can’t possibly be you. You’re not worthy to be anything more than just an observer. But when you turn around, there’s nobody there. You look back at the Round Table, and this time the people there are even calling you by your name. Yes. There’s no doubt about it. The final place has been reserved for you. You sit down and join the circle, too stunned to say anything.

You’re probably wondering what you are doing here. We all do on our first occasion. You see, we were just like you once, no different. All of us, like you, doubted our worthiness but hid it from the rest of the world. Take a minute of clock time, equal to all the time you need, to ask yourself why the table is round, then the veil that’s obscuring the truth will be lifted and everything will become clear to you …..

We hope that by now you have found the answer. The truth is that all of us are equal, which is why nobody sits at the head. We all have different strengths and weaknesses and we are all unique. Nobody is better or worse, just different. But all of us share one thing in common. Like you we are part of the Great Mystery, the Oneness that gave birth to us. The time has come for you to claim your rightful place too, the place that is your birthright. So take a minute of clock time, equal to all the time you need, to reconnect with that force …..

If ever you should be plagued by self-doubts again, remember this scene. If ever you should feel isolated, then return to this Table. This chair is always yours. Now link hands with everyone present, to complete the circuit between us and to let the current flow. Take a minute of clock time, equal to all the time you need, to appreciate this special moment …..

Now the time has come to return, back to the everyday world waiting for you on the other side. But you return with the recognition of your true worth and this will be with you forever. Never again will you have any cause to doubt your value. So retrace your steps now, back down the aisle, back past the stained glass windows, back, back, through time and actuality, back through the gateway between the two worlds, and back to the place you started from.

Take a deep breath, release it, open your eyes and stretch your arms and legs. Stamp your feet on the ground to make sure you’re really back. Welcome home! Take a few minutes in silence to take some notes on the experiences you had on your journeys, which you can then share with the rest of the group/ make a note of in your dream journal.

For the construction of the above script, Houston’s The Search for the Beloved (1987) and Grinder & Bandler’s Trance Formations (1981) were both found to be of help – the former for providing examples of scripts and the latter for the analysis of the most appropriate forms of language to employ for the purpose. Feinstein and Krippner’s Personal Mythology (1988) also contains examples of guided visualisations. However, their references to meetings with an “Inner Shaman” could be regarded as offensive by shamanic practitioners, as could the use of the word “fantasy” to describe what takes place as it could be said to belittle the process. Moreover, the language of the recommended scripts is what one would expect to hear when undergoing clinical hypnosis and lacks for me a certain magic, as can be seen from the following sample:

Prepare to return to your waking consciousness. Counting from five back to one, you will be able to recall all you need of this experience. When you hear the number 1, you will feel alert, relaxed, and refreshed, as if waking from a wonderful nap. FIVE, move your fingers and toes. FOUR, stretch your shoulders, neck, and face muscles. THREE, take a deep breath. TWO, bring your attention back into the room. ONE, open your eyes, feeling refreshed, alert, and fully competent to meet the requirements of your day (Feinstein and Krippner, 1988, p.50).

The importance of ritual includes the fact that it can put us back in touch with our origins and help us to appreciate the way in which all life is connected. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all remind us of our specialness in the scheme of things. The consequence of this is that we have forgotten we are part of the system and instead we act as if we are above it (see Allen, 2000, p.56).


You can start with a brainstorming session to find out how much the learners already know about King Arthur and The Round Table before going into the visualisation. The students can then get together in small groups to talk about the experiences they had on their journeys.

While monitoring the groupwork, the teacher can make a note of effective language used as well as any errors that crop up on an OHT, which can then be dealt with at the end of the session. Start by going through the effective language use to provide “positive strokes” and then go through the errors, giving the learners the opportunity to self-correct if possible.

(1) In Chretien de Troyes Lancelot of the Lake, for example, the knight, in search of the abducted Guinevere, is told to go to the sword-bridge which no man has ever crossed before. Riding to it we are told that Lancelot ceased to know “whether he was alive or dead” and even forgot his own name. After several days and many adventures he arrives at the bridge which flows over a river “as swift and raging, as black and turgid, as fierce and terrible as if it were the devil’s stream.” And he has not only the bridge itself to contend with, for he now sees that the far shore is guarded by two fierce lions. The lions of this story are plainly a surrogate for the dogs which occur in many other contexts, as for example in Altaic shamanism, and who, one must suppose, are related to Kerberus, the watchdog of Hades. Undaunted, Lancelot resolves to cross all the same and, before doing so, removes the armour from his feet and hands. Thus, unprotected, he passed over “with great pain and agony, being wounded in the hands, knees and feet”. However, once on the other side he finds the lions were only figments of his own disturbed imagination. Here we have the Narrow Bridge in classically shamanistic form. In his deliberate use of bare hands we have a plain echo of the mutilations, often, self-inflicted, which the tyro shaman undergoes, and … the fact that Lancelot is moving between the two worlds is made abundantly clear by the amnesia which afflicts him on his way to it. He is plainly in a trance-state (Rutherford, 1986, pp.80-81).


Listen to the story and then decide what the moral is. If you don’t like the suggestions given, find a moral of your own!

a. You can’t live without food and water.

b. People need people.

c. Strikes serve no useful purpose.

d. When people work together, disagreements are inevitable.

e. The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.

One day all the Limbs of the Body, the Arms and Legs, got together and complained to the Stomach: “We’re sick and tired of doing all the work while you just eat everything we collect without paying for it and we’ve decided to go on strike.” So the Feet refused to walk, the Hands stopped holding things, the Eyes avoided seeing, the Ears became deaf, the Nose stopped smelling and the Tongue refused to taste.

The Stomach was most upset because he couldn’t get food from anywhere and didn’t know what to do. Sometimes the best thing in such situations is to do nothing and that’s exactly what the Stomach did. He just lay down patiently and waited.

He didn’t have to wait very long because the Arms and the Legs quickly lost all their strength. The Hands began to shake and the Feet began to tremble. The Eyes began to cry, the Ears started to ring like bells, the Nose began to run and the Tongue was as dry as a bone.

When the Stomach saw they had suffered enough, he began to speak: “Now you can see how foolish you’ve been. I digested the food you gave me to produce the energy you need to function.”

When the Limbs heard these words, they felt very ashamed of their actions. “You’re right. We’ve been very stupid. We need you as much as you need us and we’ll never make the mistake of complaining again. We promise. You can be sure we’ve learnt our lesson!”


As a lead-in to the story, you could start with an alphabet game. The aim is for each student to repeat the previous student’s list and add a body part of their own, starting with the next letter of the alphabet!

I’ve got an arm.

I’ve got an arm and a bottom.

I’ve got an arm, a bottom and a chest.

I’ve got an arm, a bottom, a chest and some digits etc.

Possible answers: eyes / feet / gall bladder / hair or hips / index finger / jaw / knees / legs / mouth / nose / ovaries or organs of speech / pores or a palate / egre or a quirk / ribs or retinas / shoulders or shins / toes or thighs / unmentionable parts / varicose veins / wrist or a waist / x-ray vision / zap or a zit

Write the following words on pieces of paper and give them out to the learners before they listen to the text: limbs / body / arms / legs / stomach / feet / hands / eyes / ears / nose / tongue. Tell the class you’re going to read a story to them and every time they hear the word that is written on their slip of paper, they stand up and sit down again. This activity is ideal for the kinaesthetic learners as it gives them an opportunity to stretch their legs and listening for the words to come up in the story helps to hold the learners’ attention during the while-listening stage.

As a post-listening activity, invite the students to work in small groups to produce dialogues between different parts of the body, which they can present to the rest of the class. It should be apparent which parts of the body are speaking without having to mention them by name. The rest of the class can be asked to work out who’s speaking to whom while listening to the presentations as a means of holding their attention.

‘In shamanism [the notion of interdependence] is the idea of the kinship of all life, the recognition that nothing can exist in and of itself without being in relationship to other things, and therefore that it is insane for us to consider ourselves as essentially unrelated parts of the whole Earth’ (Halifax in Nicholson, (comp.), 1987, p.220)

As Zohar herself points out, it is important to emphasise that a mere sense of the spiritual does not guarantee that we can use it creatively in our lives. To have high SQ is to be able to use the spiritual to bring greater context and meaning to living a richer and more meaningful life, to achieve a sense of personal wholeness, purpose and direction (4200 words).


Allen, B. (2000) Last of the Medicine Men, London: BBC Worldwide Ltd.

Berman, M. (2000) The Power of Metaphor, Carmarthen: Crown House.

Berman, M., (2002 2 nd Edition) A Multiple Intelligences Road to an ELT Classroom, Carmarthen: Crown House (first published 1998).

Berman, M. (2001a) ELT through Multiple Intelligences, London:

Berman, M. (2001b) Intelligence Reframed for ELT , London: The Golem Press.

Berman, M. (2005) The Shaman & the Storyteller, Powys: Superscript.

Binet, M & Thomas, S. (1912) Development of Intelligence in Children, Ayer Co Pub.

Doty, W.G. (2000 2 nd edition) Mythogrophy: The study of myths and rituals, Tuscaloosa, Alabama: University of Alabama Press.

Eliade, M. (2003) Rites and Symbols of Initiation, Putnam, Connecticut: Spring Publications (originally published by Harper Bros., New York, 1958).

Feinstein, D., & Krippner, S. (1988) Personal Mythology: The Psychology of Your Evolving Self, Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc.

Gardner, H. (1983) Frames of Mind, New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, H. (1993) MultipleIntelligences – The Theory in Practice, New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, H. (1999) Intelligence Reframed, New York: Basic Books.

Goleman, D. (1996) Emotional Intelligence, UK: Bloomsbury.

Grinder, J. & Bandler, R. (1981) Trance Formations, Utah: Real People Press.

Houston J. (1987a) The Search for the Beloved, Los Angeles: Tarcher.

Mandell, A. (1980) Toward a psychobiology of transcendence: God in the brain. In The psychobiology of consciousness, ed. D. Davidson and R. Davidson. New York: Plenum Press.

McClenon, J., (2002) Wondrous Healing: Shamanism, Human Evolution, and the Origin of Religion, Illinois: Northern Illinois University Press / Dekalb.

Newberg, A., d’Aquili, E., & Rause, V. (2001). Why God won’t go away: Brain science and the biology of belief. New York: Ballantine.

Nicholoson, S. (ed.) (1987) Shamanism. An Expanded View of Reality, Wheaton: The Theosophical Publishing House.

Rutherford, W. (1986) Shamanism: the foundations of magic, Wellingborough Northamptonshire: The Aquarius Press.

Salovey, P et al (2004) Emotional Intelligence: Key Readings on the Mayer and Salovey Model, USA: National Professional Resources Inc.

Winkelman, M. (2000) Shamanism: The Neural Ecology of Consciousness and Healing, Westport, Connecticut: Bergin & Garvey.

Wright, P.A. (1995) ‘The Interconnectivity of Mind, Brain, and Bahavior in Altered States of Consciousness: Focus on Shamanism’, Alternative Therapies, 1, No.3, pp.50-55.

Zohar, H., & Marshall, I. (2000) SpiritualIntelligence The Ultimate Intelligence, London: Bloomsbury.


Michael Berman is currently a research student at the University of Wales, Lampeter, and working part-time as a teacher at Oxford House College in London. Publications include A Multiple Intelligences Road to an ELT Classroom and The Power of Metaphor for Crown House Publishing and The Shaman and the Storyteller for Superscript. Michael has been involved in TESOL for over thirty years and has given presentations at Conferences in Austria, Azerbaijan, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, and the Ukraine.

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