2.2. Intelligence: Adding understanding to the data of consciousness

            When data is present to your consciousness, your intelligence comes into play to make sense out of it. You find their connections to what is familiar to you in the past (memory). You try to name it and understand it. Your mind has questions: What, When, Where, How and Why. When something is present to the consciousness, we seek to understand it and form hypothesis as to what it is and why it is. This hypothesis could be realistic and helpful or very subjective and self defeating.

For example, a student noticed that the formator did not call him for a meeting in which all others were present. He tries to understand by connecting other relevant data and form the hypothesis that he was probably absent at the time the information was given. A similar case may make another to form a hypothesis that the formator does not like him because he comes from another cultural group.

We do make hundreds of hypotheses and form our own world view to make sense out of all the data that bombards us every day. Hypothesis is not reality. It is your working model for understanding what is happening. Actually, all of us live in a “constructed” reality.

 Who has seen the Taj Mahal?

A group of experts visited the famous Taj Mahal and came back with different experiences:

One of them opened his eyes in disbelief at the beauty of the exquisite marble edifice so marvellously standing out in the sky. He spent time looking at the carved forms of the marble pieces…a miracle of architecture.

Another saw in it a symbol of romantic love made eternal by a beloved lover. His heart warmed up at the thought of his own recently found lover.

A third one saw a luxurious tomb made by a Muslim king who used the riches of a nation to make his name great. His mind wandered through his historical knowledge of the vanity of emperors.

The fourth man saw in it the reaction formation of a guilt-ridden king who had left behind his pregnant wife for an ambitious war expedition and returned only to find her dead at the birth of his child. He wonder whether the King had episodes of infidelity to his wife during the expedition.

            It would be interesting to observe your own world view from a distance. There may be many funny things about you worth laughing about. If you can put yourself into the mind set of another person who shares the same external circumstances as yours and look at the realities that are dear to you, you may discover a very different perspective of the same.

Exercise: 1

Sit relaxed… observe your breathing…

Imagine yourself as a third person (as if you were from another context) and look at your world view… your view of the city you live, your attitude to Catholic church, your congregation, other people in our contact, sex, family, war in Iraq, terrorism etc. Imagine a mendicant whom you have seen in the city square or someone who has come to you begging for something; put yourself in the shoes of that person and try to see what might be his understanding of the same things you have observed about yourself: the same city you live in, the Catholic church, the congregation, family, other people, sex, the war in Iraq, terrorism etc.

What impact does this exercise have on you?

Exercise 2

Imagine yourself to be born in a Hindu or Muslim family, or one of the religious or cultural groups familiar to you but different from yours and go through the possible mindset you would have. Be sure that you are not carried away by religious prejudices, but go through the process with an open mind.

            Our intellect processes problems by finding relations between objects and organizes their connections in order to reach an objective. Try to solve the following puzzle:

Exercise 3.

Be relaxed, read through the puzzle and resolve the problem:

There is a concert that starts in 17 minutes and four of the bandsmen stand on one side of a bridge and must cross over to reach the music hall. You must help them cross to the other side in time. It is night. There is one torchlight. A maximum of two people can cross at one time. Any party that crosses the bridge, either 1 or 2 people, must have the torchlight with them. The torchlight must be carried back and forth, it cannot be thrown. Each band member walks at a different speed. A pair must walk together at the rate of the slower man’s pace:

Time to cross the bridge: Mat-1 minute; Mark – 2 minutes ; Luke- 5 minutes; John- 10 minutes.

For example: if Mark and John walk across first, 10 minutes have elapsed by the time they get to the other side of the bridge. If John then returns with the flashlight, a total of 20 minutes have passed and you have failed the mission. After you have succeeded or tried a few times and failed, sit back and become aware of the way your mind went about resolving the problem.

            Notice how you went about the problem. How did your mind function as you were trying to solve the problem. If you tried by trial and error by placing different options, you may get easily tired mentally. Did you use any strategy to arrive at a solution. For example, did you decide to get Luke and John to cross the bridge together and only once to save time. Backward movement is to be done only by Mathew or Mark.

Solution: First, Mathew & Mark cross the bridge (2 minutes). Mathew comes back (1 minute). Luke and John cross the bridge (10 minutes). Mark comes back (2 minutes).Again Mathew and Mark cross the bridge (2 minutes). Total: 17 minutes.

            You make meaning out of the stimulus based on what is perceived, your past experience and the organizational capacity to form a meaningful image. Beware! What you see and understand about something will not be the same as another who sees and understands it in a different way.

Limitations at this phase:

  • Limitations in the perception of data. The less data available to you, the more limited will be your understanding reality. For example, if you miss some classes during the year, by year’s end your grasp of the subject will be different from the students who attended all the classes.
  • Limitations of intelligence. People are doted with different degrees of intelligence. It affects the way data is organized into a meaningful whole. For example, exercise 3 above may be easily solved by a gifted person.
  • Limitations imposed by the internal world of affects, ideas and the unconscious. For example, unconscious anger can make one to see a casual event in a very unfavourable way. A person with deep seated feeling of inferiority may be very hurt by a casual funny comment about his nationality.
  • You can improve your capacity for understanding the world around you in a more unbiased way
    • by learning about how others generally perceive it.
    • gaining scientific knowledge about it
    • becoming aware of your emotions that may interfere your process of understanding.

Not Dead Yet
The Emperor asked Master Gudo, “What happens to a man of enlightenment after death?”

“How should I know?” replied Gudo. “Because you are a master,” answered the Emperor.

“Yes sir,” said Gudo, “but not yet a dead one.”

2.3. Critical mind: to arrive at a Judgement of value

            As we seek to understand the reality around us, we also critically evaluate it in terms of whether it is true or false, good or bad. We bring our understanding of what is perceived (hypothesis) to the test of our critical thinking so as to check it against the data received and also in terms of the ideals and values we hold. Our critical mind alerts us about the contradictions, paradoxes and limitations that may be present in our understanding. The question that is raised at this phase is: Is it true? Is it really good? For example, when you went out to the town and watched a movie without permission from your superiors and gave a plausible explanation for your delay in reaching home, your inner sense will alert you over the discrepancy between your action and the ideal, even though your explanation has been logically sound and acceptable for the superior. This inner radar cautions us against the possible dangers that may lie ahead of us.

            The gift of a critical mind saves us from individual and collective pitfalls of subjectivism and orients us to the world of objective reality. It leads us to a realm beyond our subjective interpretations to objective and enduring values. Life makes no sense if there is no ultimate Truth and Goodness to which every human being is oriented. History has witnessed the rise and fall of ideologies and dictators whose lack of veracity has been exposed in the course of time. This is because what is not true and good cannot stand. If Jesus is the Son of God, he does not need body guards to protect that truth about him. He needs only people to proclaim it!

Our critical sense makes a difference between:

  • Facts and beliefs (or opinions). For example, when a person exaggerates your qualities, you have a sense that it is not true.
  • Apparent good and real good. A very gratifying action need not necessarily be a real good, even when it is apparently admirable. For example, a formator who spends most of his time out in retreat preaching.
  • Particular action and integral good: Our critical mind checks our actions against our integral good even when the action is perceived as good and important for oneself. For example, certain use of Internet may be gratifying, but it can also be damaging to your vocational life. Your critical sense will alert you unless you silence it by rationalization, denial etc.
  • Temporary values and lasting values: The distinction between what is transient and eternal is crucial for us. Morality and religion are grounded on this distinction. For example, a sensual indulgence is an emotional trip, but short lived. A creation of art is joyful and more lasting. An act of charity leaves a more enduring satisfaction than a hearty meal. It is because of this distinction that people dedicate themselves to lasting values even at the cost of renouncing many pleasures.

Exercise 1.

            Take a few moments to relax by observing your breathing. Think of an event you consider to be a wrong doing in your life. Bring colour to the images and see them close up. Look at the event critically from the perspective of its impact on your final goals or ideals. Look at the ideal itself and ask whether it is good in itself or only an apparent good. For example, think of an incident where you received a criticism that caused you suffering and you responded with a defensive reaction. What is the good that you wanted to protect by your reaction? Your good name? Is it really important to have a good name or is it important to be an authentic person even if people misunderstand you? What exactly is it that they want you to change in you? What in you makes it difficult for you to benefit from a criticism or a correction?

Exercise. 2.

Think of anything that causes you pain, frustration or hurt at the present moment of your life. Critically look at them closely by asking the following questions:

What is happening? What is my feeling about it? What are my thoughts? How do I respond to it? What is it that I want in this regard? Is what I want really possible and is it really good? How can I interpret the meaning of this pain as an invitation to affirm what is truly good for my vocational life?

Exercise 3: Look at the two pictures and see how if you can makes sense of them. Your mind struggles to organize each into a meaningful whole while in reality they are logically impossible..

            Is such a design possible in reality? You know that it is an optical illusion and that a design cannot be fashioned in this way.

How many legs are there for this elephant? Confused? Why can’t there be an elephant with this kind of leg formation? Observe your mental process and see how it affects you.

Your mind follows some implicit rules in organizing stimulus. For example, the principle of non-contradiction.

 Often we tend to judge ourselves more favourably to maintain self-esteem.

Exercise 4. Self-Evaluation

Answer the questions below as honest as possible.

  1. N.How do you rate yourself as a student/ Religious?
  • Well above average
  • Above average
  • Average
  • Below average
  • Well below average

B. Compared to other students/Religious in your group,
how would you rate your ability to get along with others?

  • Well above average
  • Above average
  • Average
  • Below average
  • Well below average

  C. Howconfident are you in the accuracy of your ratings? Mark your rating.







            In a survey 94% of professionals said that they were better at their jobs than their average colleague. A survey of one million high school seniors found that all students thought they were “above average” in their “ability to get along with others . . . and 25% thought they were in the top 1%”. Beware.. perhaps your judgement about yourself could be exaggerated and ungrounded.


Our critical mind too has its limitations especially those related to the preceding levels of senses and intelligence. We can also be biased by strong emotions and psychological needs. For example, a religious with an affective immaturity may judge the sympathy and affection of a person of the opposite sex as a falling in love and the discovery of a new vocation. Limitations in value formation and deficiencies in one’s capacity for discrimination are other factors that restrict the function of critical thinking.

            The sensibility of our inner radar can be blunted by strong emotions and various defence mechanisms. Immaturity of a person may easily lead him/her to subjective judgements of value resulting in the affirmation of an apparent good. For example, a person with strong feelings of inferiority may judge a casual comment of a companion as very derogatory. The most despicable criminal also does his crime with some feeling of justification in his favour.

            As a person grows in self-awareness, he/she is able to desist consciously from self-defeating and negative judgement of events and move beyond this to search out what is true and good in each circumstance. A mature value judgement goes beyond the right and wrong prescriptions of society to seek universal and objective order of truth and goodness which is sensed by the true self. The “law is written in their hearts” (cf. Jer.31.33, Rom. 2.15). This truth and goodness goes beyond the individual and collective interests.

Chasing two rabbits

   A martial arts student approached his teacher with a question. “I’d like to improve my knowledge of the martial arts. In addition to learning from you, I’d like to study with another teacher in order to learn another style. What do you think of this idea?”

“The hunter who chases two rabbits,” answered the master, “catches neither one.”


2.4. Willing what is true and good : decision and action

The final level in this process is that of decision making and action. The faculty that comes into play here is the will. Often good desires, resolutions and decisions are defeated by a weak will which fails to take them into action. Sometimes well-reflected propositions for improvement fail for lack of willingness on the part of the person to give them a try. For example, an alcoholic who decided to stop drinking experiences the unwillingness to give up drinking when the chance occurs. A student who decides to be punctual in getting up in the morning postpones the decision as his willingness to get up is weakened by the early hour and he continues in his bed hoping to be punctual from the next day onwards.

           You are responsible for those actions that you have chosen consciously and freely. You have the capacity to decide in favour of what is valued as good and true, in tune with your true self. Such decisions lead to responsible actions which we credit to the person who does it. When you do what you have freely and consciously chosen, you act from your real self and get affirmed each time you carry out your convictions. An adult person is expected to take responsibility for his actions. Different societies place an age bar to hold the person responsible for his actions. But many of our actions are rather reactions which we might not be very proud to own up. For example, you may feel sad about exploding in anger. In this case there was no space in you to evaluate the goodness of the action and its consequences on others. Even when you knew it to be unhealthy, you could not help but explode. There are times you know something to be bad, but end up doing it anyway: drinking too much alcohol, gossiping, masturbation etc., even after repeated resolutions not to do it. There seems to be some forces in the human beings that push them to do the very thing they hate (Rom. 7:14-24.)

Exercise. 1

Think of a moment in your life when you acted differently than what you actually would have liked to do, for example, saying a lie or not confronting a person about something that you wanted very much to say but did not do so because of fear. Imagine how you would have acted differently if you had a stronger will. Imagine yourself possessing it and acting accordingly in a future similar situation.

Exercise. 2.

Choose a difficult action step you had resolved to take up in the past and went on postponing due to a weak will (for example, praying regularly at a particular time). Decide willingly and freely to take it up and become aware of your inner resistance as you carry it out. If you fail again, look at the whole process and learn from the event to know what are your inner resistances.

Exercise 3.

Choose a practical and realistic physical exercise adapted to your age and situation for maintaining your health, make out a time table, and begin doing it. Observe how you go about it and notice the resistances that come up as you progress. See how long your decisions endure.


            Even when you know that it is good to do something, you may not automatically carry it out. Knowing something to be good is different from doing that good. Many of your difficulties arise from limitations that you are not conscious of. There are unconscious motivations that interfere with your conscious choices and defeat your cherished projects. As you become ever more aware of the various forces acting in you, it will be easier to take advantage of their positive or negative contribution to the reaching your conscious goals. As you grow in self awareness, you become more conscious of your self as the organizing principle of your subjective world and your will is more in command of the dictates of your true self. The more you are in touch with your true self, the more you can be centred on God, the ground of your being, the centre of your centre, the life of your life. The will of the awakened person is not easily dictated by passing feelings and the pressure of the immediate.

Strengthening the will

  • conscious, value based motivations
  • contact with one’s true self
  • authentic love
  • management of psychological needs and inner resistances
  • inner healing of past personal hurts
  • Self acceptance
  • Practice

Who is the owner ?

A group of young men wanted to put the unruffled Buddha to test. They gathered around the enlightened Buddha to hurl abuses on him. The disciples got so annoyed with their abusive words and the unperturbed silence of the master who was unmindful of the behaviour of the gangsters. They urged the master to give permission to give an apt response to the young ruffians.

Buddha asked if they had a coin with them. One of them handed a silver coin to the master who declined to accept the coin and asked, “Now you are giving me this coin, but if I do’t take it, to whom does it belong to: you, the giver, or to me who decided not to accept it? “To me, the giver”, said the puzzled disciple.

“So it is. The abuses of the young men belong to them, because I decided not to accept   it”.

3. Conclusion

“What shall I do to have eternal life?”, the rich young man asked Jesus. But when Jesus invited him to follow his style of life, the young man went away gloomy. To follow Jesus is to enter into a new and deep way of seeing, understanding, judging and doing things. It is like digging deep and taking out the treasure for yourself, rather than sitting over the site where the treasure is said to be hidden. The celebration of Christian life requires an internal journey into the mystery of our being where we discover our vocation as human, Christian and Claretian. There are proven methods to delve into the realm of the underworld and take possession of some of the hidden agendas that can impede our spiritual progress. Once taken care of they will enhance your growth.

            In this series of articles, I place before you many exercises to unwrap your inner self so as to put into motion a journey of self-awareness and self-formation. What is presented here is no substitute for your mentors (your formators, spiritual guides and counsellors). It is to aid the whole process of self-awareness and awakening which enables you to sing a joyful magnificat of life.

The Moon Cannot Be Stolen

A Zen Master lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening, while he was away, a thief sneaked into the hut only to find there was nothing in it to steal. The Zen Master returned and found him. “You have come a long way to visit me,” he told the prowler, “and you should not return empty handed. Please take my clothes as a gift.” The thief was bewildered, but he took the clothes and ran away. The Master sat naked, watching the moon. “Poor fellow,” he mused, “ I wish I could give him this beautiful moon.”

“Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” Rom. 12.2

N.B. The stories and the images given in this article are not of the author. They are collected from the general circulation which are used here for a formative goal.