Two Kinds of Intelligence
There are two kinds of intelligence:
one acquired, as a child in school memorizes facts and concepts
from books and from what the teacher says,
collecting information from the traditional sciences
as well as from the new sciences.
With such intelligence you rise in the world.
You get ranked ahead or behind others
in regard to your competence in retaining
information. You stroll with this intelligence
in and out of fields of knowledge, getting always more
marks on your preserving tablets.
There is another kind of tablet, one
already completed and preserved inside you.
A spring overflowing its springbox. A freshness
in the center of the chest. This other intelligence
does not turn yellow or stagnate. It's fluid,
and it doesn't move from outside to inside
through conduits of plumbing-learning.
This second knowing is a fountainhead
from within you, moving out.
–Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks)
Take a moment to let the poem sink in. What came up for you as you read it?
This reliance on ‘acquired intelligence,’ and the emphasis that my formal education placed on it, lead me to a profound distrust of the second type of intelligence. I received a first rate education that instilled a strong belief that the answers to all questions–professional, academic, and spiritual–lay in the expertise, scholarship, and teachings of others. I devalued my own intuition and instincts except insofar as they were validated by others.
It took a period of personal crisis for me to realize that this reliance on acquired intelligence had so profoundly skewed my internal compass that I had lost touch with any sense of my own inherent wisdom or worth. Resetting that compass required some of the most challenging work I’ve ever done. High school calculus had been tough, but learning to connect with and trust my own intuition was infinitely more difficult. It still is.
Today we may have iPads instead of preserving tablets, but the basic distinction Rumi makes has never been more valid. With the emphasis on metrics, standardized testing, and percentile comparisons so deeply rooted in our education system and with children essentially being placed on a system-wide conveyor belt from pre-school through high school or college, there’s not much space dedicated to giving students the chance to study the contours of their own soul.
Rumi’s second type of intelligence affirms the value of each individual. Each of us contain, from birth, a ‘tablet’ that has already been inscribed with deep knowledge and gifts that are utterly unique. We might suck at chemistry or balk at Shakespeare, but there’s something we carry that is intrinsically ours, a ‘fountainhead’ that can spring forth into the world.
The trick to this second type of intelligence is that it’s accessed not by learning stuff, but by practicing the art of surrender, getting out of the way and deeply trusting that we have something valuable to offer. This ‘something’ may not be (and probably isn’t) what we think it is or hope it is. We may resist it. And the longer we resist, the more uncomfortable we become as pressure builds up like water pressing against a cork-plugged dam.
Eventually, the dam will burst. The question is: how do you want it to happen?
Engaging with practices like breathwork, meditation, yoga, and storytelling can help remove the cork gently, creating a space for safe self-exploration and cultivation of the second type of intelligence. So, for that matter, can long walks or time spent in close community with others. There are hundreds of ways to cultivate and connect with the second type of intelligence. The key is to do it.
That Rumi wrote this poem so long ago tells us that there is absolutely nothing new, or New Age, about this type of work. It’s an ancient, universal part of the human experience. So next time you feel like you’re stuck in a job that feels wrong, or like you’re being herded along a path that doesn’t belong to you, or that you have something deep inside that could change the world (but of course you don’t because who are you to carry that kind of genius). . .spare a thought for Rumi and entertain the possibility that the world needs what only you can share.