What Ancient Spiritual Traditions Can Teach Us About Modern-Day Thriving

Sometimes being present in the moment means drawing on the wisdom of the past.

Courtesy of Nazar Abbas Photography/Getty Images

This is a spiritual week across multiple religions. The Christian Holy Week includes Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, all leading up to Easter Sunday. Many Muslims around world will celebrate the birthday of Hazrat Ali on Friday, and followers of Judaism will observe Passover starting on Friday evening.

For many, this means that religious and spiritual practices are more present than usual in thought and conversation. No matter your religious affiliation, this can be a time of reflection and mindfulness and there are many ancient religious and spiritual traditions that can teach us about how to live a happy and fulfilling life.

Observing the Sabbath with rest, family, and no phones

Many Jews observe the Sabbath, the Jewish holy day, every week from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. The word Shabbat, Hebrew for Sabbath, is derived from the Hebrew word for rest.

The Sabbath is a time for not only rest, but also reflection and family gatherings. As Thrive Global Founder and CEO Arianna Huffington wrote in her book Thrive, it “is a time for introspection, spending time with family and friends, and doing anything but working—a biblical mandate to unplug and recharge.”

A project called the Sabbath Manifesto—which is described as “an adaption of our ancestors’ ritual of carving out one day per week to unwind, unplug, relax, reflect, get outdoors, and connect with loved ones”—led to a National Day of Unplugging in America.

Avoiding (digital) temptation

For Christians, the period beginning on Holy Thursday and ending on Easter Sunday is perhaps the most important of the year. As worshipers mourn the death of Jesus Christ, many adopt the rituals of mourning — a contemplative experience that ideally should not be interrupted by the beeping, buzzing distractions of our modern, tech-saturated world. One priest, Fr. Gary Benz of Bismarck, N.D., shared his thoughts on how to honor this tradition with The Pilot, a Catholic news source: “It would be great if homes could silence the radios, televisions, technology, phones, iPads – to the best they can. Even limited talked and conversation, just to meditate that Christ is in the tomb.” This combination of meditation, contemplation, and digital detox can extend beyond Easter practices as well.

Social Justice and the Haggadah

The Haggadah, one of many Passover traditions, is a guide that tells the story of Passover and is typically read during the seder. According to My Jewish Learning, there are many different versions of the Haggadah and “many newer Haggadot explore alternative meanings for common seder symbols or encourage seder participants to reflect on the larger themes of emancipation and redemption and to explore their own personal feelings of persecution and freedom.” The site also explains that topics explored by these texts include the civil rights movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, LGBTQ rights, world hunger, and labor and justice issues.

Serving others on Holy Thursday

The Holy (or “Maundy”) Thursday washing of the feet ceremony is, according to Vatican News, meant to be “a gesture of loving service.” Some church officials have taken this opportunity to serve some of the world’s most vulnerable people. In the Philippines, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila will wash the feet of refugees, migrants, and a priest who was “held captive by the Maute terrorist group for almost four months.”

This year, Pope Francis will be washing the feet of inmates at a prison in Rome. The Washington Post notes that this ritual is “meant to show his willingness to serve others.” Anyone can benefit from a yearly reminder of service and humility.

Meditation across religions

Meditation and mindfulness are central to most religions and spiritual practices. As Scotty McLennan, former dean for religious life at Stanford University explained, “All religious traditions (and many humanistic, secular ones) have something akin to meditation... No one has a lock on quietude, reflection, stillness, and serenity.”

In Thrive, Huffington extensively explores the prevalence of meditation throughout different religions, writing, “No matter what tradition you follow—or if you follow no tradition—there is some form of meditation and mindfulness that can be integrated into your life.”

She mentions the Christian tradition of Lectio Divina or “divine reading,” which is “a four-part practice of reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation,” Sufism—“a mystical tradition of Sunni Islam” which “emphasizes inner enlightenment and love as the pathways to ultimate truth”—and the “meditative practices” of twelfth-century Kabbalah.

Celebrating life and wonder with (or without) Easter eggs

Easter Sunday is often celebrated with Easter Eggs, one of a few modern holiday symbols that cannot be traced back to the Bible. As history.com explains, the egg is “an ancient symbol of new life” which “has been associated with pagan festivals celebrating spring.” In Christianity, eggs have also come to represent the resurrection of Jesus and have links to the Lenten season. (There’s also an egg on the traditional seder plate, which, TIME notes, “represents spring and the circle of life.”) Focusing on the egg as a symbol for new life might help you take a moment to appreciate anything that inspires, as Huffington put it in Thrive, a “sense of childlike wonder.”

Whether or not you are celebrating a religious holiday this week, taking a moment to be mindful of your surroundings, meditate, serve others, or otherwise appreciate the wonder in life can improve your well-being and help you connect with something larger than yourself. 

Well-Being, Health and Wellness, Inspiration, Wonder, Spirituality, Ancient Wisdom

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