Heraclitus was one of the wisest “pre-Socratic” (before Socrates) philosophers. Many of his sayings were lost in history, but the best bits were preserved.
I see Heraclitus as a mix between a Zen Buddhist/Taoist and modern philosopher. His ideas make a lot of sense, and are practical in our everyday lives.
Below are some lessons I’ve personally learned from Heraclitus — I hope you can apply some of these ideas to your life to find peace, tranquility, and wisdom:
1. Nothing is stable, all is in flux
Chaos, change, and dis-integration is the natural state of the universe.
Nothing stays the same. It is insanity to expect things in life to be stable.
Do you expect your hometown to stay the same forever? Do you expect your loved ones to stay the same? Do you expect things to never die?
All is in flux, and ever-changing. Don’t try to force things from changing. Embrace it.
Know that change is what life is based on. If there were no change, we couldn’t change wood into fire. We couldn’t change our food in our stomachs into energy.
2. You never step into the same river twice
You’re never the same person. Everyday, your molecules, atoms, and cells change in your body. Who you were yesterday isn’t the same person you were today.
When it comes to life, we never step into the same river twice.
Let’s say you tried to start a business in the past, but failed. Don’t let your past failure prevent your future actions. Because when you try to start a business for the second time, you’re not the same person. And the situation and external world is different.
When you try to imitate, copy, or undertake something that has already been done before — it will be different. Because no two people can step into the same river twice.
My biggest takeaway is that we should always try things, even if we have failed in the past. And not afraid to try new things that others have already done.
Also to know that we’re constantly learning, changing, and evolving as human beings and individuals.
3. Strive to know yourself
No matter how hard we try, we will never truly understand others. Not only that, but no matter how hard we try, we can never control others.
Yet given enough hard work, persistence, and effort — we can get to know ourselves. Not only that, but we can learn how to control ourselves— control our thoughts, emotions, and actions.
Self-wisdom is the ultimate wisdom. Don’t forget the ancient saying: “Know thyself.”
4. The sun is new everyday
No matter how shitty of a day you had, don’t fret— tomorrow will be a new day.
No matter what, the sun always rises in the morning.
Use these thoughts to uplift you. To be positive. To encourage yourself that tomorrow will be better.
The sun is new everyday, and so are you.
5. “Men dig tons of earth to find an ounce of gold”
Your treasure already exists inside you. Your treasure isn’t owning a ton of money, having a lot of possessions, or having a lot of “prestige” or “fame.”
Heraclitus noted thousands of years ago that men will dig through tons of dirt to just find an ounce of gold.
Why work so hard in life for useless material things?
Don’t dig through dirt to find gold. Find the gold inside yourself.
6. “Fools seek counsel from the ones they doubt”
We all want love, appreciation, and support from others. Yet why is it that we become the slaves of the opinions of others— especially to those who we really don’t like?
Personally I’ve fallen victim to this — I work really hard on impressing those who have hurt me in the past.
Don’t seek approval from those individuals who don’t love you. Only seek approval from yourself, and those who are close to you.
7. Difficulty, hunger, pain makes life more worthwhile
Imagine you lived your entire life on a plush cloud. You never had to work, strain, or exert any effort. Would life be worth it?
We only experience joy through sadness. We experience the taste of food through hunger. We celebrate only after exertion.
Whenever you face pain, difficulty, or exertion in your life — know that is what makes life enjoyable, fun, and exhilarating.
So seek to complain as little as you can, and always think to yourself: “How can this difficult situation be an advantage for me in the future?”
8. “Dogs bark at what they cannot understand”
We all have limits to understanding. No matter how smart, experienced, or learned we are — there will always be things we cannot understand.
We fear the criticism and hate of others. But don’t fret— dogs bark at what they cannot understand. Just treat the criticism of others trying to tear you down as barking dogs.
Can a barking dog hurt you? Will you take the advice and feedback from a confused barking dog? Wouldn’t you rather listen to yourself, and your own conscience?
What I love about philosophy is that there are no “right” and “wrong” answers in life. Only different perspectives, that help stimulate our thinking and perception of the world.
I think down inside, we all strive to have less suffering, stress, and anxiety in life. So with all your effort, seek to reduce this pain in your life. Once you’ve cured yourself, you can work hard to better understand the world, and uplift those around you.
I’m still sick mentally, and I will never become “wise.” Yet everyday I try to work on fixing my personal faults, to set an example for others, and to hopefully help others.
I hope these brief lessons above will help empower you. Not only that, but seek to synthesize these lessons in your daily life, and pass on these lessons to others.
If you want to learn more, check out the articles on Stoicism>