"In the same river we both step and do not step, we are and are not"
- Heraclitus of Ephesus, Greek Philosopher
We may be more familiar with the modified form of this quote from Heraclitus: “Into the same river, we do not step twice.” While there is a truth in that statement, there is still something lost from the original.
In both statements, the idea that our world is in a constant state of change is conveyed. Only in the original statement, however, are we invited to consider the reality that while there is change, there is also consistency. Heraclitus portrays us as stepping into the same river and stepping into a river that has changed simultaneously. This should resonate for us.
We come to a river that we recognize. We have been here before. We have waded along these banks. We have dipped in these waters. Yet, since we were here last, things have definitely changed. The waters of the river have rolled, changing the landscape and shifting the pebbles of the riverbed. Seasons have passed. Plants and trees have died or gone dormant. New foliage has sprung to life. Much is different and new in this place that we know so well.
Things change, and that will never change. The river has changed, but the reality that the river is always in a state of change is unchanging.
Now, before we go over the waterfall of this paradox…what’s the point?
Much of our pain and suffering comes from our resistance to change—our refusal to accept the reality that we cannot keep the river from changing—no matter how hard we try.
Accepting that the universe is in a state of becoming—that it is always changing, always different than it was a moment ago—brings us into a posture better able to receive, process, and adapt to change.
Such an acceptance also allows us to see our present circumstances as temporary. This present, too, shall become our past.
Perhaps the most important shift we experience by accepting the changing and becoming nature of the universe is that it allows us to stop trying to create permanence where it does not exist and instead give our energy to recognizing the permanence we actually have.
Change—as Heraclitus of Ephesus invites us to recognize—is one such permanence.
May we also recognize the permanence we see every day in the selfless actions and responses of others. Charity, sacrifice, compassion, serving others—these aspects of the river remain no matter how much the river changes. It is as if they are hardwired into reality.
Paul—who was a frequent visitor to Ephesus—wrote it this way, “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”
Things change, but that will never change.
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