These Quotes From Ancient Wisdom Are Especially Resonant Right Now

Leaning into their wisdom can help shift our energy.

Sivilla/ Shutterstock
Sivilla/ Shutterstock

In times of stress, sadness, and uncertainty, sage words from great thinkers of the past can help ground us, inspire us, and put things into much-needed perspective. As Thrive’s founder and CEO Arianna Huffington recently wrote, “The Delphic admonition ‘Know Thyself’ and Socrates’ admonition that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’ are not ancient philosophical platitudes, but in fact the most relevant and important guiding truths for our lives, especially now.”

We asked our Thrive community to share the pieces of ancient wisdom that are inspiring them during today’s challenging times, and how they’re shifting their perspective. Which of these quotes resonates with you?

“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” —Aristotle 

“This quote reminds me that with all of the information we receive in this environment, we need to read and listen with heart. It changes our perspective. It’s way too easy to get caught up in the ‘right perspective’ when we should be thinking about all perspectives. It’s a reminder that I’m a work in progress, and that’s OK.”

—Nicki Anderson, program director at Benedictine University, Lisle, IL

“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.”  —Seneca

“Since I was a teenager, I have carried a little note in my wallet with this quote from Seneca. I believe that getting into action in spite of our fear will lead to amazing results. Right now is the perfect time to dare to do things differently and define our new normal.”

—Isabelle Bart, marketing director, Orange County, CA

“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one will. We ourselves must walk the path.” —Buddha

“I’ve been a fan of this quote for a while. It’s a good reminder that the solution to whatever it is we feel has happened to us is to be found within us and it is up to us to make the journey out of the problem. Right now, we need to rely on ourselves in order to be more aware and better prepared to handle whatever may come our way. We are never going to be able to control the circumstances beyond ourselves that may affect us.  We need to understand and embrace the truth that we have the ultimate responsibility for our well-being. As Buddha so wisely points out, whatever it is we think we’re missing doesn’t come from somewhere outside us.  It is only when we accept the responsibility for providing what we need that we find the hero we’re looking for.”

—Mari Gaines, writer and solopreneur, Ellensburg, WA

“When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness… and maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it should be!” —Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra 

“I constantly find myself reflecting on this quote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra in Don Quixote. It teaches us that the journey toward the future we want to live in and build for our children is long and difficult, but we need to stay focused and strong.”

—Antara Prasad, change consultant, Chicago, IL

The wound is the place where the light enters you.”  —Rumi 

“I am drawn to the poets whose words invite hope during this challenging time. There are many lessons to be learned from those who came before us and paid special attention to the world around them. This quote resonates with me because I finally understand that embracing our own cracks is the bulk of our work. Starting with our own hearts, we need to explore, heal, and increase our ability to choose. If each of us does the work we can transform the world.”

—Carrie Zarotney, certified coach and meditation teacher, Detroit, MI

“Act well the given part.” —Epictetus

“The ancient wisdom that most resonates with me during these chaotic times comes from the ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus. The pandemic is beyond my control, but I can play my part well by choosing the right words, actions, and attitude that fulfill my role as friend to those closest to me, the community, and myself. Epictetus’s advice has given me my pandemic mantra: Be a good friend.”

—Lynne Everatt, writer, Toronto, Canada

“The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.” Socrates

“This quote resonates with me because I find that I became happier once I understood the importance of enjoying the little things, rather than only striving for more. I was once too busy in the daily rat race, hoping to find happiness in success. I was always busy trying to do more, and nothing was enough. To my dismay, everything paused during the lockdown, and as time went by, I realized that chasing things doesn’t give you happiness. I chose to appreciate what I have and enjoy it. I recognized this time as an opportunity to work on my passion for painting. I found pleasure in cooking for my family rather than going to a restaurant. My stress levels are now lower, I’m happier, and I feel satisfied with what I possess and my ability to accept my environment.”

—Chahat Aggarwal, brand and marketing consultant, New Delhi, India

“My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.” —Michel de Montaigne

“So many of my favorite bits of ancient wisdom are ascribed to Michel de Montaigne. Amazingly, his writing holds up, and even today seems unbelievably modern. This quote reminds me how important it is to live in the present. By dwelling on the future, I tune out the here and now, the only place I have any control over. Worry and creating disastrous scenarios are useless efforts, and breed stress and anxiety, states I visit often enough — and sometimes even for good reasons — during this time of uncertainty. I certainly do not want my mind, which I have some control over with my various practices, adding to my negative emotions. The what-ifs, which are the misfortunes Montaigne is alluding to, are best acknowledged and dismissed before moving the mind along to a more hospitable spot.” 

—Andréa R. Vaucher, writer, Santa Monica, CA

“The planet does not need more successful people. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds.” —Dalai Lama

“This quote reminds me of the essence of who we are, because it clearly defines the future professions and the present need of peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers. The Dalai Lama puts ancient wisdom clearly into the daylight.”

—Loreta Pivoriunaite, performance strategist, Lithuania

“This too shall pass” —Sufi teachings

“This is an old saying that I think about in negative situations. It appears in an old Persian fable, and it was known to be used by Abraham Lincoln. For years, I’ve repeated this quote to myself, not only when things seem tough, but also when things are going well. It’s a technique I use to make myself appreciate the good moments, to savor them, and to remember that both good times and bad times will pass because it’s simply life. And during this time, it’s been my go-to mantra.”

—Nesma Naad, account director, Cairo, Egypt

“Know how to listen, and you will profit even from those who talk badly.”  —Plutarch

“This quote can remind us that in this environment, we can learn from everyone, even if we disagree with each other. We just need to be quiet long enough to truly listen. I’m working on this!”

—Nicki Anderson, program director at Benedictine University, Lisle, IL

“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.” —Sun Tzu

“This quote has taken on a deeper meaning and allowed me to remain optimistic over the last few months. I remind myself that amidst these unexpected circumstances beyond our control, there are opportunities. For me, it’s been an opportunity to reset, to replace bad habits with good ones, and to reflect what changes I’d like to make in my daily life going forward.”

—Alyssa Swantkoski, executive assistant, Denver, CO

“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.”  —Rainer Maria Rilke

“During these unprecedented times, whenever I feel uneasy with the wide range of emotions and feelings that arise, I seek peace and comfort in this quote from Rilke. When you remind yourself that everything is fleeting, it becomes easier to persevere and to also embrace the beautiful things that are surrounding you, so that you don’t solely focus on the negative.”

Marjan Oloumi, human resources, Sydney, Australia 

“The energy of the mind is the essence of life.” —Aristotle 

“The pandemic has underscored so many things over which we have no control, revealing the futility of worry and anxiety. Remaining calm during this time of uncertainty may be one act we can control and that will do us the most good. The work I do relies heavily on ancient philosophers, and right now, this one is my go-to. This one line says so much. What we think, we become. How we spend our mental energy will determine our quality of life. It reminds us to use our brain energy wisely.”

—Francine Tone, attorney and leadership trainer, Truckee, CA

Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” — Zen Buddhism 

“It is important to remember that we are not the first generation to deal with something like this.  I find this quote to be a great reminder to focus on the now and do those things that are necessary and which help us in the near term. It is also a good reminder to focus on the things that you can control, and do those. Small Microsteps are crucial for our mental health.”

—Mark Jones, attorney, Mill Valley, CA

“We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love… and then to return home.”  —Australian Aboriginal proverb 

“I find this proverb to be particularly poignant during these uncertain times, and its message has comforted and given me clarity in many ways. The proverb has also added some perspective for me on humanity’s destiny. It has reminded me how insignificant we truly are against the vastness of the universe, and how we simply should try to make the very best of our life on earth. As much as possible, I believe we should practice compassionate love by supporting those who need it most, but it is also important to invest in the meaning and purpose of our existence, and to find a way to live a life that matters — a life that empowers and uplifts others with kindness and true generosity.”

—Christine Amour-Levar, philanthropist, Singapore

“There are certain things you can control and certain things you can’t control, and you must know the difference.”  —Epictetus

“The ancient Roman philosophy of Epictetus taught us this fundamental rule, and I interpret the modern day translation as, ‘Control what you can, cope with what you can’t, and concentrate on what’s important.’ This reminder empowers us to know what we can control, like our thoughts, words, responses, and actions. These behaviors help guide us to make the right decisions. What we can’t control, we must try to cope with by using a variety of life management skills and setting positive intentions to face our challenges. And lastly, it reminds us that we should focus on what truly counts. Having gratitude and purpose each day helps nourish our vision in life.”

—Christine Norwitch, health and wellness coach and trainer,  Miami, FL 

“Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.” — Ancient Sanskrit

“This quote translates as ‘The world is one family.’ When my father died, our neighbor told me with tears in his eyes of all that my father had done for them, and those words filled my heart. As the pandemic circles the globe today, I worry about my mother thousands of miles away. Yet, when I call her, she asks me to pray for the world, my neighborhood, and for America. After all these decades, she is reminding me yet again of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam — the world is still our family. I light a candle for those who have passed, for those who are grieving, and for my own anxiety. This small action unites me with the world.”

—Anu Dayal-Galati, certified energy practitioner, Boston, MA

“A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because its trust is not on the branch but in its ability to fly.” —Unknown 

“This is my favorite quote to remind myself during this time. With this pandemic, our branch may have broken, but we’ve all been born with wings. It’s time to use them.”

—Dr. Rick Stevenson, Founder of The 5000 Days Project, Seattle, WA

“Men seek retreats for themselves – in the country, by the sea, in the hills – and you yourself are particularly prone to this yearning. But all this is quite unphilosophic, when it is open to you, at any time you want, to retreat into yourself. No retreat offers someone more quiet and relaxation than that into his own mind…” —Marcus Aurelius

This is my favorite quote. I believe, like Marcus, we are always running towards something to make us feel better.  We change friends, partners, jobs, go on holidays, and indulge ourselves, always looking for something more, or better. We are always looking for things to make our lives better instead of looking at making ourselves better, stronger. We are looking for retreats. COVID-19 took away our power to retreat. We have been stuck with ourselves, and have been given the chance to take charge. How strange that a pandemic allowed us to see that a sterner but positive approach to adversity has allowed our intelligence to flourish.”

—Barbara Strickland, author and blogger, Townsville, Australia

Which piece of ancient wisdom is resonating with you during this time? Let us know in the comments!

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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