“From the point of view of the imminence of death, one thing counts, and one alone: to strive always to have the essential rules of life present in one’s mind, and to keep placing oneself in the fundamental disposition of the philosopher, which consists essentially in controlling one’s inner discourse, in doing only that which is of benefit to the human community, and in accepting the events brought to us by the course of the Nature of the All.”
― Pierre Hadot
I have to say, this Stoic paragraph from Pierre Hadot rings a lot like Buddhism.
The Stoic Inner Citadel is an interesting concept. It’s alluring. It kind of promises a place where no one will be able to harm you anymore. Just like the fortresses you used to erect in your room as a kid with your clothing and some broomsticks.
And to some extent it is true. If you dutifully follow the Stoic concepts (present in your mind at the moment), most of the harm you take is going to be nothing to you. As long as you control the dialogue in your head, you can control perception and give the meaning you want to whatever happens. That is indeed a superpower and also what the Stoic Inner Citadel means.
But be careful. It is possible to understand the concept of the Inner Citadel wrongly and suffer unnecessarily.
As I mentioned, the concept is alluring for its airs of protection. It is defensive. You can imagine yourself safe and sound within a big massive fortress only you can access. It can be understood as a closing of yourself up from other people. After all, why not? There are tons of shitty people out there. Marcus Aurelius said it himself:
When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil.
But the concept, if correctly applied, does not mean to shut yourself away from other people, all the contrary, it frees you up to be more open and willing to connect (or confront, depending on the situation).
Connection, that’s key.
So long as you use the concept as a pretext for disconnection, it will harm you.
We are social animals by nature and we fear disconnection. It’s just natural.
Imagine yourself 10,000 years ago in a creepy dark forest. Would you rather be by yourself, or with 5 of your best mates, all ready to kill that big-ass saber-tooth tiger?
We evolved to need feelings of connection to other human beings. If we don’t feel connected, we feel vulnerable.
Vulnerability. That’s an important word.
It’s funny how far we will go to feel connected. Social media is the perfect example. They sell you bits of connection, with hearts and likes. But at the same time, the connection comes at a price. You will not get likes and hearts if you are not doing some cool shit, involving usually brands to accompany the photos (nice shoes, Eiffel Tower). This leads us to form the idea on our heads, that connection can only be attained by demonstrating status and nice locations.
Everything that is done in social media is done out of this need to connect. Add to this the incorrect understanding of the Inner Citadel and you’ll have the perfect recipe for disconnection.
When you believe that you will only be loved and be able to connect out of the things and the status that you possess, at the same time, you also live in a constant ‘I’m not good enough’ cycle. You feel shame because you don’t have what is needed, and the shame generates disconnection. You don’t believe that you are good enough for the people around you and so you shut yourself down.
This is a game you cannot win. There isn’t enough money in the whole world to make you feel that you are good enough. There is always going to be something more the promises to fill that void.
The Real Meaning Of The Inner Citadel
I want to get back to the word vulnerability.
I imagine modern society as a series of beautiful castles. But there is only one person in each castle, yelling to each other from their high towers: Look! Look at my castle! Isn’t it amazing? But as amazing as it is, the person is still alone and locked in the beautiful castle.
We are all doing this. We think that we don’t have to go out. We think that we just need to build pretty castles and that people are going to come on their own. We believe that we don’t have to be vulnerable and get out of our castles. But the truth of the matter is that vulnerability is the only way to connect with other people.
This is how you can get the Inner Citadel concept wrong. It is not about shutting yourself from other people but from the madness in other people. The Inner Citadel castle is made with special bricks made of principle (courage, freedom, and virtue in general). You carry it with you wherever you go. It has a magic barrier that only allows the reasonable parts of the world in, and at the same time, act offensively against madness.
I have two examples of my own.
There is a guy I met a while ago. We were always calling each other out to hang out but it just never happened. Mostly because of me to be honest. I don’t drink so I was a bit afraid about coming up to a party and having everyone realize how boring I am. So what did I do? I locked myself in my castle. I kept posting cool pictures to my Instagram and playing the cool guy in a place where I wasn’t vulnerable. I reached out to go out again recently, he didn’t answer. Ouch.
Vulnerability means putting yourself out there. Yeah, people might think I’m boring, but that’s not a reason not to try and make friends, friends make you happier than being shut down and alone in your castle.
This is what the Inner Citadel really is. It is being OK with the possibility of things not going your way, knowing that you have your own back. It is not about closing up, but about opening yourself up to life, knowing that as long as you have your will with you, you will keep pushing for the best life, for yourself and for others. No one can take that from you but you.
I’ll give you another example. Girls. It terrifies me to speak to one, even more, if she’s gorgeous. And you know what is even more terrifying? Telling her that I like her. We are all like this. That’s why Tinder is so famous. You don’t care about rejection there. It takes the scary part out of the equation.
Not having the balls to tell someone you like him or her is fear of vulnerability, and lack of trust in your principles of honesty (of which your inner citadel is built, remember?) and will disconnect you from true human bonding.
Go for it. Remember, no one can take your will from you. If they laugh about you, if they mock you, it’s OK, you know you’re doing the right thing. You’re connecting with people, and that will eventually be appreciated.
Vulnerability and Honesty.
To be vulnerable is, to be honest.
The conception we have of vulnerability is that of weakness. But all the contrary, all the courage in the world is required to be honest.
There is a great video by comedian Patrice O’Neal that speaks about self-editing in men. A lot of men self-edit themselves. They do this because they believe they are taking care of other people by not showing their true feelings. But this is dishonesty at its best. They lock themselves up in the shitty kind of Inner Citadel where they cannot connect with other people, while at the same time trying to connect (unsuccessfully) with other people by being nice. Their nicety is their inner citadel.
You cannot connect if you’re not honest.
It is hard to say: I like you’ or ‘I don’t like you doing that’. It’s hard to do so because we feel vulnerable, that’s why courage is needed here. But there cannot be connection if we don’t practice honesty and vulnerability.
I claim myself no poorer in war-strength, war works, then Grendel claims himself. Therefore I will not put him to sleep with a sword, so take away his life, though surely I might. He knows no good tools with which he might strike against me, cut my shield in pieces, though he is strong in fight. But we shall forgo the sword in the night — if he dare seek war without weapon — and then may wise God, Holy Lord, assign glory on whichever hand seems good to Him. — Beowulf
Being OK, and the Inner Citadel
We pursue having instead of being.
We want to have cars, we want to have money, we want to have, have, have. And that is the problem. The excessive wanting to have is in fact a yell for connection. It’s a want to be ‘good enough’ for other people, in order to feel connected.
But that’s the wrong formula. The great things in life are already inside of you. It’s better to pursue being. Be great, be honest, be authentic, be the kind of person that you’ve always wanted to be right now. Stop waiting. You already have what you are looking for.
What happens with this shift in mindset is that you finally feel good enough, and with this newfound feeling, it’s far easier to connect. You’ll no longer be concerned with having all these impossible things to have to feel worthy of connection.
You already are worthy of connection.
The Inner Citadel is knowing this. Being brave and cool as fuck instead of depending on all those things OUTSIDE OF YOU.
The Inner Citadel is erected in principles and in ways of being. Ways of being that let you out of your sandcastle and into the free wild world.
The world is upside down right now. We give a lot of importance to the unimportant. Marketing and psychology hammer your brain day and night to make you think that having is more important than being. There is nothing wrong with having of course, but being definitely comes first.
The Inner Citadel doesn’t mean you have to be invulnerable, but that your vulnerability (honesty) is part of the foundations of your Inner Citadel, just as courage, temperance, and the like.
“No matter what anyone says or does, my task is to be good. Like gold or emerald or purple repeating to itself, “no matter what anyone says or does, my task is to be emerald, my color undiminished.”
― Marcus Aurelius
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