Marcus Aurelius on the Inner Citadel

Marcus Aurelius on the Inner Citadel August 14, 2022

The amount of wisdom found in Marcus never ceases to amaze me.

To continue upon my previous post Marcus Aurelius on the Way, we have a key theme found in Marcus (and Stoic philosophy in general) on the dichotomy of control. With the adversities we face in life, we chose our attitudes and responses and whether or not we can turn them into opportunities – the power lying in focusing on what we can control. Along these lines, there is the ultimate realization that “disturbance comes within”.

Realizing the fit will hit the shan – that our attitudes and responses are our own – and by focusing on what we can control that we’ll deliver the best version of our selves is sage wisdom, but quite difficult to actualize when the fit actually does hit the shan. In practically and psychologically living this out – Marcus also gives us another gem that if things have no hold on the soul or our inner citadel, than retreating to our inner citadels is the key as opposed to focusing on outside events. The spiritual discipline of constantly coming back and tending to our souls/minds will give us the tranquility we need to properly manage our attitudes and responses to outside events. And these retreats are always on offer:

“People try to get away from it all—to the country, to the beach, to the mountains. You always wish that you could too. Which is idiotic: you can get away from it anytime you like.

By going within.

Nowhere you can go is more peaceful—more free of interruptions—than your own soul. Especially if you have other things to rely on. An instant’s recollection and there it is: complete tranquility. And by tranquility I mean a kind of harmony.”

But how are we supposed to remain tranquil in the face of deep and painful adversity?

“The tranquility that comes when you stop caring what they say.

Or think, or do.

Only what you do.”

The key is “not to be distracted by their darkness” and to “run straight for the finish line, unswerving.”

Challenges keep coming? Keep returning to the inner citadel.

“So keep getting away from it all – like that. Renew yourself. But keep it brief and basic. A quick visit should be enough to ward off all ___ and send you back ready to face what awaits you.”

And so the strength of one’s dichotomy of control ultimately depends on the strength of their inner citadel. The inner citadel, like physical strength, needs to constantly be tended to, worked on, set straight, and fortified. Whether it be meditation, prayer, reflection, exercise, a quick breathing exercise – whatever disciplines you need to employ, your most tranquil and best self – the one that focusses on what you can control in times in adversity – depends on your regular retreating and tending to your inner citadel.

Image credit: Marcus Aurelius. De seipso, seu vita sua (Xylander, 1558)


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