Stoic Meditation: Being Among the Masses and Finding Oneself Among the Insane

Here’s a quote by Marcus Aurelius that I have gone back and forth about over the years. At times, I have thought he was correct. At times, I thought he was wrong.

I have looked into the context of this quote in the past, but today I have forgotten it. So I’m going to go with my own interpretation.

From a Stoic viewpoint, people are pushed and pulled by problematic emotions. Thing like fear, anxiety–and much more–are caused by a faulty interpretation of what are known as externals. Externals are, in general, things one cannot control and are beyond a person, but which people often think they can, in fact, control.

In modern terms, think of a person who experiences symptoms of OCD. They may have what are known as intrusive thoughts. Thoughts, as the Pearl Jam song says, arrive like butterflies. We often do not, on the modern understanding of such things, control many of our thoughts. However, a person who experiences intrusive thoughts may be disturbed by even having a thought and try to push the thought away. On the Cognitive Behavioral Model, this is why such an intrusive thought will come back stronger, more powerful and the individual will become increasingly disturbed.

That’s an extreme case of how things like externals that we cannot control cause things like fear and anxiety.

On the Stoic view, most people experience things like this, to a lesser extent, much of the time. The goal, for a Stoic, is to reach something like Stoic Calm–becoming a Sage and not bothered or disturbed by externals beyond one’s control.

When one does this, one is probably not going to find oneself among the masses, so Aurelius may be correct on this count. However, I do not know that one will find oneself among the insane, as currently understood, either. So the latter part of the quote may, in fact, be incorrect in clinical terms. One may, when one reaches Stoic Calm, seem odd or different to others, but that is not necessarily diagnosable.

What is clear is that reaching Stoic Calm is a lifelong process. Aurelius practiced every day for many, many years. That is why Stoicism is considered a philosophy that one practices rather than a mere esoteric intellectual exercise.

Will one, when one reaches the point where externals do not bother one anymore, find oneself among that ranks of the insane? I do not know. But what is clear is that one will no longer be among the masses.


Author: Jennifer Lawson

Philosopher. That is all.

Leave a Reply