What is The Inner Citadel in Stoicism?
“Nowhere you can go is more peaceful – more free of interruptions – than your own soul.” – Marcus Aurelius
The Inner Citadel in Stoicism is a concept that has many adaptations, plenty of history and interpretations. The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius and the former slave-turned-Stoic-philosopher Epictetus were the most prominent Stoic users of this concept and its applications.
However, for millennia across various cultures, traditions and religions, versions of this “Inner Citadel” have been at the core of their teachings. The journey within, the retreat inside, introspection, the path home and self-inquiry are just some of the terms that refer to the same inward journey that we must make. Movements that take us within ourselves rather than outside to the world.
Why take the journey to the Inner Citadel?
The Stoics, sages and the wisest people to have ever lived realised that everything takes place inside of us. Anger, jealousy, misery, frustration, joy, peace. It all happens inside. Our opinions about the outside world happen inside of us. Even an irritating noise is only “irritating” inside of us. Without our inner irritation, it is just a noise. The inner sanctuary is all we really have and it goes wherever we go.
This is why the Stoics – most notably Marcus Aurelius – saw how important it was to cultivate, manage, explore and fortify the Inner Citadel that lies within all of us. The Inner Citadel in Stoicism simply being that place inside of us where there is peace and contentment, regardless of what is happening “outside of the walls”. However, this process is far from easy.
The Inner Citadel – A Metaphor
The best way to think about your Inner Citadel is to know that it is already perfect. By its nature, your castle is pristine, the walls are fortified and it is a haven of peace from all outside forces. There is nothing that you need to add to make it better. However, the distance between you and your Inner Citadel may be far or seem far, especially if it is something that you have never known about or paid attention to before.
Obstacles line the road up to the fortress. These obstacles are troubling thoughts, intense emotions, and fear in all of the forms that it takes. These obstacles are designed to throw you off the path to the citadel and to make you believe that they are the important things that you need to attend to, while the inner sanctuary can wait.
Fear-based obstacles aren’t the only obstacles that line the path. Obstacles of desire are also constantly fighting for your attention to keep you from your citadel. The desire for success, the desire to be the best, the desire for one thing to arrive in your life, the desire for another thing to disappear from your life. Desires are even more seductive but just as illusory as fear. Desires promise happiness and peace in the future if certain conditions are met, whereas your Inner Citadel is always available right here and right now, unconditionally.
One of the purposes of meditation is to walk the path to the Inner Citadel and to remain there. It is to have cleared the foggy path of fears and desires so much so that whenever there is trouble, your inner fortress and inner sanctuary are always right there, providing instant and deep shelter, peace and freedom from the storms of life.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no doing that is required to build the Inner Citadel up nice and strong. The only doing that is required is the removal of obstacles that keep you from reaching it, or to remove the disturbances that show their faces inside your fortress from time to time, whichever metaphor you prefer.
Give no attention to the many sides of fear and desire, and naturally you will come to know and reside in your own imperishable Inner Citadel.
Marcus Aurelius also referred to the Inner Citadel as your “soul”. It is always there and possibly the only thing really worth paying attention to. As the complete quote in Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations goes:
“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 tranquillity. And by tranquillity I mean a kind of harmony.”
– Meditations 4.3
Go all the way…
Looking to cultivate the power of the Inner Citadel in your own life? Check out our Stoic Journal Prompts which provide information and questions for you to reflect on with regards to the Inner Citadel and many other Stoic concepts.