Definition of Insanity

I was talking through my recent post with a friend who took my stance on relationships as cynical and in itself, self-harming. I disagreed with my friend, because, after all: the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. The opposite of the stoic rational mind is the irrational repetition of a harmful action.

With this in mind, I thought I’d draw up a list for myself – and others – of things that are in this sense, the definition of insanity. We can see them, exposed for their parts and simply say enough. It’s as simple as:

“If it is not right, don’t do it: if it is not true, don’t say it” – Meditations 12.17

  • Drinking red wine and not expecting a hangover. I mean, come on. Every time I think it’s a good idea and then for some reason I’m surprised when it’s not. Simply: avoid merlot.

  • Sleeping with someone because it seems like a good idea at the time and expecting things to have no particular consequence. Yet, of course, every time waking up with the sudden fear of a million STD’s and a sense that this will lead to some unexpected circumstance (which it often does). It’s almost as if there’s this sudden detachment of body and mind between two people only to realize and try to rationalize that mistake after. Sometimes it works out ok, sometimes it doesn’t yet it’s never not led to that sudden fear and dread of consequence. Sex always has consequences. While are neither good nor bad in the stoic sense: a product of vice is still a product of vice.

  • Staying up late and expecting to be bright eyed and bushy tailed in the morning. I did it today. Insanity. I know. Took me a sugar free Red Bull and three coffees to make it through work. What else is there to expect? If you don’t get enough sleep you’ll be tired and the consequences of that have no blame but to the self.

  • Falling for someone unavailable and expecting a happy ending (in the conventional sense, I’m speaking). What does it do apart from prove that I – we – are capable of hurting our own feelings? I don’t have an answer for that question yet it seems to be a lesson that needs to be taught repeatedly.

  • Expecting people not to act in a shameful or ignorant way. I’ll not my use my words here, but the Emperors: “Whenever you are offended at someone’s lack of shame, you should immediately ask yourself: ‘So is it possible for there to be no shameless people in the world? It is not possible.” – Meditations 9.42. Expecting the impossible to be possible is not a rational thought.

  • Expecting independent growth from another without being a positive catalyst. We can only control ourselves, we cannot telepathically try to encourage others not to make daft decisions or expect them to stop being how they are because we would prefer it. When you desire an action to happen, take the action, with virtuousness and kindness. I can’t magically will people to relate to their environment or others in a more productive way despite some strange repetitive expectation.

  • Expecting to lose weight and save money yet buy a £3 meal deal everyday on high fat content foods along with sugary mochas whenever chance I get. Everyday I expect myself to act differently, to show some restraint yet I make no active change. Everyday I get a caffeine headache and feel bloated yet expect not to. Is it the expectation or the action that I’m most perplexed by? I have no answers to that.

There’s perhaps more juxtapositions and hypocrisies of the soul I could list for myself. We could be here until the stars go out picking at every weird irrational act of my own character and the human condition. What can you pick out for yourself? What can we both break free from? What can we calmly reflect upon, notice and accept as a part of ourselves to keep in balance with our nature?

“The external things whose pursuit or avoidance troubles you do not force themselves on you, but in a way you yourself go out to them. However that may be, keep your judgement of them calm and they too will stay still – then you will not be seen wither to pursue or avoid.” – Meditations 11.11

Discard the irrational, return to the rational in balance, walking the middle path.



I recently stopped biting my nails. I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember and now for the first time in as long as I can remember, they have white caps on the top. For anyone else this may be a totally normal phenomena but for me this is fucking weird.

What caused this sudden stop? I don’t know. Perhaps it has a thing to do with my meditations on the crown chakra and to activate this chakra, one must be able to release earthly attachments. One of the things that I feel is an attachment, is an attachment to this particular bad habit. A habit that countless hours of “Stop Biting Your Nails” Youtube hypnosis couldn’t cure. It was a matter of waking up on morning three weeks ago and deciding just not to bite them anymore.

Funnily enough, this was about a week into my reading of Meditations – and this is where I find some quote that could have burrowed into my subconscious. Before, I took breaks from biting my nails and then resumed because I knew I would again eventually, and I activated the mad paranoid bomb-vest of self-destruction. Perhaps stoicism in general has helped me disarm that; would you damage your car intentionally? No. So why damage the organic vehicle?

The same argument can be made for drugs, alcohol and self-harm. But at least for the latter experience, I am grateful for not ever feeling the need to in a physical way. Then again, in the past I’ve done lots of things that could be described as self-harm. Anyone who knows me could tell you that I’ve got a track record for having no willpower. From sobriety to maintaining a romantic relationship for longer than three months.

Is it stoicism or boredom that kicks our bad habits? That’s a question to other stoics who may be reading this. Does a bee, who’s a part of the Whole like human beings, harm itself knowingly? No. It would be a detriment to the hive…

“What does not benefit the hive does not benefit the bee either.” Meditations 6.53

I’m a believer in both fate and personal responsibility. I am accepting of all the bad choices I have made and habits I have kept or broken to this point with acknowledgement of both of those factors. That being said, I wonder why now is the time I’m able to stop myself from biting my nails? From a contextual perspective, nothing has changed in my personal, professional, financial or spiritual circumstances. One could say I’ve even more reason to anxiously bite my nails with certain workplace dramas and fractured friendships and minor conflicts with family members. I’m still taking my daily citalopram tablets and I’m still in love with someone who has made it clear to me that she is not in a position to reciprocate romantically. The externals are stagnant. Yet, my internal world is experiencing a shift.

Can we guess why?

“Dig inside yourself. Inside is a spring of goodness ready to gush at any moment, if you keep digging.Meditations 7.59

I say “perhaps” a lot in my posts and that’s down to fact that in my quest to be a wise man, I am avoiding the absolutes. I know that ultimately, I know nothing.

However, that being said I know that already, I can observe tangible effects of this philosophy. Of course it feels strange to look at my nails now and the sensation is entirely alien. Yet, I’ve got no desire to bite them or pick them off. Is this willpower or is this knowing full well that the only person I’ll disappoint is myself in doing it so why would I do that?

“Love the art which you have learnt, and take comfort in it. Go through the remainder of your life in sincere commitment of all your being to the gods, and never making yourself a tyrant or slave to any man.” Meditations 4.31

In this case, what’s more appropriate would be:

“…and never making yourself a tyrant or slave to any habit.