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.


Emotional Self Harm

I am a habitual emotional self-harmer in the sense that I have some strange addiction to unrequited affection. It’s always been the way, from my time at school to university to now. You try to fill the gaping void with all sorts of distractions and pleasures but ultimately the chasm still remains. It’s self flagellation of the soul, and you think I’d learn before letting desires, crushes and stronger feelings consume me and leave me a melancholic grump until I find the next hit of dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. It’s a vice I can’t seem to let go of, deep rooted like Japanese knot weed that suffocates and ruins a perfectly balanced garden.

It’s made me very good at ruining friendships much like the song “Jenny” by the Studio Killers (great song, I’ll link the Spotify at the end). Yet all of my actual relationships have formed with people in the nether zone of having feelings for another. I thought I’d learned but apparently not. It’s becoming a thing I’ve got to live with like my height or ginger bits in my hair. Can being a completely hopeless romantic be cured? I always thought I was the Creed Bratton of The Office US, living my life with my own little adventures but some days it’s like I’m shamefully Michael Scott.

Today, I’m fairly certain I killed a friendship that’s become very important to me because of the icky feeling. I’m going to have to live with that. Feeling like a twat on a Naked Attraction or Take Me Out making a fool of myself once again and taking for granted meaningful friendship, overcome with a strange pull to make things complicated within my own mind. This friend apologised to me. It’s like saying: “oh I’m sorry because it’s my fault that you are sat there smashing your face on a brick for no reason.”

Times like this, I feel like I’m a bad stoic, not even a stoic – the rational mind lost to ether. I have this feeling in my chest and numbness on my tongue. I don’t know what it means but it’s more familiar now than it’s ever been the countless times before I’ve felt it.

I have a feeling that destiny is telling me repeatedly that now is not the right time for feelings. Or that destiny is telling me that there is never going to be a time for these feelings.

“Look at causation stripped bare of its covers; look at the ulterior reference of any action. Consider, what is pain? What is pleasure? What is death? What is fame? Who is not himself the cause of his own unrest? Reflect on how no one is hampered by any other; and that all is as thinking makes it so.” – Meditations 12.8

It’s a vice, isn’t it? A pleasure seeking of the mind and heart, constantly in conflict as the yin and yang. In these moments, the desire unbalances and shakes the foundations of the still lake, disturbing the delicate ecosystem within. To be a stoic is to accept being alone. This has roots in my own outsider syndrome meaning that I prefer close one-to-one relationships rather than large groups. Yet it’s a double edged sword and I need to learn to accept. I need to accept the need to control and regulate this facet, this flaw of my own human condition; be contented to live without. Rocks don’t need someone’s hand to hold.

“Another saying of his [Epictetus]. “We must discover an art of assent, and in the whole field of our impulses take care to ensure that each impulse is conditional, has a social purpose, and is proportionate to the value of its goal. We must keep absolutely clear of personal motivation, and at the same time show no disclination to anything outside of our immediate control.” – Meditations 11.37

Infatuation with anyone or anything is an emotional self harm, is my conclusion. Passion is a hop, skip and jump from obsession. Desires should be directed to virtuous goals not cloying needs for companionship; imposed ideas and ideals on another human being that they neither can or want to live up to. In reflection I know, it sounds very nice guy but I disagree with that as to say that it’s a duty of acceptance. Being alone in the self, not spiritual connection to the universe, is a reality like death. To reject being alone, to fear being alone in the romantic sense is like fearing the night, rejecting the sky.

I look out my window and see stars. Would they be anymore beautiful if were to admire them while holding hands with someone? No – they don’t care, they twinkle all the same.