Loving Your Highest Ideal
As we practice, we gradually discover what this core orientation is for us. It need not be simple, it can be multifaceted and hard to pin down. In the yoga tradition, this ideal is known as the Ishta Devata, the desired/chosen deity. For atheists, this doesn’t have to be thought of as anything supernatural, it can be anything you personally see as having ultimate value. It might be the pursuit of truth through rigorous skeptical inquiry, the promotion of human flourishing, or the cultivation of beauty through art.
As we come into relationship with an ideal through our practice, we may find that it is not simply a goal to be attained but also something we love for its own sake. That love for one’s ideal can be transformative in itself. In the yogic tradition, the love a seeker feels for their ideal is called bhakti, which is translated at devotion. Bhakti/devotion is a special kind of a love directed not toward mundane pursuits and ordinary relationships, but instead toward something higher, whatever that might be for you.