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We are a culture that is fascinated by lifestyle options.

Paleo diet. Yogini. Raw foods. Triathlete. This religion. That religion. Super-successful MBA becomes CEO, Fortune 500. All-natural attachment parent mama. Tiger mom. What’s your excuse? mom. Double income, no kids–my life is sooooo much freer than all of those moms tied down by kids! Environmentalist. Minimalist.

Choosing lifestyle options has become a new way to establish an identity. It’s a cultural landscape that we didn’t have 100 years ago, when communities were smaller and less diverse. In a globalized world, choosing a lifestyle often means choosing your belief system and any lifestyle niche that you join automatically grants you access to a tribe of people to bond with.

There’s nothing wrong with paleo or raw foods; yoga or cross-fit; this religion or that religion or no religion; kids or no kids.

But we make ourselves desperately unhappy when we use lifestyle choices as a way to seek an identity, hoping that by dropping ourselves into the culture of X, we’ll finally know what to do with our lives.

Choosing a lifestyle option (and secretly hoping that it will fix all of our problems) is a fear-driven choice that keeps us from practicing the courage to find out about all of who we actually are.

What we are seeking is devotion

And really, what we are seeking is devotion to ourselves.

Ask yourself: Have you ever read some profile in a magazine about, say, a yoga instructor who starts her day with green smoothies and meditation, whose house looks like it came out of Dwell, with beautiful photographs of smiling children who look like they never misbehave, perhaps with photos of the family meditating together in front of their sacred altar, and thought…I want that life? Did you then take up yoga, or fantasize about the white couch, or go buy the book called I Never Need to Yell at My Kids that was mentioned?

Maybe yoga isn’t your thing, but if you switch out the content to whatever you’re really, really into–running an online business, or some way of eating that promises glowing health, or a spiritual practice–is it the same?

What you’re seeking when you read that magazine profile or all about that blogger’s life, online, isn’t their way of living life–but we often get confused about this. Seeking a lifestyle usually means that the choices become about emulation. We put our emphasis on the things they do, that person that we’ve projected has figured it all out, and try to emulate that, instead of putting our emphasis on devotion.

What we are seeking is devotion. We can be devoted to an ideal, or we can be devoted to ourselves.

When you’re devoted to an ideal, you’re emulating.

When you’re devoted to yourself, you’re truly living.

Every Path Has Value

Karmically, all roads lead into one. On one level, it doesn’t matter what you choose, because the lessons that you’re seeking to learn will always find you. We cannot ever fully escape ourselves, because we take ourselves with us wherever we go.

On another level, the more unconscious we are about our choices, the more we suffer without understanding why we’re suffering.

Being unconscious about hoping that fitting into a certain lifestyle will be the balm to your problems creates suffering. This is a really, really confusing place to be in. You know you’re there if you find yourself thinking things such as, “I don’t get it. I’m doing [all of these things that are in alignment with this lifestyle] and I still feel stuck! Why? Why haven’t I figured this out, yet? Why do I still [get sick, repeat old habits, have bad things happen]?”

Expending all of that effort, only to still feel like you’re spinning your wheels, is an unhappy existence.

We get happier when we choose devotion to ourselves. We get more conscious. This is not a self-centered devotion that I’m talking about. Whenever you get more conscious about who you are, you stand a chance of not repeating the old patterns that are harmful to you, and to those around you. It’s a devotion to being real.

Whatever lifestyle choices you make, understand this: they can only ever be a vehicle. If you choose a lifestyle as an ideal, it’s a vehicle for endless perfectionism, attaining, trying to “live up to” something. Fear underscores this.

If you choose a lifestyle as a way to be devoted to yourself, it’s a vehicle for more understanding of who you are and your place in the world.

This is is the path of the courageous. That’s where words like “purpose” and “fulfillment” enter the picture. That’s the intersection of joy and authenticity.

Devotion to yourself becomes the game of life, and you’re playing for keeps.