UniGuide started as a humble blog in a constellation of a gazillion other blogs, twinkling at varying levels of brightness. It was started when I was at an impasse in my life and unsure of how to get over the obstacles before me. I wanted to live my life better – in a number of ways. I thought, If only I could tap into some kind of universal guide to show me the way…
People who have a really good sense of direction have always filled me with a certain awe. It’s as though they have a compass implanted in their foreheads that automatically tells them in which direction is true north, and they navigate their lives accordingly, making good choices all along the way. They’re the kind of people who never forget where they parked in a multilevel parking lot.
I am not one of those people.
Maybe you know people like me. Maybe even, you are one.
We’re the types who take a more haphazard route. Maybe it’s because we get lost easily, or maybe it’s because we willfully choose to bushwhack our way through life. We make rash decisions, and overly emotional ones. We make the well-charted folks wonder, Have they gone completely astray, or are they merely taking the scenic route?
When well-meaning people give us directions, we smile, and completely ignore them, and then get sidetracked by dead-end streets and carnival sideshows.
Wayward choices were leading me astray in many areas of my life: career, relationships, money… and consumption of all kinds. I felt like I was running in circles, putting out all this energy to get somewhere, and still seeing the all too familiar places. When I finally got on a traditional climb-the-corporate-ladder kind of career path, I went full steam ahead, mainly just so I wouldn’t slow down long enough to screw it up. After all, being focused is practical and important, no? Or else, how the heck are you going to get anywhere?
But then the opposite problem occurred. I became so laser focused on succeeding on the path I was on that I developed a serious case of tunnel vision. I began charting my life course by looking through a periscope – Ok, goals: promotion, better titles, more money, house, stuff, better vacations, more stuff… the side effect of which was putting blinders on my awareness: my self awareness and my global awareness, my physical awareness and my spiritual awareness. I narrowed down my scope so tight in an attempt to stay on the straight and narrow that I ended up getting lost anyway. I thought, WTF, how did I get here? Wasn’t there supposed to be more purpose to my life?
You may have asked the same question that I did and then, hopefully, the next one:
How do I make substantive changes to lead a better life?
In my case, I went back to baseline: What do I love? What do I care about? For starters: my family and friends; but also, social issues, children, animals, the planet, art, and music. I’ve always wanted to leave this place better off than how I found it. I’m probably not that different from you.
Deepak Chopra, one of my heroes and a generous source of wisdom in my life, talks about the importance of consciousness, of becoming more aware. I wanted to open up the full spectrum of my awareness to live better, exist better, and let a beaming rainbow of consciousness guide me on my life’s path.
Then I started thinking too much and felt like I was going loony tunes. When I start thinking too much like that, I get overwhelmed with the challenges in the world: disease, climate change, poverty, war, human suffering, animals suffering, species extinction… Where to begin? It’s enough to make Atlas himself keel over, drop the globe, and curl into a fetal position as the world goes bouncing off his shoulders and into the abyss.
So, I decided to dial that rainbow in a little. Start small but drop that damn periscope. Take a broad look around, then consider what you can control and influence, like your day-to-day choices, what media you’re paying attention to, what you’re consuming, what you’re buying… I had to give myself permission to drop the periscope, with its limited perspective, and let myself look down a kaleidoscope instead – a focused but colorful mix of inputs, in my own unique view, that I could turn and influence.
I suppose you could say a kaleidoscope became my quirky symbol for thinking globally and acting locally.
Tony Robbins, another one of my heroes and a limitless source of motivation in my life, talks about how you are what you focus on: “Where focus goes, energy flows,” Tony says. In the same vein, Oprah Winfrey (I can’t leave the divine Oprah out here!) says, “Your thoughts are your prayers.” We are all a product of our daily thoughts and day-to-day habits. And the state of our world today has become a manifestation of our collective human habits.
Like it or not, many of our habits center around consumption. And the way we consume, from how we eat to what we wear, is having a devastating impact on our own health, on other species, and the natural systems of our planet, which before we got here, had been divinely perfected over eons.
Animals and the Environment
Why is UniGuide all about eco-friendly and vegan living? The way I see things, it’s like taking care of children. Show me a culture anywhere in the world (leaving out, of course, the small segments of corrupt wack jobs, like weird cults, nihilists, perverts, and sociopaths who use children in warfare), and I’ll show you a culture that cares about its children.
I’m of the opinion that although human beings are the dominant species on the planet (mainly because of our ability to destroy everything), we have a responsibility to other species and their habitats in the same way that we have a responsibility to care for children. Not just our own children, but all children.
Sure, parents and society can mess up kids in all manner of ways, even when we don’t intend to. But loving, nurturing, and protecting kids can often overcome any unconscious failings. I think the number one job of parents and society at large is to love, nurture, and protect kids. I don’t have any biological kids of my own, but I still think it’s my responsibility as an adult to make sure kids are healthy and safe. I feel the same way about animals and our natural world.
Our job as adult humans is not to exploit and destroy those who are weaker than we are; it’s to love, nurture, and protect them. All over the world, when children are taken care of, everyone benefits. I believe when animals and nature are taken care of, we humans benefit.
In today’s world, we shouldn’t be exploiting one to protect the other. We no longer have to exploit animals to feed and clothe humans. Places where it’s still happening are behind the times. And with so many of our fellow species going extinct, and so many natural ecosystems, like coral reefs, collapsing – because of the actions of adult humans – we need to think of better ways of living.
The times of raping and pillaging the Earth are over. We are now in the technology innovation age.
We should be innovating and no longer exploiting and destroying. We humans have to stop killing the other species with whom we share this planet and quadruple our efforts to keep them alive and healthy. Eating meat, wearing animal skin, and dumping plastic into the ocean is not the way to do that. And it’s not healthy for us or our kids either.
I get that some people don’t have the same sensitivities to animals and nature that I do. The way I see it, we all come into this world with certain gifts. Sometimes we think those gifts are a curse because they can hurt. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had an acute sensitivity to animals and nature. I can’t stand the idea of an animal being harmed or exploited, or the devastation that humans are doing to the paradise that is this planet we live on.
As a little girl growing up in Houston, Texas, instead of playing with my Easy Bake Oven (as my cooking skills today will attest), I was in our backyard, crouching over holes in the ground, waiting for little gray and yellow toads to come out so I could catch them. At the age of six, I must not have been all that sensitive to animals because I was completely oblivious to the fact that the reason the little toads were peeing in my hand is that they were terrified. Of course, I always set them free after they took a ride in Barbie’s convertible.
As I grew up and learned the ways of the world, I realized that a lot of animals are harmed by humans and, for better or worse, a lot of natural things are destroyed so humans can live better. Anyone who has a sensitivity, whether it’s to children, to older people, to people who are oppressed or sick, to animals, or anyone else, and is knowledgeable of the deeper issues around that sensitivity, will tell you it’s a painful awareness. Undoubtedly, it’s why so many of us numb ourselves out with food, alcohol, shopping, sex, or all of the above – because to feel can frigging hurt!
The danger is when our sensitivity (or, you can also call it awareness) renders us avoidant and, therefore, ineffective. We retreat or self-medicate (or both) instead of taking positive action. We are not using our gifts. And gifts are meant to be shared and exchanged. As we take action and teach each other about our sensitivities, we help each other become more aware – more conscious. If we all viewed the world through a lens of trying to simultaneously keep children, animals, and our planet healthy, I think we would create a better world for everyone.
Cool Stuff and Entrepreneurs
With all these lofty ideals, I admit, I also like cool stuff. I’m a consumer and I’m attracted to interesting and nice things.
How does one harmonize these two aspects of one’s personality? The consumer and the animal lover or environmentalist; the person who likes shoes but knows a lot of shoes are made with leather, which harms animals, workers, and the environment.
So that I can live with myself, I’m trying to be a better consumer. And with UniGuide, I’ll do my best to share what I learn.
A couple of ways I’m trying to be a better consumer:
- I’m now in the habit of pausing before I buy something. I take time to ask myself why I really want it, and will I want it and use it next year, and the year after that, and so on.
- If I am going to buy something, I try to be a more informed consumer. Are there alternatives that are not harmful, or at the least – less harmful to people, animals, and the environment? Sure, I’m promoting new things on UniGuide. But I’m also a huge fan of buying used stuff on Craigslist and eBay, and I’m a big believer in living a more minimalist life and the sharing economy too.
Businesses bow to the will of consumers. Better consumers inspire better businesses. Consumers hold all the cards, even though we don’t always realize it.
Along my journey to live life more in line with my values, I did some volunteer work for a then new nonprofit that would serve as an incubator for inventors and entrepreneurs who were trying to bring clean technologies to market. The Cleantech Open (CTO) was a labor of love because it became another full-time job, only I didn’t get paid. (And truth be told, there were other immortal volunteers who worked harder and longer than I did.) But when I look back at the “work” of my life, helping to get the CTO off the ground is one of those endeavors of which I am the most proud.
What I learned through this experience is that the path of the entrepreneur can be one of the most perilous and grueling a person can take. Yet it became clear to me that the answers to some of the most complex problems of our day will come from entrepreneurs. I will always want to help the dreamers and the innovators, the underdogs and the social entrepreneurs.
In addition to cleantech, I see solutions coming from other sectors, including cottage industries. Artisans who are making shoes and dog collars from hemp and upcycled bicycle tires, entrepreneurs making recycled and biodegradable cell phone cases, and vegan chefs who are creating delicacies that even hardcore carnivores can’t resist – these are the change makers who are making the world better. I will sing their praises all day long.
You can say that UniGuide is both a commercial site promoting products and an exploratory travel journal of sorts, from a person who is trying to find the pot of gold (a world of healthier consumption) at the end of the rainbow – by looking through her kaleidoscope. I am by no means the perfect consumer, but I will never stop trying to be, and I will always share what I learn.
People, planet, animals – I love that win-win-win.