This One Wild and Precious Life (Pan MacMillan 2020) is the latest non-fiction book by New York Times bestselling author, activist and obsessive hiker Sarah Wilson. Most famous for her wellness website and series of books I Quit Sugar, her last book was about anxiety, called First, We Make the Beast Beautiful. With this new hardback volume – which would make a perfect gift – Wilson asks what will YOU do with This One Wild and Precious Life? … exploring some of the ills of the current times and how we might best address them to reclaim our Big Life.
While asking the question ‘Will you sleep through the revolution?’, Wilson speaks candidly about the overwhelming nature of our world at this time – a climate crisis, political polarisation and unrest, racial injustice and, of course, the arrival of a Covid-19 pandemic. She argues that these combined events have left many of us in ‘a state of spiritual PTSD … we have retreated, morally and psychologically; we are experiencing a crisis of disconnection – from one another, from our true values, from joy, and from life as we feel we are meant to be living it.’
After examining the cause of our angst, Wilson then draws on science, literature, poetry, art and philosophy, and combines this knowledge with wisdom from leading world experts, her own experience and of course, the lessons that nature teaches us. The result is a book that is an easy-to-read conversation about what ails us and why, about what we might do about it, about where we want to go from here, and some practical suggestions and practices for reconnecting to ourselves, to others and to nature.
Much of the book is punctuated by her own personal travel experiences, especially those when she has stumbled upon something meaningful, sought out a wise or informed expert, chosen the path less travelled, or given in to her frustration and despair only to discover that waiting on the other side was a fresh level of enthusiasm and joy. The start of the book, when she speaks of wanting us all to ‘wake the fuck up’, is hampered by her nebulous feeling of not really knowing what she is trying to write about, which she variously describes as ‘a foggy feeling’, ‘a deep itch’, ‘a state of shock’, ‘a societal shitstorm’. After much searching she realises that it is this very disconnection that unites – or connects – us.
This book includes politics, conspiracy theories, racial injustice, Brexit, Trump, China, recycling, catastrophic bushfires, pandemics and anxiety. It’s a cornucopia of all that is wrong with the world and our feeble attempts to fix it, and our even more pathetic attempts to cope with our inability to fix it. But instead of succumbing to being overwhelmed, Wilson collects her ‘shame, my hypocrisies, my loneliness, my guilt’ and embarks on a journey to discover what might be done better or differently. The result is a book that champions joy, a ‘soul’s journey’ that asks big, beautiful questions about this big, beautiful life and seeks to discover what we can do NOW to achieve happiness.
Each of the chapters is interspersed with various walks or hikes that she has done – in fact, she says she literally ‘walked this book’. These hikes are noted and described and are a highlight for anyone interested in some of the world’s great walking experiences. Included are A Pub to Pub Walk: Dorset – Somerset – Wiltshire in England; the Heididorf Hike in Switzerland; the Royal National Park Hike, Sydney; the Samaria Gorge Trail in Crete; the Lake District Hike in Cumbria; the Julian Alps Hike, Slovenia; the White Mountain Trail in Crete; the Joshua Tree National Park Hike, Palm Springs; the Grose Valley Hike in The Blue Mountains; St Ives to Penzance Hike, England; the Cradle Mountain Hike in Tasmania; the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Walk in Japan; the Forest Bathing Hike in Topanga Canyon, Los Angeles; Wadi Rum Hike in Jordan; the John Muir Trail in Sierra Nevada; and being a Flaneur in Paris.
The sections include Our Crisis of Connection, which covers All the Lonely People, the Incessant Scrolling (Technology), Capitalism, and the Destruction of Planet Earth (climate change). The second section entitled A Path For Our Souls includes Cultivating Big Kindness, How to Become a Soul Nerd, the idea of Going to Your Edge (of danger and discomfort), her absolute belief in the power of hiking and reconnecting with nature, and how to get Full Fat Spiritual. Now We Change the World discusses the importance of Showing Up, and of Starting Where You Are, the challenge to #buylesslivemore, the call to Pay Attention and Think! and to Get Anti-Fragile, to Be Comfortable Not Knowing, to Get Wild, to Become Adult and concludes with a chapter entitled Home.
This is a well-researched book additionally informed by the author’s own lived experience. It perfectly sums up the collective feelings of the world at this time – that 2020 needs a reset button – and she frankly depicts the pervasive sense of ennui, frustration and hopelessness that we are all apt to experience at times. But instead of dwelling on the unfairness and overwhelming feeling of it all, she focuses on small, individual practices that each of us can embrace with the theory that small changes together add up to big revolutions. This is an inspiring and optimistic book. It is dedicated to young people but would make a perfect gift for anyone of any age. It is a thought-provoking call to arms and action, a celebration of the beauty of the natural world, and an injection of encouragement to all of us who would like to do better but would welcome a how-to manual of practical suggestions.