Introducing Sarah Wilson’s ‘This One Wild and Precious Life’…
Sarah Wilson’s quality as a writer lies squarely in her ability to share unfettered reflections on modern life. Wilson doesn’t mask the truth about our fractured world, she reverently explores the challenges of nature through personal experiences. The initimate journal-style of her latest book, exposes her own fears and struggles over the corrisve impacts of our impact on nature. But the account also shares lessons about how and why we need this one precious resource in our lives. The book paints a picture of nature’s resilience, where we can source pockets of wilderness and start to reclaim this vital sanctuary.
The journey behind this book had become a metaphor for so much more by now.~ Sarah Wilson, This One Wild and Precious Life
In this preview chapter, Wilson immerses us in an urban forest where nature’s balm still persists.
Forest Bathing Hike, Topanga Canyon, Los Angeles
In the final months of writing this book, I was in LA and figured I’d try forest bathing or Shinrin-yoku again. There’s an association that issues accreditation to guides and also trails around the world, with several in Los Angeles.
Shinrin-yoku is integrated into the medical system in Japan and is covered by health insurance in both Japan and Korea. Since the Japanese government formally introduced forest bathing in 1982, studies have rolled in to show the healing effect of trees for both emotional and physical health. One study showed that a mere 20 minute walk among trees lowered levels of salivary cortisol (the stress hormone) by 53 percent. Even just living close to parkland with trees has been shown to reduce our chances of developing mental health issues (adjusting for things like age, income and relationship status). A bunch of studies put the effects down to phytoncides, the antibacterial oils that trees release. In addition to boosting immune system function, reducing blood pressure and heart rate, improving sleep and creativity, and fighting cancer (a number of cancer and health clinics in the United States now incorporate forest walking into their treatment plans), these compounds (along with the experience of being outdoors and exercising) also affect mood, stress, anxiety and ‘confusion’.
In 2015, a team of researchers in the United States, Canada, and Australia was able to put a very neoliberal dollar value to the whole wellbeing value of forest bathing. The researchers found that an additional ten trees in a given area corresponded to a 1 per cent increase in nearby residents’ wellbeing. To get an equivalent wellbeing improvement using money, you’d have to give each household in that neighbourhood $10,000. Want a peaceful hood? Plant trees.
I’ve always immersed myself in the nature around LA. When I travel there for work, I land at 6am and head straight to one of the canyons and tear up the dusty trails that wind above the city. I like to sweat out the plane grime. Sometimes the heat of the desert behind the canyons drags the ocean air over the city like a thick blanket, and a hike up Griffith Park or Runyon Canyon or Topanga or Escondido can be most surreal. Everything — the gritty flight, the hectic, spaghetti freeways — is fogged out. And it’s just you and the sharp, pure light that I (and generations of Hollywood directors) have always loved about LA.
I met with Debra, an accredited guide with the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy who used to work in movies until it became empty for her. She’d chosen a tucked-away route on the way to Eagle Rock, a wonderful climb I’d done on a previous trip.
Debra explained what my Yamabushi monk mate in Japan was unable to. Bathing in a forest doesn’t require getting naked in leaves and sticks. It’s about submerging in nature by just existing in it as mindfully as possible and allowing it to teach you some good shit that your head can’t sort on its own.
Debra led me in exercises to connect me into the experience. One entailed spending 5–10 minutes with three ‘bits’ of nature — a tree trunk, a flower, a vista, whatever —as though they were strangers at a party towards whom I was gravitating. I’ve never been great with these kinds of performative, ‘intuitive’ activities; I simply couldn’t access my gut feeling most of my life. But the more I’ve hiked in nature, the more I’ve been able to attune to this feeling side of myself. I’m thinking it’s because hiking takes us to our original way of being from which these soulful faculties emanated.
I wandered along the trail and found myself drawn to a bend in the path. The trail followed an old wooden fence line around the lip of a canyon and then veered off through a thatch of trees. I looked at it and I immediately knew why it appealed, why I’d want to connect with it at a party. It headed into the setting sun and I couldn’t quite make out where it cut through the trees. As I stared at it, and absorbed the symbolism, I realised it all elicited a lightness in my heart space. The unknown endpoint was exciting. Unlike my usual anxious response to the ‘unknown’, having a chat with it in a party-like setting was . . . enlivening. It made me smile. I’d written about this in my anxiety book — that anxiety and excitement trigger the same response in the brain, and it’s an option to simply recast the feeling we get ahead of an exam —or the unknown —as the far more productive ‘excitement’ rather than the paralysing anxiety.
I then conversed with a split tree trunk. In any another setting, in any other book, this would be way too much for many of you, I imagine. (And me!) But, hey, we’ve been on this journey together for a while now. I studied the long, sinewy lines of the wood on the outer part of a kink, and the bubbled, constricted texture – like elephant skin – where it bent inwards. Where the trunk split open, you could see all the distress lines, the history of the tree as it adapted to changes in the environment it shared. And what came over me was an incredible okayness with the anxiety I had been feeling for months – the vast, unfathomable unknowingness of where we were all heading collectively amid warnings of mass extinctions and pandemics, as well as not knowing where this book would wind up. This trunk had grown as it needed to, and the elephant skin bumps and kinks became a necessary part of its story. So, too, everything in life.
As I say, when I’m in nature I can go to this place of intense attentiveness and I can gravitate and intuit and feel things I can’t in the rest of my life. But why? And why does it feel so attuned and ‘arrived’? It’s partly the lack of dumb-arse distractions that assault us in life beyond the nature park. When we’re not being pinged, and sold to and honked and bumped, we can hear the whispers of our souls. I looked into it further. It’s also about fractals.
Fractals! It’s about fractals! Nature’s patterns – tidal pools, rings in trunks, flower petal formations — are organised as complex configurations, each part of which has the same statistical characteristic as the whole. The human retina also moves in a fractal pattern while taking in a view. This congruence, then, creates alpha waves in the brain, which is the neural resonance of relaxation. In other less technical words, looking at natural phenomena makes us feel like we’re part of it, part of the natural order. You know, that we belong.
As I drove back down the valley to the plant-based cafes and Aperol-spritzed bars of Venice Beach, the heat was dragging the blanket of fog up through the valley. By the time I returned the sun was obscured and the traffic was in gridlock. All of which I found to be fractally apt.
Our Thanks: to Sarah Wilson and the team at Macmillan Australia, for providing this peek inside #TOWAPL.
About the Author: Sarah Wilson is a New York Times bestselling and #1 Amazon bestselling author and founder of IQuitSugar.com. Her new zero-waste cookbook, Simplicious Flow, was released in Australia in September 2018. Her 2017 book First, We Make the Beast Beautiful, A New Story of Anxiety, is a besteller in the US, UK, Australia and more. On the side, she campaigns against consumerist waste.
Between the Covers: The book draws on science, literature, philosophy, the wisdom of some of the world’s leading experts, and the author’s personal journey, weaving a one-of-a-kind narrative that lights the way back to the life we love. En route, readers are lead through a series of ‘wildly awake’ and joyful practices for reconnecting with nature…
- Go to your edge. Do what scares you and embrace discomfort daily. Use it to grow into your Big Life.
- #buylesslivemore. Break the cycle of mindless consumption and get light with your life.
- Become a soul nerd. Embrace poetry, deep reading, art, and classical music to light up your intellect.
- Get ‘full-fat spiritual’. How to have an active practice—beyond the ‘lite’ ‘rainbows and unicorns’—and use it to change the world.
- Hike. Just hike. Walking in nature reconnects us with ourselves, and with our true purpose.
- Practise wild activism. If you can get 3.5 per cent of a population to participate in sustained, non-violent protest, change happens. We create our better world.
Indulge and Snack: This is a book to be consumed in a single sitting, then to be kept by the bedside for regular doses of inspiration, understanding, encouragement and the feeling that you are not alone.
Nitty-Gritty: This One Wild Precious Life is available in Hardback $34.99, Audiobook $40, eBook $16.99 (AU dollars) from September 2020 (Pan Macmillan Australia), December 2020 (US, Harper Collins) and in the UK early 2021.