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The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Humans Outside
Amy Bushatz: No matter who you are or where you go heading outside is always worth it. Welcome to Humans Outside where we’re using the Humans Outside 365 challenge to build a life around spending time in nature while learning from fascinating outdoor minded guests. I’m Amy Bushatz. I’ve let curiosity be my guide as a journalist for 18 years, but life, including my husband’s war injuries had burnt us out.
So we moved sight unseen to Alaska to see if a change of scenery and new focus on. Was just the ship we needed since September, 2017, I’ve spent at least 20 consecutive minutes outside every single day, no matter what to explore how nature can change my life. Ready to hear from experts and outdoor lovers who make heading into nature just a part of who they are while we work to do the same? Let’s go
Meditation, mindfulness, forest bathing, rewilding. These can sound like terms and practices done by other people. You know, who I’m talking about, right? People who are more connected to nature than we are. People who have time on their hands for those kinds of things. You know, other people. Not me, not you, not people involved in a modern life with modern concerns and problems.
But Micah Mortali disagrees .The Dean of Kripalu school of mindful outdoor leadership, he’s also author of the book, Rewilding: Meditations, Practices and Skills for Awakening in Nature. Today, Micah is going to guide us through a practice of why modern people should build a rewilding connection to nature and how to make it happen.
Micah, joined me to record an episode of Humans Outside, this episode. And for the first time ever after over 200 episodes, the recording didn’t work properly. Tech problems happen, right? And we’re all humans here. That’s the point. So sometimes things don’t go exactly according to plan and that’s okay. That means we’re diving in here with Micah a few minutes into my conversation with him not at the very, very beginning. This is going to be a little weird, but I know we can handle it. Where he’s joining us here is in describing his favorite outdoor space. So towards the beginning of the episode, a spot near his home in the Birkshires. So let’s pretend you’re walking into a conversation that has already gotten started a little, but it’s not too late to listen in.
And truly this one is worth hearing. Here’s Micah.
Micah Mortali: With beautiful mosques covered stones and it’s protected by a massive Eastern hemlock trees, which are a very special trees to me. It’s a place where I can sit and listen to the sound of the rushing water. It’s a place where I can lean my back against the trunk of one of these incredible beings the hemlock and where I can do one of my favorite practices, which is sit spot practice. Just being seated and listening and observing and just allowing my body, my physiology, my consciousness, to begin to align with the rhythm and the cadence and the presence of the natural world in that place. It’s a place where I can get in touch with myself and slow down log off of the worldwide web log onto the wood wide web.
And experience peace, tranquility. It’s a place where I get in touch with the quality of purity of the water there. It feels so pure. And I think for a lot of folks the quality of purity of feeling close to that, that essence of nature’s purity is something that’s really needed.
It’s so easy to feel so bombarded and overwhelmed with the human world these days. So yeah, that’s my favorite place along the Shadow Brook here in the Berkshire s.
Amy Bushatz: I feel like I even not having a sit spot or not doing that stillness practice, you know, you’re walking through maybe a nature trail or some sort of wooded area like I do here near my house. I have a high school cross country track, and unlike some places in the U S where the cross country teams run on golf courses or manicured spaces, here in Alaska, they run on trails that are adjacent to the high school. And so it’s essentially my own personal wooded trail when they’re not out there.
And I have this moment while walking often, about I would say maybe 10, 15 minutes into a walk where you kind of just feel this welling of breath and you, not intentionally even take this huge sigh and just feel that weight of whatever it is you carried into that walk to start with sort of fall away a little bit. And it’s it’s a wonderful feeling, especially if you happen to take time to notice that it’s happening.
So can you tell us how did you become somebody who likes to go outside.
Micah Mortali: Well, first off, I just want to say, I can really relate to that experience you just shared. And I think that’s an important thing you just shined the light on that you just shared like that moment when, you know, maybe if we think about it in terms of our nervous system, that moment where you just, without even meaning to you, kind of go from your fight or flight response to your rest and digest parasympathetic nervous system. It’s like your whole being all of a sudden has just adjusted into and experienced the effect of being in your natural habitat. Right?
And this is a big part of rewilding. And we’ll talk about it probably more later, but you know how being in a domesticated kind of an experience, you know, being in the human world, square rooms, computers, technology, Is not actually what we’re designed for.
And so after 15 or 20 minutes of walking in the woods, quite naturally, without any efforting, we go into that mindful, that relaxed, that more present and calm state, and it happens quite in and of itself. And I agree with you that it’s easier to notice that it happens if we are making, maybe making an intentional choice to maybe walk quietly, as opposed to talking to a friend.
Like there’s just a little shift that happens if we’re able to be more kind of attuned to that subtle shift. So great point.
And how did I become like a person who likes to be outside? I’m not really sure if that’s something that was nature and nurture. Definitely when I was young we spent a lot of time as a young kid you know, being outside. So when I was real small, I can remember, going fishing with my dad or we lived out in the woods for a while, our house wasn’t totally on the grid. We had like a generator and a woodstove and didn’t always have electricity. That had an impact on.
And then, you know, growing up in the eighties, I was basically a free range kid. So, you know, after school, I was, probably find me off in the woods, shooting my bow and arrow, making fires, climbing trees, and basically getting away with things that most kids, unfortunately, don’t get to get away with it, as much these days.
But you know, I, I found myself going out into the woods and going outside when I was in elementary school, middle school, high school as a way to care for myself. There were challenges that I encountered as a young kid. There was pain, and there was some trauma that I had that without realizing it, that I went outside too, it was kind of how I, how I managed.
Was being outside and being quiet. Just being alone, actually, there was times when I was just alone as a kid. And so I would be out, outside sitting with a tree. And it was, yeah, so it just kind of happened. And then toward the end of high school, early college, I started to really. I started, I guess I just felt myself drawn to really thinking about the spiritual side of life. And I started to feel drawn to exploring world religions and spiritual traditions. And I took a year off from college because I just felt lost after my freshman year. And I wasn’t sure what I was doing.
Took a year off and started reading about Zen Buddhism and the Beat Poets and went off on this whole exploration. And it was around that time that I decided to actually major in religion. And I was a religious studies major when I went back to school.
B ut I always was bouncing between, texts and spiritual traditions. I found yoga, I found meditation and then going out in the woods and one of the things I really loved about meditation and, on the mat yoga practices was when I did those things, I started to experience a shift in my own consciousness. And those experiential disciplines weren’t present in the traditions I was brought up in. And, and so so that really clicked. And then I started to find that the more time I spent cultivating awareness, the deeper and more profound my experiences out in the woods were. And I started to see that there was this connection there, and that’s kind of been the journey I’ve been on for the last 20 years or so it’s exploring that.
Amy Bushatz: It’s It’s so interesting you bring up this sort of spiritual connection, experiential spiritual connection. Because I, so I’m brought up in a Protestant faith tradition and there’s real hesitancy to even acknowledge the spiritual nature of nature because people I think are sort of fleeing what they see as quote unquote evil connections to, non one God as he’s laid out in the Bible connections to nature. So other spiritual, they would say okay. I’m sort of struggling to explain that in a succinct way.
Micah Mortali: I’m following you.
Amy Bushatz: There’s a real, they really dismiss that and even run away from it. But if you spend some time even reading the Psalms and Proverbs and the poetry of David, it’s all about spiritual connection to the outdoors because he was, you know, the tradition says he was a shepherd and he spent a lot of time outside.
And he talks about that. Even the, you know, the famous Psalm that is read at funerals in every TV show you’ve ever seen. Right. Laying down by still waters, in green pastures. If that’s not a spiritual connection to nature and understanding that experiential nature connection, I don’t know what it is.
So it’s just so interesting that we run away from that so much in, in that Protestant faith tradition.
Micah Mortali: Year, yeah. Throughout, that’s such a, you know, it’s one of the most beautiful Psalms, you know, it’s just, it’s just such a beautiful song. You know, over the course of my research, I came upon at one point these lost gospels of the Essenes and that really kind of blew my mind when I found the, Essene gospels.
So the, you know, there were a lot of different writings floating around before everything got codified, into the new Testament, as we know it. And a lot of different sects and interpretations. of Christ’s teachings at that time. And one of them, I came up, came across, was called the Essene gospel.
And the Essenes were a group of people living near the dead sea at the time, before the time of Christ and after. And they were a sect like the Sadducees and the Pharisees, but they weren’t written about they had a very amazing cosmology. And their belief was that there is a heavenly father and there are seven angels of the heavenly father.
But they also believe that there is an earthly mother and there are seven angels of the earthly mother. And the only way to the heavenly father is through the earthly mother. And so the earthly mother’s angels, like are fewer, you know, water earth, air. So every morning they would, their baptism practice was a daily ritual where every morning at sunrise, they would go to the waters and they would bathe in the water.
And the water was one of the angels of the earthly mother, and that was one of their sacraments. And I found that to be like so incredible when I read it. And yeah, you know, it’s you know, it’s an interesting thing. There’s so many, there’s so many traditions and, being somebody who was brought up in this time that, that we live in like I’ve like you have had access to so many different spiritual traditions, which is both a blessing and a curse because, in one sentence it’s like, sometimes I feel like, well, I’m not just in one. Right. And so, how do, what do you do with that? Like how do I make sense of that, of all these different traditions, because I’ve never been able to locate everything inside of just one.
And so. I guess for me getting out onto the land and just letting my time out on the land, just open a doorway through my own direct experience to what I just call like the great mystery or the creator that presence that I feel when I’m out there. It’s just a process of being in that and letting it unfold. And it’s, it can be a beautiful thing. Yeah. Yeah.
Amy Bushatz: So your book includes the term rewilding, and we’ve already mentioned that today. So talk to us first. What is rewilding? How would you define it?
Micah Mortali: Yeah. So rewilding is a word that has been around for a little while and it has kind of multiple uses. So one use of the word rewilding refers to ecosystems and the idea that you know, I’ll just use for an example like fisheries, there are some fisheries that they’ve been fished so extensively that the word rewilding can be used to say, we’re gonna let this part of the oceanself-manage.
And so that it can rebound from, from perhaps over fishing. That’s one use of the word rewilding. Another example would be George Monbiot who wrote the book Feral does an amazing Ted Talk a lot of people would probably see him where he talks about when wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone and how the wolves were a keystone species. So they were at the top of the food chain. And with, without being there, their absence altered the behavior of the elk, which affected the course of the stream. It evolved everything. And so when the wolves were reintroduced, it brought an order and a balance to the ecosystem and the, even the rivers were healthier. And it’s a beautiful and amazing Ted Talk everybody should watch it.
I talk more in the book about human rewilding, which is just it’s based on this idea that if we look at modern life, let’s say since, I mean, you could even go back to the beginning of the agricultural revolution when human beings we’re no longer hunter gatherers and we started to kind of settle more in a place and we started to produce more food than we needed.
We had a surplus and that led to sort of a hierarchical, more complex society. And you get people spending more and more time in a house, right? You get people who have to count the grains and have to, do all those things. And so we’re not out there on the land, deeply immersed in the ecosystem in the way that our ancestors were at one point.
And over time that leads to domestication. And domestication just means that we are of the house. We spend more of our time in the house and we are no longer involved in where our food comes from. And because of that our lives change and we adapt to that. And so you might think about it, like the difference between you know, a wolf and a terrier. Right. There’s a difference. And not to say one is better than the other. They’re just adapted for different kinds of situations. Right? So, but you know what happens when a human being like we are, we are a species that evolved, most of our evolutionary history was spent outside was spent as hunter gatherers. Where we were moving a lot during the day where we were, our bodies were in contact with changing temperatures and moisture and seasonality, and our bodies were under more pressure. We were, we were eating a greater variety of foods and we were in relationship with the great elements in a way that in modern life, we’re just not.
So rewilding is. A word that kind of gets at, like, how do we, in a sense, reconnect with ancestral ways of being like what elements of of those lifeways can we reclaim or remember in order to come back into more balance in modern life? So, you know, sometimes I’ll brief story, like, just imagine if there was a lionness who was living with her pride in Southern Africa and every day was out on the Savannah, moving over the land, drinking water out of the flowing river, sleeping under the stars, hunting, bringing food back to the tribe, you know, feeling connected to the community and very much in her natural habitat. Right.
And let’s say we took her and we rescued her from that situation. We got her an apartment, you know, in an urban center somewhere. And we got her a treadmill, so she could get her steps in. And we got her a zoom account for lions, so she could stay in touch with the tribe. You know, and we got her a subscription plan, so that fresh zebra could be brought to her every day, and we got her a really good healthcare plan, so she could get regular checkups. Um, That’s a lot of plans, a lot of subscriptions, you know, and then we checked in on that lioness a couple of years down the line. She probably, wouldn’t be as healthy or as happy or as fulfilled as you know. Now that’s an oversimplification, right?
Like there’s a lot of positive things to modern life. So I’m not trying to paint it all as one thing. But you know, over the last few years, so many of us have spent, the average American spends more than 90% of their lives indoors. And before the pandemic, we were spending 11 hours a day on a screen. So th this is not our, this is not our natural habitat. To be in a box, to be staring at a screen for 11 hours a day. If we’re beginning to feel unwell, if it feels like there’s something that’s off part of it might have to do with the fact that we have been removed from our natural habitat in an extreme and dramatic manner. And we have lost connections that were always a part of our experience as human beings, to the plants and the animals and the elements and to a community and to meaning and purpose. This is all part of rewilding.
Amy Bushatz: I ask guests to talk about their favorite outer space in the beginning of episodes, because I realized that what’s actually happening is that I’m sitting in a closet talking inside right. And it’s the juxtaposition of what we’re talking about, and what’s actually happening is always stark like that. Although perhaps not quite as stark as it is today talking to you about you mentioned sitting in a box staring at a screen, which is quite literally what I’m doing right now.
Although I, to talk to somebody about this, I think is worth it, but that’s why we imagine ourselves somewhere else. Right. Because it’s not as green in here as it might be even on the driest winter day outside. So I just, I always like to note that because it kind of cracks me up.
You know, we’ve already talked a little bit about what draws us to nature and you’ve already mentioned that just now. So I want to talk about how we see that draw play out in our lives. And the result of that draw, even if we live in The city. So, you know, you described a place that you like to spend time that’s very natural. I talked about having woods behind my house. That’s a huge plus for me, but many people don’t have that. They might live in a city an actual city where their closest nature thing is, pigeons on the front stoop. Other people might live in a quote-unquote, suburban sort of urban neighborhood where they have a block to walk around and there’s some trees and people have gardens. It just really runs the gamut.
So how do we see that draw to nature play out, even if we live in a city, like that?
Micah Mortali: Yeah, it’s a, it’s such an important question. And the good news is that there are so many ways in an urban environment to, to connect with the earth. And so just a few examples. You know if you have a fire escape and you can access that, then you can put a little bird feeder out there. And, you know, in the morning when you’re having your coffee, you can sit by the window and you can make connections with the birds who come and feed there. So those inter-species connections, whether it’s with a pigeon or, house sparrow, it doesn’t matter. Like, I think it’s really hard to let go of like, needing to see something exotic, like I get excited when I see a gray squirrel in my backyard. Every time I get excited, you know, cause that’s amazing little creature, gray squirrels are amazing. Crows are amazing. All these little animals, there’s there each, one’s an individual. And if you can get to know like an individual bird in your bird feeder and, that’s a very powerful connection that, that’s the medicine.
So that’s just one. Another would be you know, having a very small garden. I mean, if you live in a suburban area and you can make a small herb garden in in your little area, or you can plant a tree, even if you have a small yard, but you plant one apple tree or one blueberry bush, you know, like watching, like I’ve planted a couple apple trees in my backyard. And when I see a bird land in the tree that I planted like that isn’t such a good feeling, like I planted that tree and now the birds are in it and it’s creating this little place for them. Even if you, even again, if you, if you’re in a city and you don’t have a yard. You can plant plants and little planters by your window, or you can have create a bonsai tree and have a couple of bonsai trees in your apartment.
Those are powerful ways to connect with the earth. Other thing I like to mention to folks who are in an urban environment is like getting your bare feet on the concrete is very grounded. So even if you think like, oh, I, you know, it’s you still get that effect with your, at the end of the day, if you’ve been wearing shoes, and you’re feeling ungrounded, take your shoes off, put your bare feet right on that concrete, as long as you feel like it’s clean, and put your feet on it and feel that cool concrete on the soles of your feet.
Very, very grounding way of connecting with the earth. One other option I’ll mention is something called sky swimming, where you just put your gaze up in the sky. You know, you might not have green space to look at but if you can catch the sky and whether it’s cloudy or blue, it doesn’t matter.
You just like drop into fascination attention and just let your attention wander. Notice the shapes in the clouds. Notice what’s going on in the sky. That practice of just fascination attention. When you feel burned out from working on your computer and you just look out the window. And give yourself five minutes or so to just let your gaze, like, this is the hunter gatherer mindset.
It’s like, you just, you let your attention go wherever it wants to go. You’re not trying to control it. Right. You just scan your environment, anything beautiful, anything interesting, anything fascinating. Let yourself be pulled into it. And that can be a very restorative practice. So there’s lots and lots of ways.
Amy Bushatz: I heard a podcast recently about productivity. It was on one of Brene Brown’s podcasts who I just am a Brene Brown junky, So, no surprise there, but they were talking about your focus being like a flashlight. And the larger point here is that multitasking is really impossible because you’re getting something done is it’s about a flashlight. But she also talked about broadening the flashlight to be sort of sweeping the room. So instead of a single beam on whatever you’re doing right now, it’s this broad, sort of, broad light.
And as you were talking about that soft fascination, I was thinking about using that break time, you know, in between tasks or whatever, to broaden that flashlight, to encompass, whatever it is in my view, as opposed to shining it some very hard on something that I’m doing. And I know that I personally tend to be a very strong, single focus flashlight person. Right. I have that laser beam.
It’s not even a flashlight. It’s like a laser burning a hole in whatever I’m doing. And then when I go outside, the temptation is to burn a hole in going outside, we are doing this now, as opposed to and, and I, that manifests by I’m a runner. So I’m running, right. Or I’m doing something, I’m gardening or whatever as opposed to using nature, to be a broader sweep. So that being outside is the task itself and letting go of that, even that thought pattern that this is a task that I’m doing, it’s a freedom as opposed to a tasking.
Micah Mortali: Yeah, Amy. I wonder if that does that shift for you when you have that, like long letting go breath moment after when you’re walking.
Oh, we talked about earlier. Is that kind of, does that whole vibe shift at that moment just kind of happens? Yeah. Yeah. That’s really a great point. I think we’re trained in our culture to be laser pointed. You know, I think school kind of like drives that into us. You know, we got to stay focused, stay focused, stay focused.
Yeah. Here’s the funny thing, just to kind of bring it to meditation. So the reality for most, many people these days is that you spend pretty much eight, nine hours a day being hyper-focused right. And then five o’clock rolls around and you go to a meditation class and you’re asked to sit down and hyper-focus on your breath for another 45 minutes. Or you go into a yoga class and it’s like, you’re asked to be hyper-focused again. Okay. And this is something I started to realize a few years ago was like, that’s actually more of the same thing, although you’re getting other benefits. So not to discredit like the benefits you get from, but we are just hyper focused, hyper focused hyper-focused all the time.
And. You know, this broad sort of a soft awareness, this wide angle awareness, which in a lot of nature connection traditions is referred to as wide angle, vision or owl eyes, right? When you go outside and rather than laser in on that house sparrow that’s out there, you actually soften your awareness and your gaze, and you just become, you become aware of the whole field of your vision.
So you’re not focusing on any single point. And what happens when you drop into our lives is any movement in your whole field division will jump out and you’ll notice it better. And so this is like how people spent a lot of their time. Once upon a time is in this wide angle state of vision. It’s a different kind of way of seeing. And I think after a period of prolonged focus we need to drop into more of a soft gaze and more of a being as opposed to more of a doing state. And this is why I think after eight hours on the screen, a lot of people, and this is why I created the mindful outdoor leadership school at Kripalu was I wanted to offer something where folks could have an alternative where they say like, you know, I’ve been inside all day. I’ve been sitting at a desk all day, been on a computer all day, I don’t want to go inside and sit to meditate or to do a yoga class. I actually want to go outside. I want to walk, but you can be so mindful, you can get so connected out there. And so it was a way to try to bring a little bit of balance and try to find the mindfulness that’s actually really organically present when we’re actually in our own natural habitat.
So mindfulness becomes less of like a, I’m going to be mindful and it becomes more of a as you said so eloquently at the beginning, like, oh wow. I’ve been walking for 15 minutes and now I’m just here. And I didn’t have to try to make that happen.
Amy Bushatz: It’s interesting that you bring mindfulness up to this because one of the things that was talked about in this particular interview, and I’ll find it and link it in the show notes for anyone who’s interested in hearing it is the, her guests practice of using mindfulness as or I’m sorry, meditation, rather as practicing, focusing for your job. So, or for whatever task you’re trying to do. So she uses a meditation practice to make her have a better ability to shine that flashlight on one thing or that laser on one thing at a time. And as you were speaking, I realized that’s really why I buck against wanting to do meditation because I’m so tired.
I am so tired of focusing on one thing at a time, and that does not sound relaxing to me at all. That sounds like me continuing to do what I’ve exactly what you said, completely continuing to do what I’ve been doing all day long. But now with my eyes closed and sitting on the floor or something, right? Like it doesn’t sound, not only does it not sound fun because fun is not the point, but it doesn’t sound restful or like a practice that would benefit me because I’m already doing it. But not in a way that brings health.
Micah Mortali: Yeah. Yeah. I hear you. I think that mindfulness is being used as a tool to help us exist in a very domesticated situation. And it’s being used in schools with children for the same method. And, my personal feeling is that it’s actually. It’s the school structure itself and the modern work structure itself that’s the problem. It’s not the kids. It’s not you’re not designed to exist in that situation for prolonged periods. And so I think mindfulness being used in that way is well intentioned and I think oftentimes is effective. But I’m thinking about it just, I guess maybe from a different perspective,
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Many people listening to this might be working to grow or keep a daily outdoor habit. So maybe focusing on spending even just 20 minutes in nature every day, which is something I’ve personally made a practice of mine for over four years now. And I started doing that because I wanted to see if I could, because it can be very cold here in Alaska and I wasn’t spending time outside the way I wanted to. And so I thought if I create this daily habit, I will actually do it and I will find maybe I will find many benefits. And of course, spoiler alert totally did.
Okay. How does rewilding fit into wanting to create or keep a daily outdoor habit, regardless of the reasons you got started doing that. How does rewilding fit into that?
Micah Mortali: Yeah, so it’s so many different ways. That’s, what’s so great about it is you know, think about all of the different things that our ancestors once did. Right. So, could be something as simple as after work every day, going for a walk outside, finding that time in your day to just get outside.
So maybe going for a walk maybe when the season is right, taking your shoes off, walking barefoot, right? Cause we all evolved without shoes. We’d like, you know, we didn’t come into this world with shoes on our feet. So walking barefoot. It might mean in the springtime planting a few seeds getting a tiny, you know, even a big garden can be overwhelming.
Maybe you just plant a couple things, a couple of tomato plants, and just that practice each day of checking on those plants, of nurturing them. There’s a connection forming between you and this plant.
So it’s just, we need to plant, like for most folks, we need to be really gentle and start really small plant, really little seeds here. This does not mean that we have to go off the grid, you know, learn how to survive. I mean, you can go that far with it, but like just starting really small, planting a seed, like digging up a dandelion and putting it in a pot, getting to know a dandelion plant. You know, getting to know one tree in your area. And becoming a friend to a tree sitting outside with that tree. Having a sit spot learning one, one thing you can forage sustainably and safely from the land that’s near where you live on, where there may be just some pine needle tea, white pine needle tea. Yeah, it can be so many little things. I think there was a brief study that came out recently. It said 120 minutes outside a week was like the key for overall better physical and mental health. So, you know, that’s, it might be helpful just to set like, okay, can I get two hours a week outside? And how do I need to structure that? Is it 15 minutes a day?
Or, what’s sustainable? Yeah, taking a jog outside doing like, I like to do pull-ups I have a tree outside, where I do pull ups, you know, like getting some exercise and outside. Yeah, there’s so many different ways. And ultimately I think whatever you like to do, see if you can do it outside, you know, as a start.
And if there’s some way you can get in touch with, throwing. So a lot of our ancestors threw things like a lot of the times, so, the other night, my son and I were outside just throwing the baseball in the backyard. I consider that to be part of rewilding. Like, you know, it’s not a boomerang or a spear, but we’re outside, we’re throwing a baseball and we’re catching it.
And we’re both in our bodies, we’re enjoying the, just the pure joy of that. You know, and you can certainly take it further and further. And if you want to go into a direction of feeling really plugged in to the land you live on and the food where your food is coming from, getting chickens in your backyard or whatever, it may be.
There’s so many ways. But I recommend folks really just start small and follow things that you love to do. It shouldn’t be a chore. You should find things out here that you love. And just go with that.
Amy Bushatz: So what I hear you saying is it’s easy to make rewilding this scary or over the top, or kind of froo-froo sounding complicated, go all in, you’re living in a teepee sort of situation. It’s easy to take it and go too far. Well go very far, maybe not too far for some people. But the reality is, is that rewilding is the pursuit of anything you love in mindfulness in nature.
Micah Mortali: Yeah. It’s reconnecting with our humanity and getting back into our natural habitat.
So just again, it’s like, if you think about that lioness, like what’s her natural habitat, it’s not being in an apartment 95% of her life. Right. What does a lion like to do? Run, be outside, be in community rest hunt, like, so anything we can do to begin to tap back into that primal, physical connected, meaningful way of being and in our natural habitat. So if you just got to keep coming back that you are, you’re a spiritual being, you’re an animal. You have a habitat that’s gonna that you’re designed to be in. Right. And so just little things you can do to reconnect with that.
Amy Bushatz: What did the pandemic teach us about rewilding? And, how can we continue to leverage that as we returned to a world that’s Backish I guess, to normal is the term I would use right now. Sort of oscillating, but it seems more normal than it had before. So what did we learn about this during that period of time?
Micah Mortali: That’s a good question. That’s a big question. What did we learn? Well, I think we learned that things can change on a dime. Right. And we learned that the structures of the human world are fragile. Right. And we learned that we have to be adaptable. Right. Yeah. So there’s some huge, huge lessons. I think that our present. And they’re going to be a little bit different for everybody.
Some folks during the pandemic found themselves with a lot of time on their hands and outside way more. And some folks found themselves chained to a computer more or less for and on zoom for 10 hours a day. So I think everybody had their own experience. To me, the pandemic was a portal of transformation and we’ve all been impacted on a pretty deep level. So, you know, there were for instance, here in the Berkshires, Kripalu closed and Tanglewood, which was the Boston symphony orchestras grounds here.
A lot of these cultural institutions closed for a year, two years. And the land rewilded the fields didn’t get mowed. The human baseline. I remember driving into Lennox one morning during the height of the lockdown. And it was like a Tuesday morning at 8:30. And normally it’d be hot hustling and bustling school buses coming in and parents were up.
It was a ghost town and from from like my sit spot practice. I was like, what disturbed the human baseline. Cause if you go out into a sit spot and you become accustomed to a place, you’ll notice that on a particular time of the day in a particular season of the year, there’s like a baseline of activity.
You might have the robbins all out and they’re all doing their thing and the squirrels are gathering and then you go out there one morning and it’s just, nobody’s there. Nobody’s talking. It’s silent. Right. And then, you can have what disturbed the baseline? And then you see the red tail hawk fly through the yard was the hawk right?
So for our human baseline was like, why isn’t anybody out this morning? What’s going on? I was like, oh, what was that cOVID-19 disturbed to human activity. So, you know, we are subject to those kinds of big disturbances just like our friends in the more than human world are. And the pandemic was like that hawk you know, that just came through and everybody was sort of hunkered down and waiting and watching.
So there’s a huge question. I could probably, if we could talk all day about that one. But I hope that what it has, what it has done is you know, I think it’s probably caused a lot of people to reflect on their lives. And how they want to spend their time and how they want to live. Yeah.
Amy Bushatz: Can you offer us three or four tips, sort of as a final thing here today on rewilding, a modern life, right where we live, sort of going back to this idea that not everyone has the convenience of, or the luxury of having these super wild spaces nearby. So you touched on bird feeder on your fire escape or things like that, but maybe just three or four succinct tips.
Micah Mortali: Yeah. You know, get to know one tree, one species of tree. You know, learning to befriend trees and getting to know the trees is a doorway to so much connection in the more than human world.
You know spend time with fire. If you can bring the element of fire into your life whether that’s a beeswax candle that you, you know, you gaze at as it’s getting dark outside with a good book, or whether that’s like getting a little fire pit for your backyard. Learning to birth a fire and create fire and responsibly and safely hold a fire is a very important skill.
And a portal to deeper states of connection. So that’s another one. I would say like, if you can get a sit spot practice in as part of your daily routine, whether that’s like in the morning while you’re having your coffee, sitting on your back stoop or looking out the window and just really observing being a witness to the normal activity of it, of the place where you live at that given time, that’s a really powerful practice.
You know, and then another one is walking barefoot. If you can get your shoes off and get your feet on the ground as much as possible. That’s a really simple, easy rewilding practice. And then I think I’ll just end with breathing. If, when you’re outside, anytime you’re going for a hike, anytime you’re sitting outside. If, before you, you begin that walking, whatever it’s going to be. If you can take a few deep breaths. And then make the practice of breathing with awareness, like a touchstone for you as you walk through the forest or wherever you’re walking, whether it’s the beach, whatever the ecosystem is. Staying connected to your own breath will help you to stay in the present moment and it’ll help you to be more aware of what’s going on around you and more connected.
Amy Bushatz: Those are great tips. Thank you so much. I’m going to implement some of them this very daySee how it goes. Maybe I’ll report back. Who can say.
Micah Mortali: I’d love to hear how it goes, Amy,
Amy Bushatz: As a final, final thing today, can you walk us out with a favorite outdoor memory of yours? If you close your eyes and pictured somewhere, you’d just like to go back to, mine is I like to imagine myself just walking through a field of wild flower, flowers not wildfires, different, field of wild flowers that I saw on a long run some one time. Where are you and what are you doing? What does that memory?
Micah Mortali: Yeah, one of the things I really like to do is just sit in my backyard and look at the mountain. I have a little mountain behind my house and sometimes I just like to go out there at the end of the day and just sit in an Adirondack chair and just, just mountain gaze. And just, you know, watch the wind move across the forest and watch the way the light plays off of the trees and notice what birds are around. Yeah, that’s a very, that’s a very peaceful and grounding practice for me.
Amy Bushatz: Micah, thank you so much for joining us on Humans Outside today and sharing these important tips on rewilding and insight into this spiritual nature of being outside and mindfulness and grounding. We sure appreciate your time and expertise. Thank you.
Micah Mortali: Oh, it’s my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me on. I really enjoyed our conversation.
Amy Bushatz: Thanks so much for listening to this week’s episode of Humans Outside. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, give us a little love and leave a rating and review to make it easier for others to find the podcasts to what you say matters. It really truly does make a difference. And until next time we’ll see you out there.