Rewilding as Inquiry: Healing Nature Divorcement through Connection with the Great Outdoors with Micah Mortali
Micah Mortali, author of Rewilding: Meditations, Practices, and Skills for Awakening in Nature, gives background on the rewilding movement, the effects of nature divorcement, and one accessible way you can start healing nature deficit disorder through mindfulness in the great outdoors.
This first part of our 2-part conversation covers:
- An introduction to the two forms of rewilding
- The benefits of human rewilding personally and for our planet
- Rewilding as a movement to bond with Nature through connection and love
- Research on the detrimental effects of nature divorcement, including concepts like “nature deficit disorder”, “place-blindness”, “species loneliness”, and the “green wall”
- Research on forest bathing and its effects on human immune function
- How to reverse the detrimental effects of disconnection from nature and/or to start the rewilding process
- Micah’s go-to practice for accessible rewilding
Micah Mortali is the author of “Rewilding: Meditations, Practices and Skills for Awakening in Nature”, published by Sounds True. His life’s work is reconnecting modern people with the restorative powers of nature through mindfulness in the great outdoors. Micah is the founder of the groundbreaking Kripalu School of Mindful Outdoor Leadership at the renowned Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. Micah is also a 500-hour Kripalu Yoga Teacher, a Level 2 Mindful Outdoor Guide and is wilderness first aid certified. He has studied with Tom Brown Jr. at the legendary Tracker School in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, and holds a Master’s Degree in Health Arts and Sciences from Goddard College. Micah leads trainings, corporate events, wilderness retreats and seminars on rewilding and mindful outdoor leadership at Kripalu and across New England. He lives in the Berkshire hills of Western Massachusetts with his family.
Connect with Micah on Instagram
Research article on forest bathing’s effects on the human immune system
Drafted by AI. Please excuse typos.
This week’s guest is Mike Mortali. He’s the author of rewilding meditations, practices and skills for awakening in nature published by sounds true. his life’s work is reconnecting modern people with the restorative powers of nature through mindfulness and the great outdoors. He’s the founder of the groundbreaking for Apollo School of mindful Outdoor Leadership at the renowned chapala Center for yoga and health. He studied with Tom Brown Jr, at the legendary tracker school in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey and holds a master’s degree in health arts and sciences from Goddard college. He leads trainings, corporate events, wilderness retreats and seminars on rewilding and mindful Outdoor Leadership at Kripalu and across New England, and he lives in the Berkshire hills of Western Massachusetts with his family. Today we’re talking about rewilding as an embodied practice and an inquiry, and how rewilding can address issues like nature deficit disorder that affects our individual and collective health and well being. I’m excited to share the first part of this two episode series with one of my teachers who has helped give form to the work that I get to do with mothers. The future relies on the wellness of mothers. Welcome to rewild mothering, a weekly podcast for soulful mothers to help us mother from our deepest wisdom, our vital energy and our most authentic natures. Each week, in just about 15 minutes, we weave together modern research and ancient wisdom to channel the transformative power of addressing the developmental transition of motherhood. I’m your host, Allie Davis, maternal wellness therapist and a mother walking this path with you. Thank you for being here. And let’s dig in.
Really just want to thank you for being here and sharing your wisdom around rewilding. So you read a really popular book that I love called rewilding, and he talks about rewilding as a return to our essential nature. So it’s an attempt to reclaim something of what we were before we use words like civilized to define ourselves. So can you share with us your understanding of this concept as it applies to us human beings?
Sure. You know, to me, when I first started to research with you know, rewilding, I came upon two basic meanings. And there might be more. The first is, refers to the rewilding of ecosystems. This was a term that was really coined, I think, in the early days of Greenpeace, and was referring to basically, modern human beings. You know, we’re in this period of time, which some people refer to as the Anthropocene, which is an era of life on planet Earth, which is really become almost dominated by human beings impact on the planet, to the point where we’re at where we’re affecting the whole, the whole, the entire planet is being impacted by our presence, to the point where we’re impacting the weather, and you know, the oceans and entire ecosystems. And so rewilding was an is about setting aside areas where human beings step back and allow natural quote unquote, processes to to move on and, and happen, sort of unencumbered and under and interfered with by large scale human interventions. So this would refer to perhaps letting sections of the oceans be free of large scale fishing, industrial fishing practices, or letting a big section of a state or a county just be left alone. So it can do its thing. So an example of this would be like, if you look at Chernobyl, and the years after the nuclear meltdown, you could say that whole areas sort of even though it’s been dramatically impacted by the horrible nuclear accident, you know, the forests have taken over wildlife is abundant, because human beings aren’t there. So that’s one sort of a way to think about rewilding. And then the other is to think about re human rewilding. So we live in a time today where we, as modern humans, you know, in some sense, is totally divorced from ancestral ways of living, hunter gatherer ways of living. So, modern life allows us to pretty much be inside almost 100% of the time, it allows us to be completely disconnected from where our food comes from. So all the basic elements of life are out sourced in modern society, our food, our clothes, our shelter, everything is outsourced. So we you could we might think of our ourselves as modern human beings as as being domesticated like like A patent that’s living in a home and has lost its its ability to care for itself. It’s basically in the hands of its owner or in our case, like the state or the society. In that sense, you know, rewilding has become also about it’s an I see it as an inquiry, you know, what would it mean? to consciously begin to reacquaint myself with ways of being that my, you know, indigenous ancestors knew and anxious in Europe. So that might look like, you know, making my own long bow, or learning how to make stone tools or, you know, learning what herbs, medicines and wild foods are around me and how to identify them and, and sustainably and ethically harvest them and consume them? You know, so it’s, it gets us into a topic of ancestral skills, you know, and a whole world of just drawing closer to our, our relationship with the natural world, of which, you know, I believe we are an integral expression. You know, I feel that the process of human rewilding is kind of an essential component of, you know, healing our relationship to the planet, and learning how to live here in a way that, you know, we can carry on for a long, long time without destroying the life support systems that we rely on. Yeah,
it’s like we have to every wild ourselves in order to step back from our patterns of dominance and control of mother.
Yeah, it’s a, in some ways, it’s kind of a privilege, you know, to be able to be in a place to say, hey, I want to choose to do these things, which, which for some people on the planet, just requirement for survival. But I think that many people, because we are so divorced from our local environments, many people just don’t have a bond with the land that they live on, or the plants and the animals that they share their land with. And so it’s this disconnection and lack of bonding, I think that, you know, allows people to let things happen to the natural world that they wouldn’t otherwise let happen if they had a relationship or they cared. So I feel like rewilding is is part of that process of, of bonding, you know, of getting to know the place where you live, and, you know, letting rather than guilting people or trying to frighten people into caring for the environment, letting their advocacy come from a place of connection and love.
Yeah, I love that about this concept in your work, because it does come from that place of how do we create a more sustainable future, through hope and connection with this inner wisdom that you describe as primal and ancient and profound?
Well, that’s been my own experience of it. And I think, maybe that’s always been there. For me, it probably has been since I was a small child of just kind of feeling a sense of awe, but also a sense of real curiosity about how I’m here how we’re all here. And just a sense of wonder, I think, with wind and trees and rocks, in the land, I got into meditation and yoga pretty early on in my late teens, and 20s, and dove into all that stuff for a long, long time. And I just found that, you know, the more sensitive I became, as I was learning how to breathe, and, you know, the more in touch with my body and my senses, I became through the yoga practices, just the more totally on spiring my walks in the woods were becoming, it was as if the world was becoming more alive, as I was feeling more alive, you know, through those practices, and, and, you know, then it was just as I started to really get into some of the hands on ancestral skills, like learning how to make my own bow, or getting into animal tracking, it was all those endeavors just became mystical, you know, they just became these portals to connection and, and the experiences I was having out there in the land where, you know, tracking a coyote through the snow and January are, you know, very exciting. I’d really just started to wonder if, you know, if more people you know, who were living in the modern world, so to speak, could unplug and step away and begin to have these experiences, it might have a really beneficial impact on their consciousness. And so that’s kind of how this all sort of evolved. For me.
Well, it seems like you really had a strong connection to a life force. And that’s kind of what you’re offering is a path back to our own vitality that way. Can you say more about how some of the research that talks about how this life force deficit Did you call her that separation from nature affects us physiologically and spiritually,
you know, the first book I came upon that really spoke to this was Richard loupes book, last child in the woods, saving our children from nature Deficit Disorder. And I thought that was a pretty compelling term, because in a way, it gave us a word, or a couple of words to describe this nature, divorcement that’s really been accelerating, over the past 20 years or so, in the modern world. And, you know, through his book, I started to get access to data, and some research on the effects of, of nature. divorcement. And, you know, there’s some really interesting terms, you know, that, that, that he wrote about that caught my attention. And, you know, one of them was this idea of place blindness, which is not knowing the place where you live, it’s kind of this idea of, you know, many modern people probably know, more corporate logos than they do. Leaves of common trees around them, this this kind of thing. You know, some of the some of the data that I’m aware of around nature divorcement few things are, you know, the modern American, as of 2016, was, was spending 11 hours a day on a screen. So that was before COVID. This was before kids were doing zoom school, and people were working remotely as much as they are now. So I would imagine that the amount of screen time has actually risen somewhat since COVID. But 11 hours a day is pretty dramatic. You know, if we go back to the late 90s, early 2000s, when the internet was first a thing, Internet addiction was considered to be like 40 hours a week of internet use. But the average American gets that in about four days at this point. So we’re all basically addicted to the internet at this point. According to those measurements, the average American spends over 90% of their lives indoors, according to the EPA. And what are the effects of this?
You know, people are becoming more disconnected from their senses. And so this is sometimes referred to as sensory anesthesia. But people are losing their sense of taste and smell. They’re struggling with just basic propria perceptions, how to use their bodies, you know, for sitting at a desk for eight to 11 hours a day, or just hunched over a screen, kind of interacting with a flat surface. This isn’t how we evolved, right, we evolved interacting with dynamic environments, you know, we evolved, being rained on and being in the snow and sweating and being hot and touching millions of different textures in our environment and tasting different tastes and smelling different smells, and hearing different sounds. And yet we find ourselves in these sanitized white boxes for most of our existence. So there is some interesting research out of Japan and South Korea on forest bathing, which is, I think, a really cool phenomenon, this idea of just walking in a forest environment with no other intention, than to open our senses to what’s happening around us, and to go slowly. So the forest bathing research is showing that just a short walk in a forest with no real agenda other than to just notice what’s going on around us, you know, lowers the stress hormone cortisol, by like 12% in our bloodstream, lowers our heart rate and our blood pressure, improves mood improves sleep, improves overall feelings of vigor. Some of this has to do with the phytoncides, the essential oil compounds that are secreted by evergreen trees, but also secreted by hardwoods and other kinds of trees. And these oils, these aromatics are part of the immune system of these trees. And the hypothesis is that, you know, our immune systems evolved alongside the trees very much in a dynamic relationship with them. So the same kind of walking in a forest environment has been shown to boost the number of natural killer cells in the body as well. So that’s interesting. There’s more and more coming out, you know, there’s so much we could explore. There’s another topic that I find very interesting called species loneliness, which is right out of this idea of nature divorcement nature Deficit Disorder, but you know, if we, if we think about this kind of indoor living that most of us are, many of us are kind of stuck in. If we think about our ancestors even going back just 100 years or more. You know, might it be that some people are experiencing a sense of sadness or loneliness or just not having relationships with horses and cows and chickens and pigs or Bob cats or coyotes or red tail hawks or red F’s and crows and frogs and rabbits and squirrels like all these beings That have up until very recently were integral part of our existence as human beings are. I like to refer to them as our relatives and the more than human world. And, and yet today, you know, many people know more Pokemon characters than they do actual fauna that they share the land with. So there’s just this whole host of, I think, interesting issues that we’re confronted with in modern life. And I think rewilding is this really beautiful inquiry into what it might mean, to just reach out and explore, you know, reconnecting in some of these different ways.
This is such an interesting research. One thing that stuck with me also kind of to do with the place blindness or the species loneliness is the green wall, our lack of intellectual knowledge about what’s around us outside these kind of prisons, I’m hearing you say, that we built around us, you know, we just see it, we homogenize it. And that way, when we don’t really get to benefit from all the different teachers that we have around us and our families, and you speak a lot to, to what we have to learn and recover from nature’s teachers, like you talked about mountains and rivers and trees and our animal can. So how do we remember and recover from our disconnection?
Right, right? Well, the good news is that it’s, it’s pretty, it’s pretty easy to, to start. And one of the best ways that I found is just to just spend a little bit of time with a sit spot practice, you know, sit spot is a practice that’s very well known in the nature connection world. And I was taught it at the tracker school, Tom brown tracker school, it’s a big part of the eight shields program. And it’s been incorporated into forest bathing practices, and just forest kindergartens. And the sweet spot is, is really cool. It’s, it’s the place where we connect, it’s the place where we begin our rewilding journey. And the idea is to find a place on the land near where you live, it might be the porch of your house, the back porch might be somewhere in your backyard or front yard, or might be a park near you, the ideas that go out to this spot, throughout all the seasons. And you know, you spend 15, to 30 minutes to 45 minutes, sitting still, with your eyes open, for the most part, noticing what’s happening around you. And what I love about this practice is that it’s very simple. It’s, it’s pretty accessible. And it teaches us to slow down. And to lower our, the way that we are a disturbance on the land. Sometimes when we’re, maybe we’re hiking and talking with our friends, we’re sort of using the landscape maybe as a way to decompress or way to process loudly through our voices. And it trains us to kind of become like a tree become like a stone, melt into the landscape become very still. But while we’re doing all that, we lift our awareness up, we become hyper attentive to our environment. And after a little while, after the reverberations of our footsteps sort of fade away, and we are melted into the landscape we’re gifted with, with seeing things that we might not otherwise see. And we’ll begin to get to know the beings that we share that land with whether it’s, you know, the grey squirrels that are scurrying around, or the rabbits that are hopping, or wherever you live, whatever beings are, present, your ecosystem that you call home, you’re going to get to know them. And what’s cool is that over time with this practice, you know, you might get to know like an individual, as opposed to saying, Oh, hey, there’s a lizard over there, you might go out there a couple times. And then you might say, Oh, hey, that’s the same lizard from yesterday. And it’s, it’s that kind of intimacy, of getting to know the individual pebbles on the grounds, getting to know the plants themselves as individual life forms, that we can start to feel really intimate and really bonded. And that can take time it can take it unfolds over days, and months and years, really, but it can be a really beautiful, beautiful way to connect. So that’s my number one go to is just that sit spot practice. But there, you know, there’s so many really wonderful ways to begin the journey. And it’s really good to try to find rewilding avenues that connect with your interests. I think so. You know, that there’s all different kinds of ways that folks can customize it just based on how they naturally love interacting with the natural world.
Yeah, I mean, I spot is perfect for me as a expressive arts therapist, that mindfulness through sight is so powerful and it’s something that I look forward to and going back to that same But just seeing how the seasons change and migration and all kinds of things come to come to that bond that you’re talking about.
We’ll be back next week with more of my conversation with mica. Next week, we’re focusing on ancestral skills as a practice and a part of the rewilding experience. In the meantime, I hope you’ll try the mindful outdoor meditation that I’ve linked to in the show notes and acet spot as an important part of that practice. So you can experience that and if you have any questions, just send me an email at Allie at rewild mothering.com. Thank you for listening. I hope you found inspiration and support for your mothering journey. I wanted to let you know that it’s about time for my spring rewild mothering mother’s support group. Through nature centered, expressive arts, therapeutic invitations, and conversations with other mothers we reflect on these nature connection experiences and the mothering journey overall. To learn more, visit rewild mothering comm slash group for more information