Rewilding through the Practice of Ancestral Skills with Micah Mortali


Micah Mortali, author of Rewilding: Meditations, Practices, and Skills for Awakening in Nature, discusses how to rewild through the practice of ancestral skills, especially those within our lineages who lived in close relationship with the land, and the benefits to humans to rewild in this way. 

This second part of our 2-part conversation covers: 

  • An introduction to the concept of ancestral skills 
  • The importance of embodiment to accessing Nature-centered inner wisdom
  • How disconnection from Nature has dulled our senses
  • Ancestral skills as a form of meditation
  • Why this form of meditation is perfect for mothers and others with no time to sit quietly
  • Why connecting with your own ancestral lineage is important when honoring the land you are rewilding with
  • The human benefits of rewilding through the practice of ancestral skills

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.

More Information

Part one of our conversation

Visit Micah’s personal website to learn about his work and upcoming retreats and trainings

Learn more about Kripalu’s school of mindful outdoor leadership

Connect with Micah on Instagram

Root into Mother Nature with a mindful outdoor experience

Schedule a free call with Dr. Allie Davis for mothering support

Learn more about rewild mothering support groups



Drafted by AI. Please excuse typos.

Allie  00:00

Hi and welcome back to the second part of my conversation with Michael mortality. Mike is the author of rewilding meditations, practices and skills for awakening in nature. his life’s work is reconnecting modern people with the restorative powers of nature through mindfulness in the great outdoors. He’s the founder of the groundbreaking Apollo School of mindful Outdoor Leadership at the chapala Center for yoga and health. He also leads trainings, wilderness retreats, and seminars on rewilding and mindful Outdoor Leadership at Keira Paulo and across New England. This week, we’re talking about ancestral skills and how practicing them can connect us with rewilding inner wisdom, from the embodiment of these practices and their effects on our senses to connecting with ancestors of blood and land. When engaging in these practices, we explore what is to gain from relearning these ways of being with nature. The future lies 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 mature essence, 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.

Allie  01:38

Another big part of your work centers around that relearning and using of ancestral skills. So we love tracking around here, me and Olivia, they’re two and a half year old, but also foraging and building fires and finding shelter. And that’s it’s such an embodied practice, I was wondering your thoughts around, you know, especially with your yoga background, how that embodiment brings up that rewild inner wisdom.

Micah  02:05

Yeah, you know, it’s funny. So I’ve been working at a place recently, where they have a lot of natural gas fireplaces in the facility. So I can walk right up to the fireplace and pick up the remote control hit the button and the fire hose, and the fire comes on. And it’s really cool, it’s really cool to be able to just hit a button and have like this fire go on. And so I enjoy, you know, sometimes at work, I’ll be, you know, talking with folks and just being able to sit there and kind of look at the flames dance. But one thing about it, which I noticed the other day, as I was there was that it doesn’t smell like anything. It’s a, there’s no smoke smell. And I that really got me thinking about how there’s so many things and in modern life that are that are becoming less dynamic from a sensor and embodied perspective. So just fires that have no smell being one, you know, or maybe fireplace for your home on Netflix, you know, it’d be like a great way to connect in a way if that’s all you have. But again, here’s a fire that throws off no heat and has no aroma. So as you’re saying with embodiment, you know, modern life in a lot of ways is sort of cutting away Little by little, our sensory experience, you know, to the point where, you know, we’re beginning to lose our senses, and what I love about the ancestral skills, and as you’re saying, they are embodied and what they tend to do is they get us, they get us experiencing things, with our hands, with our feet, with our bodies, with our senses, you know, and whether that’s, you know, learning how to make a fire and one of the old ways and, and, and having that flame leap out of the palm of your hand. You know, as your tinder bundle sort of combusts, the smoke that gets on it up into your nose, you know, the, the residue of the fire that gets on your hands, your skin is black, and you carry that smell of the fire around with you. Or, you know, whether it’s, you know, Fox walking, learning how to walk, you know, with great awareness and learning how to stalk quietly through the forest, you know, like our hunting and gathering ancestors knew how to do so well and having there be no shoes or socks on our feet, letting our soles of our feet feel the moisture, the dryness, the textures of the earth, you know, are all of these different things, you know, maybe it’s learning how to shoot a bow and arrow like a longbow. And the experience of being outside you know, with you know, just your shorts and your T shirt on barefoot and feeling the wind on your skin and tuning into the direction of the wind as you’re allowing your mind to coordinate the trajectory of your arrow, you know, as you’re drawing and aiming. These are all very embodied practices. And, you know, it’s interesting because

Micah  05:07

there’s a, there’s a great book called affluence without abundance. And it’s, it’s by an anthropologist who has who studies, hunter gatherer cultures. And he makes the point that when, as hunter gatherers, hunter gatherer cultures are basically living in the moment, because they don’t accumulate stores of food, like sort of has happened since the agricultural revolution, they’re just, the landscape is abundant. And when they need food, they go out to the landscape, and they and they take the food reverently. And that engender is this kind of just way of living, which is very much just in the moment, where there’s not a lot of planning for the future. Not a lot of dwelling in the past, there’s just this every morning, we awaken, and we go out, and we interact with our environment. And, you know, I think, that’s gotten me thinking over the years about the fact that, you know, when, when I’ve been practicing my sweet spot, or I’ve been, you know, Fox walking through the forest, or working with these skills, that they really do invite us into the present moment, both by the the level of focus that’s required to do them well, but also because they’re fascinating, and they’re beautiful, and they’re captivating in their own ways. And that that’s why I’ve been very charmed by by these skills. As a meditator. You know, over the years, as as my own practice has evolved. And it’s been very rewarding to have it evolve into a, into an avenue of rewilding where, you know, my meditation practice doesn’t have to be something separate or apart from my life. In other words, it’s not that I’m going into a room to meditate. As opposed to I can go for a walk through the woods, and be foraging for, you know, wild edibles. And the entire walk, the entire process is meditative, which has been really, I think, really rewarding.

Allie  07:08

It’s rewarding, it’s accessible. And it’s really important for, you know, listeners that are mothers to be able to incorporate these self care practices in ways that are, they can share with their their children in the moment. So much of the stress is about feeling like I have to get away and take care of myself. When this is about I have to connect and be in relation and care for myself. And while I was wondering, you know specifically about, you’re a father and you have, you’re raising young people, and this rewilding orientation and perspective. Can you speak to a little bit about that? And how shifts or differences you see in in your family system, as opposed to kind of mainstream culture?

Micah  07:54

Yeah, yes, sure. Yeah, my dad, I’ve got, I’ve got young ones, and they’re eight and 10. I have an older one, too. That’s 17. And, you know, it’s interesting. You know, we live very much in the world. So we’re not like off the grid or anything. You know, I was gonna say extreme, that’s not really, I don’t really consider that extreme. But do we just, you know, we kind of live a normal, normal modern life in a lot of ways. I think that, what how it’s been for me, in terms of trying to, what not even trying of just like doing what I do and having kids, what does it look like? I think, you know, one thing is that with the kids, that we’ve made the decision to really limit screen use with the kids, and that’s just been our choice. But, you know, I have wanted to focus on kind of letting the kids have, you know, what my wife and I sometimes like to joke about is like, an 80s childhood, where, you know, you know, books, try to get them outside, you know, as much as possible. And, you know, just try to limit the amount of screen time so we don’t, you know, they don’t have tablets or phones, we do watch movies and stuff like that. But that’s been a that’s been a real conscious choice, because I think I wanted the kids to be able to have an embodied experience. And I know how addictive the screens can be for me. And realizing that, you know, my frontal lobe, it’s probably as developed as it’s going to be, and I still really struggle with controlling my own use of these screens. So how challenging is it going to be for a little child whose frontal lobe has another 15 years to go or more, until it’s fully developed? So that’s been a that’s been a choice that we’ve made. You know, other things are? Yeah, well, you know, I’d love to take my kids out, you know, almost every day outside, for for long walks, and teach them Um, some of these ancestral skills, so, you know, they can make a fire with flint and steel or a ferro rod and we’re out tracking a lot, you know, they they know, some, some of their they know, their tracks pretty well, you know, they, you know, they can tell the difference between a rabbit and squirrel and what a coyote track looks like and deer and all that. So, you know, we go camping, you know, we try to, we try to eat wild foods as much as we can. So, this past summer, actually, there was an interesting experience we had where my son and I actually witnessed a neighborhood cat, kill one of our bunnies that lives in our backyard. So all summer we’d been watching this, we’d have probably had four or five cottontail rabbits that were hopping around and eating the clovers in our backyard. And so one afternoon, around dusk, we saw this cat come in, and before we could do anything about it, it went, you know, killed this little rabbit. So Strider and I went up to it, and we found the rabbit was dead. And, you know, we kind of we sat with it, we prayed for its spirit, and we put our hands on it. And we just said we’re just kind of present for the what had just occurred. And that we knew this rabbit, this is like, you know, somebody, this is a person we’d gotten to know all summer. And so I asked him, I said, Well, you know, what, what should we do? And, and we talked about it, we decided, well, we should eat it. You know, that would be the best way to honor this, this this animal’s life. And so I went ahead and it was my first time field dressing an animal. So we dressed it together. And and it’s it’s in the freezer, and we’re going to eat it. I haven’t eaten it yet. But so that would that for me. That was a big rewilding experience, you know, just that process of not shielding him or myself from, like, where food comes from and and the cycle of life and death. And also just the fact that, you know, this was a being that we knew. So there was also a sense of loss. And there was that just that rub between, like gratitude and grief, that I think all people who take responsibility for their nourishment feel. And I think it’s the source of that ethic of Thanksgiving, and so many indigenous cultures. I could go on, but those are a few stories.

Allie  12:15

I really am touched by that story. And also, you know, I’ve worked with children, as a play therapist and art therapist to heal from grief. And it’s so important, those early experiences that they have to kind of draw on. And I think that that’s an important foundation to build that there is a cycle. And And that brings me to a question. I was wondering, you know, these ancestral skills, you know, what role does knowing your family histories and of all the living dead in relation to you now, in this moment? How have you incorporated knowledge from your own ancestral roots into rewilding? And do you think that’s important?

Micah  12:51

Yeah. Why? Yeah, that’s, that’s a great question. Yeah, that was a, that was a learning edge for me, as I kind of went through graduate graduate school, and was writing the book and building curriculum for some of my programs was that I actually hadn’t, I hadn’t done my research on my own ancestry I, I had found for different reasons. I think growing up in North America, I’d always been so fascinated by the North American indigenous cultures. And because I had been somebody who’d always been so just deeply in awe of the sacredness of the earth, I found so much that I could resonate with in many of the different tribal philosophies here in North America. But it was a very, it was a little bit of an uncomfortable process for me, when I when I began to, you know, be confronted, I think, by others in my field about, you know, my own relationship with my actual ancestors. And so it’s really been in just the last couple of years that I’ve started to just learn more about the indigenous cultures of ancient Europe. My ancestors come from England and Ireland, Scotland and Italy. So that’s been really, that’s been really beautiful. It’s been a very important process for me and and just to realize, as well that, you know, before the Roman Empire, you know, my ancestors were hunter gatherers to in ancient Europe, but there’s, you know, in a lot of ways, there’s, there’s, there’s some things we know about them, and certainly a lot of their oral culture was lost. But one one thing that’s been really nourishing for me, has been getting to know more about the the Celtic Wheel of the Year, and the solstice is in the equinox, and that kind of circadian rhythm and the different holidays that I’ve always felt like a real strong connection to so just for instance, honoring the winter solstice and learning about the struggle between the oak King and the holly King, for the love of the goddess. And you know, these are like trees, people And tree beings that I’ve always felt such a deep, deep connection to. And it’s really been wonderful to find these rich traditions, from these ancient European cultures that, you know, very much revered and honored, the trees and the forest, and the cycles of light and dark, and the goddess and all these dynamic relationships. So, you know, that’s really been a wonderful learning journey that I’m still very much in the midst of right now.

Allie  15:31

Yeah, there’s so much richness there. And, you know, knowing that that is in your lineage, and oftentimes looking through them, you can confront some of that intergenerational trauma.

Micah  15:42

Yeah, absolutely. You know, and so and so with that, you know, the other part of that has been, you know, just just being with the discomfort, and the, just the reality of the fact that I’m the child of colonists, and I’m living on indigenous land, and sort of that feeling of, you know, not necessarily knowing where my roots are. And that’s really, that’s really been a ongoing inquiry. And I think, you know, connecting with some of those European traditions has been a beautiful part of that. The other side of it is, you know, in the work that I do, and guiding where I live, and in teaching, one of the commitments, you know, that I’ve made has been to always begin, whenever I teach or guide with sharing information, honoring, thanking, and acknowledging the people whose land on and the people who are indigenous to the land. And, you know, that’s been that’s been an important step for me.

Allie  16:41

Yeah. I mean, there’s so many different ways of working with ancestors. You know, if you’re from a different perspective, you bled ancestors are meeting your ancestors of land where you are through you. And I think that they’re probably interacting in interesting ways. Do you have anything else that you want to share? Yeah,

Micah  16:59

well, I mean, I guess the only thing I would just say is that yoshifumi Miyazaki, who is kind of known as like the, the founding father of modern forest bathing, I’m going to paraphrase a quote of his but you know, he says, you know, for 99.9% of our evolution, we were outside. And a feeling of comfort can be achieved if our rhythms match those of the environment. And I just think that’s so it’s such, it’s so simple, and so elegant. And, you know, whether you’re into rewilding or forest bathing, or hiking, or whatever you want to call it, I think the most important thing is that we start allowing ourselves to spend more time in our natural habitat. I think as human beings, we have such incredible potential to almost do and be anything, you know, but the at the end of the day, we are evolutionary product of the earth. You know, I we, we are a self aware manifestation of planet Earth in the cosmos, and our natural habitat. And the place where we became, was as a, as a participant in natural systems and processes were part of the earth. So the more that we can prioritize spending time in our natural habitat, I think that the better we’re going to feel, and the more equipped we’re going to be able to adapt to what life throws at us. And I think we’re living in a time right now where we really have to be very adaptable, and very awake, in order to kind of ride the waves that are flowing right now on planet Earth. So yeah, I would just encourage everybody to give yourself that gift. Because it’s, I think we all really need it.

Allie  18:50

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 slash group for more information.

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