Micah Mortali: Rewilding

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December 17, 2019

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Micah Mortali is the director of the Kripalu School, a certified yoga teacher, and a longtime wilderness guide. With Sounds True, he has published Rewilding: Meditations, Practices, and Skills for Awakening in Nature. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon speaks with Micah about humanity’s growing disconnection from the earth and how “rewilding” can help slow that trend. They talk about rewilding both as individuals and as part of whole ecosystems. Micah also shares the story of an intense, revelatory trail encounter with a bear and comments on the “species loneliness” of urban environments. Mulling the sense of grief they have for humankind’s effects on the environment, Tami and Micah consider how modern people can grapple with being in exile from the natural world. Finally, they discuss the barriers many have to reentering nature, as well as ways to initiate your own rewilding experience no matter where you are.(64 minutes)

Micah Mortali is director of the Kripalu Schools, one of the largest and most established centers for yoga-based education in the world. An avid outdoorsman, mindful wilderness guide, 500-hour Kripalu yoga teacher, and popular meditation teacher, Mortali has been leading groups in wilderness and retreat settings for 20 years. In 2018, he founded the Kripalu School of Mindful Outdoor Leadership. Mortali has a passion for helping people come home to themselves and the earth, and he is finishing his Master’s at Goddard College on nature awareness and mindfulness practices. He lives with his wife and children in the Berkshires. For more, visit kripalu.org.

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The Place You Awaken

Establishing a place for regular outdoor meditation and nature observation is often referred to as a “sit spot” or “medicine spot”.  Like the Buddha, who found his own tree of awakening, we too can go to nature and practice being awake to the reality of the present moment.  This practice can also help us become more intimate with all the qualities of the land we live with.  

If one day I see a small bird and recognize it, a thin thread will form between me and that bird. If I just see it but don’t really recognize it, there is no thin thread. If I go out tomorrow and see and really recognize that same individual small bird again, the thread will thicken and strengthen just a little. Every time I see and recognize that bird, the thread strengthens. Eventually it will grow into a string, then a cord, and finally a rope. This is what it means to be a Bushman. We make ropes with all aspects of the creation in this way.” 

San bushman

Guided Sit Spot Practice

  1. Go to a place in nature that is close to where you live and that you can visit regularly.
  1. Take a few moments to center yourself, breathing in and out, and arriving fully in the present moment.
  1. As you are ready begin to walk mindfully with an intention to find a spot that calls out to you, a place you can sit and deepen your relationship with this place.  The spot should feel welcoming, safe and comfortable.  It could be under a tree, beside a boulder or in an open space.  Often, east facing spots can be nice for early morning sits.
  1. When you find a spot that feels good, in your own way, ask permission of that place and wait to see what comes to you.  If you feel invited, sit.  If not, keep looking.
  1. Once in your spot, sit comfortably and become as still as you can.  Imagine that you are melting into the earth, becoming a part of the land.  Sit for at least 15-30 minutes, noticing any movement, sounds, or other sensations and activities.
  1. Return often.

Find more practices for connecting to nature in Rewilding: Meditations, Practices, and Skills for Awakening in Nature by Micah Mortali.

Read Rewilding today!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes&Noble | Bookshop

Nature Meditation by a Window

With many people home-bound, we may need to get creative in seeking ways to connect with the natural world.  Sitting by an open window is one excellent practice for connecting with the outdoors, and it can be a powerful form of nature meditation as well.

“What is life?  It is the flash of a firefly in the night.  It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime.  It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.”

Crowfoot, Orator of the Blackfoot Confederacy

  1. Find a comfortable seat by an open window that looks outdoors.  
  2. Morning, during the dawn chorus when birds are most active, can be a perfect time to enjoy your morning coffee or tea as you observe a new day emerge.
  3. Set an intention to stay present, letting go of thoughts or stories in your mind as they arise, and instead focusing your attention on whatever is fascinating in your environment.
  4. Sit for at least 15-30 minutes if you can.  Practice regularly to help alleviate stress, increase your sense of connection with your local environment, and awaken your senses.

Micah Mortali Facebook Live clickable image for guided meditation earthday

 

Find more practices for connecting to nature in Rewilding: Meditations, Practices, and Skills for Awakening in Nature by Micah Mortali.

Read Rewilding today!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes&Noble | Bookshop

The Basics of Nature Mindfulness

Ursasana: Bear Posture

Many years ago, a bear sat down next to me while I was meditating in the woods. It was an afternoon in mid-October in the Berkshires, and I had been mountain biking in my favorite preserve. I took a break from riding to enjoy the perfect fall afternoon. I was overflowing with gratitude. My life was going well.

I sat under a strong oak tree and closed my eyes. I asked Spirit to come and sit with me, to share in my heartfelt thanksgiving. I spoke the words aloud and immediately heard footsteps in the woods behind me. They got closer, but I continued with my meditation, until directly behind me, I heard a twig snap and a loud exhalation through a very big nose. I knew in that moment, in every cell of my body, that a bear was behind me.

My heart pounded, and adrenaline surged through my body. I was totally alert and aware. I very slowly turned my head to look behind me and saw shining black fur from shoulder to rump, close enough to reach out and touch. It was a large black bear. Immediately my mind provided options for survival. Get up and run away? Get up and yell to scare the bear away? Climb a tree? Those ideas seemed bad. Sit still, do nothing, and breathe? Yes, that made sense. And so I did. I slowed my breathing and meditated on the intensity of my body’s response to this perceived threat.

In my yoga I had learned that strong sensations and emotions, including fear, can be powerful doorways into meditation. Rather than turning away from an uncomfortable experience, I had learned to breathe into what I was feeling. In this case, the fight-or-flight response was a huge wave washing over my mind, body, and soul. Instead of making a big story about what was happening, I remembered to face the experience in all of its raw power. I had the thought, This is the coolest thing that has ever happened to me! I had another thought, too: This might be the worst thing that has ever happened to me! Many hundreds of hours, I had practiced breathing through the intense sensations of yoga postures, watching my experience without reaction and allowing things to be the way they are. All that training on the mat was now being put to the test in a pose I had never tried before, Bear Pose, or Ursasana.

For a moment, I wondered how it might feel to be bitten by a bear. That was not a helpful thought, so I returned to my breathing. Moments seemed to stretch into hours. The bear walked out from behind the tree and sat next to me. It was smelling me. Still I remained motionless. In time, the bear walked away. I turned to look as it walked away. It turned to look back at me. Our eyes met, and then it disappeared down the hill. I stood up and fell down, my legs weak and wobbly. I stood again and got to my bike. I climbed on board and pedaled out of those woods like a bat out of hell!

For days, I was in a state of profound shock and elation. My life was filled with magic, possibility, and power. Anything could happen. I felt incredibly alive. The presence of the bear stayed with me—even to this day. I have never been a thrill seeker or adrenaline junkie. I’ve never jumped out of an airplane or tried bungee jumping. I’ve always been drawn to more meditative outdoor activities, like canoeing, archery, or watching birds. But sitting in meditation with a bear gave me an unexpected adrenaline jolt.

While sitting with a bear is not likely to happen to many people, you may encounter other life-forms or elements that can help you awaken and experience a greater degree of aliveness. We long for connection with our relatives who roam the forests and wildlands, and we still find nourishment in their company. In mindful rewilding, we open ourselves up to the sensations and life-giving experiences that the land holds for us. Such moments of communion between you and the living earth can open doorways into a more magical, mysterious, and meaningful life. And it makes all the difference to have the right mental tools and preparation to help you ride the waves of powerful energies you will encounter in both the human and the more-than-human worlds.

When sitting with that bear, I used a technique we lovingly call “BRFWA”: Breathe, Relax, Feel, Watch, and Allow. You might use BRFWA on your first walk in a park or a wood that is new to you. You might use it during your first solo camping experience or when you see an animal that frightens you. I once used BRFWA when I got caught in a rip current while swimming off the Big Island of Hawaii. It allowed me to remain calm and to act skillfully, possibly saving my life. In any survival situation, the first advice is almost always to remain calm and think, not to react or panic. But how we are supposed to do that is not often explained. 

By practicing mindful rewilding, you are not looking to put yourself in a survival situation, though many of these skills can help you feel more confident and capable when you’re away from the conveniences of modern society. Inevitably, the more time we spend outdoors, the more likely we are to come up against our comfort zone or find ourselves in a situation where remaining calm and being skillful are necessary. In these moments, BRFWA can be a great ally.

I recommend that you use BRFWA regularly as a moment-to-moment practice. Using it daily will support your developing a general state of mindfulness. You can also use BRFWA to go deeper into a pleasant experience. Maybe you practice it when you take a walk or when you dip your feet in a cool stream or when you feel a fresh breeze moving through your neighborhood. Practice BRFWA regularly so that when something truly challenging happens, it is second nature for you, as it was for me when I had my encounters with the bear and the rip current.

BRFWA: Breathe, Relax, Feel, Watch, Allow

To begin working with BRFWA outdoors, try the following steps:

  1. Go outside. Find a place where you can sit comfortably and have a view of a natural, outdoor space. (This might also be the place where you want to establish your daily nature meditation.)
  2. Get grounded. Feel your sitz bones and imagine they are plugging in to the earth. As you ground down through your seat, also lengthen your spine and let it rise up through the crown of your head. Imagine that your spine is the trunk of a great tree and you are the bridge that connects the heavens and the earth.
  3. Breathe. Soften your belly, and slowly deepen your breathing with each inhalation and exhalation. If possible, breathe in and out through the nose. A good ratio for this breath is to inhale for four counts and hold the breath gently for seven counts; then exhale for eight counts, and repeat the cycle. As you breathe, notice the qualities of the air. What is the temperature? Is it hot, cold, or somewhere in between? How moist or dry is the air? What can you smell? Leaves, pine needles, the smoke from nearby fireplaces? In which direction is the wind moving? What can you hear? Your breath, your heartbeat, your joints settling? Branches creaking against each other, leaves rustling in the breeze, dew dripping to the ground, chipmunks or squirrels scampering, crows cawing, pigeons cooing, an airplane passing overhead?
  4. Relax. As you breathe, begin to consciously scan your body. Notice any places where you are holding tension. Focus on each of these places, as you continue to breathe calmly and deeply, and invite these places to soften and let go. Maybe your forehead is tense, and your brow is furrowed. Maybe your shoulders are tight and raised with tension. Perhaps your jaw is clenched. See if you can allow your jaw to relax, so that your teeth are parted. Invite your tongue to sit heavy and relaxed in your mouth, with the tip of the tongue resting against the ridge of skin behind your two front top teeth. With each exhalation, feel tension melting out of your body, mind, and spirit. Relax into the support of the earth element. Feel the earth beneath you and within your bones and muscles.
  5. Feel. As you continue to breathe and relax, notice what you can feel. Notice your body and what your body can feel—the air on your skin, the earth against your buttocks and legs, the light on your skin or coming through your clothing. Notice your heart and how you are feeling right now, not from a place of judgment, but from a place of compassion for yourself, and from a larger perspective, from your witness. Notice how the breath moving in and out helps you to feel more. This is one of the great secrets of yoga: the more deeply you breathe, the more of your own life you can feel.
  6. Watch. Be the witness. Observe your experience and allow as much space as you can for whatever is happening to be the way it is. Simply observe the land around you. Notice movement wherever it may be. Watch the play of light and the subtle movement created by the atmosphere’s constant state of motion. Watch everything, and be curious about any life you see, whether birds in the bushes or trees, ants crawling on the ground, or a squirrel leaping from limb to limb. When you come into the present moment using these steps, doors of perception will open to you. You will see the world through new eyes.
  7. Allow. Let it be. Let the moment be exactly the way that it is. Let go of grasping to your idea of what this moment should be. Let go of any aversion to things as they are. See if you can simply allow this moment to be as it is, and give yourself the opportunity to experience this moment right now in its pure expression. No matter the weather, no matter the terrain, can you allow this living earth and your relationship with it to be the way that it is? Moment by moment, can you keep letting go of your opinions, preferences, and judgments? It’s not easy for any of us, which is why we practice. This awareness is something to come back to moment after moment after moment, always beginning again.
  8. This is an excerpt from Rewilding: Meditations, Practices, and Skills for Awakening in Nature by Micah Mortali.

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Golden Tara to Who Helps Manifest and Fulfill Purpose

Meditating on Golden Tara shifts your sense of identity away from the smaller self that experiences itself as a separate being. When you identify with Tara in meditation and throughout the day, you realize that you are always in relationship with a fantastic, complex universe. Your energy increases because you no longer feel alone. You have Tara’s help, the help of friends, and countless other beings as well.

On the one hand, you are an infinitesimally tiny part of the grand whole. On the other hand, you have a role to play in the continuing creation of this complex universe. As you deepen and stabilize your inner Tara consciousness, your actions are imbued with love and compassion, arising from your understanding that you are an integral part of whatever you seek to change.

Remembering Tara also helps preserve your energies when you encounter unexpected obstacles; her golden light reveals the treasures hidden in the unwelcome stumbling blocks of life. Difficult challenges hold keys to awakening. Tara helps you approach problems as an inherent part of the journey, supporting you as you move toward them to uncover wisdom they might offer. They often provide a wake-up call to send you in a new direction, offering greater clarity about your life purpose.

This inclusive attitude creates more health in your personal ecosystem as well as the universal ecosystem. Ask Golden Tara to transform your challenging emotions into love and to increase your energy for discovering meaning and purpose in your life.

Tara’s Appearance

Golden Tara appears as the life-giving female buddha in a body of radiant golden light. She embodies the light of life itself. The vase in Golden Tara’s hand contains the power to increase our life energy, power, and material and spiritual resources. These resources support us in times of ease and times of difficulty, enabling us to discover and fulfill the purposes of our life on a moment-to-moment basis and over the arc of our lives.

For centuries, artists have created statues and thangka paintings of Tara, always adorned with jewelry. These sacred paintings, usually done on fabric and surrounded by brocade, portray the qualities of their subjects and convey teachings as well. Thus we take special note of Tara’s adornments. A crown rests atop her head. Necklaces of varying lengths cascade from her neck to her waist. Bracelets encircle her wrists. All have been crafted from gold with deep red and blue jewels woven into the designs.

Gold has been the preferred precious metal of jewelry makers for thousands of years. Gold is malleable; gold doesn’t tarnish. Golden light is associated with increasing life-force, healing, and holiness. Holy people of many faiths are often painted in an aura of golden radiance.

Many years ago, I heard a teaching that Tara’s jewels represent her experiences over lifetimes on her way to enlightenment and buddhahood. Profound understanding of the Buddhist teachings and her experiences as a woman led Wisdom Moon to vow to attain enlightenment as a woman and to persevere toward her goal. Tara’s life events were surely difficult and awe-inspiring, ordinary and phenomenal. All of them were precious contributions to her journey, which has benefited countless beings over hundreds of years.

The Mantra

Om Tare Tuttare Ture Sarva Ayur Punye Pushtam Kuru Soha!

“Ohm Tahray Tootahray Tooray Sarwah Ahyoor Poonyay Pushtahm Kooroo Soha!”

When you recite the mantra of Golden Tara, you are urging (kuru) Tara to increase (pushtam) your life energies (ayur) and merit (punye), your contributions to adding positive energy to beings around the world, near and far. Mantra recitations need not be limited to formal practice. Use them throughout the day to slow down and focus on whatever task is at hand.

The Practice

First, visualize the entire mandala of Green Tara emerging into the space in front of you. You are surrounded by your friends, loved ones, and supporters, and she is surrounded by your teachers and all the twenty-one emanations. After the opening prayers, imagine Golden Tara coming into the foreground of the mandala. Recall her praise while visualizing golden rays of light streaming from her heart as well as the golden vase in her right hand, which rests on her right knee, palm open in the gesture of supreme giving.

As you recite her mantra, Om Tare Tuttare Ture Sarva Ayur Punye Pushtam Kuru Soha, imagine that you are absorbing this light and that other beings and other places are receiving the light of Tara as well.

Kuru, which appears in seven of the Tara mantras, carries a particularly bold tone. You’re not meekly asking Tara to help—you’re putting your whole heart and body into this request. “Tara, please do this for me. Remove blockages so more energy flows into my life and work! I’m counting on you!” The same tasks that feel overwhelming in one moment seem entirely possible in the next.

Tara can help you discern the wisdom inherent in the obstacles you encounter in your life and practice. Meditate on the continuity in your life—the joyful moments, the extremely painful moments, and everything in between. Your experiences are not meaningless fragments. Imagine a mosaic forming as you piece the fragments together into a beautiful coherent pattern. Invoke Tara’s wisdom to give you greater clarity about your life purpose and the means to fulfill it.

Recite the mantra at least 21 times or 108 times whenever possible. Then rest in the vibrational field created by your chanting. Allow frustration and doubt to dissolve, releasing energy for healing. You become richer in inner resources, which leads to enriched outer resources as well, both material and spiritual. Affirm your connection to all life forms in the universe. Know that the benefits of your heartfelt wishes and efforts will flow from you into the world.

As you bring the session to a close, visualize Golden Tara receding into her place among the twenty-one emanations. See the whole mandala dissolve into radiant light, which flows into you and merges with your inner light. Dedicate the merit or positive potential generated by the practice to the healing of all beings—with no exceptions.

This is an adapted excerpt from Tara: The Liberating Power of the Female Buddha by Dr. Rachael Wooten.

 

rachael wooten

Rachael Wooten, PhD, is a Zürich—trained Jungian analyst and psychologist who has been in private practice as a therapist for more than 40 years. An enthusiastic interfaith activist, she has studied and practiced in Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, and indigenous traditions throughout her adult life.

Rachael has been mentored by spiritual teachers such as her Tibetan root guru Lodrö Tulku Rinpoche and Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. She has taught Tara practices under the authorization of Lodrö Rinpoche for more than 20 years. Rachael has offered Tara workshops through the Resource Center for Women and Ministry in the South, ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, and C. G. Jung Society of the Triangle. She currently teaches a monthly Tara meditation group at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in her hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina. To learn more, visit rachaelwootenauthor.com.

 

 

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