Micah Mortali

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!

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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!

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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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Meet the Author of . . . Every Day Is a Poem

The Author

Jacqueline Suskin has composed over forty thousand poems with her ongoing improvisational writing project, Poem Store. She is the author of six books, including Help in the Dark Season. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, the Atlantic, and Yes! magazine. She lives in Northern California. For more, see jacquelinesuskin.com.

The Book

Every Day Is A Poem Book

How do we deal with the heaviness of everyday living? When we are surrounded by uncertainty, distrust, and destruction, how do we sift through the chaos and enjoy being alive?

In Every Day Is a Poem, Jacqueline Suskin aims to answer these questions by using poetry as a tool for finding clarity and feeling relief. With provocative questions, writing practices, and mindset exercises, this celebrated poet shows you how to focus your senses, cultivate curiosity, and create your own document of the world’s beauty. Emphasizing that the personal is inextricable from the creative, Suskin offers specific instructions on how to make a map of your past and engage with your pain to write a healing poem.

 

Show us a day in your life.

I’m currently the Artist in Residence at Folklife Farm, where I spend my days writing, reading, teaching online and working in the garden. 

Rainbow

I wake up and take care of my body, dance, stretch, and harvest something for breakfast.

Blueberries

Then I usually work at my desk until late afternoon when I find my way back to the garden for more harvesting and chores.

When I’m working on a book, I’ll wake up around 4 am to write before anyone else is awake. I know that whenever I wake up in the dark with an idea, it’s my job as a poet to turn the light on and write it down. 

Workspace

With this schedule, my days are fluid; and although I make showing up at my desk a main priority, I never forget that it’s summer and there are rivers to swim in, flowers to smell, and berries to pick.  

Are you learning any new tricks or skills during this time (COVID)? What’s been hardest for you? What do you miss the most? Has your book taken on a new meaning in the world’s current circumstances? Is there anything you would have included in your book if you were writing it now?

smelling flowers

During quarantine, I had to shut down the retreat program I was running at Folk Llife Farm. This was a sad shift, as we had folks signed up to stay for months in advance. Now that I’m not spending my time hosting or interacting with my local community in person, I’m engaging with my online community in a larger capacity. I miss sitting in front of my audience, writing for people after looking them in the eye, and I really miss browsing bookstores. I miss hugging my friends, having teatime and long conversations, and I miss going on tour. But I can’t complain. Poetry has its place in the world now more than ever. I’m here to translate the communal mood, to voice our collective pain, and find the beauty in all of it. My book will help others do this as well. And if there’s one thing COVID has taught me, it’s that we all need an outlet for our emotions, especially when we feel unseen and disconnected. Poetry is this outlet and we can still share it even if we can’t be with one another in person.

What is something about you that doesn’t make it into your author bio?

earth

I’m an ecstatic earth worshiper. Everything I do, every word I write, is attached to the idea that when my readers discover healing through my words, when they transform and become better by way of my work, they’ll in turn treat themselves, each other, and the earth better. This planet is a perfect gift and humans have ruined so much of it. Through my efforts as a poet, I hope to pay tribute to the earth and offer up ways for humans to change their relationship to our one and only home.

Photos of Jacqueline Suskin by James Adam Taylor

Photos around Folklife Farm by Jacqueline Suskin

Learn More

Every Day Is A Poem Book

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Elizabeth Stanley: Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness

Elizabeth Stanley is a Georgetown University professor and the creator of Mindfulness-based Mind Fitness Training (MMFT)®, an approach taught to thousands in civilian and military high stress environments. A U.S. Army veteran with service in Asia and Europe, she holds degrees from Yale, Harvard, and MIT. She is the author of the book, Widen the Window: Training Your Brain and Body to Thrive During Stress and Recover from Trauma. In this podcast, Tami Simon speaks with Elizabeth Stanley about her 8-session online course, Mindfulness-Based Mind Fitness Training: A Trauma-Sensitive Online Course to Build Resilience and Thrive During Stress. They also discuss why MMFT is a practice we can all benefit from; the value of expanding our “window of tolerance”; the relationship between personal agency and trauma; the “thinking” brain versus the “survival” brain; when stress becomes trauma; the importance of recovery from stressful situations; and more.

DIY Rose Essence and Heart Breathing Ritual

The heart chakra is the central integrating chamber of the chakra system. Through the healing power of love, all things eventually find their way to connection and wholeness. 

ANODEA JUDITH

Heart Medicine Rituals

The greatest lesson I have learned so far is to exist within my heart. This is a lifelong practice for me because, like many, I was not taught to inhabit my heart space. On a physical level, the general collective is not doing so well in our hearts. This is evidenced by the stark reality that heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. This high incidence of disease points to a deeper situation of the heart, but in order to be open to the possibility that more profound heart healing is necessary and possible, we must open our minds to a more metaphysical or energetic interpretation of what the heart is and what it does. Ancestrally, the heart held a much higher evolutionary significance, and as our consciousness split, we moved from inhabiting our hearts to glorifying our minds. Perhaps this disconnect can illuminate some clues for us to consider to reclaim more balance within our hearts, ourselves, and our world. 

Vibrationally, the heart contains the strongest electromagnetic field of any organ in the body. Transference of heart energy can occur in close proximity with another human or animal; and if you apply the theories of quantum entanglement and wave function collapse, transference of heart energy can resonate beyond space or time. Plants and the elements, too, can have a positive entrainment effect on the heart, reiterating the interconnectedness of all life and the organic balance nature engenders. In both traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicines, the heart is the mind. In TCM, grief is stored in the lungs and closely related to the heart. The Hopi defined harmony as one’s heartbeat in resonance with others and the Earth.

Our liberation is tied to the heart. The cost of liberation is unique to every person and is cosmically linked to each of us. The price of liberation varies for each individual, but we are given choices: in what we think, what we feel, what we believe, how we want to be. The inability to see choice is the unconsciousness of the fear-based toxic masculine that seeks to keep us disconnected and disempowered. 

Image 1

Our liberation depends largely on our ability to love unconditionally. Unconditional love means loving without circumstance or codependence. This can take different forms, from exiting a toxic relationship to taking more care of yourself. And it doesn’t stop there. If you want to get really free, you have to love yourself no matter what, and love all beings no matter what. Tall order? Yes. Impossible? No! While humans are conditioned to be in separation, plants (and animals) hold only unconditional love for all life. There are people on this Earth who radiate unconditional love, and when you are in their company, your heart is completely relaxed and open. For instance, my heart feels completely free when I am with people and animals who love me unconditionally. My heart also feels free in this way when I am in nature. Can you think of anyone who loves you unconditionally? Or perhaps it’s easier to think of an animal or pet? What if you loved yourself and everyone like that? What if you loved all your uncomfortable parts, illnesses, and neuroses like that?

EXERCISE: Making a Rose Essence and Heart Breathing Exercise

There are a few plants whose application is almost universal, and the rose is one such flower. Roses hold the frequency of unconditional love and have an affinity for the heart chakra. This ritual works best with either a wild growing or organically cultivated rose; it can be any species within the Rosa genus. Some of the lower vibratory states that can be addressed with rose include grief, loss, heartbreak, depression, and panic. 

This ritual is very simple. You’re going to combine the process for making your own medicine (see a simple how-to video here) using the rose of your choice, with the heart breathing exercise that follows. The heart breathing can be done while the flowers are in the water, working their magic. The heart energy you engage during the medicine-making process will become part of the energetic signature of your flower essence. After you bottle it and make the dosage bottle, take a few drops and see what you notice around your heart. Be sure to notate your findings. You now have a rose flower essence for your apothecary whenever you or someone else needs it. 

HEART BREATHING RITUAL

After you have placed the flowers in the bowl with the water, sit comfortably on the ground, if possible. Close your eyes or set your gaze low. Place both hands over your heart and begin to breathe into the heart space. Visualize the rose you are working with. Notice how the breath moves in and out of the heart—not forcing the air, just allowing it to move. See if you can sense into how the heart is feeling—in the front, in the back, all sides. Be sure to breathe into the back of the heart space. Notice how the heart feels when you place your awareness on it. See if it’s okay to allow whatever is arising, witnessing without judgment. 

After a few minutes, begin to bring the heart back into a neutral position. Thank your heart and the spirit of rose for sharing with you. Feel your body making contact with the Earth, deepen the breath, and slowly open your eyes.

The video on how to make your own flower essence medicine can be found here.

This is an excerpt from The Bloom Book: A Flower Essence Guide to Cosmic Balance by Heidi Smith.

Heidi Smith Bio

Bloom Book

Heidi Smith, MA, RH (AHG), is a psychosomatic therapist, registered herbalist, and flower essence practitioner. Within her private practice, Moon & Bloom, Heidi works collaboratively with her clients to empower greater balance, actualization, and soul-level 

healing within themselves. She is passionate about engaging both the spiritual and scientific dimensions of the plant kingdom, and sees plant medicine and ritual as radical ways to promote individual, collective, and planetary healing. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her partner and two cats. For more, visit moonandbloom.com.

 

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