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Beth Killough's picture

Practicing “pressure awareness” is a game changer in how we lead and show up for our children, spouses, and others. I’ve been a lifelong student of pressure and my teachers have been my animals.

Dogs and horses are always sensing and adjusting to pressure in themselves, their groups, and their environment. I’ve loved learning with them and from them because they are radically aware of pressure and wholly honest with their feedback so they can take care of themselves. In the animal world, awareness has a broader scope than it does for humans. Our awareness is self focused with an emphasis or obsession with thought and ego.

Awareness in the rest of the animal kingdom consists of four layers of alertness. We refer to these four layers as Natural Leadership Awareness. They include care for one’s inner experiences and needs, empathy to the feelings and needs of others, attentiveness to interactions with others, and responsiveness to changes in the external environment and how those impact groups, including our families. No one member of an animal group can stay in what we call “awareness commitment” without taking breaks. Owning awareness in a group is a serious responsibility and can be a matter of life or death.

In human groups, in our families and in our marriages, and at work, we often allow the burden of relationship alertness to lie on one individual until her or she suffers from awareness fatigue. In animal groups, awareness commitment is passed like a cultural baton all day and all night, never dropped, and
held in the highest regard.

Humans don’t play with pressure, engage with feedback, or adjust until we hit overwhelm. Our pesky thinker presents a bit of a brain glitch as it interferes with our extremely sensitive mammal system.  Even though we don’t fully utilize it, our pressure system sends us subtle signals all along that are incredibly helpful. Natural Leadership Awareness is about embracing and honing that mammal part of ourselves, so we have more self-care tools and better relationship strategies. 

These days our world is certainly full of lessons about pressure. When pressure gets to a certain point in a system, transformation and change occurs. We’re feeling that in so many ways. The pressures, pains, and traumas of racism have reached that tipping point and we are called to evolve, learn, repair, and heal. The pressure of a global pandemic has pushed us further into our family units and we are acutely aware of the ways our systems of parenting, partnership, and education are ready for development and rebalancing.

Oftentimes, when external pressures influence us, like news, calendars, social media, family, and friends, it raises our internal pressure system and we feel compelled to act. But I’ve found that action without discernment or an individualized stability practice is a bit like running into the street without looking both ways. 

Right now, I’m feeling huge pressure about the school season upon us and the need to make ongoing parenting decisions about how to support distance learning and my daughter’s social and emotional needs. It’s mostly an external pressure, meaning it’s the talk of the town and most parents are fiery HOT on the topic. The days are passing, the chatter is escalating, and I can feel it breathing down my neck. I can feel pulled into the debate, the distress, and the decision making, but I don’t trust that pressure. I don’t have enough information to make a stable choice.

Sure, school has started here in California, which gives the illusion of now or never, just adding more pressure. It can make a person feel a day late and a dollar short. But there are two things I still need in order to make decisions from a stable position. One is time to observe. I need to watch how school unfolds so I can see what is needed. If I act too fast and out of assumptions, I won’t be able to see the truth about what is needed and I want to respond. Two, I still don’t have a settled enough place inside of myself to trust my own process. So, I’m pumping the breaks and leaning into self-care practices. This includes getting outside and moving my body. Two activities that often recruit and signal our human animal wisdom to show up.

It’s not that I’m going to ignore decisions about our household schedule and my daughter’s needs, but I want the good fire inside of me to help me solve all the little fires outside of me. My inner fire burns with horses, dogs, shade trees, sipping coffee or tea near my new chicken friends, writing, photos, walks, hikes, trail rides, decorating, ranch projects, poetry, and honest and open friendship time.

It’s counterintuitive because we’ve been conditioned to be responsive and decisive. Yet, long term decisions are best made when we are not in flight or flight mode. Survival brain, or trauma brain, gets us out of short-term emergencies. Our Natural Leadership requires we bring our whole selves to the party. 

Some of the powerful questions I use to guide me during pressure situations are:
● Which inner fire do I want, the emotional inferno or the creative spark?
● What’s it going to take to keep the good fire burning bright?
● What can I do to stay focused on what lights me up?

What helps your inner fire burn? Make sure you find your answers and put all of the resources and support you need to stay committed to yourself and to the actions and causes that matter to you. That true self fire is what drives a vibrancy and aliveness in us and it’s what inspires change in others.


The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of MomsRising.org.

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