Presence-is it really that simple?

In my conversation with Warwick Schiller last week, he described how he is now solving most problems with horses – or problem horses – with presence.

“I’m really starting think that the present part is the most important part. Because what used to happen was…you know I was a horse trainer for a long time. I don’t train horses for the public anymore, so I’m not really a horse trainer anymore. But what used to happen was people would bring you a horse that has problems and you fix those problems. But what I realize now is that a lot of those problems come from us not being present around them. I know it sounds like it can’t be that simple, but it is that simple.”

It is that simple. But that doesn’t make it easy. I find the concept of presence difficult to truly define and even more difficult to comprehend. Don’t even get me started on actually being present.

Yes, I have glimpses and momentary experiences – but I’m out of the present moment almost the minute I go into it. My mind says “I’m doing it” – and that’s the thought that takes me out of presence.

Since this conversation, I’ve been noticing the cost of not being present. Almost every difficult conversation I have stems from a small conversation I chose to bypass. Long and confusing email chains get twisted up after I wrote them quickly trying to dual process and get on to the next thing. Things get dropped in my haste to be where I’m not right now.

Years ago when I was leading a major process improvement effort at a big bank, our team developed an understanding of one of the costliest efforts in business: rework. Things were not getting done right the first time in the haste to get everything done. Somehow hurrying and doing the same work several times to get it right had become more acceptable than slowing down and doing the work once.

You would think once people realized it takes longer to have to go back and fix something versus slowing down and doing it well, they would rejoice and slow down. Nope. All the pressures to get everything done created a sense of “rushiness” that logic could not prevent.

Over time, we developed a mantra: go slow to go fast. It gave people permission to look less hurried and allowed for patience.

In our conversation on the podcast, Warwick tells several stories where he slowed down and was present with the horse. Here’s a video of him describing one of the experiences he had where listening and being patient solved a serious problem with a horse that tended to bolt.

One of the insights he had was that the horse was listening, even when he wasn’t. The horse very aware if he was present or not.

Presence doesn’t happen overnight. It takes practice to develop it. Breathing helps.

What does it take to really be present? What shifts in thinking are required to just slow down and breathe deeply? What problems would be solved if we brought listening, patience and presence to them?

If you haven’t had a chance yet, I highly recommend listening to this conversation. It’s a master class in presence and self awareness.