One of the EPPeeps, Slam, came to the [International Enneagram Association] conference with a huge roll of stickers, little tan hearts that said “love.” Everyone he met got a little tan heart to wear — I personally brought like five of them home with me. Throughout the next few days, you could tell who Slam had met because they were carrying a little bit of love with them. The stickers were a sweet gesture but also a great visual for one of the themes of the week: presence. Slam’s presence — and love’s presence, and EPP’s presence — were on proud display by everyone he had reached. When Susan talks about presence, she often mentions a kind of gauntlet thrown down by Russ Hudson: how much presence can you tolerate? After a really incredible week with EPP, I think I’m able to tolerate and appreciate a lot more of it.
Throughout the week, people were present in the most refreshing, literal meaning of the word. Instead of retreating behind their phones as we so often do, people were open and ready to connect. And it turns out that people are interesting — every person I spoke with had fascinating stories or wild insights or a heartening curiosity to learn more about everyone around them. The men I talked with in San Quentin were eager to share their presence. The conversations that could have lasted for days were condensed into a meal and a few minutes around the presentations, but we managed to discuss everything from the Enneagram to our families to voting. They asked incredibly perceptive questions, and I struggled to match the depth of their awareness. I was surrounded by the most welcoming community, and they made me strive to be constantly present so I wouldn’t miss a moment of it.
I can’t talk about my experience with EPP without mentioning how proud I felt to be Susan and Rick’s niece the entire time. I spent my week marvelling at Susan’s powerful, heartfelt delivery of EPP’s message and at Rick’s genuine investment in every conversation with everyone around him. It was so cool to see them in their element, and the joy and passion they bring to their work is truly inspiring.
The most powerful expression of presence I experienced was when the EPPeeps found themselves out on the hotel patio late Saturday night. I had already been moved by the strength and authenticity of the community I had just become part of, but our presence that night was completely humbling. We laughed and joked, but we also created a space to share and cry and really talk. It was beautiful and overwhelming and galvanizing. The ability to connect that deeply is a true testament to the community that EPP has fostered, and I’m so grateful to have been there.
My experience with EPP has shown me that this presence is from where the world can start to change. Since I’ve been back home, our country has been bombarded with heartbreaking news on all fronts. Hatred and fear have done some devastating damage, and the nation is splintering and bleeding and crying out for help. I’ve seen enough humanity, however, to still have hope. At the end of the long night on the patio, all I could think was how badly we all need more of this – this communication, this love, this presence. There is no simple solution to the messy tangle of problems that surround us, but finding and cultivating some shared presence might just be the first step.