Souls of Sangha: Levi Negley

  Photography by Ann Whittaker

Photography by Ann Whittaker

Q: So how did you get started, How did you come across Lower Lights Sangha?:

Igor [a member in the community] and I have been buddies for a long time. Really, like, we’ve actually known each other since we were in junior high, we were in the same world space. We played little league football, they had an A team and a B team, I won’t say which team I was on, Igor would be happy to tell you which one he was on. And in college, we actually met in a poetry class and we just really hit it off. It was just really clear to us that we were both invested in Heaven, and poetry was a vehicle that was going to take us there. I think we still deeply believe that. After school, I went on to graduate school and was going to start to teach and Igor was going to France, so he and I were parting ways. About two or three years later he came back and he got a hold of me and we went out. And he was like, “you have got to come, we just started this thing in my apartment, and my roommate Tom is doing meditation classes (laughs)” and I was thinking, “dude, you’re crazy–no way.” But I said “that sounds really cool, man.” So a year goes by where we see each other here and there, and then we had a serious night out where he said, “You have to promise me that you’ll come. I said, “Alright man, I’ll do it.” So the next week, I went–and I remember stepping outside afterwards and it was so clear to me that the world didn’t feel the same, it was like I could see, and I could hear, and it was like…oh my heavens! 

 

What is it about the practice that transformed you?

This is a tough question, and it’s such an important question to be able to articulate. For me...I think I started to realize how unconscious I was all the time. I was in the laundry machine [of thought]–and now I’m watching the laundry machine. So I see all of it going on, and I’m way more likely to be able to just say, “Oh, that’s what’s coming up–of course that’s coming up.” One thing I’m noticing a lot lately is that a habit will come up. I’ll be talking to someone, where I’m just like, “How can I get out of here–I don’t want to be here.” But then I'll think, “Oh you don’t want to be here–what’s all that all about? (smiles)” Yeah, there is this curiosity–so it transforms everything into an opportunity. You start to get distracted here–ooh, that’s awesome. Instead of criticizing myself for those things that I naturally would–now, there is nothing about my experience that I don’t find worthy of being sacred. And so, it has made my experience full, I feel that my life is so…full.

  

What does it mean to be in community for you?

The idea of community has really changed for me. I would say number one, I notice that when I practice in a community–when everyone drops in– that quality of focus is so tender. You feel that run through you all the way. You drop in and open up and you don’t feel like yourself, you feel like the organism that includes everyone and everything. That is really rare–really rare...and when you do that for an hour and half each week–holy smokes, that is transformative–that experience alone changes what is happening inside of your body. When you are on the cushion by yourself you notice habits, I want to check the timer, I want to move–it is much more mundane practice. But when you are with a group, it’s so dynamic, there are so many more habits you are unaware of that being in community reveals. And you realize how messy humanity can be. You see the way you react to someone, judging everyone in the room. You hear it running through–but after a year of practicing in community, that mechanism of habitually judging people–that really started to fall away for me. Then all of a sudden, what someone is saying becomes something I see in myself...

From there, you become the vehicle through which the broader community gets to experience that. And that to me is the most important thing that there is, there is nothing more important than being able to bring to someone else: “Hey we’re here, and aren’t we lucky?” And “I love you.” That! That’s the greatest gift. And it’s not just language, but it’s the actual presence of that. You feel it light up in everyone. That’s the work. That’s what community has done for me and that is what sangha has taught me. I believed it before, but I didn’t know it. But once I got that experience, it was so clear to me, this is what the work’s about. I don’t know what it’s going to look like or how it is going to show up, but I will dedicate my life to this. Because I now know, not just believe it or want to believe it. I know, and I experience it and am getting more practice communicating that. Right here, my life in this particular context, this is how I can share it. I don’t need to be President of the United States to do it. I don’t need to be the Dali Lama, or a monk. I can just be in community and share it [right now]. 

 

Anything left unsaid, you want to share?

 ...I trust the practice, and I have such faith in life itself. And so, to tell you right now what’s most in my heart–is that I trust the world will provide for me. I trust that I will be okay. I can now allow it to come to me. I am here for it. And I'm not going to miss it. I don’t have to worry about missing it. There couldn't be anything more. What could I want more than this? And yet the practice continues to give me more and more. 

There is just a deepening of the satisfaction of what it means to be a human being on this planet, given the opportunity to practice. What else? What else could you ever want? What else could you ever want other than to learn to be okay with being a human being? What else could you ever ask for? There’s nothing you could ever ask for more than that. I want to be that example. I want to be deeply happy and I feel more and more that I am. It is just the natural state of things; things are ok. As I was driving over here, driving back home, I was thinking when was the last time you were really nervous or worried about something–something wasn’t going to be ok? There has been busyness where I need to get things done, but even when things were really challenging…I don’t know if I can remember a [single] time in the last three months, four, five months where things didn’t feel okay. One day you wake up. That’s what happens when you just sit down, when you just stop, when you get together with people who care about that. How could you not want that? How could you not devote your life to that?