These are words I prepared to memorialize the passing of one of the members of our Bikram Yoga community, Ray Chasse. Rest in peace, Ray.
Thanks for being here in our very special community to honor and remember Ray.
I am going to read something I put together for this occasion drawn from some notes I wrote back in 2012 when Ray and I talked about writing his life story together. The main theme is that we—all of us—are not as different from one another as we like to think. In fact, we are more the same because of our suffering and our humanity—It’s hard to be human. We all have problems…it’s simply a matter of degree. Pain is pain, suffering is suffering, recovery is recovery. No comparison. No judgment. Only compassion—which literally means “to suffer with.”
The title of our book was to be “Living the Dream” and it was to be both a comedy and a tragedy—a funny and lively story of struggle and hope– the full range of drama that was Ray’s life. Joy, wild and wacky, full of energy, and pain – the yin and yang that is a life of meaning. Ray’s life meant something important. He was full of love, especially for his boys, his friends, many of whom are here today, and his yoga—intense and challenging, just like his journey.
So, this is a bit of what I drafted several years ago….
“This is a story about my friend, Ray Chasse, a guy who I thought was nothing like me. For sure, he is like nobody I’d ever known. He wasn’t the kind of guy I’d come across in my sheltered, small suburban world—“my world” as if I have ownership over any part of anything. As if the boundaries and territories that we set up – our comfort zones that make us feel secure and protect us from the “other” “the unknown,” “the mysterious” are actually real. It’s all in our head. One of the many lies our culture has taught us and used to pit us against each other, that which categorizes us as better and worse, having more value and worth or less. Silly. We have way more in common than we have been trained to believe, and sadly our perceived or learned differences are what alienate us from one another and cause so much disconnection and loneliness. I love this Bikram Yoga community because although each of us is unique and on our separate mats, we are all in this life right here right now, together. It’s more than just a work out.
Ray and I met at Bikram Yoga shortly before Mother’s Day in 2011. I was the beginner in the hot room that day.
The teacher said, “Maureen? Where are you? Your goal today is only to stay in the room. If you feel overwhelmed at all, just try to breathe and lay on your towel. Just try the best you can. We begin with Pranayama breathing… And, Maureen, we do everything here twice, so just look around at your neighbors and the people at the front of the room if you need to. Let’s begin.
Shit, I think to myself. What did I get myself into? It’s fucking HOT in here! And everyone is half naked. I don’t know what I’m doing. There’s a man standing next to me, sweat pouring off his body, an oversized silver crucifix dangling from a chain on his very tanned neck. He looks familiar. Wait…That’s my daughter’s friend, Ryan’s dad…oh God, I remember him. That’s Ray Chasse.”
Isn’t timing everything.
I think about WHY Ray and I happened to cross paths at this time in his life, at this time in my life, in this place—Bikram yoga? Why would God put a 40-something English teacher and writer with a semi-literate, ex-addict in a hot room to stretch for 90 minutes and hold poses in stillness?
I believe the universe has a certain way of tilting itself so that special, influential people enter my life and alter my view of myself and the world. It’s happened many times—this time the angel is Ray. The earth tilted this way and that until Ray and I ended up on route 1 in Danvers in a 105 degree room with 30 other profusely sweaty people and one yogini instructing us ever so calmly to hold ourselves still in a pose —to hold ourselves— like we are actually someone we care about, and isn’t that the greatest challenge? What the hell is going on? How is it that I am upside down and backwards, vulnerable, uncomfortable, and euphoric all at once? Why is it that I feel so much more alive after these excruciating difficult classes? Is this what it means to live the dream?
As every person who meets Ray at the studio learns, he is living the dream. He had a sticker on his truck that proclaimed the same. But what did it mean to live the dream according to Ray Chasse? For him, it meant he had lived through the present day without a syringe hanging out of his arm and a bottle of booze by his side. His words, not mine. Sounds simple, but not easy for Ray, as all of us have our special challenges—some greater than others.
Speaking of something greater.
A power much greater than Ray was directing the drama of his life, just as it directs all of our lives whether we choose to believe it or not. That’s the ironic lesson I learned about this yoga—we are trying to learn self-control in this room, trying realize who we are—and what I found at the bottom of this practice is that I am way more than just what I THINK. There’s something at work that is greater than little old me and my silly ego with all its desires and attachments—which is what Ray was telling me in the first place. Ask for help, he’d say. And he always said, “I’m praying for you, Maureen.” We can’t copy Ray and find his faith or obtain grace—We have to figure it out for ourselves—the hard way, through showing up to practice and doing the best we can with what we’ve been given for however long we are destined to be alive.
And give the rest to God.
So here’s how I wasn’t any different from Ray or anyone else who suffers: we are not who we think we are because we all have stinkin’ thinkin’ mostly from how we have been raised and conditioned by our experiences—some traumatic, others just painful, sad, or heart-breaking. So how to suffer better? Suffering together helps—at least you know you aren’t alone in this fight, although each of us has to do “our work” one step at a time, one day at a time, the best we can and by asking for help from a source far greater than ourselves. Ray taught me that.
As it turns out, Ray taught me the same things the yoga taught me—that the serenity prayer is embodied, literally, in this yoga practice. God grant me the serenity to Accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. We need lots of humility, forgiveness, compassion, and love to get by— and a little help from our friends.
Yes, I was Ray’s yoga teacher, but who was teaching whom? Ray tried to teach me to just try to let go and let God. He talked about surrender. He showed me the challenge of living one day at a time. I saw him struggle terribly with that. He taught me the value of a smile, the importance of outstretched arms that demand a big giant hug, and the need for all of us to express our unconditional love for one another, by trying the best we can. I saw him do those things too.
We need to have compassion for ourselves when we fail, and for others, because to fail is to be human, and there’s just no other way to learn. And just like our yoga practice, every day our life presents us with challenges. All we can do is show up, look in the mirror, concentrate, meditate, and begin—breathing in and out nice and slow, each one of us, together.
Thanks for showing up today. Ray would be so happy to see all of these smiling happy faces!