Stephen F. Dennstedt
Photographer, Writer, World Traveller
I think it’s important to practice and celebrate gratitude. In Buddhist practice gratitude is everything. In a world of negativity it’s easy to foster an attitude of un-gratefulness. Mindfulness, being present in the moment, promotes a grateful attitude. When I forget this valuable teaching I become distracted, confused, and dissatisfied. I am thankful for the spiritual leaders I’ve met along this path called life: Henry David Thoreau, Tich Nhat Hanh, the Dali Lama, and Reverend Jisō (my spiritual teacher at the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives).
I am a pragmatist of the first order, so I know I’m rapidly approaching the last chapter of my life. I’m okay with that, it comes to all of us eventually. I’ve had an extraordinary life so far, and the journey was interesting to say the least. From my earliest days life has been a quest, a thirst for knowledge and (personal) understanding. It remains so even now. I’m neither rich nor famous, but how many rich or famous people do you know of who are content? Not many I suspect. I once had modest professional success, both in the military and the civilian world, but that was just power and money.
I am not a perfect human being, far from it in fact. But I think, deep down where it really matters, I’m a good person. Mistakes? I’ve made my share. Hopefully I’ve learned from those mistakes. It would be easy and simplistic (and arrogant) to claim I have no regrets, to say simply I lived life my way (like Frank Sinatra’s song). The truth is I have regrets, things I would do differently, especially when I’ve hurt people (intentionally or unintentionally). I am the sum total of my experiences (the good, the bad, and the ugly), and without those experiences I would be a different person.
I understand myself better than at any other time in my life. I have forgiven myself for my many wrongdoings and I am content. I am finally at peace. And I have forgiven others for their wrongdoings (not everyone, but I’m working on it). Life is, after all, a puzzle we never really complete (I hope there’s not a piece missing at the end). I think I’m ageing gracefully (if I’m not delusional), and I disagree (respectfully) with Welsh poet Dylan Thomas when he says: Do not go gentle into that good night. I don’t want to rage on my deathbed, I would rather go gently into that good night than struggle.
Death is an enemy to be thwarted at every turn. Mankind has railed against death for millennia. But what if, as I suspect, death is really a friend? The outcome is already known, the deck stacked, so why fight so hard? I think I would rather embrace death when the time comes, and ease back into the quantum soup (or eternity) or heaven as gently as possible. The Buddhists call this acceptance. They know death gives life context (meaning), two halves of the same whole. The duality is really no duality at all. Our life is like a pebble tossed on the surface of a pond, the ripples slowly subside and the pond is once again smooth.
My life is simpler now. I take my pictures, I write my articles, and I travel the world. Experiences have replaced stuff. The world is my home, and every new person I meet a potential friend. When I can’t travel anymore, what then? My pleasures are few: a warm fire, good Scotch whisky, a nice cigar, a loyal dog, satisfying literature, peaceful music, and maybe a beautiful woman to converse with on occasion (as long as she goes home). Looking back life has been a struggle, but I struggle no more, I am now content to go with the flow wherever that may take me. I hope to live many more years, but if I don’t I’m still grateful.