Category Archives: Words

Essays, poetry, haiku, haibun and meditations

Walking with Ken

The woods are lovely dark and deep
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep
(Robert Frost, Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening)

Ken Jones was a man of many talents. I knew him first and foremost as a Zen Buddhist and haiku poet. In that respect he was for me something of a guiding light. He died on 2nd August 2015 and this is a short memory of him in the haibun style. To know him better visit

Ken had suffered from prostate cancer for 12 years. It seemed that he battled on in in the same way that he would take to the hills of Wales and walk out into its wilderness, its ghosts and its history. Returning with a sack full of haiku, an empty flask of tea and a chocolate bar wrapper.

I learnt of his death from an email he sent to the mailing list of haiku prose writers to which we both belonged to, in which he asked to be taken off it. The year before at the annual gathering of the Red Thread Sangha – a group of haiku writers that followed also followed a meditative practice – there had been talk about death and he said that he had the means to end it should the pain and discomfort become too much. The remedy comprised laughing gas and something called an ‘orchid bell’.

I see the face
words carried off
on a brisk breeze

It seemed to me that Ken took his illness and imminent death as another opportunity to engage with life; take its tattered remains and fashion it into a piece of art … a last take on what it is and the suchness of things. After that gathering I saw him once more for a reading of his most recent work. Physically frail but the passion for life and the way of haiku was undiminished.

Ancient child
still making sandcastles
on the turning tide

It was the custom with the haiku sangha to go walking in the afternoon; the wilder the better so far as Ken was concerned. In 2013 we walked up the back of the farmhouse and on into the Woodland Trust. The grass was long, wet and uneven underfoot as we straggled and hobbled up towards the Black Road.

The party split, and I was one of a small group climbing to a lookout point; the cry of birds and the distant sea ablaze in afternoon sunshine. When we came down they were long gone and no sign nor any echo to our yodelling cries of ‘Heather’ ‘Ken’ or ‘Jane’. A broad grassy track went from left to right. Which road to travel? And then a flash of red towards the woods.

Deep grass
and the soft under-clump
of the travelled road

We caught up by the ruins of an old stone house and from there up to a gate that opened into the woods; a world of brown pine needles, felled tree trunks and scattered branches. There was a path of sorts but so many ways were barred. A good and generous place to sit but difficult to traverse.

All turned back save Ken and I. We paused like a couple of stubborn donkeys. And then quietly and methodically picked a way over fallen tree trunks, careful to not twist or strain our limbs, doubling back at points to find a clearer way; up and down and then along the top to reach the other side.

Deep within the gloom
the bald tree trunks post up
to a bright blue sky

At the edge of the wood, a new sheep fence, strung taut with barbed wire, and beyond a gnarled tree atop a green meadow that dropped steeply in to the valley below. Ken had talked of a special device for getting over these obstacles but alas not with him today. Instead, a fallen bough pressed down on the barbed wire proved just enough to get a leg over without snagging the marriage tackle. Soon we were sitting on the other side, munching a piece of chocolate that materialised as if by magic from Ken’s coat.

The great way
the tangled woods now clear
and undisguised

The sun was low and golden as we made our way back, stopping every now and then to pluck a late blackberry from the hedgerow; slightly gritty and tart so late in the year. We talked of women, their love and friendship, of sexual love and the dimming of this light with age and illness. And Ken said that for him the retreat was less about haiku and more about companionship.

Last year the retreat was held without him and on the following Monday a group set off to walk up to Ken’s ‘cave’ on Plynlimon; a wild place where he would retreat to meditate. The goal was to add the final digit to the name and dates that he had chiselled on to a slab of rock, alongside those of a Welsh shepherd from the 1800s.

After climbing for an hour, thick cloud came down and so a short ceremony was held there on the hillside. There was a reading of the sutras and a handful of Ken’s ashes were thrown into the wind. Afterwards, a few intrepid ones continued on up into the clouds but they were beaten back before reaching the summit. The plan is to return in spring time.

He’s not here, for sure!
working with his chisel
atop the mountain

Quantum Dream Computing


Rothko at Tate Modern

Discussing dreams and quantum  mechanics with Nick and made a connection between the unconscious or subconscious and quantum computing. It goes something like this. The human brain often works out things while we are asleep. And it come up with insights in dream form. But you have to go to sleep and if you wake up prematurely you may not get the answer you are looking for.  Same with a quantum computer. So then I went to see the Rothko paintings at Tate Modern. They look very like the quantum particle experiment which showed that particles passing through a number of slits don’t fly straight but take on a wave form and create ‘Rothkos’. Strange synchronicity … another bit of Jung. Ah! It’s all beginning to make sense …

Life and death and the elephant


Nick and Jonathan, photographed by Flavio

My friend Nick has been reading Carl Gustav Jung’s biography, Dreams, Memories and Reflections, and particularly the final sections titled ‘Life after Death’ and ‘Last Thoughts’. The challenge set by Nick and Jung was to give serious consideration to life after death and then create a myth that made some sense of it.

The reason for so doing was because according to Jung, man’s evolution has been built around the myths of life after death. So to ponder and create one’s own myth might engender something positive. Not to do so impoverishes. Jung writes that ‘meaningless inhibits fullness of life and is therefore equivalent to illness.’

So what was Jung on about? One theme was that that the unconscious is very important but we have tended to ignore and concentrate on rational thought. He writes that dreams are ‘hints from the unconsciousness’ and he argues that ‘reason sets the bounds far too narrowly’.

One result of our dependence on reason is that to make sense of the power of the unconscious we have had to create god … or a daemon (in Greek mythology a genius, deity or kind of spirit), or mana (in Polynesian, Melanesian, and Maori an impersonal supernatural power).

Such entities are according to Jung, man’s creative confrontation with opposites.  And he suggests that we have been ‘robbed of transcendence by the short sightedness of super intellectuals’. Now our destiny is ‘creating more and more consciousness’ instead of ‘kindling a light in the darkness of mere being’.

‘People are only what they know about themselves’, a simple phrase but with enormous echoes and connotations.  And if we only use rational thought and never give serious consideration to our dreams and our myths then we are failing to engage fully with ourselves and life itself.

He develops his own myth when he writes: ‘through the achievement of an individual, a question enters the world to which he must provide some kind of answer’. He suggests that the psyche requires no space and no time and he describes his driving force in life as ‘a passionate urge towards understanding’.

And so to my myth-making. I am inspired by a talk called Nirvana and the Waterfall from Zen Mind Beginners Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. He compares an individual life to a drop of water in the Cathedral Falls in Yosemite National Park. It falls and then merges with the water below. That’s a sort of myth.

So what might my myth be?

I have a friend that you cannot see, you cannot touch, and who does not talk. But if I am quiet he comes bearing gifts and insights. He lives by the sea … or perhaps he is the sea of unconscious. I walk along his shoreline picking up flotsam and jetsam. Many things are washed up, examined and then  washed back out to sea where they float or sink beneath the waves. I make a point of visiting the beach, maybe looking for a message in a bottle. Sometimes I may even venture out into the water dive down and pick things up off the bottom.

I take it that when I am old and infirm I will come more often to this beach. And I will sit and watch the waves rolling in. See the flats bared as the tide pulls out and hear the seagulls soaring overhead. What happens to me when I die? I too am washed out to sea where I sink to the bottom. I hope that my loved ones will come and visit me in their dreams or in those quiet moments when they are on the seashore.

We talked of evolution and the part that we play in the process and the fact that everything is just the way it should be. And where is evolution taking us? Who knows! Nick was keen to play down our individuality while Flavio had a certain fondness for his self.

In the story of the blind men and the elephant, each man tells a different story after an encounter with the elephant. That’s because they have touched different parts of the elephant and can’t see the whole. Taking this one step further maybe we are hairs on the back of the elephant. We can’t see the whole elephant from the hair but where the follicle buries beneath the skin we become part of something bigger. As for the elephant, maybe he is the hair …

Some (useful) links:

On Life after Death by CG Jung: PDF
Dreams Memories and Reflections by CG Jung: PDF
The Art of Dying Well: A Jungian Perspective on Death and Dying: Blog post

Giving up sugar

I miss having my children in my life. It was like sugar in a cup of builder’s tea, sweet and nourishing! Now they have grown up and set off on their own life I miss that sweetness. I now drink tea without sugar and I am coming to appreciate the ‘not sweetness’. I remember the sweet taste with pleasure. Some people say they gave up sugar and now cannot bear a cup of tea with sugar in it. I’m different. The last time this happened to me I really enjoyed the cup of tea. It was a precious taste of what was no more. ‘Sugar’, ‘not sugar’… same thing.

There’s a place


There’s a young oak by the path in the park
And every year it has green leaves
When all the other trees stand bare.

Bela Bartok stood on an island by South Ken tube
In Trilby hat and flowing overcoat
His feet were wreathed in flowers.

There’s a meditation room up steep stone spiral steps
And I have sat an hour or two just breathing quiet
The TICK TOCK of the old clock.

There’s a café in the park where walkers stop to talk
Egg and chips, a cup of tea and watch the world go passing by
The greeting dogs begin to bark

There’s a place in every heart
To take a break, to stand quite still
Sometimes in sunlight and then in dark

My panniers full of birds


Bright winter
My empty panniers full
Of painted pigeons

I was stopping off to admire Streatham Hill Station from the road bridge above. I took this picture of people going to work.


The day before I actually took the train to work. It was a very cold morning but bright with a sky of cream porridge.


I’ve been trying to write some haiku alongside the pictures

Meeting in the church
One head and then another
Turns to watch the mouse

Cut flowers
In the light of candles
Aladin Sane

In the night
Her gentle breathing
And far flung limbs

In the morning
A tangle of golden hair
Wrapped in a duvet

Yesterday in Haiku


Tried some haiku this morning because I haven’t for a while and think it is a good practice.

It’s really difficult to get that special moment or as Cartier Bresson called it ‘ that decisive moment’.   But I do think it can help if you can write like a photographer. By that I mean is only describe what you see. Of course as a writer you can also put down what you hear, feel, and smell; use all the senses just don’t start interrupting,  explaining …

One last thought. It doesn’t have to be perfect. These aren’t.  I think one is quite good. Bit of a numbers game.

Oh and seeing as I’m talking pictures I thought I’d pop one in up top for colour.

Yesterda in Haiku

Gerald the cat
In his large saucer eyes
A questioning

Standing on the edge
Of a rippling pool
Waving not swimming

The banter
Flying back and forth
In the handball game

Cold water
There’s a bite
To the old girl’s massage

In the cubicle
A fresh old face
Talks temperature

After a cold swim
Taking the top seat
In the hot sauna

In the cafe clamour
The smell of burning toast
Diverts the chatter

The art of being
Sitting inside the mind
Of the home maker

A peace of Bach
And then with wine and beer
Sad songs of Rebetika