Shikantaza in Yoda’s cave

What’s in there?

Only what you take with you.

It occurred to me that entering the haunted cave on planet Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back is like shikantaza meditation, which translates literally as ‘just sitting’. They both seem to be situations in which you cannot avoid facing yourself. The challenge is to bring your attention to whatever is present with you in the moment without getting caught up in a habitual reaction, such as decapitating your delusion with a laser sword. After this experience, Luke learns that the fear he felt in the cave was only projected onto Vader, really it was deep inside himself. The deeper connection between these characters is also hinted at. A skilful scene.

Distant, but often very loud

I dug out the old Distant Signal demos and uploaded them to Soundcloud. The lyrics are inspired by sci-fi and horror films and the riffs by days and nights playing Doom deathmatch. All this is routed through five distortion pedals and a Super Phaser™. The following track was recorded in a barn, the owner of which said we were ‘demented’.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy

It may have been gung ho of me to say I was coming down to Cornwall to write a novel. There’s a lot else going on. A lot else to pay attention to. Beaches, the pretty granite town. A lot of reading to enjoy and watching my boy play. He’s beginning to crawl, has managed to clear the ground, and he’s off — backwards! The harder he tries to approach the object of his interest, the further from it he is propelled. Apparently this is quite common.

I have been working on the novel, and the first chapter is coming to life, but as soon as I start calculating how quickly I can complete a draft at this rate of words per day… my heart goes out of it. This will be a slow burn, and should be, if it’s to be worth reading. I’m also working on a long poem that’s currently 260 odd lines. So, I don’t want to pursue the novel too hastily at the expense of other things. Life won’t be any better when it’s done, it’ll just be done. Might as well enjoy the process.

Don’t crawl before you can sit

Procrastination shouldn’t be such a dirty word. If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing at a comfortable pace. Giant sequoias grow to nearly one hundred metres over thousands of years. The Mona Lisa took da Vinci twenty years to paint. In an ideal world, progress would be limited to that which we do when the mood takes us. The only rule of the miraculous school of poetry — of which Douglas Dunn described himself as a ‘fully paid up member’ — is that you write a poem only when you have a poem to write, and crucially, when you can no longer put it off.

My son gets frustrated because he can’t keep his head up and crawl over to me. He’s an accomplished sitter though, only toppling over every now and then when reaching for something. When he can crawl he’ll be frustrated that he can’t stand up without falling over, and sooner or later, that he can’t run a mile in under four minutes or solve quadratic equations or write a bestselling novel. At such times, we would all do well to remind ourselves that we are accomplished experts when it comes to sitting on our arses.


Lightning arced on all sides of the bay for nearly two hours. Great forks and ambient flashes lit the warm front, turning rooms blue and pink. Rain made wooden sounds on rooftops. Storms like this are nature’s epiphanies, its big neurons flickering to make a black sea imaginable to itself for the briefest possible time.


Across the beach at low tide. Wet trainers on shining sand. Around the back of the island, sharing the view where people block the path. Catching breath against the granite when cars inch by. Past the bowling green, onto the coast path. Over rubble, up hills. Round the headland, into a new bay. Uphill to the boulders, clambering with fingers and toes. Just sitting on the rock, watching thoughts and the boat halfway between the lighthouse and this weathered, lichened rock and me.


I write this after looking at the moon through a pair of binoculars. You really get a sense of how round and big it is, and yet how small when you see its craters silhouetted against undiluted darkness and realise how large a portion of the surface each one covers. Then there are the seas: great ash coloured bruises. All this seems obvious. I’ve just described the moon — nothing special here, you’ve seen it a thousand times — but think how obscure this really is: a speck of dust orbiting a speck of dust orbiting one of 300 billion stars in at least 100 billion galaxies. Viewed from anywhere else in the universe, it is essentially another dark patch of sky… but luminous to us. If we are not astounded by such a sight, we should learn how to be.