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Portrait of a Tree

Menka Sanghvi
Menka Sanghvi
5 min read
Portrait of a Tree
Just Looking Instagram Photo of a plum tree by @hauptstadtgarten

Table of Contents

How are feeling right now? Perhaps it’s a good time to pause and take three deep breaths. At your own pace. Nowhere to go, nothing to achieve. Give yourself the gift of being fully present and resting right here.

Suffering has a way of reminding us of what matters most. And what matters most is largely the same for all of us – unwittingly bringing us into oneness, a sense of global community, of shared vulnerability. I don’t have any advice for how you should think or act in this current situation, but I offer you this letter in the spirit that a friend may make you a hot chocolate on a freezing cold day.

My name is Menka and this is Just Looking – a small act of service in the form of a monthly newsletter. The intention is to share ideas for slowing down mindfully and playfully, discovering more beauty in the everyday, and exploring photography as a practice for this.

After a one-year hiatus (parenting a newborn into a toddler) I’m restarting this newsletter today and am grateful for your companionship. You’re receiving it because you signed up, either online or at a photowalk. But, if it no longer sparks joy, feel free to Marie-Kondo it away using the unsubscribe link at the bottom!

Photo by @pete.p.butler

Here are my shares for this month – prompts to look differently:

Trees remind us that life moves on
Trees are one of the few living beings that we ordinarily encounter that survive much longer than we do, comforting us with the reminder that this too shall pass. Life always moves on. “Wise Trees” is a photography project created by a couple that dedicated two years capturing the stories of trees around the world that have been historically important for us humans.

A meditative story about the stars
Looking up at the night stars can also be deeply comforting. It paradoxically reminds us of both the significance and the insignificance of our current existence. Enjoy this immersive podcast, a Meditative Story with astronomer Michelle Thaller.

Twitter reading group
Robert Macfarlane, my favourite nature writer, has created a Twitter reading group. A concept he’s calling #CoReadingVirus! The first book is Nan Shepherd’s masterpiece The Living Mountain. We have only just started and you can buy the book digitally on Kobo/ Kindle for less than £2.

When positivity becomes junk food
Here is some wisdom, or what I think of as “expertise of experience”, from someone who has spent most of her life indoors. She has recently written a guidance blog for those spending more time at home than they’re used to. On positivity, she warns:

“Don’t use beauty and gratitude like junk food, shovelling it in till you feel numb, or as a wall to block out the rest of the world. This isn’t about papering over reality or escaping from anything — that only does more harm than good. A good way to do it is to honour what’s happening or how you’re feeling first, then add a positive.”

Karuna virus
Not sure if it’s too soon for another wordplay on “corona” but “karuna” means compassion in Sanskrit. This new initiative (soft-launched yesterday) from the non-profit Service Space is a perfect antidote to mainstream news, featuring stories about acts of kindness amidst the pandemic. “In times of great challenge, love must rise again.”

Free online mindfulness sessionsMany mindfulness instructors that usually only teach in person, are currently offering free online sessions. Open to all, including beginners. For example, Brown University and Oxford Mindfulness Centre are two of the leading, evidence-based organisations teaching mindfulness skills. It’s a great opportunity to practice with some of the best.

Looking exercise
Portrait of a tree

Here in London, we’re being advised to stay at home, but to exercise and take walks locally where it’s quiet and easy to avoid people. If you’re in a similar situation, try this. Head out of the front door, taking along your camera or phone camera if you like. Breathe deeply and feel the air brushing your face. Take your time to notice all the trees that you see, near and far. If you’re living in a city, it might take a while before you come across even one. Keep going, until you see a tree that you find quietly comforting, and then pause beside it.
Now follow these steps:

  • Focus on the light. Where is the sun right now in relation to the tree? Is there a bright side and a dark side? If the sun is shining try and stand inside the shadow, such that the tree is exactly between you and the sun.
  • Get close to the bark. Perhaps it looks rubbery? Or is it dry and cracking? Can you see any bugs rustling under the surface? (For extra inspiration before you go take a look at these stunning bark.)
  • Study the trunk vertically. Move your eyes slowly from the roots all the way to the tip of the top. If the trunk divides into several thick branches, choose one branch to follow up to the top where it touches the sky.
  • Make a portrait. Having observed for a while now, imagine you’ve been commissioned to make a portrait of this special tree. Would it be full-length, head and shoulders, or would you hone in on a captivating detail, like the eyes? Now, if you like, take out your camera and create.

If you’re on Instagram feel free to join us @wearejustlooking and share your photo using the community hashtag.

Photo by @menkasees (me!)


“Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.”

― William Martin
The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents

More amazing books on looking.

Photo by @terryrudderham

That’s all from me. I’d love to hear from you, and encourage you to hit reply. And if you enjoyed this letter and would like to share it with your friends on Facebook or Twitter here’s the web link.

Sending love,


Menka Sanghvi Twitter

I'm a researcher, writer, and designer working on the theme of mindful curiosity. Just Looking is a project I started to help myself and others slow down and experience more wonder in the everyday.

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