Monday, November 29, 2010

Jigsaw Puzzles

I've always been fond of jigsaw puzzles. What better way to spend a casual afternoon, when the snow is deep enough to make travel unwise and it's too cold to venture outside. I'm thinking about puzzles today since I just got one as a birthday present and winter is upon us.

And, I'm thinking about jigsaw puzzles because a relative just resigned her job without having any idea what she might do next. I'm thinking about sending her one. You may say, "what's the relationship between joblessness and puzzles?" Let me tell you.

I've done lots of puzzles; so many that I've discovered a secret or two about them. There have been times when stressful life circumstances or major life decisions coincided with working on a jigsaw puzzle. What I discovered was that putting together pieces of a puzzle helped me put together pieces of my life. The process was the same. Only the material was different.

For instance, I always begin a puzzle by turning over all the pieces and making sure they are separate without any overlap. You should be able to see the shape and color of each piece individually. As I'm doing this, I put all the outside pieces with the straight edges together so I can easily begin constructing the outer edge, the frame for what will follow.

For me, this process also applies to life. I want to make sure I'm aware of all my pieces. I don't want any pieces to my puzzle hidden under the rug or dropped under the table. Let's have them all out in the open where they can be part of the larger picture; and then I want to construct the framework of the big picture. That will enable me to see the working boundaries for making the decision or facing the crisis.

A second secret is in constructing the inside of the jigsaw puzzle. I focus on colors. This is important. Looking for similarity in color gives you a broader field of choices than looking for a particular shape. You can look forever for a particular shape but the colors can come together quickly.

It's similar for decisions in life. We sometimes want to get to the smallest detail too quickly. In our rush to solve the puzzle we grab at the first reasonable looking piece we see, only to realize later that it doesn't quite fit. Whereas if we look for all those pieces that make us blue, or red, or green, or like a rainbow, we can group them and place them where they belong in our larger framework. Eventually, we get to the perfect fit.

Then there's one more secret. I hesitate to compare doing a jigsaw puzzle to Gandhi's spinning, although that was my initial thought. Both are meditative. Both have an internal and external dynamic. Spinning for Gandhi had both personal and political dimensions. I'm not sure about the political impact of doing a jigsaw puzzle and that's why I hesitated to compare them. Still, the more I consider modern cultures of workaholism and consumerism, where people are constantly moving and thoroughly distracted by demands for productivity, by busyness and noise, quietly doing a jigsaw puzzle could be an act of political rebellion, and freedom. It could be a nonviolent way of saying "no" to the suffocating claims of the culture and resolving some life issues in the process.

Carl Kline

In Ravensberg Germany, in September of 2008, 15,000 enthusiasts constructed the largest jigsaw puzzle ever, with more than one million pieces. Made up of 4,000 smaller 252 piece puzzles, it covers 6,500 square feet. This is an aerial view.

No comments: