I’ve done jigsaw puzzles now and then throughout my life, but suddenly they have become a cross between an obsession and a spiritual discipline. Not to mention the perfect passed-time/ pastime on a pandemic's rainy day. There my thousand-piece tree puzzle sits on the desk looking out the window, an ongoing invitation to make sense of the world. To fit one more piece into the puzzle, literally and metaphorically.
Not only is there a brain-awakening neuron-firing quality to searching out the needed shapes and colors, but there is a physical, almost-orgasmic response when the piece in your hand lowers and fits perfectly into the awaiting arms of the companion it was meant to re-join. You might hear a little cry of joy escape my lips as the two pieces meet like long-estranged lovers running towards each other on a sunset beach. Maybe I’m making too much of it, but hey, we all take our pleasures as we find them and who’s to say otherwise?
Besides the tangible mental, emotional and physical pleasures, there is a deep metaphorical quality to the jigsaw puzzle. As James Hillman’s book The Soul’s Code and Michael Meade’s The Genius Myth make clear, we come into this life accompanied by a spiritual template, an image of our soul’s destiny already in place. At birth, all the pieces scatter and we spend our lives trying to re-assemble them one-by-one. If we are attentive, we might have glimpses of the whole picture in our day or night dreams that help us like the photo on the box’s cover. And then we set to work over the course of a lifetime to reassemble the pieces. When we’re working well, we feel that mental, emotional and/or physical pleasure that tells us we’re on the right track. The Soul speaks in hints and veiled references, never step-by-step instructions.
If this sounds like pre-destination, it’s not. At least not entirely. Because we are not helpless players in a given script of Destiny, but active participants who must do the work to piece it all together. Many refuse the effort, put together the wrong puzzle, try to force pieces together that don’t fit, claim they’re too busy to waste time at the puzzle board. There are a thousand ways to get it wrong and equally a thousand ways to get it right.
Many begin taking out the straight-edges, with particular attention to the corners. This forms the frame of your life. You get a job, rent or buy a house, get your clothes, furniture, dishes and appliances, get a bike or a car or figure out good bus routes, get married (or not), have children (or not). You’ll probably get insurance, a bank account, a credit card. You know. Adult stuff. Once you get the frame of practical life in place, now you’re ready to nourish your Soul life.
Next step might be grouping pieces according to colors and/or images. My strategy from here is often to just let my hand roam over the scattered pieces and see what attracts it. Pick up the piece, study the shape and image, double-check with the template picture and consider where it might go. In life outside the cardboard puzzle, it is that mysterious force that leads you to this book in the bookstore and not that one, that guides you to this piece on the piano and not that one or sends you to the banjo instead of the piano. Which friend should I call now? Which e-mail wants answering first? What do I need now, what don't I need now and how does it all fit into the grand scheme?
Here is where the miracles take place, as I hover over the slowly emerging pieces inside the frame and Voila!! there it is!!! Such delight! Such satisfaction! Such affirmation that there is a divine hand in some other world looking over the chaos of this one and sending my messages that all the pieces do eventually fit, each one in its proper place.
The other night I read this passage in Amor Towle’s Rules of Civility. The character was talking about a crossword puzzle, but the same qualities apply:
“…watching each word fit so neatly into the puzzle’s machinery, one feels as the archaeologist
must feel when assembling a skeleton—the end of the thighbone fitting so precisely into the socket of the hipbone that it simply has to confirm the existence of an orderly universe, if not a divine intention.”
At the beginning of the venture, there’s the excitement of possibility, of the journey that lies ahead. But in truth, it just gets better and better as the picture emerges and the scattered pieces diminish. A good metaphor for the grace of aging. If one has attended and continues to attend to the Soul’s image, the sense of satisfaction increases and you actually look forward to putting in that last piece. Well, death is not quite as enticing, but perhaps it could be something close to that. And then there’s the Hindu idea that it’s just the end of one puzzle and another one awaits you. Worth pondering.
But of course, I don’t have time to keep talking about this because I hear the Siren call of my trees puzzle, the lure of the next piece, the rain pitter-pattering outside the window and a day awaiting my next step in the Soul’s journey.
PS: Days later, a new insight came to me in a dream. The last pieces are the most difficult to put in. They’re the ones that you couldn’t find a place for, that didn’t seem to fit anywhere. And suddenly, with fewer choices as to where they might go, they find their place at last.