During these almost surreal days of sheltering in place, I’m finding ways to more fully appreciate the sights and sounds of nature and the blessings of people that I love.
Commonplace activities have supplied great metaphors for life and I’ve been given an opportunity to discover the sublime in the mundane as I revisit a former pastime of mine…putting together jigsaw puzzles.
So let me discuss the healthy value of doing jigsaw puzzles and how, during these times of isolation, they can also be a sacred contemplative practice.
It’s been scientifically shown that solving jigsaw puzzles helps with our brain health by reinforcing existing neural connections and by generating new relationships between the cells of our brain. Doing puzzles, help to rewire our brain in ways that improve our mental speed and enhance several cognitive processes.
For example, when solving a jigsaw puzzle, we have to look at different shapes and colors and figure out where they fit into the “Big Picture.” This helps improve our short-term memory as well as our visual-spatial reasoning.
Puzzles also help improve our problem-solving skills. There’s a lot of trial and error involved in finding the correct interlocking puzzle pieces. Our brains learn the value of formulating theories and testing hypotheses.
If you are someone who assembles jigsaw puzzles, you are known as a Dissectologist. But as opposed to separating into parts, as in the medical meaning of dissection, a puzzle dissectologist is someone who analyzes, studies or examines something in fine detail.
In addition to jigsaw puzzles being good for our brain health, they’re also a proven tool to help us de-stress and relax. People who have trouble falling asleep often use jigsaws to calm an over-active “monkey mind” or to promote a more restful night’s sleep.
Puzzles can help us to still our minds, by encouraging a mental focus similar to the single-pointed focus of traditional meditation. So can the activity of doing a jigsaw puzzle be a meditation? I definitely believe it is, and I encourage you to explore doing a jigsaw puzzle in order to discover the insights and lessons they can teach us about our lives.
Some of those lessons…
A puzzle can only be successfully completed if the Dissectologist is willing to be fully present, in the Now, while curiously searching for the right pieces.
In life, delight and joy are found as we search with wonder and curiosity for the gifts of the present moment, as we release our past regrets or future worries.
Puzzle pieces, can smoothly connect and interlock in an easy fashion to ultimately create a wonderful picture, a desired outcome.
In life, there are “multi-colored pieces” of joys or challenges which have dovetailed to bring about our ultimate Good.
When puzzle pieces look right, but actually don’t fit, it’s necessary to leave them aside and continue diligently in the search for pieces that actually DO work.
In our lives, when things don’t work out as expected, can we move on with patience and determination to find what WILL bring us our heart’s desires?
A jigsaw puzzle is about discovery, mistakes, determination, and taking small incremental steps to achieve something which initially appears impossible or at lease very challenging.
Life can also be about trial and error and incrementally eating the elephant one bite at a time. But with that persistence comes accomplishment, confidence, strength and joy.
One of the biggest lessons in working a puzzle is that the right pieces can be hiding in plain sight, but it requires the Dissectologist to walk away for a bit and then return with a refreshed or different perspective in order to see the right pieces.
In life, we often have to change our perspectives, or “reframe” our experiences, in order to discover what’s always been in front of us, available for our highest good. Change our thinking, change our life.
So I invite you to join me in learning the lessons that jigsaw puzzles can teach us about life, and I leave you with words from Parker Palmer on Courage & Vulnerability: Corona & the Wisdom of Elders:
“In every crisis of my life, learning has helped me find my way through. That means paying attention, allowing myself to feel as well as think, looking at things from different angles, gathering the best info available, trying to connect the dots, and ‘living the questions’ when the answers elude me.”
Happy Jigsaw Puzzling,