I sat down with my kids on a recent, rainy summer afternoon, to lay out a jigsaw puzzle on our coffee table.
I love jigsaw puzzles. My mom and I used to work puzzles together. I have very specific memories of having puzzles strewn across the formal dining room table. Specifically, I remember the Dallas yellowpages puzzle, and the green Night Before Christmas puzzle. (Funny, I guess other people remember them, too – a very quick googling brought them up right away.)
I have so many other puzzle memories, too. Working the US Postal Carousel puzzle on the coffee table, watching the news, when the famous OJ Simpson white Bronco car chase was going on. Spreading out the Paris Cafe puzzle on my apartment kitchen table. Working the Visit from St. Nicholas puzzle on my own kitchen table, while my oldest baby sat in her high chair next to me, eating (read: playing with) her afternoon snack. Spreading the blocks from the kids’ farm puzzle all over the living room floor. Having a collage of all the kids’ puzzles spread on the coffee table. Sitting up way too late with my husband, working puzzles on the puzzle board. Spreading a tablecloth over the puzzle on the kitchen table so we can have lunch; giving up and going out for dinner, because every hard surface in the house is covered with a different in a jigsaw in progress.
Yes, I love jigsaws puzzles.
I once had a coworker who confessed that she didn’t like them, and didn’t understand them. “What do you do with them when you’ve finished it?” And it’s not just her – I’ve heard other people express similar sentiments.
In January of 2013, my oldest daughter and I had the amazing opportunity to witness a group of monks from the Drepung Loseling Monestary, as they worked towards creating a sand mandala in the atrium of one of our local university’s art museums. A sand mandala is designed with the specific purpose in mind of destroying it when it is finished. It is meant to represent the impermanence of material life, and its value is not in the having, but in the creating. The act of its assembly is a sort of meditation.
The concept of mindfulness seems to be something that our culture struggles with more and more. There is a facebook ad that keeps popping up on my news feed, encouraging me to just breathe for 15 seconds. There is a dutch trend called “hygge” (pronounced hoo-guh), which really doesn’t have an direct English translation, but which basically means being mindfully cozy. Do a quick google search on “stress addiction” – it seems that being addicted to cortisol – the hormone released when the body is placed under stress – is a thing.
My jigsaw puzzles get assembled; displayed on the table for a day or two; carefully (and completely) disassembled and returned to their boxes; stored on a shelf for a year or more; and greeted once again like the old friends that they are, for the process to begin again.
Despite the display and the return, the joy is in the peaceful assembly. The gentle, quiet, socialness of sitting with a friend or loved one over the project, and the ritual of working the same Christmas puzzles, year after year after year.
For many of us, I suspect it is the closest we will get to creating our own sand mandalas.
I would like to make a humble, and perhaps biased, suggestion for all of us who are searching for peace and mindfulness. It might be time to just sit down, and work a jigsaw puzzle.
There are no extra pieces in the universe. Everyone is here because he or she has a place to fill, and every piece must fit itself into the big jigsaw puzzle. – Deepak Chopra