May 7th: Three Ways a JigSaw Puzzle is a Metaphor for Life

The Author

E. Alana James

E. Alana James

Dr E Alana James is reinventing herself again! Coming full circle to the first love of her life - art - and bringing back to her images all the lessons of her life as author, researcher, academic and wife. Concerned mostly with the idea of images as vehicles for expression of the truth of our inner and outer life experience.

How do you break from work, from life, from stress?  One of my favourite ways is by working on jigsaw puzzles.  They allow the mind to wander, and maybe I watch an episode of Doctor Who as well.  It has been during these sessions that this week I have been building the metaphor that our lives are like a jigsaw in three main ways – see what you think…

How do you start?  Edges first?

I used to always work edges first. Most people I know do – probably because when we are first sorting the pieces into colours etc, edges are the easiest to sort out.  Then we have a nice pile and we proceed to put it together.  The puzzle I am working on now (see picture) would have frustrated me no end had I approached it that way.  You see the entire border is a pattern, the same pattern and trying to establish that first would have lead to huge frustration.  Better then to start with the interior distinguishing shapes and know that through the process the edges will establish themselves.

Edge pieces function in a similar fashion to the context of our lives – they constrain and they offer a (sometimes false) sense of security.  How do we build our lives?  Up out of our families and the place we grew up for most people.  If we aren’t careful we end up looking back at some point tired of those constraints and wishing for more.  Other, more adventurous souls build a life like I am building this puzzle, one interior piece at a time, deciding what I will work on next because that potential makes itself known to me out of a subtle difference that intrigues and propels me to sort deeper, understand its texture and put it together.

This is closer to the way I built my life and one I would recommend to others who have been born with an adventurous or driven spirit.  I started adopting the edges – I got married.  What a disaster that turned out to be as, while it gave me a momentary sense of security the constraints were more than I could live with. Since then I built and interior pattern up, moved on when its pattern ran out and there was no more there to build and, slowly, the overarching purposes and patterns of my life developed.

As a mature person, with much to give I could then adopt the pieces that established the final constraints of my life- as they are joyously built and offer an edge to play off of rather than a barrier to further growth.  My relationship with Margie and my home in Kinsale, Co Cork, Ireland could not have developed at the time I was setting out in my life – they needed to develop through the rest of the patterns I was putting together.  Margie cements my life as one of doing service for others as we met at a homeless shelter and share a deep commitment to giving back as we live.  Kinsale cements my love of adventure throughout life as it gives me a home base that is both beautiful in each moment, but also a place from which I can step out and see the rest of the world easily.

Life progresses at varying speeds, over which we have no control

We may desire a steady progression, building and completing as we go, but this is not how it works.  Instead, we may site for a long time, just staring at the pieces in front of us until suddenly an idea of how to proceed develops.  Some bits are mUCH harder to put together than others.  Some bits look like they belong together and we struggle to make them all fit, only to find out that they are in fact parts of totally separate areas.

Like time itself over the course of our lives, at first, everything goes slowly.  We have to sort out the patterns, build as we go.  We may have some sections together while others (financial security is often this one) don’t mature until closer to the end.  Finally, and this dismays the avid puzzle person as much as most individuals at the end of life, towards the end the pace picks up – and before you know it the puzzle is finished.

Is it the final end?  Maybe or maybe not, that too is outside of our control.  There may be whole other lives, very different from the last that come to us if we still have our health and the will to move on.  For others, there will be no will and the finished puzzle will stay on the table, being enjoyed?  Maybe, and for others just gathering dust, until it is swept back to the box from which it came.

With expertise into the subtleties, all the progress becomes easier

We all get to decide what types of expertise we want to develop.  For many it is having children, for others developing intellect or artistic understanding.  Whatever it is, a life well lived always ends up with the person knowing and understanding a great many subtleties that add to our whole knowledge system about life.  It is natural and good that both puzzles and life progress – first we “get the lay of the land” then we dig in and develop the bits and pieces that intrigue.  We follow our desire and it frequently leads to unexpected trials as well and joys.

Isn’t it great?  Today I am grateful and full of love for the intricacies, the frustrations that make it difficult, and the sheer beauty of each section as we get it finished.  I finish these thoughts hoping that whomever else may read them in the future will also be in a place to appreciate the intricacies and feel grateful for the beauty.