Jigsaw Satisfaction

Today's Life is Sweet blogger is our most International one. I met Nicole when she was living in Canada many moons ago and I'm glad we stayed in touch once she went back to her home in Australia. I'm so glad that she wanted to participate in the series and I'm really looking forward to reading her upcoming book about healing from mental illness. 

I have just allowed myself the luxury of a week of guilt-free idleness. I often reflect that in our busy, hyper-connected culture we have lost perspective on the benefits of doing nothing. Rest, relaxation, healing, creativity, all these arise from space – space that in our normal lives gets filled with seemingly inevitable obligations and demands. If you haven’t yet read How to Be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson put it on your summer reading list! Mr Hodgkinson, the august editor of the Ildler magazine gives an hour-by-hour description of how best to be idle in each hour of the day. He’s far more convincing than me on the benefits of idleness but I’m convinced it’s a discussion worth initiating among friends and family.

So what did I actually do in my week of idleness? I was house-sitting in Hobart and so was removed a healthy distance from any impending home-based chores. I was mostly, though not always alone and I reveled in it. Lots of sleeping, daydreaming, lazy mornings and gentle afternoon naps, eating simple meals and shopping locally without a car. Apart from that I divided my time between three of my favorite holiday pursuits, reading, knitting and completing a complex 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle 

Image - http://www.mcescher.com/gallery/most-popular/other-world/

Serendipity brought M.C. Escher (the artist of the original painting) and I together in the form of 1000 brown, green, white and black pieces rattling around in a box someone had picked up at the op shop. For my part it wasn’t planned, in fact, I’d forgotten that for me, having the time to complete a jigsaw signals that it is time to relax. It’s a process rather than a goal, akin to making a mandala that you then sweep up and pour back into the box. What the process gave me this time was a chance to observe myself in the process of jigsawing (if I may invent a new verb…)

Firstly let me say that this was the most satisfying jigsaw I have ever done. In fact at one point in the process I began describing the “jigsaw orgasm,” to name the intense sense of satisfaction I felt when I was able to smoothly unite a lonely jigsaw piece with a void in the design. Because this picture is so geometrical and fantastical there were none of the typically tedious parts that occur in most jigsaws. The variety of tasks to complete the jigsaw kept me engaged as I switched between searching for common colored pieces in the box and putting together the various elements bit-by-bit, hour-by-hour.

The danger, and the very thing that can make jigsawing less fun is becoming obsessive over it. The urge to keep slotting pieces in blind pursuit of the final goal is not that far removed from the compulsion that stalks other kinds of slots! When I noticed this feeling arising I brought consciousness to the situation and tested my ability to make choices. When my back began to tense and my self-talk turned from pleasure to frustration I took it as a sign that it was time to walk away for a while, or a night. Inevitably I would return to the puzzle after a hiatus and easily place pieces I had been struggling with. The balance between perseverance and refreshment of the mind can equally apply to writing or any other sustained task!

As the end of the process drew near I was working on the layer of brown and white tiles that form the inner edge of the outer part of the puzzle. As the number of pieces and the spaces to accommodate them dwindled I noticed doubt arising in my mind again and again.

“Perhaps they’ve put in a whole lot of extra pieces, just to fool me” or
“This piece doesn’t fit in any of the spots left, it must be faulty.”

Despite these internal doubting voices shouting at me, another part of me knew this was the time for perseverance and trust. The bigger part of me understood that the ultimate nature of a jigsaw puzzle is to fit together as a unified whole. As I watched doubt arising in my mind I was struck by an insight. A huge part of my healing has been to flip my belief about the way the world works from my old unconsciously formed fear that the universe is chaotic and something I need to control to a conscious choice to believe that the universe, in a huge and cosmic way which we can never fully perceive from our limited human mind, is a giant spiritual jigsaw. I can tell when I am aligning myself with the ultimate nature of things because, like the jigsaw piece that clicks in I find myself in a place that looks right and feels right – even when it’s pushing me beyond my comfort zone. Especially when it’s pushing me (just) beyond my comfort zone.


Nicole Simone Alexander is a musician, teacher and writer who lives among the trees in the Dandenong Ranges on the outskirts of Melbourne, Australia.  After ten years of medical treatment for depression and anxiety she has found healing by learning to respond to the messages of her body, mind and soul and is grateful to all her teachers, especially depression.  She is writing a book about her experiences of mental illness and healing from it, called Feel Real, Heal and has ablog by the same name. 

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