Surprising Life Lessons from Puzzles

“Life is like a puzzle. You need all the small pieces to see the bigger picture. This small piece might seem insignificant, but it might actually be a small piece of heaven.” – Harshit

Lately, after dinner, we’ve fallen into the habit of working on a jigsaw puzzle. Our first puzzle was astoundingly difficult – a thousand-piece photo collage of dozens of puppies, all shades of beige and gray. We worked on it for almost six weeks before putting in the last piece!

As we bend over the puzzle pieces, our dinner conversation continues for another hour or so. Sometimes, as great conversations in the car can do, they even veer in deeper directions because we’re talking while doing something else.

While creating a close-knit family has always been a priority, it never occurred to me that simply pulling out a puzzle was a way to foster easy, comfortable togetherness. As if that weren’t gift enough, the practice of “puzzling” has taught me some valuable life skills.

1. It’s a good idea to begin by building the border.

When assembling a puzzle, creating a framework for the image makes it easier to start to fill in the details.

This has been particularly helpful both as I’ve navigated these weeks in quarantine and as I ponder the way I’d like life to look after the stay-at-home orders are lifted. When I focus on the millions of details and possibilities, it can feel like I’m staring at a pile of 900 pieces that aren’t edges. I get bogged down and feel panicky.

When I choose, instead, to focus on the obvious pieces (that is, the easy-to-find ones with straight edges), things start to come together. Once I created a “frame” that felt comfortable and allowed me to continue to support others through my work, somehow the details (some of which would have seemed totally unlikely) fell into place almost on their own. I’m sure the same will be true as life shifts again into “what’s next.”

2. What you’re looking for doesn’t always look like you expected it to look.

Our puppy puzzle taught us that eyes often look like spots; that white comes in 1000 shades, some of which are decidedly not white; and that even the most distinctive fur can be camouflaged if the piece is cut just so.

The same is true for life. Catastrophes can also be solutions. Problems and challenges can be stepping- stones that lead to entirely new possibilities.

At first glance, quarantine could seem claustrophobic and limiting, especially for my daughter, as her first year away at college came to a screeching, sudden halt. Yet, after settling in, she has found that quarantine allowed her an academic “re-boot” and the freedom to explore future possibilities she would otherwise never have considered.

What initially seemed catastrophic is now something for which she feels grateful. (Me too, by the way.)

3. Sometimes you must stop looking at the image you’re trying to create and soften your gaze to look only at the shape of the pieces in order to see where they fit.

When looking through 900 pieces for a bit of wet, black nose or a certain texture of fluffy fur, you can get a little close-minded. Your image of what it “must” look like can blind you to what it could look like. When you sense that this is happening, it’s best to change strategies and begin to scour the pile of 900 pieces for ones that fit the shape of the hole you’re trying to fill.

This is probably the most profound life lesson of all. When you’re determined to create a particular outcome, you can close yourself off to possibilities hiding in the pile of options right in front of you. In life these possibilities are often even less obvious than when working a puzzle because you’re creating something original and unique rather than recreating an image on a box. But they are always there.

Even in this time where the world can feel small and a little limited, you have all the choices you need to imagine and create a rich life. Maybe you’re finding new methods of connecting with your clients. Or reinventing ways that you put your talents to work. Or exploring opportunities your pre-pandemic pace didn’t give you the time to even consider.

Whatever you’re working to create, shift your gaze away from your preconceived images of how your life “should” look. Keep turning the pieces in your proverbial hand around and around. They will fit together – I guarantee it! Better yet, you will love the way they do.

A mindfulness practice like yoga can give you the perspective and objectivity to see possibilities that were hiding in plain sight. Join our community at Yoga With Spirit and explore many opportunities to create a practice for yourself.