The Last Hundred Pieces

pokey jig.jpgSomewhere in a blog, either this one or a previous, I’ve mentioned that I am a jig-saw puzzle fanatic.

Give me a thousand or fifteen-hundred tiny knobbed-bits that insert into other tiny knobbed-bits, and I am good for a few days of studying, comparing, assessing, and inserting them into some semblance of intended unity.

(Bare with me please, there is a philosophical point I will eventually make here.)

Once the straight-edged pieces which represent the framework of the intended picture, are separated from the mass and put into one pile, the re-joining process begins.  framework.jpg

With a framework soon established, the rest of the prospective pieces rely on color, tint, and hue for possible frame connection.

So with that basic info in mind, today I am now down to the last unattached, hundred pieces of a particularly difficult puzzle that has taken me well over a week of serious concentration.  And whenever I reach this point in a puzzle completion, it is usually a piece of cake to wrap it in an hour or two.

Jaguar puzzle.jpgBut as I was automatically sorting the last pieces into separate piles per their knob locations and particular shapes for easy selection and insertion attempt, I realized that I had changed my initial puzzle focus and strategy. I was simply filling open holes now in the puzzle and was making remaining-piece determination more so by the negative spaces left to fill rather than color similarities of the pictured image.

When I recognized my focus shift into the-last-hundred-pieces-strategy that I tend to resort to for completing any puzzle image, it dawned on me that there was something deeper to consider here than pitting positive images against negative spaces.

As we move throughout our lives from childhood onwards, we focus on building an early life framework for ourselves to help us determine who we are as individual beings, and to ferret out what we truly want from our lives. We often paint pictures in our minds to use as blueprints for creating those future realities from our fantasies; and then we go about amassing and inserting the assorted puzzle pieces necessary to get us to that completed ideal-life image we hold so dear.

For those of us who have been around quite a few decades, we may have tried to fit many random pieces into our life-puzzle depending on the positive image we always maintained of how we wanted our life to look at completion.face.jpg

Sometimes those knobby pieces fit into proper place just like we wanted them to do. And sometimes they didn’t. But that didn’t deter us, because we just kept working on our incomplete “life puzzle” trying to make something cohesive and beautiful from our unification attempts at life’s seemingly random events.

But similar to the nearly completed puzzle on my card-table at present, when we get down to the last hundred pieces left to complete the pretty picture of our lives—it is similar to the latter decades of our lives, where we are basically shifting strategy to fill in the negative spaces left for us rather than building an expansive future image centered between the framework of four established sides.

And to fill in that remaining negative space in our lives, we look for shapes that fit the boy.jpgholes that are left to fill. In effect, we likely change our life focus. We now focus on the details of filling in holes still left to complete our life picture that we had originally envisioned.

I also notice that with my puzzle completion so near, I tend to slow down and savor the remaining piece possibilities, because once that puzzle is done, it is DONE!  Nothing more will need my attention there.  At that point there is simply acceptance of the puzzle’s ending, my appreciation of the actual effort in that process, and allowing a day or two for simply admiring the completed image that had been so carefully reconstructed from all those random “life” pieces.

Then after the admiration stage, I just crumple the completed puzzle into random pieces once again, put it in the bag/box with the pretty picture on the front, and stash it away until next year.  (I actually have about 25 puzzle boxes I work through every winter. I know—obsessive.)

But wait a minute, one might think that if you have already put a puzzle together once that the second or third attempt to do so again is so much easier—right?  Well,….not so much.multiframes

Just like with having lived so many previous lives in so many different contexts and conditions, every present-life puzzle is just as difficult to complete as the one before it had been to construct. Our only advantage to recognizing that we have had many attempts at defining our life’s framework and completing our desired future image is that at some point in our spiritual progress, we stop and assess where those negative spaces are left in our soul’s evolution. We do this so we can determine what is necessary to complete the total picture of reconstructing our Wholeness—perfecting our reunification with the ONE.

And guess what?

THAT is the very puzzle we ALL are working on right now.

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The Puzzle

I think I’ve mentioned somewhere long ago that I love putting together jigsaw puzzles—in fact, the more pieces, the better. This time of year when the snow is blowing hard and the “wind comes sweeping down the plain” as it does in Iowa, as well as Oklahoma, it provides a lot of reflection time while contemplating how many layers of clothing are necessary to simply go to the mailbox at around zero degrees.

So puzzles be my thing in the winter. They provide mental challenge and keep my fingers active searching for similarities in color, texture and shape. I think I have about 20 boxes of them now, and every winter I pull them all out, one by one, and obsess over them hour after hour until each is completed.

Then I make myself wait at least a day after puzzle completion before I crumple the pieces all together again, stuff them back into their plastic bag until next winter, and pull out another one to start. (My thing must be in the challenge, rather than the completion. I don’t linger long on accomplishments.)

I view thisIMG_5089 dismantling aspect as similar to the Tibetan Monks creating their multi-colored sand paintings. If you’ve never witnessed that amazing process of creation and dissipation, it is well worth your time.

After the monk’s reverent acknowledgement of their sand-mandala’s completion, and after adequate “beauty and unity” contemplation time, the monks then ceremoniously gather all the brightly-colored sands into a single cDSC_0167ontainer and bless the local rivers with the sand mixture that had once been their total focus and purpose for being, during those awesome hours of unified cDSC_0186reation.

Likewise, I always bless the large, plastic storage box beneath my card table with mine, at least until next year.

Why I’m mentioning this puzzle fixation again is that yesterday as I’m nearing the “last hundred pieces” point (meaning 9/10ths of puzzle completed), I was looking at the remaining vacant space in the puzzle frame and eyeing the pieces remaining to be appropriately relocated into the picture, and thinking “If Life is metaphor, what is the metaphor that I am displaying here in what I am doing?”

It was easily seen that I had left the most “difficult to determine differences” (3D) section of the puzzle to the last where there were fewer pieces to choose from, which meant greater likelihood of success in selection.

At this point, my eyes were tiring and with fewer pieces on the table, I switched to a comparison strategy with the remaining shapes—which means I put all the pieces with knobs at top and bottom, on one side of the table, and the pieces with knobs at the sides on the other. Then I lined them up in columns so my eyes could more quickly slide down each column looking for tell-tale differences in knob size and location on the piece.

Depending on the puzzle design, some have only two basic shapes: knobs at top and bottom, or knobs at the sides. Other puzzles designers have the most contorted, no-two-shapes-the-same thing going that make this type of categorizing impossible, but this puzzle allowed for comparison columns. That was my end-strategy for completion.

“How does this apply to your life?” my mind kept prodding. “What is YOUR end-strategy for completion?” (Oh, now THAT put a different twist to that life-as-metaphor-thing, didn’t it? Yes.)

My end-strategy for completion as demonstrated by this metaphorical puzzle presently under my nose:

  • Subtlety….it’s about subtle differences now—about detail and finesse—the aspects you might have overlooked before when there was too many choices.
  • Now I looked for subtle color hues and picture clarity or fuzziness per piece—individual distinction and color blends.
  • I simplified the selection comparison process—to be easier on the eyes and mind.
  • I had a specific area left to finish, so I narrowed my focus and attention to further sub-dividing the section left to work into even smaller areas until one area was completed, then I moved to another section and did the same. (That “sub-dividing and conquering” thing.)
  • I also savored the selection of the last ten pieces because I knew that what was left was the end of my time with this puzzle, so I carefully scanned the choices before reaching for a possibility. I’m more selective of friends now as well.

As I now stare down at the completed puzzle—a white-ish Bavarian castle surrounded in fall foliage, backdropped by blue mountains and baby-blue sky with puffy white clouds—all 18” x 23” of it, I think of what my friend said when she saw me about midway into it: “Why are you doing that one? It’s not very pretty. It doesn’t look very fun to do.”

And I think, well, once I start a puzzle I don’t quit until I’ve finished it. Maybe that IS the metaphor of my life here. It may not be very pretty or much fun, but it’s mine—it’s MY puzzle.

It’s really not the end-point that matters in life, since the end is pre-determined for all of us. What matters most in life is in how well we face each challenge along the way, and how we make all those seemingly-random pieces of our life fit together into a coherent picture by the end.

Life for all of us is a challenge to be accepted, deciphered and made sense of in the best way that we can.

We frame our lives in the context of not-so-random pieces brought together for a purpose. The challenge for us is in determining that IMG_5049purpose before we complete the puzzle. Hopefully we all can do that—make some sense of our own puzzles before the end. I hope you can. I’m still working on mine.

Photos by Angel Lyle, Davenport, Iowa