Frustrating comfort, and the Zen of jigsaw puzzles

In my previous blog post that feels like it was written 12 years ago, yet was only in April, I was hopeful I’d write a new entry at least once a month. And now look at me — 12 years (or eight months) later, and not a single scribble on this sad little blog of mine. But I’m going to change all that. I swear I am. But seriously, folks — I’m gonna try, and that’s all anyone can expect of anyone else these days, right?

In the last few weeks of living in the Upside Down, I’ve found myself thinking about what brings me comfort. Maybe it’s the holiday season or perhaps it’s because I’m examining my love affair with carbs; whatever the case, it’s been on my mind. I’m mostly an optimist, so I thought the subject would be a helpful theme with an array of thoughts I could dump onto this blog’s pages. I hope you don’t mind me taking a dump in front of you.

Today I’d like to share my recent experience with the frustrating comfort that is the jigsaw puzzle.

I’ve always enjoyed jigsaw puzzles, but found myself annoyed when I couldn’t complete one in a single sitting. Plus, if there were sections similar in color or texture, I’d kinda lose my damn mind. So naturally, I took on a 550-piece puzzle of edge-to-edge Lake Superior agates. All agates, all the time. This puzzle featured nothing but a photo of rocks piled up alongside one another, applied to cardboard, and cut into tiny pieces that looked like colorful toddler choking-hazards.

It’s fair to say I wasn’t totally jazzed to get all up inside this thing. Nonetheless, my always-up-for-a-good time husband Chris and I poured the pieces onto the dining room table and did what any normal people would do — looked for the edge pieces. After a few hours of attempting to conjoin the tiny little bastards, Chris decided he’d had enough of that nonsense and grabbed a magazine. I, however, wasn’t about to let this Superior beast get the best of me. I labored on — for days — for weeks. I memorized each crack and shadow of every one of those pesky stones. I knew which agates were neighbors and which were (almost) clones of one another. I had such an intimate relationship with these rocks, I felt like I should buy them dinner — or at least some dessert. Rocky road? Sorry.

At the end of each puzzling session, I carefully covered my in-progress masterpiece for safekeeping. My cats were just as engrossed in the puzzle as I was, and I wasn’t about to allow their paw-swatting shenanigans to hinder my progress.

Toward the end of three-or-so weeks, I proudly placed the final piece in its place. I could’ve cried with joy and drank an entire bottle of Prosecco at the same time. I may have done one of those things.

I was reminded a lot about myself (and life), as well as what brings me comfort during what I now refer to as “my agate period.”  For example, I affirmed I can indeed persevere in instances of frustration and overwhelm. You know, like when your car breaks down in the middle of the freeway during rush hour … or when you swear you just saw that elusive salmon-colored puzzle piece, and now it’s seemed to vanish into a pile.

My upper back and neck reminded me I need to take frequent breaks during marathon sessions of anything, and workplace ergonomic principles also apply to jigsaw puzzle assembly. Self care goes beyond carving out an hour for a candle-lit bubble bath. It’s making your health and wellbeing a priority as often as you can remember to do so. Breaks for stretching, hydration, and therapeutic cursing all count as self care.

Jigsaw puzzles are an excellent metaphor for detachment. Buddhists say the root of all suffering is attachment. When we hitch our happiness to a single outcome or a particular object, we’re often setting ourselves up for disappointment. In JigsawPuzzleLand, we complete a project, admire its beauty, and then disassemble it and move on to something else. Nothing is forever, not even cardboard masterpieces.

Lastly, I found comfort in remembering that experiences of any kind can contribute to a colorful and robust existence. Life is short and you may want things like “against all odds. she crushed that agate puzzle” mentioned at your memorial service.


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