When assembling a jigsaw puzzle, one finds some pieces quite similar to each other. In fact, so similar that we might be fooled into placing a piece in the wrong place. Connected to other pieces around it, yet actually not meant to be there. Essentially, taking the place of the true, correct piece.

Another variation of this experience can happen when assembling the frame, the border whose pieces share a straight edge.

If even one edge piece is assumed to be correct, yet is actually not the right fit, we may carry on unaware, developing an entire side of the puzzle, perhaps consisting of many pieces- yet none of them meant to be in that location. As long as we carry on with our mistaken assumption, we will be frustratingly blocked from further connections and from our ability to finish the puzzle.

Only by realizing our error, and practicing major jigsaw surgery- extricating the whole erroneous line of pieces and moving it to the opposite side of the puzzle- will everything come into order. All those pieces which previously didn’t fit, now fit in place like a charm.

Once the border is finished correctly, we need to venture into the center of the puzzle, leaving the clarity of a firm border behind, into a landscape referential only to itself. No clear-cut edge defines our location- we need to navigate purely by color, shape, image, and a feeling for how each part fits into every other part. In this open space, the puzzle image slowly emerges.

It doesn’t take too much imagination to consider how something similar may happen in our lives. We may find ourselves in a relationship, or a job, or a location which seems to be fine, seems to be right, seems to have all the outer appearances of the fitting. Yet, if not actually where we are meant to be, at least four things are happening.

We have a feeling that something isn’t right, that we aren’t in our right place. We are taking the place of someone else who is meant for our space. We have the opportunity to choose to leave the ‘unfitting place’ (though often not without certain anxiety of being temporarily lost and disconnected) We open ourselves to new freedom as we prepare for the connection which is truly fitting.

When assembling a puzzle, especially the larger ones of 1,000 or more pieces, I find contentment in studying a piece to discern its secret where in the whole picture is its exact home, where does it fit? How to retrieve it from the jumbled mass of disconnection and bring it into the comfort and beauty of the perfect fit?

After assembling several puzzles I found my attention captured by mandalas. While I have assembled mandalas from different traditions, a Tibetan Thanka particularly called to me.

The Mandala of the Buddhist goddess Sitatapatra Aparajita (jigsaw puzzle published by Pomegranate Press) portrays the cosmos in multiple dimensions, complete with wrathful deities (fierce protectors) below and enlightened beings above, along with different aspects of the cosmos as one gradually approaches the center.

A Tibetan tradition of Mandala-making is to create one entirely from colored sand, meticulously blown through a small tube, grain by grain, upon a large flat surface. Symbols, shapes and colors emerge in a process often needing days or weeks to come into its meaning and form.

As part of this Tibetan tradition, once the mandala is complete and prayers are chanted, it must return back to the state of non-manifestation. My wife and I had the privilege of witnessing the dissolution of such a mandala on several occasions- once by a riverside in Ladakh, in northwestern India. Weeks of intensive work, resulting in a spiritual portrayal of immense beauty, is henceforth released into the flowing river and vanishes.

To have such a mandala as a jigsaw puzzle is another way to experience its magnificence. I have now assembled such a puzzle several times, continuing to grow in appreciation and identifying the right place for the pieces.

Nevertheless, there are still times when I inadvertently put a piece in the wrong place- though seeming right for a time. Then when I’ve come to a standstill, completely stumped, with no seeming solution for completion, I have learned to question my assumption- that maybe, just maybe, I erred in my original placement of a piece- whereby, once removed, the right piece can fit perfectly into place, and the puzzle continues on to its fulfilment.

Doing a puzzle reinforces connections between brain cells, improves mental speed, and is an especially effective way to improve short-term memory. Jigsaw puzzles improve your visual-spatial reasoning and are a great meditation tool and stress reliever.

(from 7 Surprising Benefits of Doing Jigsaw Puzzles for All Ages by South Mountain Memory Care)