Jigsaw Puzzles and Life

It is a common phenomenon for things to have a pattern of the whole in hidden in their parts. The presence of DNA in every cell is a perfect example. A jigsaw puzzle is another. It is present around us and tells us a lot about what goes around us and how they go.

Jigsaw puzzles had been interesting toys for children for quite a long time before they were used as teaching aids in schools. It is very interesting to watch children put together a jigsaw puzzle.

They often start with a random piece and then they figure it out and go by the shape of those pieces and manage to find the corners first. Shape is a tangible quality. That way it has a quantity. Next the children figure out the picturewhich is not totally tangible. They use their imagination to assume and predict the rest of the picture and as they go forward they become very fast. It looks like the pieces are offering themselves to them. The last pieces fall in very quickly and at this point the children are full of excitement which seems to wane after completing the picture.

Now we know that there is more to solving a jigsaw puzzle than the entertainment it offers. A puzzle represents a set of questions. The data as well as the solution is always in those questions. Mathematics, a pure science, sees the solution to a problem as the right arrangement of the parts of the question. In other words, questions, like the jigsaw puzzle or life itself, are fragmented solutions.

When children are allowed to learn, we see the same thing happening. For example, in problem solving, half of the data is inside and the other half is outside. The theorem to apply is inside; the situation to apply them in is outside. Each is meaningful in its own way. And one reflects the other like a fractured mirror. This is the basic pattern of all learning. Nothing is learned totally from the outside world, nor totally through introspection. In fact, but for the ego, there is no outside or inside. Small babies go on shaking their hands even after the rattle has dropped off their hands. Small children cry when they hear other children cry. School is the place where we are ‘taught’ not to do that.

More begets more, especially in learning. Here again, we see the patterns of a jigsaw puzzle. As ideas and concepts build up in themind around one missing link, the missing link falls in by itself like a natural response. Thus holistic ways of education always have an advantage over linear ways. It is hard to solve a jigsaw puzzle if we work in a linear way.

Reflection has always been a major metaphor in Indian thought. The conscious part of mind is often referred to as ‘mind, the mirror’,manomukuram. This is probably because it gives an inside projection of outside things. This mind could also reflect the inside things and such thoughts are referred to as ‘reflections’. Thus the conscious mind is supposed to act as a stage where the inner and the outer come to play. This is also the part with which we learn, or the part that learns since learning seems to alter the very nature of the mirror, changing the reflections forever. The things outside are not altered. But they are seen differently as we grow up and learn. So, surely the mind is altered. The same is applicable for the inner world that gets reflected in the mind. It is the mind that gets altered and not the inner world or the outside world. Since the mind is altering all the time, it is not possible for the outer world or the inner world to change and for the individual to maintain his or her sense of self or continuity at once. In other words it is not our static mind that gives us a stubborn ego but the inability of the mind to be static that gives us the sense of self or ego. Our concept of the mind is that of a sea where a single wave is up all the time. But quite differently, like the needle on a phonograph, it is the wavering that gives the mind its existence.

The outside world undergoes perceivable changes. Trees grow, rain falls, winds blow, crow flies. Mind could naturally be influenced by these changes. But what about looking at a painting? Here the mind fragments the picture into fleeting thoughts and creates a sense of flux to give itself an existence. Learning as we know happens in the other direction. It is the assimilation of parts into whole. Even when the nature of learning is that of analysis, we are actually taking apart something to send the parts to their empirical or theoretical categories. So our main task in learning through analysis is assimilating the items in respective categories.

It is possible for one to get fed up with this business and stop learning altogether. One might then go inward or insane. Some have gone insane. Some others have gone inward. They have a chance of seeing the nature of their own mind because of the great recording device called language. An awareness of the nature of mind tells us that it is possible to have something beyond that antechamber. A further awareness of what is beyond the mind, the real static self, gives us a better understanding of the mind. The mind cannot play games with the inner self as it does with the world because the inner self lacks the entity called time which helps the mind break the outer world down to fragments and make the parts scurry around. Language, being fragmented and linear is an accomplice of the mind in doing this. It is used by the mind to create past and the present, when the truth is that only the present exist. It is also a double mirror, if there is such a thing, that can display the mind’s activities and make its dynamic nature appear static.

So, without basing oneself in that inner self, otherwise called awareness, it is impossible to understand the true nature of our mind. This is one major difference among the great psychologists, seers and their followers.

This fragmentation and synthesis work also in the cosmic level, in real life situations. Time has fragmented the world into cause and effect. Every effect becomes a cause in its own time. These causes and effects can come from all directions. Newton was sage-like when he said that every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

Going back to the mirror imagery, life is like playing chess with the mirror. For every piece we advance, a piece of the same nature is advanced towards us from the opposite direction. In our desperate effort to win we try random patterns without understanding that life is not playing with us to win or lose. Its aim is beauty, the beauty that Keats saw as Truth. Beauty is what we perceive in our awareness, before our mind and thoughts take over. Modern writers and artists have understood this principle and creates works which do not lend themselves to our thoughts and thereby prolong the period of being in the awareness.

Even among fragments there is beauty in symmetrical patterns. One can arrange the pieces to make a beautiful pattern, forgetting the opponent. Artists and writers do this. One can also cooperate with life, mimic it and create a symmetrical pattern. Seers do this. It is also possible to play hard, forgetting the patterns.

Ignorance lies in seeing only our part of the game board and judging success and defeats. Intelligence lies in having a bird’s eye view of the board before we judge. Wisdom lies in seeing the beautiful symmetry on the board, whichever way we play.

Thus we see that putting together jigsaw puzzles is an activity that goes on in our life in gross and subtle ways and on varied plains. Children, who can sense how a piece offers itself to join the pieces they have already arranged, do it easily. People who have the right idea about the consequences of their actions also find it easy.

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