My father and I recently did a jigsaw puzzle together. I really enjoy doing jigsaw puzzles, but I can also get really caught up in them. I’ve discovered that I need to apply my chronic illness life skills to how I approach the jigsaw, but at the same time it serves as a great practice for those skills.
Doing a jigsaw can be really relaxing until you spend too much time on it, and you realize you’ve got a crick in your neck and you’re going to have stiff muscles for days. I now set a timer on my phone every time I sit down to do it, for 15-20 minutes. I’ve found that’s the optimum time for me to relax and take my mind off other things without getting drawn into striving to achieving something.
Doing a 1000-piece jigsaw can be slow going and frustrating if you want to see results. I aim to be detached from the outcome of getting any particular results while I’m doing it and just value it for its pleasant and calming distraction. Of course, I want to finish it at some point, but detachment means allowing it to be just as it is every day. If, in my session, I don’t even find one piece to fit, I practice relaxing and trusting that my time was still used fruitfully becoming more familiar with the pieces and the pattern. With many problems in life, if you relax and allow your self to become familiar with it, without striving to solve it, the solution often comes to you a lot more easily.
Trust is a really important element to detachment. I choose to trust the process, trust that jigsaw will eventually come together even when it seems difficult. Whilst doing the boring sorting out of the pieces into colour and feature at beginning, I chose to enjoy it, trusting that it’s all an important part of the process
Sometimes I can notice myself trying too hard to find where a piece of the puzzle fits. I can feel my brow furrow and my neck and shoulders tense up. At those times I remind myself to be relaxed and effortless in my approach to the puzzle (as I aim to be in all that I do). I remind myself to let it be easy. Just like life, if you choose to let things be easy, choose to trust that it will all come together in the end, it does become easy. Doing a puzzle is a great way of practising this and seeing the evidence that it works.
A jigsaw puzzle is a great tool for getting you away from hectic thoughts and giving your body a chance to calm down, especially when you might be anxious, stressed, or overwhelmed (as long as you practise the other skills above and don’t let what’s not yet done overwhelm you further). Often, we need a single-pointed-focused, calming distraction as a precursor to something more fully relaxing. If I’m already fairly relaxed, I find the time I spend practising all these skills whilst doing a jigsaw puzzle, very peaceful.
Doing a jigsaw puzzle can be a great practise for mindfulness. I aim to stay aware of my body and breathing while doing it, that way I notice if I’m becoming too focused. I also aim to be present with the peace this activity can bring me, how enjoyable it is to find order in chaos and gradually work towards bringing that order. It was also nice to spend some quality time with my father.
I also aim to stay present to the purpose of the activity in terms of my overall routine and wellbeing. I purposefully choose it as a low energy activity that helps pace my day and save my energy for other things or I choose it when I need a single-pointed-focused activity to help calm my nervous system.
To live happily with a chronic illness, it helps to learn to recalibrate how we value things. Doing a jigsaw puzzle can seem to have little worth to society as a whole. However, it can be a really useful tool for your wellbeing if used carefully. I aim to recognise the value of anything that contributes to my wellbeing, whilst I engage in it, as life feels so much richer when you value what you are doing. I also choose to believe that anything that adds to your peace and wellbeing, is adding to the health of the world in general. A more peaceful, healthy you, will have a much more positive ripple effect.