I spent New Year’s weekend out in the country with many of my best friends in Texas. That house is my home away from home. Those people are the family I wasn’t born with. Every weekend out there is a celebration, whether there is a reason to celebrate or not.
At one point, a puzzle was pulled out (not the puzzle pictured above). All the pieces were spread out on the table. In between meals and other activities, any number of us would hover over the display and work on it. Sometimes, nearly all of us worked on it at the same time.
This experience was a gift, and on so many levels. This morning, I woke with a whole new layer of insight.
When the group worked on the puzzle, there was no hierarchy. Each person picked a part of it. One person gathered the edge pieces. Another worked on a particular design that stood out from the rest. Some, who joined a bit later, took inventory of what the others were doing, and chose something else. Often, we would move pieces toward someone as we found them.
The beauty (and first aspect to remember) is that, with a puzzle like this, we know what the end looks like. We have the picture on the box illustrating our goal. The point is not to figure out what the result will be; it is to put it all together, piece by piece. The completed puzzle is only satisfying when we walked the journey to it.
The next aspect I noticed was how each had a different process. Some preferred to gather the whole set of similar pieces before linking them up, while others just dove in. Some focused on color; some on shape; others on patterns.
It was also fun to observe people’s emotional state. One would complain about how hard it was, but then scream with joy when the right piece was found! Some were completely quiet, while others spoke their thoughts intermittently. Some were very serious, while others of us impishly teased them!
I, of course, was one of the imps. When one presented a particular plan of attack, I teasingly said, “No, I don’t like that idea.” The look of shock on her face put the widest grin on mine.
In group endeavors, leadership bubbles up organically. But sometimes it faces opposition.
This puzzle had a bunch of white pieces and a bunch of blue. The blue was filled with designs, but sections of the white were just color. Every now and again, pieces would come together leaving a hole—a single piece not yet placed. A few times, I happened to have my glasses off, and I would look at the hole’s shape, scan over the sea of white, and grab a piece that looked about the right size. I knew I was employing my intuition at those times. With my glasses off, I couldn’t see the details anyway, so my eyes (representing my brain) were less dominant. When I scanned the sea of options, I wasn’t searching that hard. I wasn’t moving my focus from one piece to the next, I just let my eyes be drawn to a piece. In fact, more than once, the first or second piece I spotted fit! Given, say, 50 pieces to choose from, the odds of that are VERY small!
And then something interesting happened.
Beyond anyone’s notice, a puzzle piece (or three) fell to the floor. The only one who noticed was the dog. He quickly snatched it up, since it resembled one of his treats. By the time his mom noticed him chewing, the piece was nothing but a soggy brown ball. It looked like a single piece, but we couldn’t be sure.
For the rest of the puzzle building, I kept reminding myself that at least one piece was destroyed. And what this did was so subtly important, I didn’t fully realize the lesson until this morning.
When working on a puzzle, it is easy to get fixated on finding one specific piece. For example, there is the case I mentioned above where you are trying to fill a hole. Another example is when you have one half of a particular image and are hunting for its counterpart.
In the latter half of the puzzle building, I had often found myself vacillating between two processes. Sometimes, I would find a particular piece of interest, and scan the puzzle box for where it needed to go. Other times, I would examine the edges of a hole, then scan the pieces to find what would fit there. In this latter case, however, I had to keep reminding myself that the particular piece I was looking for might might have been destroyed. So, repeatedly, when staring at an empty space, I had to continually relax that persistent urge to not stop until I found the missing piece.
In the end, we collectively completed the puzzle, and in fact, there was just the one missing piece the dog had chewed.
Today, I now see a set of guiding symbolism:
- The point of the journey is the journey, not the destination.
- There is no hierarchy, no boss, but leadership will organically emerge.
- There are many ways to approach a problem.
- These differing processes don’t necessarily interfere with each other.
- Seeing clearly can be helpful, but blurred vision can also be helpful.
- Intuition is always available and can jump to a solution, bypassing any of the linear processes presented.
- It is immensely helpful to use the image of the completed puzzle to guide you along the way.
- You can’t know if a particular piece is missing, or which it will be, so don’t get fixated on any one task.
- Don’t forget to have fun with it all.
- Celebrate victories along the way; don’t wait until the end…it’ll likely be anti-climatic if you do.
Now apply the above to any endeavor: the solving of any problem; or the manifestation of any experience you desire.
Rephrasing a piece of wisdom I once heard:
You can stress over every detail within each task,
…and it’ll all work out;
or you can relax and play, joke and celebrate, and enjoy each step,
…and it’ll all work out.