Thursday, September 24, 2009

Life and jigsaw puzzles

What the heck.
I am back to add my thoughts on this after all.


How life is like a jigsaw puzzle

1. You are born without knowing how to do one.

2. Your job is to complete your puzzle before you die.


Every piece represents another person in your life. Each piece is equally precious, uses equal space, and will be important in some way to the final result. Keep this in mind. Always.


Your job will be to figure out all the relationships appropriately, guide the pieces to their spots. To do this it will be necessary to develop your powers of discernment and perception. You must learn to see things from different focal lengths.

Practical tips

1. Be sure you have adequate lighting. Sufficient table space. Take care to not drop pieces on the floor where they could become lost or dragged off by the cat.

2. Build the boundary first. It will save you loads of time and angst, and possibly regret.

3. Be gentle with the pieces. They will have to be handled many many times by you, and by others who do the puzzle. Don't create unnecessary wear and tear on anything.

4. Always work from easiest to hardest. You'll gain confidence and experience that way.

5. Go ahead and group your pieces by color, by shape, by orientation. This is not equivalent to political or economic discrimination, this is just you sorting things out for yourself privately in your own personal life. You ARE allowed to have a personal opinion on your own life. On your own puzzle pieces. From your own perspective. On absolutely every issue/aspect. In fact it's a requirement if you are to become a thinking person.

6. Keep the boundary between a) your own discernment and b) unfair social discrimination, clear, clean and separate, and refuse to tolerate any unfair institutionalized structured discriminatory practices in outer life. (See "Symbolism," above.)

7. Take your time grouping the pieces, laying them out carefully. You can do this any way you want. It will save you time in the long run. And you've got lots of time. A life time.

Along the way

1. You'll naturally be drawn to some pieces more than other pieces. Don't worry about it. Just remember that you'll need every piece eventually. Consult the 'big picture' frequently.

2. When you get stuck, you'll finally start to widen your visual field, and will notice some little humble piece that you had totally overlooked because it just never stood out for you. This is natural. Don't worry about it. It will be exactly the right piece for that spot where you tried some other piece umpteen times already and it just wouldn't fit.

3. You'll get a nice burst of pleasure out of each tiny victory. Savour the pleasure.

4. When you get frustrated, work on a different part of the puzzle, or else just go do something else for awhile and come back later. Your refreshed retinal receptors will see details they couldn't when your eyes were tired.

5. Invite others to help you if you wish. If you'd rather do it all by yourself, that's OK too. Your choice.

6. You will have a chance to enjoy, sense, experience and integrate all the instinctive emotions that came for free when we were born. You'll experience everything from the slog of repetitive drudgery and continuous frustration to the thrill of the hunt and the sense of triumph. The glue that holds all this together and keeps everything moving along on track is hope. Hope is really all we have for motivational fuel. Nurture hope. One day your puzzle will be complete.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Down a long grey road

Here is a picture of what I've been working on lately.
It took a weekend. One thousand pieces. As I worked I thought about all the ways jigsaw pieces are like people and putting jigsaws together is like life, but then I googled "life is like a jigsaw puzzle" and found that since jillions of others have arrived at similar conclusions, I would refrain from boring anyone with same-old.

Let me just say that the puzzle matched my mood - a long grey road to nowhere except into the future in a grey world which, although it had beauty, was cold. It was a hard puzzle for being
a) monochromatic
b) no straight lines anywhere

I got it done. I got my mood externalized, defined.

I felt more in control after, but still felt pretty monochromatic, bleak, difficult, etc. on the inside. Current blahness stems from the fact that the organizational part of me is very burnt out from the prep for the move, the move itself, and is finally taking a break from life. Also, I recognize how depressed I've been, and have suppressed, for years, thanks to low light levels. (At least that's what I choose to pin blame onto. It's all Vancouver's fault.)

My self-therapy job right now is to stop being concerned about the fact that I can't seem to make much of a plan, or study, or work on my projects, or be social, and just let large chunks of my brain take their time coming back to normal. Meanwhile I occupy myself these days going to the gym, Lu's Train Station. It has the vibe my brain seems to need right now - life is material, so push against it. Very physical. Nothing to distract.

However! .....
Yesterday I cheered up pretty good and I want to share why - someone posted links to Hans Rosling TED talks. I got into them and found myself entranced. This guy, a Swede, a medical doctor, statistician, professor of global health at the university which has a committee which peruses the annual candidates for Nobel prizes in medical physiology, a co-founder of Doctors Without Borders, has managed to create the means by which anyone who cares to can look at data collected painstakingly over decades by the UN, on the economic and health of many many countries, and compare them visually. His system is called Gapminder. He designed the visuals to be colorful, fully manipulable bubbles with size comparable to population, which rise to the left when health improves and which rise to the right when economics improve. It's the most lovely way I've ever seen, to look at statistical data.

In a number of TED talks, he explains his system and uses statistics to show how the world has improved in the last couple centuries. His enthusiasm for this adventure and his optimism based on his datasets is completely infectious. I felt oddly buoyed up by all this. It's good that someone out there, so clearly brilliant and beyond kidding anyone, sees the world in this way. It just plain makes me feel better about the planet and about the people on it and about my own being here. It's not like there aren't still lots of problems out there but I can see how breaking them up into little bits gives a better overall picture.

Here are all his TED talks I could find. Each are about 20 minutes.
1. 2006: Hans Rosling shows the best stats you've ever seen
2. 2007: Hans Rosling's new insights on poverty
3. 2009: Hans Rosling: Let my dataset change your mindset

If your outlook on life happens to be underwater and you need to breath some life back into yourself, the hour it takes to watch all three is well worth it.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Valuing the inner life

I'm in one of those periods when everything feels like swimming through peanut butter. There is no motivation and no energy to do anything even when there is some motivation. I'm truly in the swamp of myself at the moment.

On the outside things are settled safely - still in visual upheaval, with a dresser half made all over the living room floor, and the red rug I brought from Vancouver (now a rolled-up red albatross also lying on the floor of the living room, because only too late did I realize it really is too large for the room and doesn't suit it anyway). But I don't care right now. I sit on the roll while I build the dresser from a kit. I step over it to open the balcony door. I am careful not to lose screws or screwdriver or hammer in its folds. I don't care how long it lies there because I'm sucked down into the muck at the moment. I'm the engineer, off my own train, having to build more track out front before I can get life moving again. My attention has been sucked down into someplace I can barely apprehend. For now.

I don't care about any of this actually. It feels fine, or perhaps I'm just kidding myself about that.. I don't know. All I know is that I'm in the nadir place again. I've been here before, at least three times in my life. I recognize the territory. I recognize that I'm depressed. I saw this coming and arranged outer life to accommodate it, rather than let it crash me into a ditch. I've acquired a useful illusion of control. I can anticipate my own crashes and prepare appropriate landing places.

Furthermore I know what I have to do. I went out yesterday and found a gym about 6 blocks away, right beside a beautiful indoor swimming pool. I plan to join it. I have absolutely nothing else I have to do with my body, because I'm not working at the moment. I can work with it, as opposed to using it to work. It is now about 35 pounds lighter than it used to be, and I want it to feel stronger; I want it to sustain me better. I want to work with what's left of it. I do want to feel "better." Physically. I don't feel bad, physically. But I also know I can feel "better," physically. Regular exercise is a mood-enhancer. I've used it on and off over the years like other people use drugs. It works for me.

I have never wanted to do exercise in anything more than bouts, a few weeks or months at a time, and only when necessary. I've always been afraid of dependency. Worse, I've seen how exercise addicts tend to ruin their own bodies through excessive dependence on strenuous behaviour to feel "good." They turn exercise into a religion, feeling guilty when they don't do it, instead of using it carefully as a medicine, and only when necessary, to feel "better."

On the way back, I dropped in at the Wheatland Center, for the first time under my own steam. I headed immediately for the jigsaw puzzle room. Instantly my brain wove this room into a self-construct for therapy. My jigsaw therapy room.

I worked for a little while on the puzzle that was out yesterday - a snow scene with deer, lots of deep blue colours. While I puttered finding pieces with bits of antlers on them, I chatted with a few of the seniors there. A woman named Helen works there everyday, is the caterer as well as the main administrator/treasurer. She rents the place out for events, and takes care of organizing the monthly dinners. I agreed to help out with the one at the end of this month, a turkey dinner. I am to arrive at 9 AM and help with potato-peeling, etc., leave for awhile, come back in the afternoon and set out desserts. After she left to go do some banking, I met her husband, whose health has declined. He walked in heavily, and we introduced ourselves to each other. He went to sit by the window, told me about his experience having to let go of one of his favorite past times, bridge. He has acquired a speech difficulty which creates pauses that are too long to be able to feel comfortable holding his own in a bridge game. He's had some surgeries which he didn't tell me about but which his wife had mentioned before he came into the room, and about which I didn't ask for detail. He chatted randomly about himself, how he feels his life closing in around him, how he was going along just fine, then suddenly his health seemed to collapse on him all at once. He said to me, "When you have your health and everything is going along fine, like how you are now, you just don't know what it's like when it's gone." I found exactly the piece that I needed to finish both a blue hill in the distance and a chunk of deer butt, put in in its spot in the jigsaw. "Well.. I guess sooner or later we all get to find out what that feels like." I replied cautiously. He seemed satisfied with that.

I started doing jigsaw puzzles a few years ago because I find them soothing, relaxing, refreshing on some deep brain level or other. They help me disperse inner fog. They help me re-establish, at least temporarily, some illusory sense of control, or order. Moving here to Weyburn and being able to access this jigsaw puzzle room freely will be perfect. There is no system (I don't know where I got that idea from - maybe my brain just made that up). You can borrow as many puzzles as you want, take them home, do them, bring them back. No one asks you to sign them in or out. Marvelous. All social interaction here, with the seniors, is a sea of personal and interpersonal trust. I love that.

I've changed my whole outside context, quit work, moved home, moved away from the outer fog - now I can start tackling this inner fog. Jigsaws will help me kill time while my brain gets itself back up on the track.

I plan to pick up this book, the Red Book, by Carl Jung, as soon as it makes it onto the shelves. Here is an article about it in NYT. The Holy Grail of the Unconscious, by Sara Corbett. Caution - it's a really long article.

I am going to read about Jung's adventures while inside his nadirs. Maybe it will be full of useful travel tips.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Silvery bright skies

New pictures.

The large clouds topped with light look like big soft boats, viewed from below, sailing along in some sort of sky flotilla. Living on the prairie is quite a lot like living on the floor of a sea of air in continuous motion.

Even on a cloudy steel-grey day, the sky is bright and silvery, with movement and form and edges and brightness.

I really appreciate how even when the sky is cloudy here, it's still exciting, different all the time, never in the same mood twice. And no matter what the day has been, the sunset is always beautiful.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Whole new take

So, here it is, Labour Day 2009, and I live in Weyburn, Sask. instead of Vancouver BC.
I can't get groceries today, as the main food store is closed on a holiday, and on Sundays is open only between noon and 5PM. But I don't care about minor inconveniences, because I feel new stirrings. New old stirrings, rather. Old sensations but with new brain cells.

In Vancouver, it would likely rain or be cloudy. Here, it rained in the night and is cloudy today. So, what is the difference? The difference is, I can feel crispiness in the air, here, that I could never have felt living in soggy water-logged Vancouver. I feel anticipatory autumnal crispiness in my blood, in my brain. It feels good.

I wouldn't feel this good, physically, emotionally, if I were living in Vancouver. There, I would feel a sense of doom, of winter descending, a sapping away of vitality. Here, I feel as though I have energy. Of course, not having to go out to work to support a life that feels like it erodes faster than it can be shored up, is helping - I can't discount the side effects of having the luxury to laze around, relatively guilt-free. Also the expectation pathways are heavily primed with the serious intention that moving has pumped them full of, so one cannot discount placebo response either.

As a response to being here, now, and liking it, and in anticipation of feeling more alive this coming winter instead of more dead, I am taking on learning about the consciousness system of the brain. I will post about this here and in the Neurotonics blog as time goes by. So far I've closely studied Chapter 10 from Mayo Clinic Medical Neurosciences 5th Ed., one of the best organized texts I've ever had the pleasure of learning from. I made extensive notes and will be layering in information from other books and texts.

I will luxuriously wallow in the information, enjoy the feel of my brain sponging it all into itself. Then I will try to make sense of it - my sense of it. Then I will try to write about it.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

My new writing room

I made my dream come true. I moved, have a new, uncluttered, more zen-like existence. Here is a picture of my little writing room.

Here is a picture of the view out the window, from where I sit. The light comes in from my left. There's nothing beautiful or captivating about the view. It's a humble view, a humble house below, an alley.. but the big green tree is nice, and I especially love that I can see over it!