The Jigsaw – A Metaphor For Life

by Asoka Selvarajah on September 2, 2015

Recently, I felt impelled to buy myself a jigsaw puzzle. I haven’t done one since I was a small child, but when I saw them in a shop one day, a curious desire stayed with me until I eventually had to satisfy it.

Since there was no agenda to this exercise, such as completing the puzzle as quickly as possible, I decided to do it without looking much at the photo of the completed picture. Hence, I was going, for the most part, without a map. Instead, I was assPuzzle_2346 (9)_optembling the jigsaw one piece at a time. The only strategy I allowed myself was to initially search for all the edge pieces and assemble those first.

Apart from being a very calming meditative process (and highly recommended for that reason alone), I began to notice how this jigsaw puzzle was a very interesting metaphor.

Life is like a jigsaw, consisting of a very large number of colored pieces, and coming in all shapes and sizes. In fac
t, it begins with the very choice of which puzzle you’re going to buy at the shop. Many people believe that they were already given their specific jigsaw at birth, i.e. that they have a preordained “life purpose”. This may be true in some cases (Mozart, for example), but for most of us, we can choose which puzzle we are going to do.

In other words, you can determine your own life plan/purpose and then go about constructing it, piece by piece. If you don’t like the way the picture is turning out, you can always get yourself another puzzle and start on that one. You are not tied to any one life jigsaw, and you do not need to be perpetually agonizing over which jigsaw you were “meant” to be doing.

Assembling a jigsaw puzzle, and constantly looking at the photo of the completed picture, is analogous to goal-setting, where you set yourself a life goal, assemble all the disparate pieces needed to achieve it, and then go about building them together, while repeatedly keeping your eyes on the final visualized picture, in order to ensure that you are on target and that you are assembling and placing the pieces of your plan in the right place and order. Hence, this jigsaw exercise is an excellent mental training in persistence and patience within the context of goal setting. It can actually help develop mental endurance that you can use towards the task of achieving your goals.

Doing a jigsaw without looking at the plan is rather more like real life as we usually experience it. There IS an overall design and purpose, but there are MANY pieces – hundreds or even thousands – and your task is to make sense of seeming chaos. It often looks like chaos, and yet it is not. You may put some pieces in the wrong places initially, until you later realize that the overall pattern does not fit. Some areas, analogous to your natural talents, come together easier than others. Other areas elude you for ages, or you never seem to be able to find  the right pieces. You simply may not be looking to start on that piece of the puzzle at all. This may be in the area of your job, your relationships, your finances or whatever.

Yet, there ARE pieces that fit together in these areas too, and it’s for you to find and assemble them, each in its own place, to  create the overall pattern. As you do so, with perseverance and patience, the overall picture of the life you are designing slowly comes into view.

It’s often best to assemble several small areas at the same time, placing similarly colored pieces together in several heaps and then assembling them, rather than trying to do one single area all at once, in exclusion of all the other parts of the picture. If you take the latter approach, you’ll be forever trying to look for the one piece here or there that will attach to the mass you have already created. Moreover, you have no idea what that piece will look like and how it will connect what you have done to the overall plan. The entire process will become dependent upon you attaching pieces, once by one to the periphery of the mass you have already created.

The analogy is creating a balanced life versus overemphasis on one specific area of it. For instance, what is the point of massively over-developing your career if your relationships, family and health suffer as a result? What’s the point of being an expert on everything that’s happening in the latest TV soap opera if your job and finances are going down the drain?

We need to be working on all the key areas of our life at the some time to the best of our ability. You may not get it all right all at once, just as you cannot assemble all the areas of a jigsaw simultaneously. However, by taking the big picture approach, you ensure that you are building consistently towards the final picture. By contrast, if you achieve great success in one area to the exclusion of all others, it can be very difficult to later develop those weak areas, because your mind is so polarized on your one area of success. You have no references of success in other equally important areas.

One time, while my puzzle was lying incomplete, my cat leaped onto it, displacing the whole thing and sending some of it flying. It took me some time to restore it. This is also symbolic. We may well have a legitimate balanced pattern for our lives that we are working towards. However, the universe will still test it to see if we are really serious! You need to know that “stuff happens”, even when you are on the right track. You have to accept that as part of the story. Life is about meeting obstacles and overcoming them, and then moving on to the next challenge. You cannot play ostrich and bury your head in the sand. If you do, your life puzzle will never complete. Instead, over time, it will face ever more disruptions and eventually come apart altogether.

As you may have inferred by now, I would highly recommend you buy yourself a jigsaw puzzle (at least a thousand pieces) and go through this exercise for yourself! You may learn a lot about yourself and life too. It’s an excellent meditative practice, as long as you have no time objective on it, and take it one piece at a time. Keeping focused and contemplative is the key to success here, as it is in the larger puzzle of life. 

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Uprooting The Tree Of Igorance

by Asoka Selvarajah on January 5, 2015

Avidya - The Tree Of IgnoranceWhy do we fail to do the good that we know we should? Why do we fall below our own standards? Why do we try so hard to make progress in life and yet have little to really show for it?

In Yoga philosophy, the term Avidya is used to describe the condition that causes this tendency within us. It literally means “incorrect comprehension”; better known as ignorance. According to yoga teachings it is deeply rooted in our being through repeated habit.

We know that any behavior, when repeated often enough, becomes almost instinctive. This is true to such an extent that we can even believe such actions to be outside of our conscious control. The misuse of this “anchoring procedure” is the foundation of avidya.

Examples include unjustified angry reactions to other people, chronic dependencies like alcohol or drugs, or self-sabotage just when we are about to make a life-changing breakthrough in some important area. The subtle thing about avidya is that it hides itself. It only ever manifests as something else. Its symptoms are everywhere, but the cause itself remains concealed. We see it as “life”, or the other person’s fault, or some recurring self-destructive habit we can’t control. The source itself remains concealed.

Avidya is like a deeply rooted tree with four thick branches. The first branch is called Asmita, or ego. This is the part of us that seeks its own interests. It considers itself better than others, is bruised when it does not get its own way, and generally causes us to identify with this earthly body and the life it is living. It has no wider perspective than that.

The second branch is called Raga and is best translated as Desire or Attachment. This is the part that constantly wants what it does not have. It desires what it does not really need and seeks to accumulate merely for the sake of it. It makes us unsatisfied and causes us to continually compare ourselves unfavorably with others. If we are wealthy, we are unhappy because somebody else is wealthier still. And so on…

The third branch is called Dvesa or Refusal. This is like the recoil response. Whatever negative experiences we have had in life make us afraid of repeating them again in case the same result occurs. It can make us reject people, situations and possibilities that just might cause us pain again. In one person, it may be the fear of forming relationships with the opposite sex. In another, it may be a fear of public speaking as a result of negative childhood experiences.

The fourth and last branch on the tree of Avidya is called Abhinivesa or Fear. These are specifically fears that are NOT caused by previous experience. For example, we may fear change, or growing old, or that we may lose everything we worked so hard to earn. In other words, things we may never have experienced before.

Avidya, in all its subtle forms, works within us constantly to root us in our habitual ways and make improvement difficult or impossible. The more we indulge Avidya, the stronger it becomes. Eventually, we feel that we are no longer the doer of these things; they simply happen to us.

A person can attract one disastrous relationship after another, or continually experience uncontrollable rage under certain stimuli, and feel that it is nothing directly to do with them. It is just bad luck. The person fails to see that there is only one person responsible for everything that happens! So what can we do? If Avidya obscures and clouds, it clearly must be obscuring something. Yoga philosophy calls this something Purusa.

In the West, we know it as the “Higher Self” or “Silent Observer”; the true divine spirit that lies within each of us. The task therefore, is to bring Purusa out and live from it moment by moment. By doing this, we minimize the effects of the four forms of Avidya. A Spiritual Master is one who has completely uprooted the tree of Avidya forever and sees things as they really are. Thus, one of the names for the Buddha is “The Awakened One”.

How do we increasingly live from Purusa – the highest within us? The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali suggest three methods…

The first is actual practice of Yoga – both the physical postures and the breathing exercises. If this is something you feel comfortable with, it is definitely worth considering. There are many physical and mental benefits to be gained from a regular practice of Yoga, no matter how simple. However, be sure to consult your doctor before even contemplating such a regime, especially if you are over 40 and have never done it before. Yoga should only ever be learned in the beginning from a live teacher. Books are helpful as a supplement but should never replace live tuition. Regular Yoga does progressively diminish the force of Avidya in our lives.

The second method is through self-examination. Regular contemplation of our actions and habitual thought patterns will awaken us to take increasing responsibility for our lives. Meditation is one excellent method that can help. So too can keeping a Journal of our progress. Activities like these can break the habitual stimulus-response cycle , and place that moment of choice back in between the two. In other words, instead of responding automatically as we usually do, we can choose in that moment to act differently. We become increasingly conscious and responsible, instead of remaining creatures of habit.

The third method is to create a certain detachment to the actions of our life, and almost become an external observer. Rather than being an active participant, taking our hopes and dreams terribly seriously, we become more like an actor in a play, playing the part the best we can. This form of spiritual detachment does not mean we under-perform in life in any way. It merely means that we become more detached and objective about the movement of our lives; less elated when things go right and less distraught when disaster occurs. In this way the ego, and indeed all aspects of Avidya, are progressively weakened.

In truth, all three methods work best together. However, one or other approach can prove immensely beneficial. For most of us, Avidya will remain to some extent throughout our lives. However, the more we can live from the true spirit within, the Purusa, the more authentically we live our lives. We relate to others better, make better decisions, and the hold of ignorance upon our lives gradually diminishes. We become the best person we can possibly be and thereby benefit the world. Surely that is the goal of life ?

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Using A Journal For Personal Development

January 5, 2015

A great man once said that a life worth living is a life worth recording. With this truth in mind, let us examine the time-honored method of keeping a Journal as a powerful tool for self-improvement. Firstly, understand that a Journal is not a diary. Although the line is definitely blurred, a diary largely deals […]

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The Key Attitude For Success

February 6, 2014

There is one key factor that can do more to guarantee your success in life than anything else. Conversely, the absence of that factor will be a sure guarantee of a life of failure and almost continual disappointment. That key factor is responsibility. It sounds like something your mother told you when she was giving […]

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The Secret Of The Masters – Yours!

February 5, 2014

“It is only in the depths of silence that the voice of God can be heard.” Sai Baba It was Aleister Crowley who made a profound observation that I have always remembered from the time I first read it. He pointed out that there is one – and only one thing – in common in […]

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New Year Resolutions 2014

January 8, 2014

New year resolutions? Here are some of my thoughts on why so many people fail with new year resolutions, and how you can fix that so that you achieve the abundance and happiness that you deserve. I also suggest for you some ideas that are worth focusing upon in 2014. Perhaps you would care to […]

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Self Confidence: Your Greatest Challenge?

October 15, 2013

Each of us faces obstacles and challenges in life. We invariably feel that our lot is unduly tough and that perhaps other have it far easier. There is no doubt that many people do enjoy unprecedented good fortune from birth, be it a result of good karma or good fortune. However, they are the vast […]

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Law Of Attraction & Hypnosis Mind Power

December 5, 2012

After the movie “The Secret” came out, many people became engrossed with the Law of Attraction. If there’s a “secret” to attracting what you want in life, it’s only natural that a person would want to know what that secret was and how to apply it. Right? And so there arose a plethora of courses […]

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Brian Tracy’s Success Mastery Academy

September 10, 2012

Brian Tracy is one of the top self-help motivational speakers and teachers, and Success Mastery Academy is one of his very best products. I own a copy of this one myself and hence can personally vouch for the fact that Success Mastery Academy is a very powerful course of self improvement. Success Mastery Academy is […]

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Deepak Chopra’s Genesis!

August 29, 2012

Here is an excellent interview with Deepak Chopra about his origins… It seems hard to believe that Deepak Chopra owes his genesis to an attractive young female student who just happened to be sitting in the audience at a talk he gave at Harvard Divinity College But there we are. What is clear from all […]

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