One of the most beautiful manifestations of Buddhist meditative practices is the creation of mandalas of sand, those elaborate and colorful works of art that once completed are swept away. I have always admired the painstaking precision and care of the monks who create them. Yet I can’t imagine in this lifetime having the time or commitment to engage in such an undertaking.
What can the Average Buddhist do to approximate a similar exercise in creation and destruction?
There was a long period in my life during which I forgot about the joy of puzzle building. When I was a child, I used to voraciously build puzzles on the weekends. My parents enjoyed puzzles as well and we sometimes turned them into family projects.
About two years ago, I was poking around in my parents’ basement sifting through old things and I found a shelf full of their old thousand-piece puzzles. I felt like I’d discovered buried treasure! Before the end of the evening, the puzzles were dusted off, packed up and stacked in my car heading home with me.
Before long, I discovered that puzzle holders had been developed since I had last engaged in serious puzzle building. These are cloths with cylinders you can use to roll your puzzle up to keep it out of the way when its in an unfinished state. What an invention! Soon, I had found some additional puzzles at the toy store and AC Moore that I added to my stash.
Initially, I didn’t recognize any potential connection to my Buddhist practice. I just thought about how I had rediscovered an old joyful hobby. First, I finished on puzzle that I had purchased partly because the design matched the colors of my office. I went out and got the puzzle glue and framed it and it’s now hanging over my desk.
Then I finished the second puzzle – a thousand-piecer of tropical fish – that had come from my parents’ stash. It was challenging. It was…too pretty to just disassemble…So, I slipped it off of the puzzle holder and under the glass of our family room table, where we could all enjoy looking at it.
I moved on to a puzzle given to me by a friend. The center of the puzzle was in the shape of a house. The design of the puzzle itself was a map of our town with the house-shaped piece centered over our address. This puzzle was smaller, only a few hundred pieces, but it was a real bear! I discovered that the way the puzzle was build, I could accidentally put together two pieces that didn’t actually go together. Ahhh! It took a loooooong time to finish that one. Once it was done, I decided that it was worthwhile to replace the fish with this new masterpiece.
Then my daughter had a temper tantrum.
This is when I first figured out that puzzles are a good exercise in embracing impermanence.
The next puzzle I worked on came in a cute little suitcase-shaped box and had a design of Boston and various symbols of Boston. Once again, the pieces were deceptive and easy to link together incorrectly. This one was larger than the town puzzle though. So, it took longer to put together. Under the glass it went.
This time I knew my plan. I would leave it there long enough to enjoy for a while and then take it apart. When I sat down with the box and started pulling the pieces apart, my daughter asked me why I was taking apart the pretty puzzle? My reply was simple:
“It’s just time.”
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