Creating ‘In Your Own Time’ – Like a Jigsaw Puzzle
In a world where we are inundated by advice on countless life-defining themes, why do we still seem to have to learn everything ‘by trial and error’? This was one of the many soul-searching questions that led me to the ‘life as a jigsaw puzzle’ metaphors and eventually, InYourOwnTime.
I usually say that I was inspired to create InYourOwnTime, and I mean that in the literal sense of the word because I felt it was ‘breathed in – as if arising from some external creative impulse’ in the space of a couple of weeks.
The barely undecipherable scribbles that I made at the time are graphic streams of consciousness – my frantic attempts to write as quickly as the ideas were flowing into my mind. Ideas that ‘came to me’ as disjointed pieces of a puzzle, slowly coming together to reveal the clues to most of the life questions I had been asking myself for decades.
Perhaps one day I’ll write about the ‘decades’ but for now, I just want to provide some background to the time leading to that January in 2008.
I had just spent a year going through the excruciating grief for the loss of a 15-year relationship and the cold practicalities of a divorce that I hadn’t seen coming, did not want and was struggling to accept. My entire family was an ocean away, I was disillusioned with the financial trappings of a job I no longer enjoyed, I was too depressed to ‘take the easy way out’ and too overwhelmed to see a way forward.
It was in this state of mind that I made a trip back to Brazil to spend Christmas with my family, in the hope that I could reconnect with some resemblance of meaning and purpose in life. I soon realised that the change was just geographical and I was still carrying all the weight of sadness that I had taken there with me. Back in England, I busied myself with work, devouring every self-help book I could get my hands on and surviving day-to-day. It was a profoundly introspective few weeks.
Good quality sleep is something that has eluded me for as long as I remember, so I have always tried to compensate for it by staying in bed as late as the snooze button would allow. But on the 23rd of January 2008, I found myself bizarrely alert and wide awake at around 4 in the morning. So awake in fact, that instead of attempting to get back to sleep, I decided to go through my usual morning routine and have a shower.
That shower was a sensory experience that I have never been able to fully explain or feel again since. Not sensory in a sensual or sexual way, but sensory as in being acutely aware of and totally in tune with every touch, sight and sound as if for the very first time. I went back to my bedroom and there, in my bathrobe and still in some sort of trance, I felt this overwhelming urge to get down on my knees and then, sobbing uncontrollably, I found myself saying out loud (to an empty house) that I had run out of ideas, that I did not know what to do next, that I was deeply sorry and begged forgiveness for any wrong I may have caused to myself or anyone, ever. I don’t know how long I stayed there, on the floor, sobbing. It felt like surrender but not in a ‘giving up’ sort of way – more like wholeheartedly ‘letting go’ and ‘allowing’.
Although I was raised in a Catholic tradition, I have never been able to identify myself with any religion or religious practice. At that time, I would have described myself as ‘spiritual’ merely because of my innate feeling that we are more than what we can perceive with our physical senses. I was not even familiar with concepts such as ‘mindfulness’ or ‘being in the present’ so I had no vocabulary or logical explanation to help me make sense of what I had just gone through.
I have pondered for months on whether or not to include these details here. Too personal. Too precious. Too vulnerable. But I am absolutely convinced that it was this ‘mindful surrender’ that propelled the shift from trauma to growth, the unfolding of perhaps the most life-enhancing breakthrough I have ever experienced. I felt lighter, awake, transformed from within even though everything and everyone around me remained exactly as before. Intense awareness – these were the best words I could find.
Analogies and metaphors have been a significant feature in my life, although I was not aware of just how much I used them until I had this pointed out to me at a workshop, in the early 1990s. It is possible that back then, analogies served as a tool to make sense of my world and to express myself in a foreign language; although as I improve my command of English, I seem to value and use them even more. So it is perhaps not surprising that an analogy was in itself an important piece of a puzzle that led me to create InYourOwnTime.
When I was in Brazil, a friend gave me a book for Christmas that she had just finished reading and was raving about. When I got back to England I tried to read it but I could not get on with it – I thought it was because it was in Portuguese and maybe it was a poor translation. It said that “thoughts attract ‘like thoughts‘ as if they were a magnet” and to me this was a poor analogy because one thing I know about magnets is that ‘same poles repel and different poles attract’.
Anyway, in my state of ‘intense awareness’, even my routine drive to work or nursing my nasty cold led to profound insights – so I thought I’d go back to that book which was so highly recommended. But I still could not get past the first few pages. I decided to go to a bookshop to see if I could find the English version. They didn’t have the book but what I found on the shelf was a merchandise from it: ‘The Secret Gratitude Book’ – which incidentally is not a book, just a pretty journal for you to jot down the things you feel grateful for – the 4 page introduction struck a chord with me and offered greater insight to what I had been feeling: a blissful sense of gratitude.
I suppose the reason I had not yet made the link with gratitude up to that point was that I was still divorced, I was still in the same job, I was still in England, it was still winter, I still had a cold – and yet, ‘an attitude of gratitude’ definitely illustrated my state of being at that time. And I was immensely grateful that the book I had dismissed had led me to this little journal and this insight.
I was so grateful in fact, that I went back to that wretched book for a third time and there – just one paragraph below the ‘magnet’ analogy that had stopped me twice before – was another analogy: “that just like we have to be tuned in to a particular television channel depending on what pictures we wish to see, we also have to tune our thoughts to a particular frequency depending on how we wish to feel” – and just like that, I got it! This one analogy gave me one of the most important insights of my life. It was probably the only lesson I took from the whole book and I was beyond intrigued by the convoluted way that I was led to it.
I called one of my best friends in Brazil and related the story to her. She laughed and teased me because she said she had told me about this book a year earlier. I was astonished. I had had the chance to gain this particular insight a year before, from a dear friend instead of a book, and I couldn’t even remember her mentioning it to me. She joked that I never took any notice of what she said and that, me being a ‘book-ish’ person; I had to wait to see it in print. I told her that I didn’t particularly rate the whole book, but it did contain this one piece of information that proved extremely significant to me, like a key piece in a puzzle. And, perhaps the main reason I did not ‘get it’ a year ago was that I had not been ready (not in the right frequency!) to receive ‘it’. And that was that… “Life is like a jigsaw puzzle”. My mind for analogies and metaphors went on overdrive.
“Linking one small piece can sometimes reveal a vital message about your whole puzzle”
“You may notice a piece, touch it or dismiss it several times until you are able to see the link”
In the two weeks that followed, I seemed to have gone into a furiously creative mode where I would have to stop in the middle of whatever I was doing because of this urge to write these insights, these puzzle metaphors. Sometimes I would reflect on an event in my life and that would lead to an insight of how it fit within the puzzle metaphor; and sometimes it would be a puzzle metaphor that would lead me to make sense of previous experiences.
Those who know me well will confirm that my need for being organised and methodical is at times bordering on obsessive. My ‘notes’ were anything but organised – I just had to scribble the words down, quickly, mostly in English but occasionally in my native language – Portuguese. I had no idea why I felt compelled to capture my thoughts in writing – I was not in the habit of keeping a journal – but I knew it had to be written down.
I also knew that although the metaphors – on life as a jigsaw puzzle – were important, the key element bringing everything together was the notion that we have to be ready, in the right frequency, in the right point in our journey in order to make sense of our ‘pieces’. I wrote:
“It will move you if it hits a nerve – and it will hit a nerve if it speaks your language and it fits in with your puzzle and you are in the right frame of mind to receive it. In Your Own Time.”
On the 27th January 2008, despite not having the faintest idea what to do with it, I bought the ‘inyourowntime.org’ domain – originally I went for ‘.org’ because ‘.com’ and ‘.co.uk’ were already taken, but as time progressed, I felt that what I working on was more in line with typical service and community sites using this domain than the commercial ‘.com’ ones.
The domain name was in itself another piece of the puzzle. I wrote it down – www. inyourowntime .org – and seeing all the letters, all the ‘pieces’ linked together, gave me insight to the individual messages within it: in time, in you n me, our own, your time, in your own time…
For the next couple of years, I kept working on it, learning from it and growing through it. This was also the time when I decided to leave my well-paid job, sell my house and – at the age of 42 – embarked on a 3 year, full-time psychology degree. But that is another story…
By the end of 2011, I had come up with the logo, the postcard format and a packaging design that I was happy with. I got a couple of hundred copies printed, mainly for close friends and family, and sent some to a few literary agents but nothing came of it. Most of my friends and family (with a couple of exceptions) were impressed by how it looked, but did not understand or knew what to make of it. Some of the literary agents that bothered to respond were encouraging but told me that since it was not ‘a proper book’ they could not take it on.
In September 2013, I self-published InYourOwnTime as an eBook. It was obviously exciting to see it ‘published’ and to give it even if only the slightest chance of someone finding a version of it online. But it was a related event that revealed another key piece to my puzzle.
Apparently, the British Library – under the British National Bibliography catalogue – lists all books published or distributed in the United Kingdom and Ireland since 1950 and eBooks since 2003. This is required by law and was handled by my self-publishing house with no input from me. I was thrilled to learn that InYourOwnTime is listed under ‘Philosophy and Psychology’, and more precisely, in the ‘Self-actualization (psychology)’ section. Why is this significant? Because it was my interest on ‘self-actualization’ and ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs’ that inspired me to pursue a psychology degree. I felt as if I had gone full circle.
Since then, I tried to get on with grown-up life away from InYourOwnTime, with varying degrees of success. I feel alive and aligned with the best version of me when I am in the flow of it – I feel disengaged and disjointed when I try to ignore the pull of it.
It is true that InYourOwnTime helps me connect with my joy but it is also true that whenever I find myself struggling with a question or challenge in my life, I am drawn to it. Sometimes, as I reflect on a particular problem I’m working on, I take out a random card from the box as guidance or inspiration. I know they are my words but I am still stunned because I always seem to pull up ‘the right metaphor’ for what I need to hear at that particular time. I have also printed some of the metaphors as (guess what!) ‘magnets’ and stuck them on my fridge – they are like a wise friend, who always seem to know what to say.
Metaphors are definitely the ‘right shape’ for my puzzle because they allow me to communicate and understand complex issues from a simpler, clearer perspective.
In my most recent job with psychological therapies, I seem to have gained somewhat of a reputation for my use of analogies to help clients gain insight into themselves and their mental health. In my personal life, the ‘life as a puzzle’ metaphors are the main tool I use to remind myself that life is a journey and that we learn from appreciating each step (linking each piece) even when we already know what the destination (the final picture) is. InYourOwnTime is also teaching me about staying present, about acceptance and about letting go of resistance to ‘what is’.
It is my most sincere wish that, in sharing InYourOwnTime and the pieces of my life puzzle with you, I can help you to identify your own pieces and to gain your own insights.
Are you ready to make the next link?