Small and the Brain

To write about my latest experience with small, I have to make a confession: I spend too much time playing a game called “Wordscapes” on my phone. The game involves unscrambling six or seven letters to fill in a small crossword of about ten words, and I turn to the game much too often for much too long.

I’ve thought a lot about why I’ve become so “attached” to the game.
I have difficulty with transitions. Shifting from one activity to the next causes me some anxiety, and unscrambling letters attenuates this anxiety. I’m sure this anxiety is performance related. I’m a perfectionist, so mastering a mini-crossword must boost my confidence, reminding me that I love words and am pretty good—sometimes even perfect–at manipulating them.

So far, that’s the best explanation I’ve come up with for my near-addiction to Wordscapes. However, I’m quite certain there are others, and it’s only a matter of time until I unearth them. It could be that at times I overthink life, and that concentrating on unscrambling seven letters provides a respite from this overthinking. .

Every once in a while I get completely stumped by a set of letters, and cannot figure out the last word in the puzzle. When this happens, I’ve taken to handing my phone to Stephen. “I need help with a word,” I tell him, and usually he comes up with an answer. But every once in a while, he remains stumped as well.

This happened recently with the letters: miahsis. I had quickly found miss, mess, hams, shim, sham, his, has, sis, aims, but neither Stephen nor I could figure out the seven-letter word in the left-hand corner. Even after Stephen handed the phone back to me, I spent 15 minutes more minutes trying, then finally gave up.

About an hour later, as I was cleaning up after dinner, the word shashimi came to me. Just like that. Abracadabra. I wasn’t even thinking about the puzzle.

Every once in a while, I’ve been able to remember a name or a place I hadn’t been able to retrieve, once I stop trying. But I’ve never before solved a problem after I turned my attention to something else. I’m sure I could find neurological explanations for what happened the other night. But what mattered to me at the time was my realization that the brain can be working even when you are unaware of it.

And here’s where small enters the picture. Instead of simply thinking, Wow, the answer came to me when I didn’t expect it! I took several moments to appreciate the experience and marvel at the brain’s capacity to work unattended. From my brain, my mind traveled to our human body, which functions in so many amazing and complex ways, and whose exquisite ecology has become more and more important to me as I age. Then I moved out to the universe, which since I discovered small, has become even more full of wonder for me. As has my appreciation of my place within this universe.

By allowing my mind to rest upon what might have been a momentary experience, my thoughts became cosmic. All this, thanks to small.

The Small Before the Blossom


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