The Flash

Flash of insight. Flashback. Hot flash.

I sometimes wake up in the wee hours – well, that specific wee hour when no matter how cool the room in which I sleep, my body becomes suffused with warmth. I can feel the heat flowing down my arms and legs the way honey flows down the spout of a honey jar. Slowly, deliberately, inevitably.

This is my own gentle version of the hot flash. I get, at most, one a day, in the dark hours between midnight and dawn. I don’t really mind them. I toss a leg out from under the covers, or throw back the sheets, let the cool air hit my skin and I drift back to sleep, only to waken some time later, shivering. Nine times out of ten, the flash of heat is accompanied by a flash of insight. Or at least a thought worth thinking.

Just as my body volunteers to turn pink and toasty, my mind volunteers little jewels for me to ponder in my attenuated state of alpha brain activity, as I rapidly slide back into sleep. If I don’t have the energy or wherewithal to jot down a clue to my morning self, I lose it for good.

Sometimes, that middle night waking brings another kind of flash. A flash from the past. An image, idea or whole memory blossoms in my occipital lobe, or cerebrum, and then exists there for me to examine, peacefully, as I doze off and on and finally succumb to sleepier brain waves, like theta, or delta. (Why do the stages of sleep sound like rushing a fraternity? But that’s not important right now.)

So I got to thinking about how we humans have attached the same word, flash, to these different phenomena. A flash is a burst. A burst of light, or a burst of “an emotional mood or intellectual activity” (Encarta via Word). It is, by definition, sudden and brief.

I guess a true genius has flashes of insight even when the mind is alert. Though I am willing to bet that, no matter how wide awake Mozart, Hildegard of Bingen, or Goethe were when their inspiration came, they were smart enough to write it down before they forgot.

Why, I wonder, does the mind work that way? In flashes? Hot flashes aside, it is the flashing mind that fascinates me. The brain, in all its wave formations, wakeful or sleepy, sober or intoxicated, has its moments when insight, memory, understanding, creation flash upon it. When everyone is a genius. When we access the widely-advertised unaccessed part of our brains.

Sometimes the flash cascades and we can keep the momentum going. (Or rather, the momentum keeps going and we have little to do with it except to ride the wave.) That happens when I write, sometimes (not today, though). I feel the sparkling, flashing brain thing happen and it continues, like a very long mental orgasm that goes and goes until something stops it. I get hungry or my leg falls asleep or the phone rings. Life.

When a mental flash occurs, for me at least, it is indeed as sudden and unexpected as my body’s epiphanies of warmth in the middle of the night. I don’t seem able to initiate, control or stop it. My mind reels at what my mind can do. I have concluded that I am my own best teacher. I just have to show up, do my homework, and pay attention when the flashes come.



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