Upon Waking, I’ve Had This Odd Experience — How About You?

I was recently re-reading C. S. Lewis’s memoir Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life, and I was struck by his excellent description of something that I’d often experienced, but never been able to put into words.

He wrote:

“It was more like when a man, after long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake.”

I’ve had exactly that experience: I’m in bed, I’m awake, but I’m not yet aware that I’m awake, and then slowly I do become aware that I’m awake.

I’ve often thought that this moment in my day is when I come closest to experiencing impersonal awareness — of being conscious, yet not having any sense of being “me.”

I’m present, but in a wholly impersonal way.

Then it’s an odd sensation when I do become “me,” when I begin to have thoughts like, “How soon do I have to get up?” “What’s the day of the week?” “What do I have to do today?”

Before that switch, however, I’m just…aware.

Am I right that when people meditate, they’re trying to get a place like this? Thoughts happening, perception happening, but apart from personality.

Is this what “thoughts without a thinker” looks like?

This experience isn’t under my conscious control. I can’t get to this state — I wake into it, and then it dissipates. (And as I describe in Better Than Before, I tried meditating, and gave it up because it did nothing for me.)

Perhaps relatedly, and I’ve never heard of anyone else experiencing this: I will experience my hearing turning “on.” I’ll be lying in silence, and then suddenly I’ll begin to hear the radio (for better or worse, my husband and I sleep with all-news radio playing all night).

I’ve had this happen while I’m awake, too. I’ll be thinking hard about something, and there will be silence, then suddenly something clicks “on” and I hear noises. It’s pretty weird.

These are such fleeting, inchoate moments…they’re hard to articulate.

Have you ever experienced this?

This waking-up experience is odd. Almost pleasant. Consciousness, but without ambition, worry, planning, reminders, judgment, and all that other noise.

  • Tania Stanwood

    This is fantastic. I’ve had some feelings like this but could not find the words to express how it feels. I find myself becoming awake. Waking up from a troubled life, I have found inspiration in a book by Tom Gehring, tomgehring.com called The Problem Solver. It’s amazing that just reading the right thing at the right time can send you on the path to a whole new way of life. I needed that little push!

  • Cliff Rhodes

    I also believe that actual work can also become a meditative state. A person goes through the same rhythm-like repetition, provoking thoughts to appear while concentrating, and of course reaching deep to find that elevated state of perfection in spirituality. One is truly accomplishing something; as in having words on paper when a writer makes the enumeration of chapters in a book, or designing a physical structure like a storyboard, with something to hold in your hand and envision an outcome. Meditation does not have to exist only in a stagnant state of being immobile or concentrating only on a one syllable word. Awake can also be defined as being cognizant of achieving something on the order of creativity in motion, like painting or drawing. Being awake within your own mental state can have several different layers, not only as the instant of opening the eyes in bed at an early stage of a morning ritual, but it can also happen all through the day when you experience that surge of awareness.

  • statmam

    My hearing sometimes turns on while I’m still having the last dream of the night. Then somehow the outside sound is effortlessly incorporated into the storyline of the dream in progress. If only my brain were that facile the rest of the day!

    • gretchenrubin

      I’ve had that happen, too.

  • Cate Tucker

    An all news radio is on all night…what station?

  • Andra Maria Gill

    Is this kind of like the opposite of when you’re in a dream and you say to yourself, wake up and you kind of feel yourself being pulled from one dimension of your dream into awareness in your physical body?


  • Charlotte

    My hearing being “turned on”; yes! And this is the first time I’ve heard anyone else experiencing the same thing. Strangely, I am very easily disturbed by sounds, I have a hard time tuning out when I really need to. My hearing is “off” only sometimes after I wake up (not from the alarm, obviously) in the morning.

  • MaggieRose59

    My husband and I both experience this, but only on weekends when we are not using the alarm. I too tried meditation (many long years ago when I was young and impressionable). It didn’t do anything for me either. I found it hollow and arbitrary. The mantras have no meaning. It is just empty. Deep prayer is something altogether different. To experience God’s presence is very tangible. Rather than trying to empty your mind of thoughts and problems (which is actually impossible) to direct them to someone else. Someone who has the power to bring you peace and carry you through.

  • Mimi Gregor

    I especially enjoy those rare times when I am half-asleep and half-awake and in the middle of a dream. For a brief instant, one reality is super-imposed over the other, with the dream reality slowly fading and giving way to physical reality. During these times, I can sometimes still “hear” my dreams as I look out at my physical bedroom. This is called a hypnogogic state, and it is WAY cool!

    • statmam

      Thanks for providing the term, Mimi. This Questioner wants to learn more and needed something to look up…

  • Ash101

    Hah – my example is not so pleasant: Labor before the epidural. I was aware in the sense that I knew I was in pain. But I had no idea that I was a human, or an Ashley, or even an I. I had no idea that those concepts existed, either. Looking back now, I think I must have been more like a wounded animal than anything else.

    This is why I think epidurals are such a great thing for women’s dignity. It enabled me to undertake this extremely difficult thing while still feeling like a human being.

  • carolineeeeeeee

    Thandie Newton gave a wonderful TED talk on that self-less feeling. I listen to it at least once a year because it’s a great reminder to stop hyper-focusing on the busy insular world of my mind.

    I think this is why a lot of people love music- – a really powerful song can make me feel like I’m a part of the music and not trapped in my body just listening to it.