Tag Archives: C. S. Lewis

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.

“Have You Heard It? Can You Remember?”

“The castle of Cair Paravel on its little hill towered up above them; before them were the sands, with rocks and little pools of salt water, and sea weed, and the smell of the sea, and long miles of bluish-green waves breaking forever and ever on the beach. And, oh, the cry of the sea gulls! Have you heard it? Can you remember?”

— C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

This passage has always stayed in my mind, as the best evocation of the feeling of being at the sea shore that I’ve ever read.

Also, as a writer, I’ve thought a lot about the oddities of this passage — why it’s effective, and how I could learn from it.

Did you read the Narnia books when you were a child–or now, as an adult? I’m home in Kansas City for my high school reunion, and I came across my sister’s old copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I’ve read this book a hundred times, and I love it more each time.

“When I Became a Man I Put Away Childish Things, Including the Fear of Childishness.”

“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

–C. S. Lewis, “On Three Ways of Writing for Children

When I decided to Be Gretchen, and indulge my passion for children’s literature in a big way, this essay by C. S. Lewis helped me to understand why I loved these books so much, and why I should embrace it. (You can read more about this in The Happiness Project, chapter five.)

Is there anything in your life that you don’t indulge in, because you think it’s not grown-up enough? I was charmed to hear that a friend regularly plays Four Square with her three adult sisters.

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“As Long as I Live My Imagination of Paradise Will Retain Something of My Brother’s Toy Garden.”

“Once in those very early days my brother brought into the nursery the lid of a biscuit tin which he had covered with moss and garnished with twigs and flowers so as to make it a toy garden or a toy forest. That was the first beauty I ever knew. What the real garden had failed to do, the toy garden did. It made me aware of nature—not, indeed, as a storehouse of forms and colors but as something cool, dewy, fresh, exuberant….As long as I live my imagination of Paradise will retain something of my brother’s toy garden.” – C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy

I have a passionate love for miniatures, and I understand completely the enchantment of this tiny garden. When I was young, I used to play with a hose at the base of  a tree that had a very complex sets of roots. I’d make pools, waterfalls, and gardens there.

For you Tolstoy fans–this passage also reminds me of how Tolstoy’s older brother told him about the hidden green stick that contained the secret that would bring happiness to the world. “This secret he said he had written on a green stick buried by the road at the edge of a certain ravine, at which spot (since my body must be buried somewhere) I have asked to be buried in memory of Nikolenka.”