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

Photo of the sky with clouds

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.

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

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