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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 to a place like this? Thoughts happening, perception happening, but apart from personality.

Is this what “thoughts without a thinker” looks like? @gretchenrubin (Click to Tweet!)

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.


Gretchen Rubin is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller The Happiness Project—an account of the year she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier—and the recently released Happier at Home and Better Than Before. On her popular blog, The Happiness Project, she reports on her daily adventures in the pursuit of happiness. For more doses of happiness and other happenings, follow Gretchen on Facebook and Twitter.

Image courtesy of Wokandapix.

January 21, 2017