Like many of you, I’m naturally curious and I enjoy the adventure of new experiences. I’ve heard about sensory deprivation float experiences for some time, but I’d never done it myself. I recently decided to remedy that and went to a float center which had opened downtown. I didn’t read about the experiences others have had because I didn’t want to go in with any preconceptions or expectations. This took a surprising amount of effort. I read about the ganzfeld effect some time back and I’ve wanted to try out that experiment at home, figuring I’d have a trippy experience. I’m still going to try that. It just sounds cool: potentially having a contact-high-at-a-Grateful-Dead-concert experience while sitting in a chair without taking anything. Sounds like a party to me. However, I approached my float experience without imposing any structure on it, just wanting to see what it was like.
The tank was bigger than I thought it would be. There was plenty of room for me to sprawl out any way I like, and I could sit straight up and have at least two feet of space between the top of my head and the top of the tank. I’ve never had a problem with enclosed spaces or darkness anyway, so I closed the door to the tank and lay back to begin my float. Right away, I felt a sense of panic. I tried to keep floating until it passed, but my body said OH HELL NO and I sat bolt upright and opened the tank door. I didn’t know what the hell was going on, so I sat there and quietly recapped all the reasons I shouldn’t be freaking out. After a couple of minutes, I felt calm and decided to float for a bit with the door open. That’s when I realized what had happened earlier. Every other time I’ve floated on my back, it had been in a pool or some other body of water where I had to keep myself afloat and not sink. But because of the salt concentration in the tank water, I didn’t have to do a thing. Getting my body to just relax and not fight the science was weird at first, but it only took a minute to really relax once I started feeling it.
Next, I reached up and closed the tank door. As I floated in total darkness, my ears were below the surface of the water so I couldn’t hear anything except my own breathing and heartbeat. It was still a little loud and a little fast, but nothing like it had been. Being a horror movie fan, my mind started playing out all of these wild scenarios in which I could die in the tank: the bottom of the tank opens up and a shark grabs me, the water turns to lava, the tank explodes, or dozens of Final Destination-style contrivances. I could feel the effect those thoughts were having on my body even though I knew full well how ridiculous and impossible they actually were. Then I reached deep into my mental bag of tricks to a song by Art of Noise from back in the day. It begins with a female voice speaking with an English accent and a soothing tone, saying, “Relax. You’re quite safe here.” I played that part in my mind a few times, feeling my stress melt away as the thought really sank in and responding in my mind, “You’re right, sexy English lady.”
I kept my eyes open the whole float in order to avoid falling asleep. I didn’t fall asleep, but I did experience periods of complete silence in my mind in which I was only aware of my own breathing. I had no sense of time or spatial awareness, yet I was conscious. There were times when I tried to chase that sensation, but my mind just got flooded with noise. When I relaxed and just let go, that’s when I slipped into it without even noticing I had done so. It was very cool. I wouldn’t want to stay there all the time, though. I’d never get anything done and there’s a lot of cool things I enjoy thinking about. But it’s definitely nice to have a frame of reference to return to for deep mental relaxation.
I took that initial experience of fear and ran with it, seeing what I could learn from it. I knew everything was safe, but I still had a rush of fear during the initial experience. There’s a clear difference between knowing a thing and doing a thing. I could know all about the process and why it was safe, but I had to shut the door and lay back in order for any of it to mean anything. That got me asking myself this question: what else is there that I know but am afraid to do? The answers I came up with were enlightening. Having actually felt the difference between knowing and doing, it makes it easier to trust what I know and to face down the fear of doing. To draw firm boundaries without fear of repercussions. To cut people loose when the love is all one-sided without fear of never feeling it again. As big a grammar Nazi as I can be sometimes, I forget that living is a verb. I intend to do a lot more of it!