Even if things get heavy, we’ll all float on -Modest Mouse
(photo via landenwilson)
There is something about a novel challenge that I can’t resist. I’ll participate in things like Warrior Dash, because kids and grandparents seem to find hurdling over fire-logs the bee’s knees. However, the ultimate goal is to take on Tough Mudder and even the Death Race. After swimming with sharks, skydiving and a one-armed rock climb, I’ve been on the lookout for anything that will push me way outside of my comfort zone, and that is when I found the Float Tank.
Although it’s not a physical challenge, the float tank is the only earthly vehicle that removes all external stimuli and leaves you with nothing but the sponge between your ears to take over. Literally, the depths of your mind take the steering wheel and “you” are somewhat out of “control”, depending on how well you can handle your imagination. I think they call this an “enhanced interrogation technique” in some cases but this experience is completely voluntary and very eye-opening.
As far as I know, floating isn’t the big to-do right now and I believe that hipsters haven’t even caught on to this one yet; however, there was one phrase associated with it that compelled me to hunt a tank down:
Limitless Brain Power
Since I always get asked how this works, I’ll give you the skinny. This light and sound proof tank is not quite big enough to hold a NBA center, contains 2 and a half feet of water mixed with 800 pounds of epsom salt; making me completely buoyant. The water is raised to the temperature of my skin so that once completely still, I cannot tell the difference between the air above me and the water below, which equates to zero gravity.
Oh, and I’m naked. Let’s recap:
Let the games begin
I shut the lid to the tank and laid myself back in the water. I knew that it was best to relax and submerge my ears, so I did just that. It took around 20 seconds to completely lose my depth perception and only a few minutes to be unsure if my eyes were open or closed. All of the sudden, it felt as if I had a mile between myself and the walls in every direction. It creeped me out and I bumped into the sides of the tank a few times. I focused on deep breathing with my eyes partially closed and became relaxed enough to lie completely still.
Then, all hell broke loose.
Houston, we have a problem
Let me tell you something about yourself that you do not know: You have no clue what is going on in the depths of your mind when it doesn’t have to process any input whatsoever (like, sitting in a chair). I never could have guessed that I had subconsciously locked away emotional baggage until my other senses shut down while floating. In a matter of minutes, I was faced with two damaging memories; Both of which I knew were long resolved… or at least I thought that they were.
When the memories first surfaced, my brain immediately went into defense mode. Heavy distractions ranging from music to my calendar obligations began to intrude, nearly preventing me from getting anything accomplished. I spontaneously said the word “stop”. The sound reverberated in the tank so intensely that I still don’t know if I said it out loud or imagined it, but what happened next blew me away. The “images” of the memories lined up like a slide-show on a reel to reel. I was able to pull them into a full screen view or discard them by flipping it to the side as if they were on an iPad.
I kept maneuvering through each bad experience associated with these two memories, finally seeing them for exactly what they were, until everything went “dark” again. I’ve never had such clarity and objectivity during any kind of concentration, especially regarding bad memories. It was as if I gave them a handshake to say “farewell… thanks for stopping in… deuces”.
A complete 180 degree turn
Now, I’m worry-free, chillin’ in the tank. I let my mind wander and began to have intense goal visualizations. Physical fitness, professional projects, dating (and its irrelevancy) and past, inspirational conversations all came into a clear focus that I have found to be unachievable in the regular world. Unless you are the Dalai Lama, I’m more or less guaranteeing that you’re not hitting these mental wavelengths. I’m not a pro at meditation by any means, so anything is possible… but my guess is that you would have to spend years practicing cross-legged mindfulness and concentration to reach what I did in my first 20 minutes in sensory deprivation. I wandered through these goals being unaware of anything else, including my state of consciousness until my time was complete.
Un-Prepared for landing
When the knock at the door came to let me know that my time was up, it was more disorienting than any hangover rouse I have encountered. I could not tell if the knock was real, if I were alive or dead, or if I had been asleep the whole time. I was sure that my time couldn’t have been up because it didn’t seem as though I had been floating for very long, but sure enough, an hour and fifteen minutes had passed. I stepped out of the tank and into the adjacent shower and tried to process what just happened. I could not. The only thing that I could comprehend was the feel and sound of the water rushing over me and the sensation of my feet touching the floor. That is what mindfulness is supposed to be like.
I didn’t know it right away, but this was a challenge of peace and quiet. I never turn my iPhone off, typically fall asleep with it in my hand, I’m always connected, on the go, and my calendar looks like an advanced game of Tetris. Even though I somewhat prefer it that way, I never realized how distracting it really was until I stepped out of the tank. I used to scoff at my small town family for questioning my tolerance for all of the “big city” noise. I never understood it until I took a stroll through my small hometown late at night, shortly after floating. I had a moment of panic when I literally thought I went deaf because I couldn’t hear anything, but it was just that quiet. I made myself stop to appreciate the calm and happened to get some quality thinking done.
Serenity is something that most of us are not privy to anymore, so I encourage you to seek it out. Whether it is floating, sitting in a cave during a hike, staying in my hometown where AT&T phone service is nill, or hanging out on a remote island - find a place to completely disconnect every once in awhile, and appreciate the feeling that arises when your brain literally resets itself.
io9 article: Sensory Deprivation