floating into nothingness

I’ve always known I have an active mind. But I never knew how screamingly, relentlessly active it was until a couple of weeks ago, when I spent 90 minutes alone in a sensory deprivation (isolation) tank.

It was quite serendipitous, really.  Last month I was on my way to a good friend’s place to begin a 4-week cat-sit, and I thought of an establishment that recently opened in my city – home to five such sensory deprivation tanks.  I’d like to try that someday, I thought.  The first thing I saw upon arriving at my friend’s place?  A voucher for a visit in one of these ‘float tanks’, as they’re also called.  She left it as a gift for me.

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I wasn’t sure what to expect, as I’ve never considered myself claustrophobic.  Being enclosed in  complete darkness, floating in a pool of water (would I really float?) sounded either completely relaxing or mildly terrifying.  On the day of my visit, the guy on staff was very friendly and (not surprisingly) extremely chill.  He gave me and another newbie a tour of the space, and showed us to our respective rooms.  My tank was filled with epsom salts – 800 lbs! – dissolved in water, which felt pleasantly warm against my skin.

As I closed the tank door and began my session, anxiety quickly crept in.  I was relieved that I could indeed float with no effort on my part, but the profound blackness and quiet was totally foreign to me.  As the minutes wore on, my uneasiness grew.   I have to lie here for 90 minutes?!  Holy shit, I am claustrophobic!  I began to panic.  I felt a million miles away from everyone and everything.  The most irrational fear-based thoughts engulfed me.  Some too embarrassing to mention here.  I felt completely alone and small.  What if they forget about me?   

Fortunately, a part of me could also see myself experiencing all this.  In those moments, I remembered that this was my mind and ego turned on full tilt as they – probably for the first time ever – had nothing to distract them.  And they were not happy about this.  They tried to convince me I was bored.   They tried to attack me with all sorts of flimsy arguments and crazed rationalizations and justifications and projections about…anything.

How do people find this relaxing?!   This is the most stressful thing ever!

And yet, there was no way I was leaving that tank.  This is your mind.  This fear of nothingness, of separation, is the undercurrent of your everyday life and you are seeing all the ways in which your mind tries to distract you and numb you from this fear.  And I understood that no amount of affirming or reading or philosophizing or Abraham-Hicks’ing will work if I am running from this place.

For 90 minutes I would experience waves of anxiety, panic, deep breathing…and relief when the mind actually would stop.

I’m pretty sure my experience would’ve been a whole lot different if I meditated more in general.  Even in meditation, though, my surroundings seem a lot closer, more palpable.  I can just open my eyes and everything will still be there.  I can still hear everything around me.  (My meditations obviously aren’t that deep.)  In the tank, there is nothing.  No escape, short of exiting the tank.  So the insanity of my mind was felt all the more intensely.

When it was time to emerge, I felt like I’d been through the wringer. I was practically hyperventilating.  After showering and getting my things together, I left the room in a slight daze. “That was intense,” I told the chill staff guy, now folding towels.  “Isn’t it great?” he responded.  “I love watching people come out of the tanks.  They’re always so glowing.”

I looked in the mirror.  He was right; I was glowing.  I walked home, still buzzed, and had the deepest, most relaxing sleep that evening.

***

Now that I’ve had some distance from the float tank experience, I no longer view it as terrifying.  Because now I can more identify with the space that contained it – with the part of me that was witnessing my struggle.  I caught a glimpse of something I cannot ignore. I feel relieved.  Instead of being scared by the nothingness of it all, I’m intrigued by what that space, that void, holds.  Is it really ‘nothing’, or just unknown to me?  Maybe I don’t need to fill it with anything.  There is a peace and curiousity within me.

The really funny thing?  Chill staff guy had informed me that I could have another session on the house, as construction had been taking place next door and it might have interfered with my experience.  (If it did, I didn’t notice.)

Something is clearly drawing me back into that tank.  I wonder where I will be carried to next…

50 thoughts on “floating into nothingness

  1. Pingback: entering the terrifying darkness…again | alohaleya

  2. I can’t believe I’m this behind on your blog!!! Obviously my life has been too chaotic. It’s April already. I can’t believe it.

    Anyway, I’m pretty sure I would have been a babbling fool after 90 minutes alone with myself. They’d probably have to check me into a mental hospital afterwards, haha, I don’t know.

    I struggle with meditation. Maybe what I really need is to cultivate more stillness. Hum. Something to think about trying.

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    • omg you’ve been busy girl! i mean in life, and in reading my blog! thanks my dear, i was thinking about you just yesterday and wonderin’ what’s going on in your world. i still have a free float session to use…

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  3. Great post. I’ve always wondered what it would be like but never had the chance to go. It sounds like the perfect place to confront your inner most fears and judgments. All conscious processes of the mind are directed to the ego. The ego wishes to survive and does so by perpetuating thought with experience. When there is nothing external to experience, ego is withwithout judgment which breaks the foundation it is based upon. It tries to judge nothing and gets confused and scared because it is unknown territory. It is territory which cannot be judged. No judgment extinguishes ego, ego then feels scared for without judgment, there is no need to for the ego. Thank you for sharing your experience

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    • you’ve perfectly expressed what i experienced. the ego was screaming but i knew i was there to face it. i mean, i’ve been aware of the ego, but this was something totally new. i can’t ever forget this experience, because this was not a one-time thing. this is underlying every minute of my life. the darkness, the nothingness, was extremely uncomfortable for me (for my ego)…but the void is the real, and it just means getting more comfortable with that silence. instead of drowning it out. the next experience will be interesting. 🙂 thank you for reading and for your comment! aleya

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  4. I love this experience you had… it would of freaked me out though… As you lay there I was thinking all we have to do surely is consciously breathe and connect with our core, a perfect opportunity… because when we are consciously breathing our mind cannot rant on and put the fear of glory into us… and you know what…. (and this is twice I have written it on your blog this morning) I thought, wouldn’t it be nice to do it again, breathing consciously this time and feel the difference… and just allow what ever to happen… great read thank you for sharing, Barbara x

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    • ah yes thank you, that’s exactly what happened. i was nervous going into but saw it as a kind of ‘forced meditation’ – hah! little did i know the mind would turn its gears on to the fullest! i have yet to make that second visit. but i know i will and i suspect it will not be the same…xo aleya

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  5. Okay is the synchronicity or what? In my Math class,(last week was the first week) my table mate works a Flotation Place, I kid you not. I have wanted to do it since I saw “Altered States” in 1980. So you beat me to it, as I haven’t got there yet. I however do not have claustrophobia, so I don’t think the deprivation will bother me but I will let you know.

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    • i love this synchronicity – and my friend gregory basically just said the same thing above (not the math part)! please let me know your thoughts when you do it. i think my next experience won’t be as intense. well it’ll probably be intense, but in a different way hehe. xox

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  6. Hey Girl, I am back! Loved Canada in winter hehe. Great to see you are doing some crazy sh.. too 🙂
    I’ve got a feeling that 2014 will be all about taking risks and pushing ourselves further along the roads of (self and Self) discovery.
    Btw you had a perfect cleansing experience. Even if it was scary, do it again 🙂 xox

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    • hello and welcome back and i am so glad you enjoyed my home and native land! hasn’t been much of a winter on my end though lol. 😉 YES to a new year of growth and expansion and testing new limits. and sharing our experiences. lots of love! and i will do it again! aleya

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  7. Whoa! Talk about the art of nothingness! This is truly a worthwhile experience. I am happy for you, sweets… you’ve been having a lot of awesome trippings lately… Lol!
    Now when only this kind gets to our end here… hmmm… I wonder how the community will react. 😉
    xo

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  8. What a great experience. I’ve been in salt tanks and even the Dead Sea and the lightness felt afterwards is a beautiful feeling but doing it in darkness throws a whole different challenging aspect over it. You could reach a real breakthrough in the next experience 🙂

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    • ooh i love those breakthroughs ;). the darkness was extremely challenging – particularly when i opened my eyes. a lot of fear arose when i stared out into the tank, eyes open, and couldn’t see a thing. so i didn’t do it for very long. (phew i get a little antsy just thinking about it!) glad i have another opportunity to face that again. thank you for your comment!

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  9. Wow, I really want to try it now! Totally relate to the ego crazyness..I did an intensive meditation weekend last year and although I am used to meditating, my mind started throwing totally crazy stuff at me after a while…exhausting! Love that it’s pulling you back… 🙂

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    • thanks :). now that i’ve experienced that level of mind chaos i’m forever changed- lol. i’m aware of how i distract myself with outer noise…all the time! and though i don’t really want to go to that blackness again…i’m so curious to see what it’ll bring up.

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      • I think the great thing (and helpful thing) to remember is that it’s never exactly the same…and the more present you are with each experience the more it flows through you and the quicker you evolve with it..
        You definitely have the right attitude anyway! I’ve found that as long as I maintain a posture of curiosity towards whatever crazy situation I’m putting myself in, I have an openness to whatever comes that allows it to just flow through me so I don’t get stuck…and as I learn that, I gain confidence and fear has less of a hold over me.

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  10. Thanks for sharing. I could really feel your experience from the words you used. I wouldn’t consider myself claustrophobic either but as I read your experience I know I would react the same way and would be terrified by my own mind and confinement. It sounds a very powerful experience to have, overall.

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    • yes it was really powerful. i wasn’t expecting it to be so intense. a big part of me is anxious about doing it again but now that i’ve experienced it i understand that that part of me is always operating anyway – the underlying fear, covered with mind chatter – so i want to experience it again, just to get more comfortable with that void. the blackness, the space, is the backdrop to my everyday life; it’s not going anywhere. but i’m feeling ok with it because i sense there are hidden treasures there.

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  11. I too think that nothingness is a basic fear of our heart and that fear drives us to fill it with “stuff”, including ego-intoxiated ideas. This exploration you are on is riveting and I appreciate you sharing it with us.

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    • thank you. it is so easy for us to fill it with stuff of all sorts. when we do face it, it is totally unfamiliar. i think it is that core fear of separation. but if we run from it we never get a chance to get to know what it’s about, get familiar with it. but maybe that’s the place from which everything starts. even though we don’t need to fill it with anything.

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  12. I am really glad you blogged about this because I have been curious about sensory deprivation tanks. I can totally relate to your ego rants. I am no stranger to these 🙂 Thank you for sharing this with us.

    peace,
    Linda

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    • thanks linda. the woman who had a session at the same time as me, also a newbie, found her session very relaxing. we chatted for a bit afterwards. so interesting how people can have such different experiences in there. maybe now that i know what to expect, the second time will be easier. we shall see! happy new year 🙂 aleya

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  13. That’s an experience. I like how you were able to step out of yourself once removed from the situation to see the bigger view. I have this problem, where I get caught up in a singular moment and the head noise caves me in…then I realize “oh, that’s not real”.

    I like this: “…I’m intrigued by what that space, that void, holds. Is it really ‘nothing’, or just unknown to me? Maybe I don’t need to fill it with anything. There is a peace and curiousity within me.”
    This is interesting and I like how you’re looking at it..the void. And now 90 minutes doesn’t seem that much when you step away. I like this a lot. It’s really a mind trick and we’re outsmarting the mind from it’s noise. But it also does take getting comfortable with uncomfortable. I’m looking forward to your next session. Love, Arifah

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    • thank you my dear friend. i have heard that people get addicted to floating, and i can see why. you just don’t get that kind of ‘nothingness’ very often, unless you are able to get into deep meditative states i guess. i think the universe decided to give me a big push into the experience! i have felt an odd calmness since. i don’t know how to describe it. like the nothingness was the only ‘real’ thing during all of it. hmmm.

      i like getting to know the nothingness…but i still wanna feel that big juicy love. like you do. hehehe. xox.

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