It took a whole year – literally! – but last weekend I revisited one of the scariest places I’ve ever been – a sensory deprivation (isolation) tank, aka ‘float tank’.
My first experience was, for the most part, harrowing. I had no idea what to expect, as I never considered myself claustrophobic. (Then again, I’d never been enclosed in a small space, floating on water, in complete silence and blackness.) I didn’t know just how deafening my mind was (is), until I had to spend 90 minutes tuned into its inane soundtrack, with no distractions whatsoever!
It wasn’t all terrifying; there were moments of stillness and peace. And for weeks after, I couldn’t stop thinking about that darkness. Why had I been so scared of it? What made that void so powerful? Was there anything beyond the fear? What possibilities could be created from that space of nothingness?
Well, a year later, I decided to revisit the tank. I was slightly dreading the experience; I remembered some of the ridiculous thoughts that plagued me the first time around (What if there’s an earthquake and no one can save me?), and I did not feel like reliving all that again. But, as I’d realized after my first session: that enclosed, dark place isn’t just located in that chamber. It’s always there. Lurking in my consciousness, guiding my every day reactions and decisions. In the tank, I can’t avoid it. Sure, I can physically get out…but it will follow me. So I knew I had to face it again.
Almost immediately after starting my float, I felt petrifying fear at my core. I became aware of acute pain in my neck and shoulders, which lasted throughout the session. Adrenaline coursed through me and I often felt short of breath. Is this how I feel all the time, and just don’t notice it?
Lying there in complete stillness, I felt defenceless. I am very vulnerable in this place…open to attack…I need to be on guard in case something unexpected happens…When I let my guard down is when there will be attack…I’m a mouse, not a lion…I live in fear, trying to control every aspect of my life…
The fear made me hold my breath. Which made me start to panic. Which only made me more fearful!
Then I would remember to breathe. Deeply. And remind myself that it’s not the situation itself that makes me hyperventilate – it’s my thoughts about what could happen. Thoughts that, no matter how ludicrous, seem so real they take on a life of their own, distorting my reality so that I’m blinded to everything else.
In this void, there was nothing to hold onto, to ground me. There was no ‘Aleya’ here. I was reminded of a previous Ayahuasca journey, where my physical reality dissolved in front of my very eyes. My ego did not enjoy that one bit, and the experience still haunts me to this day. I also remembered being in my ex’s presence years ago, and feeling an immense void within. It was something he could never fill, and we both knew it. He was showing me something I’d have to face on my own, sooner or later. It came sooner than I wanted it to.
We are told to ‘look within’ to find love. But this has often felt very conceptual. Many spiritual teachings refer to a loving Mother/Father God, a universe that only wants the best for us. And this is such sweet relief for those of us who grew up in religious upbringings with a judgemental, patriarchal God. In environments where we became intensely self-policing in order to avoid disapproval and punishment, because in survival mode, disapproval = death.
What if I look within…and there is nothing there?
This is the core of all my fear. And it stops me from seeing what could be on the other side of it.
What if there actually was an earthquake? I let myself really sink into that fear, and stay with it. My resistance yielded a little. Even if the worst did happen, I would be ok. This body in the tank wasn’t all of me. I sensed something dormant – huge creative reserves I have not yet tapped into. Are they really there? What will activate them?
I pictured myself floating on a beautiful amber-pink liquid – the colour of a soft sunset. I imagined my little self in the womb, about to emerge into this world. What would I want her to know? That her only ‘mission’ is to live this expression called Aleya, and let her do what she loves to do, no questions asked. Living the expression is enough. On a cosmic level, it’s doing more than she can consciously comprehend.
Will I do another float? Yes, definitely. There are many treasures in this darkness.