It must have been early May when an old friend of mine shared with me her mystical experience of the isolation tank, also known as the sensory deprivation tank or the floatation tank. The concept was so new and fantastical that I had to try it out. Months later, I was visiting another dear friend in Sterling Heights, Michigan when a window of opportunity to try a float turned up on a warm afternoon. Needless to say, experiences like these leaves one forever changed!
Getting started with the float
I walked into a cozy reception that resembled that of a spa. The aromatic fragrance in the air and the mild sound of dripping water from an indoor fountain blending softly into a soft nature sound track created a nearly meditative environment. The attendant greeted me gently and ushered me to the chamber where I would be floating.
The room was spacious with shower facilities and the isolation/float tank that looked like a 4′ x 4′ x 8′ side-loading dryer! The tank was filled with a foot of water and lit with mild pink light. I was told that it contains 200 gallons of water (~800 liters) with 850 lbs (~400 kgs) of Epsom salt dissolved in it. The salt made the water so dense that when I would lay flat, I’d float like wood on water.
As instructed, I removed everything I was wearing, took a shower and sat in the tank. I pulled the door shut with the soft light in the tank lit, and the soothing music playing. As I laid down gingerly on the water, I was magically afloat with no effort at all. Just as I was getting comfortable with the feeling of weightlessness, the lights and the music started to fade. The journey had begun!
The first few minutes
It was noisy. Inside my head that is. My eyes blinked in the confusion of pitch darkness. I cannot recount a time when I had found myself in a place so still. The water was warmed so comfortably that I could barely feel the texture of water on my skin. With my ears submerged I could hear nothing but the faint sound of my racing heart trying desperately to make peace with the new setting.
Minutes passed… or maybe they didn’t. There was no way of telling. It occurred to me then that I have always perceived time as a function of activity – days with a lot happening felt incredibly short, and ones without were too long. At the moment, all activity was absent. I had encountered the feeling of disconnection briefly in meditation, but it had never been this complete and extensive. An inexplicable fear was creeping in. I was fading, and yet I was there in the flesh. I could no longer observe myself the way I always had.
The next few minutes
Breathe. The lady had mentioned before leaving me in my chamber. I promptly took a few long and deep breaths. That didn’t seem to make much of a difference.
Idea! Using my hand, I felt my other hand. I felt my face. A sigh of relief… I could still my body. It was still there. Even though there were no external stimuli, I still could still observe myself and my own activities.
I chanted a deep OM! The small chamber echoed my voice perfectly and the sound carried a beautiful reverb as it made it’s way to my ears submerged in saline water. I have never felt the vibrations so intensely. Oooh, fun! A few more chants and a couple of songs later, I was lost yet again. How much longer did I have to be here?
The Aha moment and…
The stillness amplified the ceaseless noise in my head. The night before, I had found an artist on Instagram and I was in love with her through her poetry. Her verses in Urdu spoke to me like the long-awaited new monsoon rain. I had already created an image of her through her words. If I were to ever meet her, what would I say? Aha! Why not just go through the exercise?
She sat before me in the darkness of the tank. I was lost for words past ‘Hi!’. I wanted to tell her how fascinated I was with her, but how would that sound? I’d be a dork to tell her that I love her – simply because of her work. That would be scandalous. How could I? But then, if I didn’t speak my heart, how could I manage a conversation? It would all be a lie.
Why was it so wrong to tell her that I loved her? What does the expression mean in this context? The word love could mean a million things, but why the unease in saying it? It is not like I expected anything in return. And then I started speaking to myself out loud simply to structure my thoughts better.
As I spoke, the sound of my voice echoed vibrantly in my ear and the cacophony in my head started dimming. I was finding clarity in thought. It was as if the act of expressing how I felt in words made my understanding of how I felt more concrete.
I spoke. And I went on. I kept answering my own questions for the remaining part of the hour. Before I knew it, the lights came on, and the soft music resumed. It was as if I had been on a journey of discovery and back.
I wish I had taken a recorder with me since I can’t possibly recount all the contents of the conversation. However, I know that I had uncovered some latent understanding that hadn’t been in my reckoning until then. I did, however, walk away with a couple of very interesting questions that would make me ponder for the foreseeable future to come: What is the nature of love? Why do we seek to possess? Where does happiness lie? I shall share my findings in future episodes!
An hour in the isolation tank was a powerful trip. The Epsom salt had relaxed my body, and my mind was clear after the enchanting conversation with myself. It was a new kind of high with no side effects.
Can’t wait to do this again… I wonder what new discovery awaits!