I have wanted to float in a sensory deprivation tank ever since I heard of it several years ago.
Basically, an innovative psychonaut named John C. Lilly developed the float tank as a means to exploring consciousness. A psychonaut is someone who is a traveler of the mind or psyche, much in the same way that astronauts travel through space. He also traveled the mind extensively using hallucinogenic drugs, often while floating in the sensory deprivation tank!
The original question was, “What will happen to consciousness once all (or maximum) sensory input is removed?”
In order to answer this question, the tank was designed to include the following features:
- There is approximately 700-1000 pounds of salt in the tank, which causes the body to rise to the top and float effortlessly.
- It is completely dark.
- The water is warmed to body temperature so that it blurs the perception of any concrete border between the skin and the water.
- Your ears are underwater and it is totally silent.
I arrived at the float center for my appointment and was shown into the room with the tank.
It looks almost like a space pod or something out of a sci-fi movie. I was asked to shower thoroughly before getting into the tank, as everyone is encouraged to float in the nude. Not to worry, apparently the high levels of salt and their filtration systems have got the hygiene covered.
I was told that I had an hour and a half and then I was left on my own with the tank.
After showering, I lifted up the door and climbed in. The temperature of the water was so warm and inviting. I turned around, sat down in the water and closed the door of the tank. It was now pitch black inside and lay down on my back, feeling around with my hands for the edges of the chamber.
I lay on my back and began to do some relaxing breathing exercises. I moved my body from side to side and enjoyed the weightless sensation and ease of movement that this environment was providing. I experimented with some chanting and reveled in the vibration of my own sound energy bouncing off of the tank and coming back to me through the water.
After this initial period of discovery and play, it was time to become passive and let the experience come to me.
As my breath calmed, my muscles began to let go slowly. I felt space being created in my joints. The unconscious gripping in my body began to peel away, layer by layer. As my body relaxed deeper and deeper, so too did my mind. My thoughts slowed and I became unconcerned with their completion.
The distance between my breaths grew drastically to a point where I was unsure if I was breathing at all but felt completely at ease.
When I consciously exhaled, I felt emptiness in my body and welcomed the peace. It reminded me of a meditation on death that I used to do: imagine that this exhale is the last breath of your life, and then imagine that the next inhale is the first of your new life.
At this point, my exhales were so complete that I might as well have been dead. When I consciously inhaled while floating, it was absolutely exquisite. Like the very first breath of life, I could feel a glow of gratitude coming from every single cell in my body, opening up to receive the nourishment of oxygen. We borrow our life from the universe just one precious breath at a time.
The vivid sensations of the body ridding itself of what it needs, only to be filled again with life has not only made me grateful for every breath, but has given me a new appreciation for the vulnerability of all life, as well as for the generosity of the Universe.
Interspersed through these moments of awareness, there were long stretches of time where I’m not even sure what happened, but it was wonderful.
I was totally disengaged from the ego as well as bodily sensations, just floating. This sounds so simple but it brought up a question of perspective to me later in the evening.
From the outside point of view, if we go into a tank and shut ourselves off from the outside world, we are isolating ourselves. However, when we perceive the world through our senses in daily life, our sensory modes give us the wrong impression that that is all there is.
We experience the world through our narrow point of view, sitting in one spot and limited to the sensory input of our particular body. What we conclude about the world as a result of our perceptions creates a separation from what is outside of our body.
For example, the wooden floor is only hard to the extent that our hand is soft. So, from an inner perspective, consider the notion that our senses create an “I” that is in fact isolated from our surroundings. When we go into the sensory deprivation tank and remove attachment to our body and thoughts, we cease to experience the world through any veil.
From this perspective, I think that the float tank is misunderstood—it is more of a tool to connect fully with what is around us, but to do so we must paradoxically isolate your consciousness from the senses.
Re-conceiving of the float tank as a tool for connecting with the Universe, it is clear to me that floating in the sensory deprivation tank is an extremely effective technique for experiencing a state of yoga.
No, I don’t mean that we should do downward dog in the tank! The state of being that people all across the world are looking for by doing yoga can be achieved by relaxing in the float tank. At a certain point during the session, time becomes meaningless. We’re not concerned with our problems because there is no one left to be concerned. This implies that we’re definitely not concerned with anyone else’s problems because if we don’t exist, no one else exists either. This type of exploration is what I call “going down the rabbit hole”. And all it ever leads to is more questions.
(Please note: This is not meant to be a comprehensive guide to floating, it’s just a reflection on my experience. If you find this interesting I encourage you to research more on your own!)
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Editor: Jane Henderling