The first time I slipped into a sensory deprivation tank, my body popped to the surface of shallow water heavy with salt. I turned off the lights, and quickly panicked at the scope of a complete lack of sensory input. I immediately felt like I was dying in the absolute nothingness of it, and then panicked more when it took me a few seconds to find the light switch or the door.
I slowly eased into the void. It took several moments for the normal chatter of my mind to subside. Time has a different meaning, or no meaning, in the tank. I read that someone went into their friend’s private tank and their friend forgot they were there and left the house. The friend floated for six hours, unaware of the passage of time. My float sessions were both ninety-minutes long, and both times I felt they could have been longer.
Once I acclimated to a world of no feeling, no sight, and no sound, I became fully aware of my heartbeat and breathing. In fact, my heartbeat seemed so loud that I wondered if I was okay. I realized that my own internal processes were the only touchstone to my physicality. It was highly meditative, and I was highly aware of my own internal rhythms.
Soon, I let go of the world. I floated palms-up, flying through the vastness of space and time among unseen planets and distant stars. I realized that this was my origin: I came from nothingness. From this nothingness, God found me. He plucked me from this ether once, and could do it again. I understood life and death as two sides of a threshold between nothing and something, and it was possible to move between the two, like a sine wave traversing an X-axis.
My father was floating in the tank next to mine. Floating was my gift to him for his 70th birthday. It seemed befitting for a man who has flown a plane, skydived, spelunked, and done so many adventurous things. Each tiny finger movement of his in the tank had large repercussions for his tank ecosphere. He said that as he floated, he became Chuang Tzu’s butterfly whose wing movement is felt around the world.
Yesterday, for my birthday, I floated for the second time. This time I eased myself slowly into the nothingness like a bath that was too warm. In retrospect, this wasn’t a good tactic. To maximize a floating experience one needs to see what it really has to offer, and that means letting go fully. Although I was hoping to fly through the universe again, my thoughts were more introspective than metaphysical.
I started by meditating on my rhythms. My heart beat three times for every inhalation and three times for every exhalation. Three beats in, three beats out. My breath was a river that sailed on the waves of my heartbeat, just like my life sailed on my emotions and my experience of it. I thought of life as a respiration, and that what one accepts determines what one is able to give. The choice of happiness includes deciding what we allow to be within ourselves. Bad things happen but many of these things can slide off like something slippery rather than something penetrating. If you can refuse to internalize some of the negativity of the world, what you are able to produce will be more positive. Again, ninety-minutes seemed too short.
My husband floated for three-hours the first time he floated and says he simply had a relaxing experience, no flying through space, no transforming into a butterfly, no experience of life as respiration. The commonality of all of our experiences was an profound euphoria upon leaving the tank, and exceptionally good sleep that night.