In the 1983 my life began to change drastically. I was living in Germany and suddenly exposed to many influences unavailable⎯or at least drastically hidden⎯in Ohio where I’d lived for the previous seventeen years. I regularly attended weekend seminars in Wiesbaden through the international branch of the Association for Humanistic Psychology featuring researcher Dr. Stanley Krippner’s work on dreams and shamanism, scientist Dr. Valerie Hunt’s research on the human energy system and others. And I was immersed in a progressive, experiential master’s degree program on human relations through the University of Oklahoma’s satellite program that exposed students to such areas as Virginia Satir’s family systems work, sacred Native American rituals and even Robert Monroe’s studies in out-of-body experiences.
It was somewhere in here that I heard about neuroscientist Dr. John Lilly’s sensory deprivation tanks, initially emerging from his interest in trance states and what happened⎯physically and mentally⎯to astronauts when freed from gravity. The late Edgar Mitchell, who went on to found the Institute of Noetic Sciences, is a good example, seen here in this beautiful tribute video We Are One.
I remember thinking: I wonder what it would be like if I no longer identified with my body or mind? I’d already been meditating for about five years, a practice begun as recovery from a serious health issue. After the first few years I’d begun to experience⎯what seemed like at the time⎯strange sensations in my body. Having no one to talk to about these experiences, it was a relief when I went to Dr. Hunt’s seminar to learn that energy was something present for everyone. We just need to open our awareness to it.
But there was no floatation tank available, and my desire to experience it went underground. Years later through meditation, ceremony and being in an altered state of consciousness for days through spiritual travel I would sporadically lose any sense of boundaries. The only way I could refer to it was “losing my skin.” These rare occurrences were spontaneous, nothing I could call on myself. But the sense it brought was merging with the Universe⎯not unlike what Edgar Mitchell described.
Then about a year ago I came across some information online indicating there’s been an upsurge in interest in floatation tanks, state-of-the art versions, and more prevalent opportunities to dip a toe in. In fact, there are several sites in Arizona alone. Indeed, it seems to be going as mainstream as massage therapy.
So a couple of weekends ago when I was in Sedona with close women friends, I suggested we make appointments at True Rest. We all held anticipation for the hour-long session. I’m sure with different thoughts going through our heads as with any unknown experience. There were three uppermost in my mind. I’ve never had claustrophobia but wondered if I’d have any anxiety being completely contained in a small pod. That was a needless concern. The young man on staff was very careful to introduce every aspect of the experience, through video and demonstrating each feature on the pod, including how to alleviate any sign of claustrophobia. The second thought in my mind was whether it would be like “losing my skin.” It was and more. The third had to do with sleep patterns and whether it would help. For years, I’d been experiencing cyclical issues with sleep. I was in the middle of one and sleep deprived.
The young guy on staff had offered his own story having to do with a broken back, intense chronic pain and no sleep, which had resolved through regular float sessions. So I was hopeful.
The float rooms and tanks are private with shower. The water in the pods is body temp and they’re filled with a huge amount of Epsom salts, causing the body to automatically float. There’s an option to have light or complete darkness, as well as soothing music or none. My initial experience was floating on a warm sea that graduated to being in the womb. And before long I did “lose my skin” and had the sense of being elevated somewhere in the clouds or beyond. Periodically, I would feel gently thrust through the earth’s core. A purely kinesthetic experience of nothingness, with movement, quite hard to describe. At one point I had a fleeting thought to breathe in and out of my third eye and was presented with extraordinary visuals and energy. As I breathed in, I was looking from above into billowing light and energy emerging through the third eye portal. As I breathed out I was in an underground cavern standing at the edge of a lake leading to light in the distance. I was in two places at once and witnessing from a distance, the image begging to be documented on canvas.
Pyrenees, Camino Frances, 2015.
There was a sense of timelessness. After “no time” the filter began swirling and drew me back, letting me know the hour had somehow ended. I showered off and went to the other dressing room. My body was more relaxed than I could remember, even after a very good massage. I looked in the mirror and swear I appeared ten years younger.
But the best news is the longer effect it’s had on me. Since this initial float I’ve slept quite well at night. Only once did I resort to the herbal sleep aid I keep on hand. I feel rested upon awakening. The visuals are still vivid, waiting to be transferred to canvas.
After the float when my friends and I returned to our lodging I was drawn to sit outside where it opened to a creek and wilderness area beyond. I felt absolutely present with nature, a comforting stillness inside. I sat there for quite some time until I got up to leisurely shoot images of the ducks and light on the red rocks. Only in retrospect did I realize the float had provided this segue to absolute Presence.
Each friend’s experience was different; the common denominator was deep relaxation. When I spoke to the young man about the depth of my own initial experience, he said I was probably predisposed due to all my years of daily meditation practice. I intuitively knew how to put my mind and body in a state; the float took me the rest of the way. In all the literature I’ve read, including the classic book by Michael Hutchinson The Book of Floating: Exploring the Private Sea, experiences similar to mine do begin to occur after a series of floats, number depending on the individual. Long-term effects being: stress management, healing, pain management, enhanced creativity and sleep, increased problem solving capabilities, and spiritual consciousness. It’s even said to have effect on addiction and weight loss, which makes sense if the aforementioned attributes are in place.
Of course, the ultimate intent is to have such a Zen state integrated through daily life. It seems to me that, in addition to my daily meditation practice, a monthly float will help create such a passage. There’s no need to have the background knowledge that ushered me into my first session, just a desire to glean the benefits.
To find a floatation location in your area, go here. I do recommend True Rest in Sedona, with other locations in Arizona and elsewhere. The premises were quite lovely and spotlessly clean, and staff was welcoming and informative. Groupon coupon discounts are sometimes available.