Part 2 of a three-part series on the sensory deprivation chamber experience.
I’m excited to visit Hope Floats. Every float center has a sensory deprivation chamber; but beyond that, each center is different.
I walk into Hope Floats and there is a very gentle, charming feeling to the place. I’m handed a bottled water before I sit down on a nice comfy sofa. When designing their float center, every owner endeavors to create an environment that echoes their vision of the “float experience.” In the case of Hope Floats, this vision is expressed through a comforting environment that facilitates the development of inner presence and harmony. Owner Kimberly Boone has adorned the walls of Hope Floats with affirmations encouraging mindfulness and living in the present moment.
There is something soothing in the air of this place, and when I enter the float room I notice a pleasant smell coming from a scented candle on top of the tank.
I enter the sensory deprivation chamber, and my journey begins.
I’ve heard that some people fall asleep in the float tank, but I always feel wide awake. In the absence of stimuli, my inner world awakens. Sometimes it happens immediately, other times it starts about 20 minutes into the float. Every time its different.
I become intensely aware of my heart. It feels like a massive furnace of energy, breathing fire and life into my body. I am invigorated with heat and vitality and feel full of energy. It has been a long, exhausting day. My stress and mental absorption fade away. I am alone in the present moment.
You might think that the sensory deprivation chamber feels lonely. It’s quite the opposite. My brain lets go of obsessive thoughts and awareness fills my consciousness, alive and pulsating. Memories flow through my mind. These are not your average memories. They are filled with a vividness, color, and emotional vibrancy so immediate and rich that I enter into their world. There is a connection and a symbiosis with the memories and waking dreams. They absorb me. My mind is joyous, absorbing the texture and the light.
Did I say light? The chamber is so dark I don’t notice the absence of light. There is no contrast, no struggling to make out shapes, just total visual emptiness. This is not to say that I don’t see. My mind becomes full of imagery. The details and visceral sensations are powerful and multi-sensory.
I entered the chamber feeling stressed and self-involved. My thoughts were racing as they do when I focus too hard and overthink things. I was trapped in an endless spiral and circular thinking. In the tank, I start to slow down. My body feels comfortable floating in the salt water. I start to notice that the stress I am feeling is not compatible with this peaceful place.
In the space, in the silence, my mind starts to relax. I have time to let go and truly listen to the thoughts running through it. I notice that certain thoughts are making me feel ramped up and stressed out. I decide to let go of these thoughts. I have a major insight: “Don’t expect.”
So many times that day, I had certain expectations. I expected my children to listen to me the first time I made a request. I expected my baby to take his nap right on time. I expected my mother to realize that I’m 30 years out of the womb and to stop asking me how many vegetables I ate that day. I expected a co-worker to stop rambling, and a client to start acting reasonably. Half the time, I was disappointed.
Floating in the stillness, I realize that these expectations had ruined an otherwise wonderful day. I mentally revisit my day, repeating the mantra “Don’t expect.” I start feeling really positive and excited about life. The world feels young and fresh.
When I get stressed out, I feel separated from my true self. It’s as though alien programming starts to take over. I’m too emotional to think things through and make authentic choices. I don’t have the willpower to overcome the mental inertia. I call this disintegration. In the float tank, I notice my sense of self taking control again. There is a slowness, a stillness, a space. With my senses free, I have the capacity to reconnect, to take in and reconcile my conflicting emotions. I have a self that is greater than the sum of my parts, and this self is awakening. I call this feeling integration.
I’m feeling very good and full of positive emotion. My thoughts are flowing with a smoothness and elegance that feels invigorating, like a well-oiled machine. I start to hear faint music and think I’m hallucinating. Turns out it’s the music telling me that my 90 minutes is up.
Stepping out of the tank into the bright room feels invigorating. My step is light and I feel great! I say goodbye to the woman manning the front desk and she gives me two Dove chocolates.
Life feels good. Colors stand out bright and vivid. I get to my apartment, give my wife a hug, and lie down in bed for the best sleep I’ve had in a long time.
By Rafael Ender