Contemplative Photography & Reflections

Floatation Restoration (Part Two)

It’s been a while since I’ve written about floating in a float tank (after my first experience back in April). Seven months later, I have several floats under my belt and derive so many benefits from floating that I want to write about it again! (Before proceeding, you might want to click HERE to read my previous article so you know what I’m talking about in the first place.)

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Assuming you now know what a float tank is, I won’t go into any greater detail than to say it’s a sensory deprivation tank that is filled with about ten inches of heavily salted water that makes you completely buoyant without having to do anything whatsoever to stay afloat. There’s a dim light inside the tank that you can leave on if you want to, but I don’t see any point in doing so because I always float with my eyes closed – and you wouldn’t want a drop of very salty water to fall into your eyes if any condensation accumulates on the ceiling.  You step inside the tank, close the door (or keep it slightly propped with a towel if it helps you feel more comfortable), turn off the light (if you want to), and float effortlessly on your back. And then your journey in dark and silent nothingness begins!

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Though people’s float tank experiences differ, there are some themes that have been quite consistent for me before, during, and after floating. Oftentimes before floating, I feel flustered because there’s so much I feel I need to do. There’s just not enough time for everything I want and “need” to do, and I feel a great deal of pressure to accomplish it all. It feels so important.

But inside the float tank, the sense of urgency and pressure melts away and doesn’t matter. There’s nothing so critical that I should allow it to disturb my repose, and I’m able to let go of any anxiety and urgency around my to-do list. Floating in a sensory deprivation tank puts everything into perspective, and my attitude softens into: Just do what you can do! It’s not the end of the world if I don’t get everything done that I think I need to do today.  I’m able to see the small stuff for what it is, and much unnecessary activity falls away. Then I emerge feeling ever so calm and aware of what I really do need to prioritize (i.e. purging my living space!). It’s like pushing a supreme reset button in there. You come out with a clearer sense of what’s important, liberated from what was weighing on you when you went in. You emerge completely reset. Or at least that’s my experience!

Inside the float tank, I find that no thoughts are compelling. I’m simply not interested in thought! I feel like a cell with an impermeable membrane that nothing of this world can penetrate. Thoughts don’t carry any kind of emotional charge when I’m in there. They arise. But they’re not interesting. And they go away. It’s incredibly refreshing! It’s like blowing soap bubbles. They float in the air for a few seconds and then gently pop, and – poof! – there’s no more bubble. It simply disappeared.

Instead of fixating on thought, I focus on the sensation of relaxation and effortless suspension, without anything solid underneath me (which is something you really don’t experience any other time).

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Out of the tank, I try to practice 25 minutes of mindfulness meditation every day. For the first five minutes, I focus on my breath. The next five minutes, I expand my focus to physical sensations. Then listening. Then thoughts. Then all of the above. Being in the float tank for 90 minutes is very much like an hour and a half of mindfulness meditation. Inside the tank, there is no sound except for my deep, steady breathing (which is quite audible), so mindful breathing and listening are completely intertwined. That’s what I focus on the whole time (because with my ears immersed in the water, my breathing is quite loud), along with the sensation of complete relaxation. And I get deeply relaxed in there. I am talking about serious theta brainwaves!

It’s incredible to have no interest whatsoever in thinking! I keep returning to the sound of my breath – which is very slow, rhythmic, and calming – and to the sheer sensation of complete relaxation and suspension. Floating is the only time I experience that, and it’s what I want to focus on in the tank. It really is incredible. I feel the energy in my inner body. I’m not aware of my physical boundaries. I feel so light, and nothing physical matters or even registers. (There’s no gravity, temperature, or sensory input to process. Can you imagine that?) Everything, from the top of my head to the tip of my toes, is completely relaxed. Immersing myself in that sensation of extreme and complete relaxation is really all I want to notice or attend to in there. It’s all that seems to matter. Sheer presence devoid of sensory input.

My experiences in the float tank pose the question: Who am I removed from everything else? Who I am is energy and peace.

Here’s an example of the difference between my post-float and ordinary consciousness: After floating, I turn my phone back on and see that there are text messages and notifications from social media. But there’s barely even a hint of curiosity or interest around that. I’m not looking for communications or information to enhance my life in any way or to add anything to my reality because I am absolutely complete right now. I don’t need anything at all – from anybody. There’s really no need to check my phone in the first place. Nothing can contribute to my experience right now. It’s awesome to feel absolutely complete, fulfilled, and tranquil.

I really appreciate the sensory deprived environment because I am quite sensitive to sensory overload in general. I don’t have a TV and find it extremely jarring when the television is on when I’m away from home. The same is true when I go to a mainstream movie theater and have to sit through pre-show entertainment and trailers. It’s too loud and over the top! I also experience sensory overload in shopping malls and at crowded places and events. And forget bars! I can’t handle anything about that environment and have avoided them my entire life! Even when I taught kindergarten and spent the day steeped in the energy of a classroom of active, young children, I needed to lock my door, turn off the lights, and decompress/meditate next to my soothing water fountain when they were out of the room, to recharge my batteries for the rest of the day.  For me, the quieter and simpler the environment, the more at ease I feel. So I am totally in my element in a float tank.

From my experience, it seems the state of mind you bring into that float tank shapes your experience. There was only one time when I didn’t have a pleasant float. It was in late May heading into the weekend of the anniversary of my mom’s death. I was in a great deal of emotional pain at that time, fraught with raw grief, and the sensory deprived environment just made me more aware of the illusion of separation between me and everything else. It was the exact opposite of what I’ve experienced every other time I floated and was only because I was in such a fragile state of mind at the time. In the tank, I experienced the urge to be connected to the living world and couldn’t handle being alone. I turned on the light at one point just to feel anchored to something instead of surrendering to the usually deep and fulfilling nothingness of the tank environment.

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But that experience provided me with some insight about what it must be like to die – which was totally relevant to the anniversary of my mom’s death and re-experiencing the days and hours leading up to it. I remember thinking that when you die, you want to be in a place of resolution. You don’t want to have unfinished business or deep, dark secrets festering inside because something like that could make it really hard to let go. I recall when my grandfather was dying and kept repeating an agitated cycle in which he looked up at the ceiling, exclaimed his (still living) sister’s name, and stated with urgency, “I’ve got to get out of here!” It seemed there was something important he needed to tell his sister before he could give in to the process and die a peaceful death. I advised my mom and uncle to contact her and see if she could talk with him on the phone. They were unable to reach her, told him so, and asked if they could convey a message for him. After hearing that, he fell silent. The cycle stopped, and he died a couple of hours later. I always wondered what was so important that caused him to fixate on her during the final hours of his life. Was their last interaction discordant? Did he need her forgiveness? Did he have information he needed to share with her? Was he worried about her? He took that mystery with him to the grave, but one thing was certain: Something related to her was getting in the way of him being at peace.

My takeaway is that when everything is stripped away from us – and death is a process of stripping away everything we think we are and believe we need until we’re left with just our core essence – where you are mentally, emotionally, and spiritually is what matters. I imagine it can be terrifying if you’re not in a place of acceptance. You don’t want to get to the end when you’re leaving this life and think that you’re not a “good” person or didn’t live a “good” life, or worry about loved ones. You want to go out with a sense of integrity, reconciliation, and peace. When that stripping away happens, you cannot hide from yourself. Your world becomes progressively smaller, and you enter a cocooning process that seems similar to being in a float tank. There are so many distractions in this world that allow you to hide. But there are no distractions in the float tank. My May float signaled that my emotional “pain body” was so strong that I couldn’t let go and access deeper layers of consciousness that day.

Having no distractions and connecting with deeper layers of consciousness is something I absolutely love about the float tank. Removed from sensory input, the daily stress and all the other dust that has accumulated at the surface dissolves, allowing me to go deeper, like an astronaut floating in the vast universe of inner space. It is an experience of incredible lightness, even in complete darkness. Even when I float on cloudy days, after leaving the float spa, I feel like I’m shining like a sun – because it seems light is what I am at my core when all else is removed. It’s what I find in the deep nothingness.

In the tank, there’s just me, the steady rhythm of my breath, the incredible sensation of relaxation and suspension, and freedom from thought, emotions, and any sense of urgency. It is tremendously therapeutic, relaxing, and simply awesome.

The photographs in this blog (except for those attributed to other owners) and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a “custom print” in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears.

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (river-bliss.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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