There I sat in the waiting room, about to submerge myself into 12 inches of water — heated to body temperature, and saturated with 800 pounds of Epsom salt — and total darkness. I was about to willingly enter a sensory-deprivation tank, otherwise known as a floatation tank, and a million thoughts were racing through my head.
What am I getting myself into? Six foot two and claustrophobic, I was about to spend the next x amount of hours in an enclosed space the size of a closet — not exactly my recipe for relaxation.
What’s it going to be like in there? I’d heard stories of borderline-psychedelic experiences, where the left-brain loosens its vicelike grip on reality, allowing the right-brain to roam free with imagination. Having never experimented with drugs in my life, I was more than a little curious as to what it might feel like to have a mind-altering experience in a safe environment.
Will it work? Going in, I was familiar enough with the meditative effects of deep-breathing, but worried that my often-restless mind might be uncooperative to the idea of doing nothing for a prolonged period of time. I feared that I’d be lying in the tank, unable to reach any truly meditative state, helpless as my mind wandered.
Eventually, my thoughts were interrupted by the therapist’s words:
“I’m going to leave the room now, and you can lock the door.”
It was time.
After putting in earplugs and showering, I popped open the tank’s door and slowly slid myself backwards through the water. Then, I closed the door.
I closed my eyes and re-opened them. No difference. I had entered the void.
I found the centre of the tank, and, after tentatively lifting my feet off the bottom, slowly released my grip on the inner walls. I was floating, weightless.
Do you know how hard it is to suspend belief in gravity? Your mind has to trust the fact that your body won’t fall to the bottom of the tank without holding onto something stable. It’s an experience where, suddenly, the one condition we’ve known our entire lives — as basic as breathing — no longer applies. It’s freaking cool.
Soon after, my body began to lose its form. “Our skin knows four sensations: hot, cold, pain, and touch,” the therapist had told me. Because the water was heated to body temperature, and I was no longer touching any surfaces, I gradually lost sense of my limbs. It all felt the same — which is to say, it felt like nothing at all.
I was now lying in the tank, floating effortlessly, unable to fully discern where my body ended and space began.
Cue the mind tricks.
At times, it felt as if I was spinning in circles. Other times, it felt as though I was falling. Sometimes, it felt as if I was being pulled upwards, ascending to the heavens.
I saw deep blue and green phosphenes, radiating outwards like ripples in a pond. Occasionally, I saw vivid pictures of forests, rivers, and waterfalls — something I attributed to the fact that I was listening to Sitar music and Aboriginal chanting throughout the float. Mostly though, I saw — and felt — absolutely nothing.
Time lost all meaning in the tank. Absent of any stimuli, I couldn’t tell if I had been in there for 20 minutes or two hours. The only time was right here, right now, in this moment.
Most interesting of all, the tank felt entirely familiar. I had a strong sense of déjà vu, as if being in the tank was the most natural thing ever. It didn’t matter that it was dark, or seemed small from the outside. Inside, it was quite roomy and comfortable. It was never too hot, never too cold. It felt just right.
Getting out of the tank was entirely unfamiliar. As relaxing as the environment of the tank was, touching my feet to the bottom of the tank and lifting my head out of the water felt like an assault on the senses. Suddenly, the world I had occupied for over 23 years felt foreign.
What is this gravity nonsense? Why is it so bright? How long was I in there for? (Answer: an hour and a half, although it felt like 40 minutes, tops.)
My best friend, Graham — who had encouraged me to try floating — described it as what astronauts must feel like coming back to Earth. It’s a fitting comparison.
My float may have ended without any profound spiritual awakening or complete out-of-body experience, but I did feel remarkably relaxed and centred. For once in a lifetime, I was able to float as if on a cloud — reason enough to give it another try.