By Karen S.
On a sunset-lit patio—the end of the day on a recent business trip to San Diego—I stood with a cold beer in hand. “Where are you going on vacation this summer?” was the topic being broached by a small group of recently-made acquaintances. “Wyoming” came up, and “Mexico” was mentioned more than once. I was mildly panicked, since I felt I had nothing to contribute to the conversation. But when it was my turn I knew what to say. “I’m not going away this summer, although I am going to a place where no one can find me. This weekend I have a session in a float tank and it’s a bit like taking a trip. In fact, while I’m in the tank, I feel like I’m a million miles away.”
For anyone who’s ever “taken a trip” in a flotation tank, this comes as no surprise.
I’ve been enjoying the benefits of floating over the last four years. My first forays into the tank were unremarkable, albeit relaxing. Initially I succumbed readily to naps about a half-hour in, the inevitable (for me) consequence of floating after a heavy lunch. (I’ve since learned to schedule my floats in the morning, when I’m less likely to slumber and relatively unencumbered by heavy, racing thoughts.) About five floats in, I noticed an oddly comforting sensation towards the end of each session; sometimes I felt as though I were suspended in aspic. Other times I felt swaddled in cozy blankets. I began to recognize the onset of this stage and found that at such times, I could creatively solve problems relating to work or my personal life, and often came prepared with a question or challenge I wanted to solve in the quiet of the tank.
At this point I was floating sporadically, perhaps every two to three months.
Things kicked into higher gear once I started floating monthly on a regular basis. The sensation of being cradled in jello would start about 15 minutes in. As I became increasingly comfortable with my float routine, I began to see swirling colours, shapes and patterns; these were wondrously beautiful and reminded me of the laser light shows of my youth. Then, during one session I realized that the swirling pattern unfolding in a continuous spiral was actually an immense rose; suddenly I saw myself perched on the edge of a cliff before a starry universe with the undulating rose at its center. As I observed the vision before me, I felt unalloyed bliss. In the next session, I saw myself in a shadowy prison and heard a voice whispering in my ear, “You put yourself in here years ago. There was a very good reason for it then, but you don’t need to be here anymore…you can leave at any time.”
My float sessions became progressively more visual and self-revelatory. I googled “float tank experiences” and found that my revelations were a result of entering into the rarified state of theta brain waves. This is the state in between waking and sleep, which usually lasts for a just few seconds and is when the brain is at its most creative and abstract. I figure that my theta waves have occasionally been active for up to an hour in the tank. During those sessions, my inner voice has taken me on strange journeys. I’ve discovered my spirit animal (a lizard!); felt compassion for people who have tormented me in the past; and witnessed the construct of Time itself. I make it a point to journal each session, since at times the information comes thick and fast and is too precious a commodity to lose through the sieve of my memory.
The sessions have changed my life for the better since they help me see situations from a zoomed-out perspective. I now recognize the voice as my own—a wiser, vastly more objective version of myself.
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Going back to that evening in San Diego….after I proclaimed my destination of choice to the group, it sparked a new direction in the conversation. Suddenly everyone was interested in finding out more about flotation. I gave lots of advice on what to expect and how to prepare oneself beforehand, and said that I’d heard about new float tank places opening in Southern California. The group broke up as the evening ended, but not before several people told me, “That was really inspiring. I'm definitely going to try floating soon!”
I smiled and thought, my work here is done.
I now write a blog about floating (or a flog, as I like to call it) and you can find it here: alteredstates.wordpress.com.