By Derek Rucki
Okay I have a confession to make… I have been battling an addiction for most of my life and it has become increasingly worse as I enter my adult years. I have never overdosed but it certainly feels possible at times. I know I have fed into my addiction too much once I start getting a cloudy mind, anxiety, and even insomnia. However, like many addictions it also has a good side to it that makes it oh so tempting to just ignore the bad completely and live with it the rest of my life. At times it is the impetus for a new idea, deep introspection, and overall inspiration in life. This is not an addiction to any kind of substance that is ingested or a type of physical action. But make no mistake it is indeed an addiction far more common than any “drug” and from what I have learned it requires a dedication to detox in order to control it; I am addicted to thoughts.
It was approximately 16 months ago when I became aware of this. It happened during my first experience in the sensory deprivation tank. For those who have never heard of this it is essentially a pitch black soundproof tank where you float in salt water that is heated to skin temperature. The concept is in the name itself; all senses are completely taken away from you. No sight, no sound, no touch, no smell, and no taste. The only other way for you to achieve this is to fly yourself out into orbit, strip down naked, put a blindfold on, and jump out into the depths of space. That is exactly what the tank is like as far as I can tell.
During my first experience it took me about 10 minutes to totally relax the body into the water and let go of all muscle tension. After total relaxation of the body something very peculiar started to happen. Usually your brain is constantly calculating all kinds of sensory input because you are always touching, hearing, or seeing something around you. In the tank your brain seems to have this moment where it recognizes that for the first time (perhaps since you were born) it no longer has to compute any of that shit. It is you and your mind with absolutely nothing else to get in the way. It was at this moment when I became amazed and terrified to discovered how little control I had over my thoughts. Thoughts were flying through my head like a swarm of bees caught in a jar. They were uncontrolled and unwanted; I just wanted silence. The more I tried to force the thoughts to go away the worse it became.
Like trying to force rough waters to be still all that ever does is stir it up even further. So in the same way that a turbulent muddy puddle becomes still when left alone the only way to truly quiet the mind is to learn to just leave it alone. Through some breathing exercises by the end of that first session I was able to get that swarm of bees in a jar down to something more like a single fly in a room. It was at this moment where I began to recognize the real potential of the tank. All this spared computing power my brain usually used for my senses was reverted towards this singular thought I had. Completely lucid, focused, and supercharged with clarity. It was an incredible moment. Until of course I started thinking about how incredible it was and then BZZZZZZ back came the bees.
After this first session I began to recognize that my lifestyle had formed around always keeping my mind busy. For three years I could not fall asleep without listening to music or a podcast in order to distract my mind and prevent thoughts from keeping me awake. Anytime I was in a silent area by myself I would immediately put music on or just some kind of background noise. Little things like that had become my needle for injecting the drug of thoughts into my mind. Because of this I was starting to lose touch with reality and was constantly taking myself out of the present moment. There really is only ever this moment of NOW and for the most part I was never actually living in it; my mind was elsewhere.
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The tank became my detox machine to begin controlling the addiction. Here I am 16 months later and in that time I have invested approximately $2,000 into these 90 minute float tank sessions. It has become by far the most important tool I have ever used for not just controlling my mind but also evolving it. I go in the tank for one of two reasons. 1) With a single idea, problem, or decision that I need to dedicate 100% of my brain power towards processing. 2) Finding absolute stillness and silence in both the body and mind. When I find my scales have become unbalance I get into this place of absolute stillness in the tank which seems to hit a mental reset button within. Finding that stillness is a key principle of Buddhism and any meditative practice. I find it is especially important while living in a city where everyone and everything seems to be moving one hundred miles an hour at all times. Sometimes when I open up the tank lid at the end of my 90 minutes I feel like i’m stepping out of a metaphorical (and somewhat literal) womb into a completely new world; reborn. Having gratitude for the things around me instead of always occupying my mind with thoughts of the past or future. Truly enjoying a moment for everything it is was something I needed to relearn. Admittedly I still have a lot of work to do on this. However, I can say with 100% confidence that I am not the person I was 16 months ago. I have recently added some more tools to my toolbox of consciousness; yoga, daily meditation, and hiking in the mountains frequently (I find nature always puts you right into the present moment).
The mind is a mysterious and powerful force. It has the power to change your entire world for better or worse and to manifest your most ambitious dreams into reality. In order to do that you must learn to gain control over your mind instead of being a slave to your thoughts. The first step to gaining control over the mind is to allow it to be still. Let me tell you first hand; silence has never sounded so sweet.