Monday, June 3, 2013
This is a guest post by my lovely and talented wife. Her website on spiritual direction and other matters is Sleep on the Hearth.
I've long been curious about sensory deprivation, so I decided to try a 75-minute float in one of the tanks at Oakland Floats.
Everything about making and paying for my reservation was easy, and I received a friendly voicemail with tips about how to prepare. The staff was helpful and professional, and the place was wonderfully clean and had a strong, healthy energy. All this was the easy part...more complicated were the deep stirrings that went on inside me as I anticipated and then actually did this crazy-seeming thing.
Flotation tank: One fear I had was of being trapped inside, unable to find or open the door. But when I arrived and told Daisha (if I'm remembering her name correctly!) about my fear, she showed me that there's no latch on the tank door that can accidentally be locked or even latched. She also told me I could prop the door open with a towel if I wanted to, and that's all it took to calm the surface-level fear I was feeling.
I say surface-level because deeper down lay fear of a whole other stripe, fear that neither Daisha nor anyone else can do anything about. First of all, I've read that people in sensory-deprivation tanks can hallucinate. I've experienced hallucination, and I hope never to experience it again. Secondly, I had a fear that was nameless until the right word came to me in the middle of my float, and that word is death. Floating sightless in a box with no sense of attachment to your body seems to me, well, a heck of a lot like death.
So why did I pay money to spend time in said box?
One thing I was hoping for was the ability to sink into a deeper meditative space than usual, and while I had only a little bit of the experience during this first float, it was enough to show me that more could easily happen next time. After a few minutes in the tank, I felt comfortable enough to close the door all the way. It took a while to relax and trust the water to hold me up, but hold me up it did. There was no danger of sinking or accidentally flipping over. I was so buoyant, and the water was such a perfect skin temperature, that I could simply lie still and exist, without feeling the water or the air.
Lying there, I thought of Denise Levertov's beautiful poem "The Avowal." I thought about daring to lie face to the sky, to use Levertov's words, floating into Creator Spirit's deep embrace. Beautiful, but it made the thought of death all the more present and real, because isn't her poem, in the end, a metaphor about death?
But there was a powerful counterpoint to the death theme. When my ears were submerged (which I discovered was my preference; I didn't like the neck pillow), I heard my heartbeat, a steady, faithful, powerhouse of a noise. I'm very much alive.
The other counterpoint is harder to describe and was completely unexpected. It came to me when I spent a few minutes scanning my body to notice how each part felt. When I checked in with my back, I became aware of my spine, and it felt like a thing unto itself. In fact, I felt like I was a spine with a heart, and nothing else, with the rest just along for the ride. The simplicity of my aliveness was a different melody than my fear and answered it wonderfully. Counterpoint.
Also, I'm happy to say that I did not hallucinate, so I'm about to make a reservation for another session at Oakland Floats. All in all, my first float was great, and I look forward to doing it again.
Oakland Floats is on 40th near Broadway, just on the edge (Gene tells me) of the Temescal. They sublet space to Body by Melisa and other folks in healing professions, including talk therapists and a Rolfing practitioner. Just downstairs is Five Flavors Herbs, which I visited after my float, and Paeonia Integrated Medicine. Five Flavors Herbs is a light, pleasant space with interesting art, and the man I spoke with took the time to look something up for me and explain which herbs might help my allergies. I think it's terrific that such compatible businesses share the building--the whole corner of 40th and Manila is dedicated to various aspects of physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Excellent!