When I close my eyes as tight as I can, or stand in a completely black room, I see things. Not like psychedelic cats blowing smoke rings or anything, but like moving streams of light and twinkling dots of color. Now, this could get weird because I don’t know if that’s normal for everyone, but it’s normal for me. (At this point, you’re either nodding with your eyebrows raised encouragingly and feeling validated in some way, or making a confused crinkly face that I’m glad I can’t actually see or I’d feel too judged to continue. I understand it could be caused by my special eyes.)
I see these lines and colors when I meditate, when I go to bed in a hotel room with the curtains drawn and when I sit in a closet waiting for a little pair of hands to turn the doorknob and seek me out … finally. And, as I discovered, I see the equivalent of the Northern Lights behind my eyelids when I float in a pod of concentrated salt water.
I know, I know … This post is stupid scattered to this point. I’m seeing things in the dark, I’m submerged in salt water. There’s a lot going on here. Keep following the needle, I’m about to get to a point.
My brother had been raving about float tanks for months. Because I struggle with claustrophobia and the general notion of taking time for myself, let alone a water nap, I politely brushed him aside. Plus, it just seemed weird; like taking a swim in a baby whale’s old bath water or something. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around it. And yet, he persisted.
For Christmas, Matt gave Hank and I three passes for one-hour floats. Well, hell! I thought. Why not? There’s nothing like a freebie to convince a stubborn skeptic. So, I scheduled a session for 7 o’clock on a Monday night, since they’re typically uneventful at our house.*
The gentleman who runs the place was waiting at the front desk when I pulled up. He gave me the instructions: 1) Go to the bathroom, even if you don’t think you have to go (no Code Browns in the pod). 2) Change into your swim or birthday suit. 3) Shower, using body wash, shampoo and conditioner. 4) Ball up your wax earplugs and drop em in your ear holes. And 5) Climb into the tank, turn off the light and turn on the tunes (a massage-style relaxation playlist.) You can leave the light on if you prefer, but because it was my first time and I lose my shit in confined spaces, the owner recommended lights out, which I think was a game changer.
Here’s how it went …
All I could think about was the hour ahead of me. How was I going to just float in a tub of dark gray water for 55 more minutes? I was sure I was going to freak out. It was inevitable.
This was when my list-making started, which is typical for me in any sort of silence, meditation or pre-slumber space. The girls had field trips that week. I really needed to get some art up on the walls in the living room. We were out of ketchup. My right armpit felt itchy.
A drop of saltwater dropped on my forehead, startling me for a second. I tensed my stomach and tried to force my butt down to the bottom of the tank. I accidentally used my fingertip to remove it – rookie mistake. Regret. Immediate regret. I reached out and grabbed the folded washcloth on the table just outside of the pod and dabbed the stinging corners of my eyeballs. Once calm was restored, I succumb again to the weightlessness.
The reality of the dark hit me and I started to think about death, as I often do (apologies for the shift to the morbid tone here). It’s true, I’m generally afraid of death. And I often obsess over the undeniable uncertainty of how things end for us, but in my defense, my deep thoughts on this occasion were likely a result of a podcast I had just listened to about how our souls are so much bigger than our bodies and are always connected to our great loves. I started thinking about what it would be like if death was eternal blackness with the presence of thought, and how terrible yet comforting that idea was. These thoughts are slippery for me, often dragging me down rabbit holes I’d rather leave unexplored. Nevertheless, here they were. I was trapped inside a giant white plastic prison, hovering in a pool of my own fears. Submerged in them. Forced to swim with them.
I woke up after a very brief but sweet snooze. Apparently, being scared shitless makes me sleepy. Everything shifted for me here.
I gently but playfully pushed my body around in the pod. I waited until the tips of my toes hit the bottom and used as little effort as possible to push myself up until my fingertips touched the top of the pod. I’d shift my weight side to side to feel my slippery, freshly conditioned hair settle around my shoulders like affectionate baby eels.
I felt a consuming peace. I was seeing streams of white light dancing behind my eyelids and it reminded me of God and busy angels. I felt so connected to the calmest version of myself, and she’s been quite the stranger lately. I love when she comes to visit. She has no worry, no sense of urgency, no self-loathing. This, I thought, is what meditation must feel like if you make it past the first 10 minutes. I was atmospheric, ethereal, near sedation.
The light clicked back on and a robotic woman’s voice filled the pod. “We hope. You enjoyed. Your float.” I lifted the lid, beaded with salted condensation, and reached again for the washcloth to tuck my eyes away from the bite of the mineral.
I climbed out and went back into the shower, as instructed. I washed my hair and body, which was slick with a film of fabricated ocean water and sleep. My clothing clung obnoxiously as I tried to slide into the shirt and pants I’d packed. Normally, I’d be irritated. I wasn’t.
I emerged from the room like a flu patient after a 48-hour nap. The tranquilizer dart had just been removed from my backside and I just wanted to keep a good thing going and go get in my bed. I felt beautifully depleted, emotionally drained.
The owner and I chatted for a bit. “Mind or body?” he asked. In his experience, some people notice more of a physical response to the tank, and others more of a mental response. I don’t have gout. My back isn’t too bad. And my pains seem to be reasonable for a gal of my certain age. So, for me, it was almost entirely a treatment for mental chaos and fatigue. “Oh gosh, mind!” I answered without hesitating.
The float granted me a temporary buoyancy for my abused, slouchy body and my tired, frantic brain. The optic light show in the infinite darkness and the subtle sounds of splashes as I glided across the water washed away my worry for a few hours. I came out a convert, a believer, an enthusiastic float-pusher. I don’t know what you’ll see when you close your eyes, but for me, it was serenity. I skimmed the top of the water and took home a doggie bag of tranquility, a scarcity for me and most.
I never felt trapped or claustrophobic. I never felt like I was going to drown. But there was one negative side effect – I find myself telling people the exact thing my brother told me for months. Despite my best efforts here, “I can’t explain it. You just have to try it.” Go find yourself in a float.
*This is not a sponsored post. I am not that big of a deal.