"It’s as if I am suspended somewhere between the earth and the moon in outer space..." "Feel so centered, at peace, physically rejuvenated, and at one with the universe." "Floating, free of light, sound and touch, I am now able to tune into a profound relaxation that produces positive physical and mental effects." These are some of the spontaneous comments from floaters at the Healing Gateways Center. Although a modern invention, the experience of the flotation tank is remarkably similar to that of deep meditation. As one floater remarks, "Floating is a profound spiritual experience."
Remarkably, floating remains relatively unknown to most people. Ask the average person, and the only image that might come to mind is William Hurt, a floating-obsessed scientist in the 1985 movie altered States. That film may have done more harm than good to the nascent field of flotation. It depicted Hurt traveling back through time as a result of the sensory deprivation of the floatation tank, and undergoing a terrifying transformation into a highly evolved energy being. Nevertheless, the depiction of flotation as a deeply enjoyable experience, capable of triggering deeply held emotions and sensations, is accurate, The potential of danger is pure science fiction.
Not since birth has there been such a completely safe and nurturing environment. There is something deeply archetypal about the very vehicle; an egg-shaped vessel filled with soothing skin- temperature water. Twelve hundred pounds of Epsom salt ensure the kind of buoyancy usually experienced only in the Dead Sea. Completely- relaxed in a calm, peaceful and quiet dark place, the stage is set for deeply intimate, surreal experiences. Floaters merge with their new environment, let the boundaries of their bodies and minds blur, as they flow into a blissful state of inner and outer peace. Some floaters compare the sensation to a conscious dream within a dream where they can create, experience and explore their own inner fantasy worlds. A recent movie, "What Dreams May Come" conjures some of the ethereal dream-like images.
When I first stepped into the flotation tank, I found myself a bit anxious and unsure. But, as I lay back in the warm, silky, water; the dark, silent environment overtook me, and I couldn’t help but let go. The more I released, the more peacefully I drifted into inner space. My sense of having physical body left me as I merged with the surrounding water. Amazed at the sound of my breath flowing in and out of my body, I started to become very relaxed. Observing my mind meander through a myriad of thoughts, I felt as though I existed in a place outside myself. When I became aware of my thoughts, I was listening to the sound of my breath. Suddenly, I realized I was dreaming; yet, I was fully awake. Tingling sensations and a wave of euphoria surged through me. For a moment, I thought about how much time had passed, and then realized it didn’t matter. I emerged from the flotation tank nearly two hours later, although it seemed like 15 minutes, feeling centered, at peace, physically rejuvenated, and at one with the
Time in a sensory isolation tank is relative. The more motionless we remain, the more our body awareness will ebb. The human mind is not used to total sensory reduction, so it will attempt to control it’s three-dimensional reality. Since there is no sound in the tank, the mind will look for sound and amplify whatever it hears--heartbeat, breath, anything. Focused attention will amplify whatever is heard. There are no visual references. Some people feel like they are turning in a whirlpool; others feel they are sliding downhill.
Many floaters report increased creative capacity, refreshed thinking, and relief from stress. It has been documented that floating assists in the synchronization of the right/left brain hemispheres, enhancing intuition and speeding up creativity. This is not surprising, given that it was a neurophysiologist, Dr. John Lilly, who invented the first flotation tank at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in the early 1950’s. Dr. Lilly’s research led him to the discovery that up to 85 percent of all central nervous system activity dealt with gravity, light, and sound. It was his goal to devise and environment that would allow people to temporarily free themselves from the distractions of sight, sound and gravity. He was a pioneer whose efforts resulted in a unique, modern device to assist humankind in its ancient quest for self-knowledge and inner experience.
Floating begins our journey into self-exploration, relaxation, health, and discovery. Reality is just a thought away. The environment in the tank is one where we can explore and experience aspects of ourselves that we may not have known existed. When we choose to float, we often find the experience continues even after the session ends. That light-blue, egg-shaped, vessel becomes the cocoon from which we venture forth into the light of a newly discovered world.
CONSCIOUS LIVING MAGAZINE ARTICLE
by Richard Porter
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