And surprisingly, I don’t have buyer’s remorse.
In 1954, John C Lilly, a medical practitioner and neuropsychiatrist, had a novel idea in terms of scientific experimentation. Pre-Lilly, our white coat PH.Ds’ mostly sought to measure biological and mental reactions based on the addition of things, i.e. the “dependent variable.” People are curious- making each of us a proud a representative of the only species to purposely tinker our scenarios, just to measure affect. Testing is the basis of our learning though, and it abides by the scientific method which calls for an observation followed by a testable hypothesis. We ask and then try things, where inquisition follows this styled formula: “what happens if we heat this up by X,” “what if we moved the two samples apart by Y,” or “what would happen if we continued for Z.” After learning to not mix certain kitchen chemicals and that flowers have hard a time growing in dark rooms, it was about time we started measuring the effect of omission.
What if we took away X, Y, and Z?
Sensory deprivation is the latest and greatest in terms of designer health care. Popularized by athletes like Steph Curry and artists like John Lennon, I liken the practice to cryotherapy pods. Scientifically, they’re salubrious, but, by design, they’re unavailable in the “natural world,” mandating the hefty price tags. I had just gotten #paid and needed a rut buster. I was in the market, seeking a new prix-fix miracle-drug, some Wednesday after-work variety. Be it from indelible SEO or an algorithmic Instagram ad, I came across a float tank in NYC that charged $100 to try Lillys brain child, hourly. 60 minutes of nothingness. I said fuck it, and slotted a 6:30pm.
The curator of the tank called me to confirm and I asked him what to expect, since this was my first time (in recent memory) sans sensorial. Rather than the do’s and don’ts of a successful “float,” he hastened me off the phone, because according to the shopkeep, the less I expect, the better. I found that peculiar. To an uninformed, a sensory deprivation tank seems like a expedited pass to the gates of Heaven, a watery grave for the erred floater – and drowning ranks as one of the most unimaginable ways to pass, where near-death victims describe the horror tantamount to the pain, combining for a hellish compote. All things considered I was expecting tutorial, but, this wasn’t the first time I heard that less is more.
People float in sensory deprivation tanks for a variety of intra-personal reasons, but for brevities sake there’s just two: physical or mental. For an athlete like Tom Brady, the corporal alleviations granted by a float are powerful. The trick to the tank is it’s goldilocks method for depriving the medium, water. With over 1,000lbs of Epsom salt diluted into water that matches the external temperature of human skin (about 93 degrees), the tank holds a remedy that, in it’s own way, refutes laws of gravity. Like the Dead Sea, the sodium levels keep the body afloat. And, similar to the tech found in Under Armour, the temp-match makes it so that the mind can’t differentiate the body from the environment, as “the inside and the outside,” are mirror image. When done properly, float tanks don’t make you feel as though you’re suspended within water, but instead stagnant in nothingness. For the athlete plagued by chronic fatigue, muscular trauma, and maligned skeletons, floating gives the body time to be pressure-free. Basically, giving your body a break from the weight. When TB12 takes a hard hit from the blind side, this is how he becomes a new man.
Now, I haven’t played in any recent games of Pro Football or endured an Iron Man so I wasn’t floating for the qualitative effects, of anti-G’s, on my duress. Instead, as mentioned, I was in a mental malaise. A transition that was hurting, and left me in need of reprieve. I was there for the psychological potential. Like with yoga or meditation, I needed a visit from the witch-doctor, not a physical therapist.
nothing is more fertile than Emptiness…
A large part of Lillys’ original experiments with sensory deprivation involved hallucinogens and other psychoactive ingredients. It took him 10 years of playing with his home-made float tank to say “hey, what if I tripped B****s in here?” dose up, and dive in. Talk about upping the ante. I think he just saw the juxtaposition of the drug with the nothingness of the tank too paradoxical – and too exciting – to ignore. The tank had been a medium that made mild his Earthly stimuli and removed the constants. Until you float, you don’t know total darkness. The watery mix makes it so that you can’t really feel either, depriving you your sense of touch. Scent? Negligible, somehow. And, if done correctly, it’s silent too – dead enough to hear your eye lashes breaking through the salt when you blink. Float tanks advertise honestly: it’s an hour of nothingness. That sounded nice. I wasn’t dabbling in different dimensions like Lennon and Lily, but I had the same question. Where would my mind go if it didn’t have to focus on the usual bullshit. If left alone, how would it react?
As with any treatment, results may vary. To mimic my instructors (?) request unto me, I’ll leave my 2 cents out of this post and allow you the experience of an hour-long float unencumbered. No forethought nor expectations. I will say is this though: Doing nothing can be harder than doing anything else.
From the moment you’re born, stimuli bombards you in constant perpetuity and distracts you. What makes it okay is that we learn to deal and because perceptiveness is a virtue. The ability to see the world is a huge KPI for how successful a person can be and understanding the dependent variables in life, or, forming experiences, is what being here is all about. In the same breath, taking moments outside the onslaught of things is hard to do so opportunities should be taken. I struggled in my date with darkness, it seemed new. We seldom let our minds really wonder and if we’re being austere, NEVER do nothing – careful here, because we’ve adapted the definition to fit the 2018 lifestyle. Now, scrolling through your phone, vaping eCigs, and listening to the new Spotify mixes counts as moments totally aloof. For $100 you can feel the true meaning of the word.
“The goal of mediation is not to get rid of thoughts or emotions. The goal is to become more aware of your thoughts and emotions and learn how to move through them without getting stuck.” Sit with yourself in total solitude…that’s where you find your truths.