Sensory Deprivation: Sorta Like Altered States, But With Less Peyote
A bit late with this, but I’m hoping it’s worth it. Here’s the recap of yesterday’s adventures with Justin and Ben, floating for an hour in sensory deprivation tanks:
Ben and Justin, all of us standing at the Merchandise Mart station, waiting for the train. I’m excited at this point, and it’s around 1:00 PM. The idea that we’re going to be in sensory deprivation tanks is undefined; we’re all experiencing a sort of vague excitement. We spend most of the train ride talking about work-related matters.
A few times, one of us says something to the amount of "I’m looking forward to this," but it doesn’t go beyond that. If anyone’s nervous, no one’s saying anything.
The SpaceTime Tanks logo. Even now, I’m a bit undecided on the logo. Even now, it looks a bit cheesy new-agey, and also a bit apt and right-on-the-money.
Ben and Justin, posing outside the oddly shaped building where these tanks are located.
Didn’t notice the neon signs (or the shaped lights) until after I got home.
Inside SpaceTime Tanks. On entering, we were asked to take off our shoes. Justin, Ben and I hung up our coats, took off the shoes, and proceeded immediately to take turns going to the bathroom.
The waiting area had two soft, plush couches. There was a strong weight of incense in the air, and some New Agey music was playing – something instrumental, strings being plucked delicately, that sort of thing. I have a hazy recollection of this, but the guy behind the desk (along with another girl who was rather cute) were talking off and on about pyramids and Atlantis.
I shit you not.
I guess that I got comfortable by taking pictures of the room. Here’s a shot of Justin, relaxing a bit before we all get our "training" on the tanks. You’ll notice that, to his right, there’s a book on "Floating" on the arm of the couch; to his left, you can see down the hallway, into one of the rooms that has a sensory deprivation tank.
The aquarium was as long as the couch (possibly bigger), and seemed pristine. No algae buildup, clear glass. When I was home for the holidays, I got to see the aquarium that Shane and my sister kept in their place. I remembered how cool their aquarium was, and made it a point to try to get a shot of this one.
As I’m taking the picture, I notice there aren’t any fish inside. This makes me want to take the picture even more. The guy behind the desk informs me that the aquarium is empty, due to the fact that they’re switching it over to a saltwater tank. Apparently, they found homes for all the fishes just yesterday, and today was the first day it was empty.
For some reason, looking into this big, empty aquarium freaked me out to no end.
The whole time we’re in the waiting room, I’m trying to keep moving. I’m nervous, in a twitchy, energetic way. But I’m slowly getting to the apprehensive nervousness stage.
In the upper left hand corner, I notice a small piece of vegetation. At first, I wonder if it’s a fish looking for food. On closer inspection, I notice it’s just a plant, sitting there, limp and almost lifeless. It’s just there, not doing anything at all. Just floating.
We walk into a room together, me, Ben, Justin and the guy who I’m going to assume is the owner. On top of the tank, there’s a box of tissues, some earplugs, some Q-Tips, and a towel.
The owner (I’m not referring to him as such) gives us a walkthrough of everything imaginable related to the tanks: their origin, why it’s better to refer to them as "relaxation tanks" instead of "isolation tank," what some people do their first time, what some people ask their first time, what most first-timers are afraid of, why it’s ok to do anything we want because it’s our first time and everything’s all good.
The talk was fine, but sweet Jebus it just seemed to go on and on and on and on. We got the basics on floating (basically, just relax and it’ll happen). A good bit of advice he gave was that, if we felt ourselves tense up (which I did) trying to keep our arms at our sides, we could tuck our hands behind our heads. I did that in the tank, and it did wonders. Eventually, my arms just went all willy-nilly all over the place.
The whole time the owner is talking, I’m trying to nod and be really "into" what he’s saying. The sensation I had was of barely contained nervousness/laughter. It was a lot like when I was sitting with Ben watching Fritz Lang’s Man Hunt. If Ben or Justin would have laughed, even a little, I feel like I would have busted out into nonstop laughter.
Mainly, I think the idea of floating in a ton of saltwater was exciting and unnerving, all at the same time.
Before and after, we were supposed to shower.
Oh yeah, did I mention that you go into these tanks in the nude? When I called to confirm our reservations, I asked what we should bring. The owner said "nothing at all." When I asked about swim trunks, he said that we could bring them, but we wouldn’t feel them inside the tank (since the water is roughly 93 degrees Fahrenheit, near body temperature).
So, after the pep talk, everyone left the room and Ben and Justin went to their own "private" rooms. I felt a bit like I wanted a new room, instead of the "practice" room where everyone had been given instructions. But I got over that pretty quickly.
I played around a bit with the light switches, before showering. I noticed that one switch turned on this low, red light. Didn’t know what to make of it, and decided to leave it on while I took a picture of the shower.
You probably can’t tell, but in the picture above (the one before this red one), the shower is to the immediate left. There are no curtains, nothing at all. There’s a tiled, square area and the showerhead. If you were facing the nozzle in the image above and took about one big step backward, you’d bump into the sensory deprivation tank.
Before I got in, I tried taking a few pictures of the tank. This is a pretty good approximation of what you see, before stepping inside it. The flash in this picture is faint, as normally you wouldn’t even know that there were two tubes in the back. In fact, the whole time I was inside, I don’t think I even felt those things.
Shortly before entering into the beast. After the shower, the whole room was a bit steamy (I like my showers tropically hot), and the lens got a bit cloudy.
Ah, good old flash. This illuminated the inside of the tank. Again, I need to emphasize that, without my camera, I would never have seen any of this at all. Even from the door to the tank, looking inside… you can’t see squat.
This probably looks deeper than it actually is. The height of the tank is such that, if you were sitting down in the water, you could be sitting upright and not hit your head on the ceiling. Well, at least I didn’t hit the ceiling.
There’s only really about 10 inches of water, all told, inside this thing. Sitting down, it just about covers your lap. There is a small plate that’s in the middle of the bottom, that seems to warm the water. There is, we were told, roughly 800 pounds of salt mixed into here – and that’s what makes us float.
If you were sitting in this thing, and crossed your legs… I’d say that the water might go up to 3/4 the way up your leg. It wouldn’t totally submerge both knees.
I just want to make sure that you don’t think it’s deep at all. In fact, it’s quite shallow. Stepping foot into the warm water, I want to say it came about halfway up the calves.
Remember this shit, the next time it takes me a while to get the blog updated.
I crawled, naked, into a box full of salt water to take pictures! For you!
And, since it was warm inside the thing… of course, the lens got steamed up.
This is what it looked like with the door closed. :P
A few seconds before this, I had put in some earplugs to dampen the ambient sound and to keep water from getting into my ears.
And before you ask, no… I didn’t take a picture with the door closed. Select-All, Fill. :)
After I entered into the tank and closed the door, I sat down in the warm saltwater. It didn’t feel too terribly odd – a bit like normal water, but slightly thicker (but not that noticeable).
The instant I laid down in the water, stretching out… the instant I leaned into the water and started floating, I broke out giggling. Seriously. Uncontrollable laughter for a good two minutes, straight. Imagine you had never felt anything that was "cold." Then, out of nowhere, someone hands you a can of soda that’s been in the fridge for a while. I was a lot like that – unsure how to react, amazed by this new sensation. I didn’t feel scared or threatened in any way, because I didn’t interpret any danger. Just a wholly new sensation that I hadn’t had before.
And in this case, that wholly new sensation was the complete lack of sensation.
For a long while, I tried opening and closing my eyes. I moved around a great deal, swishing my body back and forth. While the warm saltwater dampened my sensations, I could still always tell that I was floating in water of some sort. If I stopped moving, the sensation of nothingness took over. But for that first 20 minutes or so (difficult to tell, since there were no reference points), I was always moving around, if only a little bit at a time.
Like Justin and Ben (I found out later), I had imagined my body spinning in slow, large circles. Even though I knew it was impossible, given the size of the tank, I felt my body moving around. Occasionally, I could reach out and touch the edge of the tank with my left or right hand, my feet would touch the end… but save those moments, I could almost pretend that there was nothing around my body.
Since we were warned that some of us might have problems truly "relaxing" our shoulders and arms (which is a big problem for me normally), I tried putting my arms behind my head. This was wonderful. I continued to float, and it felt pretty fantastic. After a while, just like the owner described, even this action of having my arms folded behind my head seemed like too much work. Eventually, I spent most of the time with my hands raised above my heads.
Imagine yourself falling, in super slow motion. Your hands are up above your head – not straight up like two planks of wood, but loose, wavey. That’s pretty much how I spent most of my time in the tank: stretched out with my hands above my head.
At the start, I kept arching my torso to the left or right, each time "spinning" in that direction. A bit like this:
\ O /
For a very long time, I kept playing bumper boats with the walls. But in the end, after I stopped concentrating on the whole physical side of things… I stopped twitching around and motionlessness allowed me to forget I was in an enclosed space.
At the start, I kept trying to imagine, oddly, everyone reading this blog. I imagined countless people asking the question: "Really? What was it like?" I spent a long while trying to come up with adequate descriptions, analogies, trying to sum up the sensation of sensationlessness.
Every few moments I’d realize that, less than 20 feet away, a coworker of mine was floating naked in a tub of saltwater. And I busted out laughing. That sorta killed the moment.
In my immaturity, I did this a lot. :)
After the first part, which was mainly me thinking about the physical ramifications… I stopped concentrating on the bodily aspects of the tank, and just tried to not move. Instead, I focused (and I’m being really serious here) on trying to hallucinate.
I mean this. I tried hard to try to trip out, to see weird stuff… but to no avail. At most, I saw a few small arcs of light. There were two major moments of "seeing" things. First off, there were oddly shaped rings (think cutting an onion in half), that seemed to glow in varying intensity. This seemed to happy mostly at the start of the session.
Another odd moment was that I imagined this small firefly of light. Dull and blurry, actually, but it started near my right foot and slowly made its way up the tank to a place somewhere to the right and above my head. At no time was this firefly-like light anywhere near "bright." It was just there, slow-moving and fuzzy.
Even in absolute darkness, it seems like the eyes are always, constantly looking for something to cling to. Some frame of reference, some way to distinguish the viewer from the viewed, some way to say "I am here, and that is over there." The eyes will bring about hallucinations/images solely for the purpose of self-definition.
Occasionally, I’d get hit in the face or on the chest by a drop of condensation. And for a long while throughout, I felt really cold in the tank, despite the water being quite warm.
At one point, I moved my hands out of the water and felt along my stomach and chest. All over me, there were small patches where I had gotten wet, but had since dried. At various points, I could detect areas where the immense salt in the water had formed, where the water had evaporated and left tiny hills of salt crystals.
At several moments, I could have sworn that I could hear the Brown Line, rumbling away.
Somewhere during that hour, I also fell asleep. It was an odd sensation, primarily because I remember being acutely aware of my own snoring, but not of my sleeping. I kept hearing this constant "buzzer" going off, and thinking Gee, is that me snoring? This went on and on, me hearing a noise and then wondering if I was snoring and then me sorta waking up.
Towards the end of the session, I began to have this odd question in my head. I wondered if someone before me had ever tried masturbating in the tank. I don’t know why I thought this, but it crossed my mind.
Of course, this thought may have followed shortly after I let a big fart go while floating (with my ears submerged underwater, along with the earplugs… it sounded low and distant, almost 30 feet away). Afterwards, Justin, Ben and I all admitted to cutting the proverbial cheese while floating, each in our own tanks.
Somewhere between the snoring and farting, I did fall asleep for an indeterminate period of time. I remember waking up and thinking how long the hour was dragging on. Unlike most stories, my hour seemed to extend for longer than 60 minutes.
When my time was up, the owner came into the room and thumped his palm against the side of the tank. I responded (as I was supposed to) by banging the inside of the tank a few times, to let him know I was awake and that I heard him.
When I pushed the tank door open, I was suddenly inside a room bathed in red light. Slowly, I realized that this was for the benefit of my eyes, which had been in complete darkness for almost an hour.
Before opening the door, I remember rubbing my eyes while inside the darkness of the tank. A bit of that saltwater got into my eyes and stung a little. A bit got into my mouth, and I must admit…. as enjoyable as the whole experience had been, that water tastes like absolute ass.
Shortly after reemerging from the tank.
Come to think of it, this makes two times so far that I’ve posted naked pictures of myself on this blog. The whole place is starting to go XXX!
As I showered, I noticed that the shampoo looked a bit like blood in my hands. This was the closest "freak out" moment I had.
Actually, it wasn’t a freak-out moment at all. I just wanted to add some drama.
This shot is taken after I finished showering. I tried to take this picture beforehand, but ended up spilling a ton of shampoo all over my towel and decided to cut my losses.
As we stepped foot outside SpaceTime Tanks, I noticed this little bag on the floor, across the hall.
I’m not sure what it means.
Before this, as we were paying… the owner cut us a deal. We were originally going to either go for the 3-session package ($90) or the 5-session package ($125). Keep in mind that an individual, one-hour session is $40. Well, we decided to splurge and asked for a 6-session deal. By each paying $50, we all have an extra one-hour session in our futures.
As Ben, Justin and I were walking, we discussed our experiences and traded reactions. Along the way, I came across this on the sidewalk.
Before we got back on the train, we stopped at Allende Restaurant, where, I swear, I had two fantastic fucking tacos (one steak, one chicken). The three of us ate a bit, and talked some more about our reactions. Of us all, I think that Ben responded most favorably… he had a great time relaxing, and raved about the tanks.
As we sat comparing notes, we remembered when the idea of these sensory deprivation tanks had been brought up. In the office, Justin kept joking with Rey (our boss) that the company should pay for our sessions.
It’s teambuilding! he said, emphatically.
How is it teambuilding? asked Rey. You’re all alone, inside a tank by yourself!
At that moment, sitting in Allende and listening to Justin and Ben, I realized what a great day we were having. I felt like we were fairly unique – that we were part of a subculture, some lesser minority that went out looking for odd experiences.
Sure, other folks have tried sensory deprivation tanks before we did. But us? We were the kind of people who spent an hour floating in 800 pounds of saltwater, and then went out for fucking tacos afterwards.
I’ve got the coolest friends.