I closed the door behind me and looked down at my new home: a one-foot deep tub of salt water meant to float my body and deprive me of my senses for the next 90 minutes. I laid down in the dense salty tub, ready to float into bliss, as the lights dimmed and the soft music that once filled the room drifted off into the abyss that now enveloped my sight.
I had heard about floatation chambers quite often, as they continue to pop up in cities across the world like the one-time ubiquitous oxygen bars of the 1990’s. But unlike the O2 bars which promised a bit of relaxation, floatation chambers (a.k.a. sensory deprivation chambers) are said to offer unparalleled relaxation, detoxification, and a trip into the realms of higher consciousness.
Principal researcher Dr. Peter Suedfeld has devoted his work to studying the effects of sensory deprivation since leaving Princeton in the 1960s. His research continues to find how a float in a chamber can help treat chronic pain, high blood pressure, and autonomic nervous system problems. Other researchers, like Glenn Perry (one of the first to build and sell tanks), have shared the meditative benefits of a flotation chamber. When the senses are deprived, a person is more easily able to meditate since the aches and pains of the body are gone. This helps reach what yogis call Samadhi — a state of blissful awareness.
So, why did I wait so long before giving a float serious thought? Because I was scared. I like being in control (which is something I think many people can relate to).
Also, an urban legend floats around sensory deprivation of a man who lost his sanity and murdered his lover that night. That alone was enough to keep me away from the salty bath.
My friend Ian — a many-time floater and bliss-seeker — told me that his first float ended with him convinced that Planet of Apes was not fiction, but real — as real as the hardwood door that separated the flotation chamber from the apes outside who controlled the planet. After creaking open the door, Ian discovered not apes manning the front desk of the floatation center, but a few petite women in yoga pants. Not exactly the formidable opponents he expected.
While I can’t say that I left the float chamber convinced apes had taken over, I did share my own transcendental experiences that could make for the next great existential novel.
Like meditation can often be, the first twenty or so minutes in the float (it’s very tough to actually conceptualize time in a sensory deprivation chamber) dragged on like paint drying. While time seemed to slow down, my mind raced like a Formula One driver and I heard the inner sound of my mind spinning like a DJ at a meditation-fused house party.
Then I dipped into thinking back to my youth. And by youth, I mean floating in the primordial amniotic ooze with my placenta.
Floating there weightless, it reminded me a lot of what being a fetus must have felt like. But it didn’t feel like I was fabricating this reflection. I literally thought back to feeling what it was like as a fetus, floating there for nine months weightless, bouncing around in the womb with the comfort in knowing that everything I needed in life was being taken care of by God through my birth mother’s nutrients in this wonderful miracle we call birth.
I then thought about growing old. It occurred to me how strange that we often think of life as a period of years where we grow up through adolescence then grow old and die, when it can also be looked at as a time of continuous growth that transcends the physical existence.
Even though the body may die, our soul grows beyond the physical. Perhaps through Jungian spiritual archetypes, what we learn in this life is imprinted on our soul and carries on into the next.
Herein lies the ability to choose evolution. Our mind can continue to evolve (through mindful habits like meditation) to experience nirvana and the interconnectedness of all beings.
Perhaps we may truly be made of star stuff, as Carl Jung often alluded to.
I blinked. Then blinked again. Were my eyes open? Or closed? I truly couldn’t tell. I began to see stars, and then constellations form as if I were watching the blood vessels dance when we stare at the back of our eyelids.
I moved my arms and legs into constellations, floating there like I were in space.
Weightless — like the soul.
I realized that here I was floating in a salty tub, but I couldn’t feel anything. I was weightless and not distracted by body aches and pains. Gravity no more.
Here I was, the first time, having a conversation with my soul separate from the body. For the first time, I felt like I was a spirit having a bodily experience, not the other way around.
I thought of a question that’s been on my mind. If a person weighs the same before and after they die, but they are not there anymore, what is it that we call “I”? Where did the self go? Did the soul just float away?
Enter the ego.
I began to see the physical body as a shell that carries us out through a life to teach the soul a lesson or a series of lessons. I thought of my studies in anthropology and marketing and how we as a culture have come to behave in a way that favors the physical body and not the soul. We’ve come to think that a commodity will bring happiness, when a physical object cannot feed the soul. The soul is only fed when the body follows one’s inspiration. By living inspired one is living “in spirit” and therein walking down its path on purpose.
I realized that meditation, much like the meditation in the floating chamber, helps one recognize the ego and tune into the soul and the interconnectedness of all beings.
I suddenly felt the oneness I have read about in the work of so many, including the many holy books such as the Bible, Quran, Torah, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, and the Tao Te Ching.
As the lights began to flicker on and a gently strumming sound emanated from the room’s speakers, one last thought entered my mind: What if we as a world culture focused more on the similarities between the world’s many religions instead of its differences? Where would that heightened level of consciousness take us as a species?
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