If you asked me what I saw, I would have no honest answer. This is not because I saw nothing, but because in pure darkness I saw infinite possibility.
I stepped into the float tank and witnessed the sensorium dissipate, as the pale green light and the ambient music faded away. Left alone with my thoughts, effortlessly floating for sixty minutes, I couldn’t help but to think about the void. At first I was relaxed and any concerns of my day were rendered irrelevant in my own oblivion. But the time ticked on by the seldom splashes made by my movements, and my deeper thoughts crept up higher and higher until they burst over the surface. My mind was clear when I stepped out of my first floatation tank experience: “I am human, the greatest experiment to ever walk this earth.” In an hour of isolation, the modular components of my body disappeared, and I was given the opportunity to understand my perception in the absence of a material world.
The “new-age” nature of sensory deprivation might be a turn off to many people who first hear about it. This makes sense, given the nature of both the practice and the characterization of most of the people who energetically spread the word about floatation tanks. However, it is actually far simpler than this and I would encourage anyone reading this to think of sensory deprivation in a floatation tank as an experiment that we have only just begun. Sensory deprivation by exact definition, as we currently know it, is an extended period of time in which you float in a dense Epsom Salt (magnesium sulfate) solution with a blank sensory environment. Many people float in tanks (some in pitch-black rooms), the temperature outside is equilibrated with the solution and your body temperature, and there is so sound other than your heartbeat and your breath. As time passes your body gets accustomed to feeling the salt solution around you. At this point the experience becomes subjective, but in all cases I have heard, the experience remains pleasant.
Deep into my experiences, I find it common to think that I haven’t truly reached the full potential of what float tanks have to offer. There are stories of intense experiences with psychedelic visuals, epic adventures of the mind, and sometimes even getting completely lost in one’s thoughts. While these experiences could very well be the product of what was ingested before the experience, I do believe it is possible to reach certain semi-dreamlike states through floatation, and with the science it does seem to make sense. When the lights go out, your serotonin will gradually convert to melatonin due to the absence of blue-light radiation to the pineal gland (is it nice to hear the pineal gland in a conversation that does not include discussion of a third-eye?), and neurotransmitters like dopamine are projected to rise. Combined with the lack of external sensorium, your thoughts pervade and these neurotransmitters promote a perspective that could have more in common with a dream than waking perception.
Even with my limited experience and lack of necessarily awe-inspiring trips through oblivion, I believe that it is still incredible to perceive the contrast between the floating experience and reality when the lights come on, the music begins playing, and it is revealed that you are just a human floating in an oversized salt water tank. The incredible relaxation accompanied by a thought-provoking experience gave me the opportunity to feel refreshed and renewed. I recommend to everyone to try experiencing a float tank, even if only to rejuvenate the mind and body.
If you have any experience you would like to share please let me know. I would love to hear what you have felt or seen in the void of a float tank.
Note: my float tank experiences are based on the large sensory deprivation tanks in Austin, Texas at the Zero Gravity Institute. I highly recommend these floatation tanks because of their size and the spa’s great service. To me one of the most important considerations for floating is the size of the tank, which will inevitably determine whether or not you become claustrophobic during the float experience. If you are afraid of this feeling I recommend searching for larger float tanks, such as the ones in Austin!