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Not so deprived after all

Well, I had my 90 minutes in a float tank yesterday.

I didn’t find God (disappointing but no surprise). I didn’t morph into something pre- or post-human (I really must watch Altered States so I can be in on the joke with the rest of the Commentariat). Didn’t have a single respectable hallucination. And I could not say it was a transformative experience, except in the sense that it transformed me from somebody who’d never been in the tank to somebody who now has.

That said, it was still a fascinating and worthwhile thing to do.

I’ll probably write up a more detailed version and post to the Cabal in the next few days. But the highlights are:

I’m no longer calling it a sensory-deprivation tank because, other than sight, which disappeared as if I’d never owned eyeballs, my senses were alive, alert, and more stimulated than I would ever have imagined.

In no way was it claustrophobic. It was, at times, disorienting, discombobulating, and momentarily panicky. But claustrophobic? Not a bit. It’s been compared to floating in outer space, and while I don’t think that’s quite it either, it had more in common with infinity than enclosure.

Physically, it was extremely relaxing (and oddly empowering) to my entire body except my neck. The owner of the center told me as she introduced me to the tank that it was common for people to “clench” at first, trying to keep their head elevated. Very true. Even after I relaxed enough to let my head drop back, I was nervously aware of the intensely salty water less than an inch from my eyes. So while I came out of the tank feeling strong, tall, relaxed, and confident, I also came out a little sore in the shoulders. I should have accepted the inflated neck pillow that was available for the float.

When I moved while floating (and I moved a lot more than I anticipated), I was aware of the surface of the water. But otherwise the division between water and air was enchantingly imperceptible. Both were warm and so near body temperature that water, air, and I were as one.

The water — laden with 800 pounds of epsom salt — was thick. Also silky. Or slimy depending on your point of view. But definitely thick. No way anybody could sink.

Although I’ve wanted to try this since I first read of John Lilly’s experiments, this little adventure was actually kicked off by an article I linked to last weekend. In that article, a first-time floater mentions being able to hear the sound of his eyeballs moving. At first I was disappointed; I didn’t hear mine. What I did hear was my breath. In the silence of the tank it roared like a gale sweeping across a lonely plain. I had no idea normal breathing could be so loud. Eventually, though, about halfway through the session, my senses did indeed sharpen to the point where, yes, I could hear my eyelids and my eyeballs and the muscles around them.

Commentariat members S and Dana — both tanking veterans — warned against accepting piped-in music, saying it would defeat the purpose. Music wasn’t offered, but the owner of the center did show me how some floaters kept the door open a crack with a folded hand towel. I tried that for a few minutes, but both the light and the cool air wafting in from the room were wrong, so I pushed the towel out of the door and surrendered to complete darkness.

As long as I lay still in the middle of the tank, the absolute blackness was … odd, but not upsetting. Often awesome and meditative. But the tank is big, nearly 4 x 8, and it was kind of fun to drift back and forth in it, bouncing off one end with my toes, bouncing off the head end with my fingers. Or swishing back and forth at the waist. My biggest takeaway from tanking was: I felt like a mermaid, as though this watery environment were natural to me. And I’ve never been a water person.

However, moving around, or rather going still again after moving, was also the one thing that consistently left me discombobulated and slightly freaked out. Stop and there’s no up, no down, no weight. Where am I? Lost in space.

Was it a good physical experience? Absolutely. I can truly see how tanking could be used for pain management. Or for easing the stresses of pregnancy or injury.

Mentally? Although I’ve heard some people say that their first moment in the tank changed their life, I spent the 90 minutes simply getting used to new sensations. I gather from the owner of the place that that’s the norm. It takes multiple sessions or very long sessions to “go deep.”

I left feeling that not much had changed. Yet even today I noticed my body feels light and strong and my senses slightly enhanced. I’d do this again in a heartbeat.

So there’s the short version. Any questions? Just ask.


  1. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty December 23, 2016 1:25 pm

    Very interesting, and I look forward to reading more about your experience.

    I woke one night a few years ago to find the power had failed at some point. It is DARK out here at night anyway, and in the basement, I could not see my hand in front of my face. Of course I knew where I was, and had no fear, just shut my eyes again and went back to sleep. The last time the power went out was during the day, and with the hearing aids in, the thing that struck me the most was the silence… And, of course, that doesn’t bother me either. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Joel
    Joel December 23, 2016 1:44 pm

    Glad you had a chance to do that, though honestly I never understood what the benefits are supposed to be. It always sounded boring to me.

    (I really must watch Altered States so I can be in on the joke with the rest of the Commentariat).

    Bring a sense of humor. Haven’t seen it since it was in the theater so I don’t really remember any details, but I could never take William Hurt seriously afterward. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Claire
    Claire December 23, 2016 2:13 pm

    Well, before Dana and S. crushed my expectations, I was hoping for some groovy hallucinations. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Maybe some other time.

    As to Altered States, the combo of Ken Russell (sensationalistic weirdo director) and Paddy Chayefsky (brilliant intellectual writer) is almost too much even to contemplate, let alone the prospect of low-budget 1980 special effects.

    But after yesterday I can state without a doubt that the combo of a float tank and psychedelic drugs would be truly terrifying, even if not quite trippy enough to turn one into a caveman.

  4. Claire
    Claire December 23, 2016 2:32 pm

    Thanks, ML. Yep, it was definitely not the darkness alone that was discombobulating despite being the kind of absolute black you rarely encounter in real life. It was the combo of the blackness and the spatial dislocation — no up, no down.

  5. R.L. Wurdack
    R.L. Wurdack December 23, 2016 2:51 pm

    In the nuclear power / nuclear research community engineers and technicians get what’s known as “whole-body scans, usually annually or so. To do this one sits in an extremely comfy form fitting chair in an anechoic vault-like room in the dark for about an hour (lest the extremely sensitive instruments be offended you see). The almost universal experience is , “What happened?” I’ve been through it several times and don’t remember a damn thing between the door closing and the door opening. You’re almost instantly asleep. Might have to try the tank.

  6. AG
    AG December 23, 2016 8:33 pm


    I suspect being an introvert may temper the initial effects somewhat.

    A chatterbox would probably find the experience more extreme from the get go.

  7. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty December 24, 2016 5:23 am

    “…the spatial dislocation โ€” no up, no down. ”

    That is exactly what would have been the worst, and why the prospect is not inviting. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. rochester_veteran
    rochester_veteran December 24, 2016 6:05 am

    Claire wrote: “But after yesterday I can state without a doubt that the combo of a float tank and psychedelic drugs would be truly terrifying”

    Yeah, I can see how that combination, tripping while floating in the pitch darkness, could lead to a bad trip. The last time I imbibed was when I was a young man, 26 years old, and even though we’re “invincible” at that age, I swore it off and left that experience to my past and have had no further desire to do it again as I have way too many responsibilities to dedicate an entire day to it as is required.

  9. Claire
    Claire December 24, 2016 6:51 am

    “A chatterbox would probably find the experience more extreme from the get go.”

    Hm. Yeah, that might be true. I’ve known a few people who simply could not spend a minute of their lives without either human company or a television on. They would probably leap screaming out of an isolation tank. OTOH, if they stuck it out, they’d likely find it to be a deeper experience than I did.

  10. Claire
    Claire December 24, 2016 6:57 am

    BTW, it appears that one can now get a home tank, complete with a year’s supply of epsom salt, for under $3,000:

    (No, I have zero intention buying one. Also NFI on my part for that link.)

    Those “float tents” are made by Shane Stott, who cured himself of panic attacks, depression, and incipient alcoholism by floating. I was reading his book, The Float Tank Cure while waiting for my session and it seemed pretty good. The few other books on the subject date from decades ago, while his is recent.

    Found one other recent one, but it’s more of a booklet than a book and apparently doesn’t address pain-management at all.

  11. Claire
    Claire December 24, 2016 7:05 am

    “That is exactly what would have been the worst, and why the prospect is not inviting.”

    Definitely to each his own, ML. I can see why anybody might find float tanks boring, scary, pointless, needlessly disorienting, or a lot of other bad things. Me, I remain curious and would like to explore more. Possibly a three-hour float or maybe back-to-back 90-minute floats with just a short break between. There’s a program at one center that offers artists three free floats, a week apart, if they produce a work of art based on their experience. That’s an intriguing idea.

  12. Claire
    Claire December 24, 2016 7:11 am

    “The last time I imbibed was when I was a young man, 26 years old, and even though weโ€™re โ€œinvincibleโ€ at that age, I swore it off and left that experience to my past and have had no further desire to do it again as I have way too many responsibilities to dedicate an entire day to it as is required.”

    Amen. I have not had a psychedelic drug since my late teens. Although I’m very glad I experienced them, many of the experiences were terrible. I would love to try LSD, mescaline, or something similar again, but absolutely only in the most supportive possible circumstances (a therapeutic experiment, religious ritual, etc.). I shudder when I think of the powerful forces my friends and I fooled around with. We were quite serious about what we were doing — not using psychedelics as party drugs (which I can’t even imagine even at today’s much lower doses), but as intellectual and artistic tools. Still, wandering around in unpredictable circumstances or in bad company on high-dose acid … looking back on it, it seems insane. And for a fragile few, it truly was.

  13. rochester_veteran
    rochester_veteran December 24, 2016 7:46 am

    IMO, magic mushrooms are a safer alternative and totally natural. I may try those again some day, but not LSD, too heavy for me at my “advanced” age! ๐Ÿ™‚ It was my birthday yesterday and I turned 61. As a kid, I never envisioned myself at 61 and considered that to be ancient and then poof, here I am!

  14. Laird
    Laird December 26, 2016 10:28 am

    Thanks for the report, Claire. It makes me want to try it. I’ll have to see if there’s one in my area.

    I’ve never tried psychedelic drugs (nothing stronger than marijuana, decades ago), and have no interest in doing so. I don’t even drink much (the occasional beer or scotch, but not often and rarely more than one). I hate feeling out of control. Probably a personality defect.

  15. John
    John December 26, 2016 7:38 pm

    ” but absolutely only in the most supportive possible circumstances”

    I’ve pushed some windows of experience and perception, but always went in with a connection to the real and familiar of my prior living experiences. Even when it was to test or tax me hard, it was to make me more aware or able.

    Light almost certain, at end of any tunnel.

    I would think a lot of what I know would be altered someway if I ended up in a Gitmo and there where no Americans, but Dr Mengele spirit was there, and was chief of psychedelic administration.

    Yeah, windows of perception…

  16. jc2k
    jc2k December 29, 2016 1:45 pm

    I’ve never done anything hallucinagenic other than mushrooms, but dayumm did I always love me some magic mushrooms. It’s been a few years since the last time, but I wouldn’t turn them down if offered. I never took the experience too seriously, but painting a picture or watching a movie with friends was always a good time.
    The idea of taking psilocybin in an enclosed space reminds me of an artist who did a project a few years ago in which he took a number of subjects and had them take a drug they’d never tried before (crack, heroin, pot, shrooms, etc.) and had them sit in a chair for the duration of the experience – they said the person who had the hardest time with it was the person who’d taken mushrooms – they wanted to move around but couldn’t because of the rules of the project (I felt so bad for them).

  17. Claire
    Claire December 29, 2016 5:25 pm

    Y’know, I’ve never tried magic mushrooms. Some grow around here, I understand. And about 10 years ago a friend offered me ‘shrooms from a big jar of them. But even back in the long-ago day when I was experimenting freely with hallucinogens, I had two rules: nothing injected, nothing that makes me sick. I steered clear of them because they do have a reputation for causing nausea. Besides … they’re mushrooms. And I don’t trust anybody else’s mushroom picking but my own.

    But I’d love to try psilocybin in capsule form, known dosage, under the right circumstances.

  18. jc2k
    jc2k December 30, 2016 3:11 pm

    I’ve probably tried them a couple dozen times and I’ve never gotten sick from eating magic mushrooms. A friend of mine vomited once after consuming some, but he also had a belly full of wine. I tend to steep them in hot water and drink it as tea – maybe that helps.

  19. rochester_veteran
    rochester_veteran December 31, 2016 5:17 am

    When I lived in Colorado, I liked going up to the mountains to trip. Nature is a great setting for tripping.

    BTW, was anyone here into the AMC channel series, Mad Men? It was about ad men and took place in the 1960s and one of tne of the main characters, Roger Sterling, got into tripping. Here’s a link to a video of his first trip:

    Part 1:

    Part 2:

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