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I Tried It

I Tried It: Sensory deprivation tank

Experiencing nothing is bliss.

By Allen Strickland Williams

I love my senses as much as the next stimuli-driven organism. Touch, taste, sight, sound, and smell, I’m a fan of the whole gang. But sometimes, they take in too much, and I find myself longing for a break from…well, everything.

Thus, I find myself parked outside Just Float, a self-described “luxury float spa.” If you’ve never heard of such a facility, perhaps rebranding is to blame. What they call “float suites” are better known as sensory deprivation tanks. The specifics vary, but basically these are soundproof, lightless enclosures the size of a closet, laid horizontally, filled with a foot of salt water.

In the lobby, I see a dude with a man bun and a white guy with dreads hug each other, and I know I’m in the right place. After watching a brief instructional video — “Trust that the water will support you” — I do my best to put my trust issues and fear of confinement aside. A friendly employee walks me to my float suite. I disrobe, shower, and enter the tank.

The size of the tank surprises me: I expected to enter a waterlogged coffin, and instead I’ve found myself in a roomy personal wading pool. Soft light yawns from the corners and ethereal music pipes through the speakers. I sit down in the water, recline, and press the button that turns off the lights.

Then I jolt up, not ready for how dark the darkness is. I fumble for the handrail, splashing salt water into both my open eyes. The stinging is so intense I contemplate giving up. Instead, I take a breath, get my bearings, and give it another go. The video suggested that you hold your arms above your head, but I find it’s more natural to bend them at the elbow, half-up and half-down — doing my impression of the shrugging emoji: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. I chuckle. Is this what he feels like?

I see a dude with a man bun and a white guy with dreads hug each other, and I know I’m in the right place.

My fear subsided, my float finally begins. The music stops playing, and the silence is somehow assuring. But the more at ease I become, the more I notice what’s out of whack. There’s the strain in my neck from keeping my ears above water. I surrender and let them submerge. Salt water floods my ear canals, and I find myself on the water’s “level,” right where I’m supposed to be.

Once I unlock this level of comfort, another realization emerges. I’m clenching every joint and muscle in my body. I let go of that and…it’s sublime. I have become water, destroyer of stress. The stinging in my eyes is gone. Remembering the video, I count down from 100 in my mind. I breathe deeply and let my thoughts float with my body. When I get lost, I start again. After a dozen or so iterations of this cycle, I forget to do…anything at all. I am nothing, floating in nothing, towards nothing. It’s pure bliss.

After what feels like far less than the allotted hour, the light and music slowly turn back on. I open my eyes, and in a quietly ecstatic daze, I exit, shower off, dress, and return to the lobby. I ask an employee how many people return for another float. She doesn’t know, but assures me it’s a lot. I guess the place with 10 chambers that can take you to nirvana doesn’t care about statistics.

I get it. After my float, the external world and its peccadilloes are of no concern for me. A car on the freeway cuts me off. I could care less. I look to the Los Angeles skyline in the distance with the sun about to set on the horizon. The iconic Goodyear Blimp hangs southwest of downtown. It’s just floating.

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Allen Strickland Williams is a comedian based in Los Angeles. 

 

Illustration by Dom McKenzie

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