Contemplatives have known for centuries about the need for quiet. To understand the innate wisdom of one’s own mind, one needs to go to the forest, or the desert, or somewhere, probably in nature, to escape the frenetic sensory inputs of the crowd.
So what to do when you live in a place and age where every sense is awash in a digital tsunami of noise and information and advertisements and more?
I tried one urban solution last week at Float Sense.
I found it in a typical strip mall in Burnaby off Kingsway. The lobby looked like something a dentist with New Age tendencies might set up. Clean, pastel art, comfortable chairs, an ambience that makes you lower the volume of your voice without knowing why.
After a brief introduction I was shown to my room with its private float tank. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this, a plastic pod about the size of a smart car. It looked clean, though, and if not exactly inviting, also not scary. Although the friendly attendant did mention that some people feel some anxiety at first as their mind adjusts to this new environment without physical sensations.
I took a shower, put in the optional earplugs to keep the water out, and slipped naked into the tank. I reached up to lower the lid, heavier than I’d expected. Once it was shut I was in the dark. I slid back into the water, warmed to exactly 93.5 degrees to match my body. Because it held 800 pounds of epsom salt, according to the brochure, I was perfectly buoyant. I may have felt my right knee gently touch the wall, followed a moment later by my left leg brushing a wall, but that ended any sense of contact.
I lay back and tried to enjoy the experience, but it wasn’t completely comforting. I thought about claustrophobia and how it’s just another trick of an unruly mind, but I also wondered if I could trust the attendant’s reassurance that vents would bring in plenty of fresh air. It seemed a little too warm.
Or was that water? I understood I was floating, meaning I was partly in the water, but I couldn’t tell how much of me. I didn’t know whether my toes were above or below the surface. Everything felt neutral.
I looked around to test the lighting, realizing I was now in a place so dark it made no difference whether I opened or closed my eyes. But maybe I touched my face in the process, because I also got salt in my eyes which stung enough to be annoying for a few minutes.
The sound was almost down to zero but I could still hear something. It may have been a far-off washing machine or the distant hum of an air conditioner. Maybe it was the low level frequency of the universe in motion. Somehow I wished it would all disappear into utter silence.
Or maybe that was my mind I was hoping to re-set with a complete reboot. I spent the rest of the 90-minute session this way, sometimes adrift, quite pleasantly, sometimes thinking too much about the experience. At the end, which came sooner than I had expected, I heard the soft music pumped into the pod telling me my time was up.
I took a post-float shower and went to the upstairs lounge to sit and reflect. Yes, it was a worthwhile experience, especially worthwhile in my case since I’d answered a Craigslist post from the owners offering a free trial. Yes, a second or third visit would probably have more impact since I was now past the awkward newcomer stage, and could simply settle in.
Would I become a regular and use it often as a paying customer?
Maybe. My first choice for respite or insight will always be nature. But the chance to wipe the senses clean is a prized thing in the big city, especially when it’s this convenient. I now understand why some people use float tanks as a regular escape from our sensory overload.
Anyway the search goes on.