In the Dark, by Elizabeth Reninger
About fifteen years ago, when I was living in Madison, Wisconsin, a flotation tank center opened, right in my neighborhood. I had heard of flotation tanks, but had never actually experienced one. So, feeling curious, I walked over to check it out, one spring afternoon.
It was a very small place: just a reception area and then a back room with two (or perhaps three) tanks, and a couple of showers. The tanks looked ominously like large metal coffins, which gave me a queasy feeling in my stomach. Still, I was up for trying it, at least once.
I received instructions on how to apply a Vaseline-like gel to my lips and any scratches or sores that might be irritated by the high-density salt-water; how to open and close the tank doors; and how to choose the "silence" or the "music" setting for my particular tank. So far, so good.
The attendant then left, I made myself naked as the day I was born, showered and put gel on my lips, chose the "silence" setting, opened the heavy tank door, slid into the warm water, and closed the door behind me.
The darkness was so complete that I couldn’t see my hand, even an inch away from my face. The silence was so complete that my breath sounded like a hurricane, and my heartbeat like thunder. Both the water and the air temperature were set to match exactly the temperature of a human body — which meant that as my body floated high in the water, I felt as though I were floating in air, and very quickly lost all sense of the boundary between the inside and the outside of my body.
After a couple of minutes of slight to moderate panic, I began to relax. And then to relax even more deeply. Soon, that initial panic had transformed completely into a kind of rapture: if there was a heaven, this was it!
The hour in the tank felt both like an eternity, and as though it were over in an instant. Reluctantly, I pushed the tank cover open, and emerged once again into the external world.
As I wandered back out into the reception area, I noticed that — newly-refreshed — my senses were operating at a level at least an octave above what they had previously: colors, sounds, textures were all deliciously (or painfully) vivid.
With my birthday just around the corner, I felt justified in supplicating my friends and relatives for the funds necessary to purchase a one-month unlimited pass to the flotation tank center. And what an excellent month it was!
When deeply relaxed, and deprived of its usual external distractions, the mind begins to unfold in all kinds of unexpected and fascinating ways. Simply to notice this was, for me, a profoundly useful thing. I came to understand, in a whole new way, experiences such as those described by practitioners of Shangqing of Taoism:
How gods and goddesses, monsters and demons and angels, could emerge seemingly out of nowhere, and dissolve back into that "nothing" — similar to how salt, once solid, dissolves in water; How usually unconscious bodily processes could quite literally "come to life" — as though whole kingdoms were alive and dancing inside of me; How silence could expand into seemingly infinite dimensions — vast as a galaxy.
I keep hoping for a flotation tank center to open here in Boulder
[Note: Floatessence West is about 20 miles away in Westminster and A New Spirit Spa is about 26 miles away in Denver. Please refer to the Floatation Center Directory for contact info]