Away with your senses!

With the exceptions of certain foods and things that are dumb, I’m willing to try anything once. When my friend and meditation teacher first mentioned flotation a few months ago, I was curious. I listened to what he said and did a bit of reading. I started asking around and learned that a couple friends float regularly and love it. I’ve been exploring states of mind for the last year with increasing interest and flotation just seemed to fit.

So today, I headed to Palm Ave Float Club to learn what I could learn. I didn’t really have expectations going in and was there out of sheer curiosity. For obvious reasons, I couldn’t take pictures so do click the link if you want to see what it was all about!

Because I’d read the entire website and had a chat with the woman who called me the day before to confirm my float, I knew the rules – no caffeine up to three hours before, eat a light meal, no shaving or waxing the body, bring conditioner. For once in my life, I followed directions and I’m glad I did. Since this was my first float, the staff conducted a brief orientation to help me understand what was about to happen. I was shown to a private room with a shower and float pod. My “shaman,” as she was called in my confirmation email, explained that I’d be floating in about 500 litres of water with 600 kilograms of Epsom salts (hence not shaving). Before getting into the pod, I would shower and then put in earplugs. I was reminded to close the lights in the room before getting into the pod. There’s a light in the pod, as well, so I’d still be able to see. (My eyes are so poor, however, that once I took off my glasses I was pretty helpless anyway.) The shaman showed me how to close the lid of the pod and explained the two buttons on either side – the green one turned out the pod light and the red one was in case I needed help at any time. (Not like the colors would matter once the lights were out.) She showed me a spray bottle and wash cloth, explaining that sometimes salt got into the eyes. Music would play for the first ten minutes and last five minutes of my float. I’d shower when I was done and then I was welcome to relax in the beautiful, beach-like lounge overlooking Kallang River. I’d spotted some mindfulness coloring books in there when I arrived.

The shaman left me alone and I took my shower, inserted earplugs, and turned off the room light. When the music began, I stepped into the pod and found the water to be body temperature, requiring no adjustment at all. It reached about midway up my calves. I’ve been in the Dead Sea a couple times and was not surprised by the sensation of buoyancy when I settled into the water, but did spend a few minutes adjusting my arms, first clasping them behind my head and later letting them rest by the sides of my ears. As instructed, I closed the pod and got comfy before pressing the green button.

Black like I’ve never experienced before. I couldn’t tell if my eyes were open or closed and when I deliberately blinked to test it, I found that it made no difference. Though there was music playing in the background, I realized that I could hear my breathing and the blood rushing in my ears. Through the blackness, I saw spots in front of my eyes and felt myself falling backwards, a passenger on a dark roller coaster running in reverse.

I was certain I would fall.

And then I remembered to breathe. The shaman had asked if I meditate and told me to utilize whatever meditation techniques I normally do. I started counting breaths. Breathe in. One. Out. Two. In. Three. Out. Four. Get to ten and restart from one. And then do it again. And again.

The music stopped. In the silence that followed, I lost the breath and the count more times than I had it.

I was distracted by thoughts that passed through my mind, but they found nothing to cling to and just melted into something else. I remember a moment of, “Oh, interesting” when I thought of a recent interaction that had made me uncomfortable. But it, too, faded as soon as I’d grasped it. I don’t specifically remember anything else, but I know I didn’t write this blog post in my head, which is a common distraction when I know I’ll be writing about an experience.

My breathing was loud. The rushing in my eardrums heavy. I could hear my heart even though I couldn’t feel my body. It was weightless, perfectly irrelevant to me, and had disappeared. It was eerie, like what I imagine it would be like to be in the womb. There’s nothing there. Nothing at all. Just the blackness and the breathing. Just count the breaths.

I think I drifted off to sleep at some point, or entered some state of unprecedented relaxation. When I came to, I was disoriented and confused and heard that my breathing was off before I understood. As I counted myself back, I thought, “This is all there is.”

A few moments later, or so it seemed, the music started again. I felt for my body and pulled myself into a seated position, wondering what that meant. This is all there is.

What is “this”? All what is?

In retrospect, I should have taken longer to situate myself before getting into the shower, but the strange lapse of time, odd premonition, and unfamiliar environment made me hurry more than I would have liked. Next time, I’ll spend the last five minutes still in the pod and wait until the music is over to get out. There’s a learning curve, another staff member assured me, offering tea as I relaxed in the lounge.

“How was it?” she asked.

“Fascinating,” was the best reply I could come up with.

She smiled and told me that getting used to floating takes a few tries, and I expect this is true. I noticed a few other things, though, that seem worth mentioning here. Firstly, upon getting out of the pod, I didn’t immediately put on my glasses to get my bearings like I usually do. Being a little confused and unable to find myself just didn’t seem like a problem. It didn’t throw me the way it often does.

Secondly, floating left me in a deep state of relaxation, not dissimilar to visiting the onsen or getting a facial or manicure. As a result, I was largely useless for the rest of the afternoon and wanted to do nothing more than sit and read over a cup of coffee. (Which is exactly what I did.)

Thirdly, I’m still curious. I want to revisit that sensation of falling backward, pitching into unseen space. I want to follow it instead of finding a way out of it. (After all, Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind was the catalyst for booking this float.) I want to understand the realization that arose, fully formed but incomprehensible right now. Is there something to it or did the mind just do what the mind does when it dreams? I want to spend more time being nothing. It’s freeing.

I’ll be travelling for the summer but I’m already looking forward to floating again. Though I don’t know what it is yet, I learned something today. And that’s the whole point.

On Dreams

I think I’m a lucid dreamer. Or maybe this is just how dreams go. The science behind lucid dreaming is sketchy at best, as is much of the science behind sleep, but I know where I am in many of my dreams and make decisions about what I want to happen next. Once I’ve woken up, sometimes I can fall back into the dream and redo what has already “happened.” My own laughter has woken me more than once in the middle of the night, but I don’t think I’ve ever woken up in tears. I think the last time I had a nightmare was in college. I woke up with my arm outstretched, grabbing at something that wasn’t there.

I dreamed about this blog post last night. Or, rather, I dreamed about what I was actually thinking but couldn’t articulate when I spent a couple hours writing yesterday afternoon. That’s why I’m rewriting it.

We sleep. Neurons fire. Things make more sense once our brains have had time to process.

Last night I dreamed about love. I dreamed about what we used to talk about, where we used to go, what we used to do. I woke up with a physical ache that I soothed by resetting my breathing; I turned off that dream before rolling over to fall back asleep. I liked the memories. I didn’t like the longing. Dreams can pull us back into the past and the past can be dangerous. Just look at Gatsby.

I’ve learned that it is one thing to dwell on the past, to romanticize it and see it through rose-colored glasses, but it is quite another, I think, to look upon the past as an old friend, with the knowing smile that comes from the expected. The school year is ending, which means that this, too, will join the past. This is the time of year when I begin to look back on what was, which always leads me to think about what could be or could have been.

“The past” enters, stage left.

Since my life follows a school calendar, “next year” begins with the start of the school year in August and “this year” ends in just a week. Soon, I’ll speak of “last year,” meaning right now and the ten months preceding it. Where we are now, the “end of the year,” is a lot of fun, busy, and always bittersweet. At international schools, we say goodbye a lot and at least for me, it never gets easier. We turn over a lot of new leaves.

Sometimes I indulge when I find myself feeling sentimental. Sometimes I go up to the roof and sit in the dark, eyes closed, Lana del Rey or Bon Iver filling my ears, a soundtrack for feelings too wrapped up in themselves to be put to words. Sometimes I run through a few old favorites – things that were, unspoken dreams of things that will never be, imagination for what is still within the realm of possible but only on a technicality. My mind is filled with people I’ve known and loved, maybe for a long time or maybe they’re brand new. People come and go in transient cities, in international schools, and we’re often just counting time.

Thinking about the end of the year got me thinking about the past and is likely why I dreamed about a love I once had. The past becomes the story we tell ourselves, true or not, and it’s what we do with the story that matters. We write those stories all the time.

This is the end of the school year, prompting me to write the story about wanting to be better next year. This is the part when I am reminded of why, how, and who I was. Who I am. Who I can be. This is the part that reminds me of the people who have been with me along the way and I miss them, even if we have yet to be apart.

But of course, sometimes, my imagination catches me off guard, an enemy rather than a friend. Those are the times when I find myself angry or hurt, which are really just emotions that mask feeling fear. Maybe I don’t have nightmares because I can admit when I’m afraid. It doesn’t come up in the dark the way it used to and I don’t push it away as insistently anymore. I’ve learned to make my peace with people and times and events, recall what I’ve learned from them, and wish them well.

When I let my mind wander, I find myself writing stories about what I want and what I hope for, both for myself and for others. I invent conversations that I wish had taken place, rewrite conversations that could have easily gone another way, and imagine conversations yet to happen. Sometimes my imagination is like a tape that won’t stop running, no matter how many times I press stop. Sometimes it fills me such delight that it’s almost disappointing to keep my dreams to myself. And sometimes I catch myself with a silly grin on my face and can’t help but laugh out loud. I think about my people, the broad category that they are, and hold them tightly.

The end of the year is a time of transition. Living on a school calendar provides a convenient opportunity to make changes, restart, and try again, but it also forces endings and beginnings, often sooner than I’m ready for them.

But here we are. Already. So soon. And yet, we thought it would never come. Or so we told ourselves months ago. There’s so much time and never enough. This is the time to remember or say goodbye to people who have built my dreams, occupied a space in my mind and made it their own. It’s the time to send love and good wishes half the world over, to those gone, those going, and all of those I have left behind.

Thank you for being part of my story, part of my dreams. Lucky are those who will come to know you; lucky are we who already do.

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Psst, I published a book!

To be precise, I self-published an e-book! And within a few days, there will be a paperback version, too!

Those familiar with my writing on education already know that peacebuilding is really important to me. It is the way I believe we will be able to make the world a better place. I’ve written extensively about how this can be done in classrooms with students, but I’ve also realized that much of my writing on acceptance, forgiveness, and understanding oneself relates to peacebuilding, as well. We must live peacefully if we want to build a world that is peaceful.

In the book, I explain my own journey to understand what peace means and what it means to live peacefully. Then, I outline how peacebuilding can become a focal point of the work we do with young people. Though I focus on education that takes place in schools, this discussion is by no means restricted to formal schooling and can easily be applied to parenting and informal educational environments.

If we want to make the world a better place, we need to start with peace. Peace begins in our beliefs, attitudes, and identities, which influence the way we approach others. Acting peacefully, towards others and ourselves, is essential to develop a world that is better than the one we have today.

Please click here to find this e-book (and soon-to-be paperback) on Amazon. As always, I welcome any and all feedback. Thank you so much for your support!

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Photos, travels, musings, and ideas on education by a twenty-something teacher trying to make the world a better and more peaceful place