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.