I first introduced floatation and meditation into my life a few years ago, and have watched myself progress through many personal lessons and developments. I have seen radical shifts in my mood, my emotional intelligence and general awareness, and a lot of this I owe to the insights and serenity I have been able to experience in the tank.
Although a deep relaxation is not guaranteed every float, it is a natural response to the environment, and I have found a variety of meditations helpful in allowing me to relax and allow the natural process to take place.
Focusing my attention on the breath, heartbeat or a single thought are basic and have been instrumental, but recently a more interesting dance move has been the observation of focus itself. Unlike the conscious attention, which you can more-or less direct at will, our unconscious attention, consciousness, or state of mind is not so easy to control, but can be watched as it gradually drifts from the busiest of brain states to a state of deep relaxation.
I recommend this simple exercise which can be done anytime, even as you’re falling asleep at night, but, due to the natural impact of the float tank on your system, is easiest experienced in the tank.
Whilst floating in the pod, adrift in the thick, warm, silky water, simply watch your mind. A gentle focus on the breath can be useful.
As the relaxation response begins to kick in, your mind becomes more quiet, and you start to get glimpses of real focus, or presence, between thoughts. Notice these glimpses. They feel different, you’re not just thinking of focusing on the breath but slowly, for milliseconds at a time, your entire experience actually becomes the breath.
Thus as you settle down, not only does your body respond but you can watch it responding, watch the progression of your thoughts slowing. It’s as if your mind is slowly falling, dropping through layers of activity, one by one.
Over time these pockets of focus expand, your mind becomes ever more quiet and fewer thoughts arise. Watch, marvel at the spaciousness. Notice how different this is from waking moments. But careful! If you begin to marvel too much you will stimulate the frontal cortex and slowly but surely you will begin to drift upwards.
For many, this is about as deep as it goes at first, but this doesn’t stop you from being able to watch the progression, and there’s no limit to how deep you can go with time! It is a beautiful process, not only because it shows that you can actually attain levels of awareness, but because you’ve been doing it every night for your entire life, just now you’re taking note- the descent through these brain states is part of the process of falling asleep and waking up. We pass through these states every day!
The most fascinating part of this exercise is seeing how far down you can watch yourself.
For me, there’s a point where I know I’ve reached a deep level of consciousness, close to falling asleep, but as soon as I try to know that I know, I start to drift back up. I first noticed it when taking naps. The change from mid-day activity to sleep represents a long descent through levels of brain activity. As I ascended from varying states, I noticed the sounds of the day solidifying around me, and realised that at some point I’d stopped hearing them!
This, to me, has become a sort of game. A challenge to see how far I can go, perhaps one day I’ll go beyond where I can watch myself, and sink deeper and deeper into the experience. Maybe I can watch myself all the way to sleeping, and beyond. Nobel Laureate and theoretical physicist Richard Feynman wrote about this in “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” which is where I got the idea.
“This “stream of consciousness” reminded me of a problem my father had given to me many years before. He said, “Suppose some Martians were to come down to earth, and Martians never slept, but instead were perpetually active. Suppose they didn’t have this crazy phenomenon that we have, called sleep. So they ask you the question: ‘How does it feel to go to sleep? What happens when you go to sleep? Do your thoughts suddenly stop, or do they move less aanndd lleeessss rraaaaapppppiidddddllllllllyyyyyyyyyyyyyy? How does the mind actually turn off?’””– Richard Feynman
Not only is this a fun and interesting exercise, it’s itself a type of meditation.
It is by definition self awareness.
I believe that when we don’t know where we are, so to speak, we’re prone to living unintentionally. We can hurt both ourselves and others, making negative decisions over and over. This is why for me, one of the most fulfilling benefits of meditation is what is sometimes called the expansion of the ‘gap’. This gap is the space between a thought or event arising and your emotional reaction to that thought. After some time of meditation, your everyday experience becomes more spacious, more ‘gap-ful’, and awareness expands not only to your thoughts, but also your feelings and beyond.
What the above exercise (and floating in general) taught me is that I can observe how ‘gap-ful’ I’m being in any given moment, or in other words, how reactive. This is a skill I’ve come to call ‘finding myself’, whether I be lost in thought, caught up in my emotions or somewhere else entirely. This doesn’t imply that I have complete control over my awareness, far from it. It simply means that I am able to go through my day and know where I am most of the time. Even if I’m so worked up or fuzzed out that the classic ‘take 10 deep breaths’ won’t really help much, at least I’ll know.
A simple example of this is illustrated by when you’re deep in a book (or your phone). You may have noticed before when you’ve been reading or scrolling for a while, and finally look up, you suddenly hear the clock ticking.
‘Was that ticking the whole time? When did my sister come in?!’
Awareness in these moments means you can almost feel your attention being gently drawn away from the ideas or story in the pages and back into your physical reality. When reading, you weren’t aware of the texture of the chair on your arm, or the taste of your breath. These signals were coming in but your attention wasn’t there to focus on them.
This can inform why it can be so hard to transition away from work. I’m finding this now that I’m working from home due to covid-19. If I’m in the middle of writing… this sentence, let’s say, and my partner comes in with some tea and a snack for me, she would probably feel appreciated if I turn, look her in the eyes and say thank you. However, I’m caught up in my work, and I know that in about 15 seconds I’m gonna need to get back into the sentence, so my brain is reluctant to close the drawer on this very idea.
This isn’t just me, you do it too. Every time someone tries to talk to you when you’re writing, or halfway down your feed, how much of you is really there?
The practice for me is to feel it, to strive to take notice in those moments.
The benefit being that in that moment I can try to pull myself further into reality with her, or I’m able to explain to her later on, that when I’m absorbed in my work it’s almost impossible to notice anything else, and if I do manage to pull out it will no doubt destroy whatever flow of thought I’d been riding.
Without this knowledge and dialogue, she may think I’m ungrateful, ignoring her, or don’t value her enough to pull myself away from work for just a few seconds. The reality is that I want nothing more to be fully present with her in every moment, and sadly that truth can be lost.
This is one simple way in which floating has helped my life, and I believe it can help yours, too.
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