The manager gestured at the tank’s open hatch. “So, you’re going to step in, pull the door closed, orient your head at the opposite end, and just float,” he said.
Inside the tank was what looked like 10 inches of salt water, but I knew what it really was: a void at once claustrophobic and limitless.
“It’ll be completely dark," he continued. "What’s going to happen is you’re going to relax, maybe meditate, maybe fall asleep — and then, before you know it, it’ll be over.”
I’d been looking forward to my first time in a sensory deprivation flotation tank, but now I wasn’t so sure. Scenes from Altered States and Event Horizon flickered through my mind, with supplemental clowns. Too late to turn back. The manager left the room. I stripped, showered and stepped in.
The deal was that I had lately started to feel like I was slowly drowning in needles, being stung to petty psychic death by a million tiny digital things: texts, emails, pings, Facebook messages, cat memes, open tabs, account alerts, sitcom GIFs. I had developed a hunger for an elemental quiet beyond what a 15-minute morning meditation could provide. Thus my recent visit to Float Sanctuary on Main Street. Once a somewhat obscure device — a curio of experimental psychiatry and tripping tool of devoted psychonauts — the float tank has come into the mainstream as something akin to a spa session for your brain. It speaks volumes about the privilege and excess of first-world techno-capitalism that we’re willing to pay for what amounts to a dose of solitary confinement. But damn, I needed some time in the void.
Once I had settled into the salt water, hatch shut, limbs adrift, it was only after the motion-sensor light outside the tank clicked off — erasing the bright seam around the tank door that pointed comfortingly to identifiable external reality — that I realized, gee, I had never really thought to ask myself whether successfully making it to adulthood meant that along the way I must have just sort of automatically shed my standard-issue paralyzing primal childhood fear of the dark.
Turns out: Not really! But, fortunately, an equal and opposite primal fear of the embarrassment associated with a newspaper story about firefighters having to rescue a wailing naked 45-year-old man from ooh scary ghost water canceled it out.
Then I simply let the fears go. I embraced letting them go. Then I let go of embracing.
And I floated — relaxed but alert, disembodied but strangely enlivened. I thought a lot, then didn’t think at all. I existed as pure consciousness. No, seriously, for like a minute. Then I thought about what I was going to have for lunch, and then had a cosmic rebirth experience during which The Infinite Love that is the universe rechristened me Q’iarra the Starchild.
Okay, that didn’t happen — nor did I turn into a primordial blob of ur-mind like William Hurt in Altered States, nor did I accidentally summon a devil spaceship through a dimensional rift a la Event Horizon. But an hour later, I did emerge from the tank refreshed and reset — ready as ever to tackle the 27 emails that appeared in my inbox in the meantime.