Plato spent years of his life exploring the dichotomy between the body and the soul. He said the two exist symbiotically: the body cannot function without the soul and, likewise, the immortal soul must be contained within a body. Further, the ultimate purpose of philosophical life is to free the soul from the body. It’s pretty unfortunate that sensory deprivation tanks hadn’t been around during ancient Greece. Plato must be rolling over in his Athenian grave right now.
Exploring different meditative practices has been highly necessary for me as a college student with multiple jobs and sources of stress. Last week, I tested out the recently popular phenomena of sensory deprivation tanks, and my experience was insightful.
A sensory deprivation tank is a lightless, soundproof tank filled with body-temperature salt water that is extremely buoyant due to hundreds of pounds of magnesium sulfate salt mixed in. The goal is to create an environment in which you can’t feel, see or hear anything, hence the term “sensory deprivation”.
Float tank spas—which claim remarkable improvements to physical and mental well-being—are abundant throughout Seattle. Just research “Seattle float tanks” and decide which one is best for you. Over the weekend, I tried a place called LifeFLoat right across from REI in South Lake Union because I had a $25 coupon.
A calming woman with a very Zen attitude greeted me. She asked me a couple questions, including the amount of light and sound (or lack thereof) I’m comfortable with. I wanted the full experience so I opted for complete blackness and silence. She then showed me to my room, which was a dimly-lit, immaculate bathroom. Around a corner was a jacuzzisized tub illuminated only by glowing purple lights.
I climbed in and, a few minutes later, both the lights and music faded out. An ocean wave of silence and darkness enveloped me. With an hour in the tank, my mind began to race and I had no idea what I was supposed to think about. Without pals like Crito, Simmias and Cebes hanging around, there was no one with whom I could engage in dialogue.
My mind began doing what Buddhists monks in Thailand described to me during my time studying abroad as “monkey mind”—that point during meditation when your thoughts jump rapidly from one idea to the next. You do not want monkey mind. Conversely, you want your mind to be calm and still like a deep, slow-moving river.
I acknowledged my monkey mind. This made me more anxious. “Relax!” I hissed at myself internally. “There’s no way in hell you’re gonna reach nirvana like this.” Then I began doing what I do so well that I should add it to my resume: stress. Trump would call me a grade-A stresser, the most magnificent, bigly stresser the world has ever seen.
I thought about the fact that I’m graduating in the spring but I have no job lined up. I thought about grad school and the mountain of homework I need to complete between now and June. I remembered that damned parking ticket I still need to pay off and the utilities bill I need to Venmo my roommate. I thought about my internship and the email I need to send my editor. I thought about the Spectator and the many stories that still need editing.
I felt like Alice slowly descending the rabbit hole. Wait, or maybe I’m the white rabbit, always worried about time, always running late. There is never enough time!
With 40 minutes left to float, I began writing this story in my head. “Yeah, this would be a nice tie-in to Plato,” I thought to myself while reclining atop lukewarm saltwater. Slowly, my thoughts shifted from the physical (Are my eyes closed or open? Which way is up or down? How much time has passed?) to the existential (Who am I and why am I here?)
I imagined myself floating down the Amazon River, the River Ganges, the Mississippi. I felt as though I was at the bottom of the Marianas Trench like one of those fish with a lightbulb dangling in front of its face. Except my bulb is burnt out.
I thought back to my childhood and a smile broke across my face as I recounted days spent in the sunshine playing kickball in a neighbor’s backyard. Deprived of all senses, I could smell the freshly-mown grass and hear that rubber doink of a kickball getting kicked hard.
I could taste the just-baked chocolate chip cookies that the neighborkids and I indulged in shortly thereafter. Removed from the physical world, I remembered these cookies as being the ultimate form of cookie, tasting like all of that which is delicious.
Clunk. Was this the bottom of the rabbit hole? No, not quite.
I snapped back to reality and realized I hit the bottom of the tub. The water had drained and the lights turned back on.
I had fallen asleep while floating. I don’t know at what point I did or for how long, but I do know one thing for certain: that was the most peaceful nap I’ve had since starting college four years ago. Maybe that Plato guy is onto something after all.
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