I Freaked Out in a Sensory Deprivation Chamber and You Should Too
Deprive the senses; enrich the mind. Or something like that.
On New Year’s Eve, I went to Float Lab on the westside of Los Angeles to experiment with what is commonly called a sensory deprivation tank. I’m not sure what those three words together mean for someone who’s never heard of such a thing. At worst, it conjures up a claustrophobe’s nightmare of quiet confined space, complete darkness, and complete aloneness. At best, it’s a zero-gravity massage for the mind, body, and soul, as you peacefully float whole-body-up in a warm saline solution.
Float Lab was recommended to me from a Facebook friend I met in real life at FORM Arcosanti, a highly curated arts festival in the Arizona desert that attracts young tastemakers and the spiritually hip. Only the spiritually hip know about these things.
Later I heard Tim Ferris (aka the “4-Hour Work Week” guy) mention the isolation tank in his podcast as a life-hack/short track to the benefits of meditation. Naturally I added it to my list. I paid $40 in advance to secure an 11 a.m. session. What follows is an approximate log of my 2-hour maiden voyage at Float Lab. (You lose sense of time and space while in the chamber; so these timestamps can't be taken too literally.)
11:06 I show up a little late, but the owner, Crash, seems to have built in a buffer. We are waiting for two more he says. There are seven tanks at the Westwood location. All of them include private showers, towels, and earplugs to keep the saltwater out. There are at least five of us for this morning session.
11:15 Safety instructions reviewed and waivers signed, we’re directed into an enclosed hallway with doors on both sides. I claim a chair outside my room, kick off my shoes, and step inside to shower. The room is calm and clean like a spa's, except for the tank with its submarine-like facade dominating one wall.
11:30 I open up the tank door and take my first dip into the shin-deep water. It's surprisingly large enough for my 5'10" frame to stand up straight in. But I’m naked and only a little less than afraid. Who’s to say that this door doesn’t lock behind me and never open again? What if a malfunction traps me in the rinse cycle? Who comes to the rescue on the off-chance someone screams bloody murder in here?
11:45 My arms are stretched out on both sides, and I’m barely touching the walls. My entire body is submerged and floating just beneath the surface, leaving only my face—the essential eyes, nose, and mouth—exposed. I’m still getting comfortable with the tank. Intending to still my busy thoughts, I count deep breaths in, and deep breaths out.
11:55 The thoughts are starting to dull out now.
11:56 Okay, I’m aroused.
11:57 Is this normal?
11:58 This is definitely some white people shit.
11:59 Waiting on a hallucination. I’ve heard that’s a thing that happens.
12:00 Wanting to know what time it is, but also not wanting to want to know what time it is. Crash is supposed to come knocking when it’s time for us to get out. I’m not sure I’ll hear it. I might fall asleep. It would suck to drown in one of these things.
12:10 I’m relaxed, feeling fetal vibes. I’m back in the womb.
12:20 Thoughts of past and future pass by with ease. I’m either time-traveling or time has completely stopped.
12:21 What is time tho?
12:25 Here comes the light show. Bright flashes dance before my eyes. It doesn’t matter whether they’re closed or open. Low-key hyped for this hallucination. Feels like I did something right. Feels like I made it. And the best part is I’m completely sober.
12:45 I wake up to full awareness of the tank again. I’ve either fallen asleep or blacked out. Still alive. I think.
12:50 Back to fetal position and primordial feelings. Now it’s just play. I quietly brainstorm all the ways I’ll explain this to my friends and *not* explain it to my family. I don’t think my mom will get this one.
1:00 I hear the signal—three knocks on the outer door. I exit the tank, shower again, and 15 minutes later, I’m emerging into the sun-washed streets of West L.A.
I spent the rest of the day in deep zen, even as I carried the night out at a few NYE parties.
For the next three weeks I’ve felt noticeably clearer in the head and at peace with the highs and lows. So much so that I’ve been thinking about becoming a regular floater, at least once a month. There’s just really no experience like it.
With two hours to kill and a tangible weeks-long benefit, I imagine a more Moby-inspired version of myself checking into a Float Lab in between sound checks and show times when I’m on the road touring. And who doesn't want to be like Moby?