Have you ever done absolutely nothing for an entire hour?
I mean nothing.
On March 25th, 2012, I did nothing for the first time in my life.
I was invited to the private residence of Edward Arroyo in the hills near Pasadena to experience something called an Isolation Tank. I had known Edward since the Transcendent Man screening party, but I never had a chance to check it out until now. I recently saw him at an Ancient Lasers show, and I realized that, Holy Shit, I still need to do this.
It was a cold, rainy Los Angeles day – which set the perfect mood for introspection. Four of us arrived at his residence, where we were greeted by sandwiches and refreshments. He showed us many artifacts he has collected from around the world, most notably, something called Noah’s Ark – a black, obsidian, boat shaped rock. It only spins clockwise – that is, if you try to spin it the other direction, it vibrates, stops, and corrects itself.
The final stop on the tour was in the back building, where the isolation tank resides. It is basically a large metal chamber, with the interior completely blacked out. There is about ten inches of extremely salty water, which is warmed to the exact same temperature as the human body. The air is also warm, giving the illusion that you are completely submerged in something.
Edward led us back inside the house, where we made final preparations. I was first, so I took a shower, dawned a bathrobe and slippers, and took out my contact lenses (an act that in itself would be enough to render me deprived of all vision). Edward was to play sounds of the ocean and some kind of shamanic-sounding hum in the beginning and at the end, to let me know that one hour had elapsed. One hour is a good initial baseline for time, apparently. I followed Edward out through the rain to the Isolation Tank, and he handed me earplugs, and a couple towels. I think Drew, my drummer, was filming up to this point, but as I was about to get completely naked, they left me alone to take the plunge. I put in my earplugs, threw my robe on a chair, and climbed into the black abyss, closing the door behind me…
At first, it felt like you would expect – floating in the dark. But then I realized how buoyant the water was – it was like what I imagine zero gravity would feel like. If I didn’t know I was in a controlled, completely safe environment, that sensation would have been utterly terrifying. I mean, it was utterly terrifying for a few moments, but I knew what I was getting myself into. I am a sound guy, so I started to focus on the waves/hum noise, and realized how loud my breathing was as it started to fade away. Once it was completely silent, I kind of had a “now what?” feeling, but tried to focus on my breathing. At this point, my body had adjusted to the sensation, but I still felt tense in my neck and in my legs. That’s when I realized I was still actually holding myself up – to some capacity. I released every muscle in my body in one of the single-most refreshing instances I’ve ever had, and just really let go. Bingo. Now it’s time to fuckin’ FLOAT.
(From here on, it’s really hard to describe, but I will try.)
I first started thinking about all of human activities – like bills, my job, my band’s next direction, and things like that. This was probably about ten minutes in, from my estimate. When your brain doesn’t have anything else to do, you do a really good job thinking about things. Really fast, and with laser-sharp focus. It felt that in about five minutes, I had worked-through and addressed my now seemingly-mundane human ‘problems’ in my life. Well, now what do I think about, I thought to myself. I don’t know, why don’t you think about what you’re doing here? What do you want to do? What is all that stuff outside? Who are all those people? Do they matter? It feels like it. What are they? And what are you?
It felt like my eyes were moving deep into my body, like my vision was starting to come from my chest instead of my eyes. And right when I noticed myself slipping into that, I would jolt back awake. It was kind of like being on sleep deprivation at this point, but still remaining incredibly energetic. I started to hear foreign music and loud, thundering sounds – big bass notes and something like a trumpet in the distance. I decided to think about memories and friends from my past, and it was like walking through a party where I knew everyone. Every room was a different memory, and I could walk in and interact with it – bring it back to life. Then I really lost control.
It now felt like a DJ had showed up to the party and started remixing my brain. Memories, ideas, people, music, visual images…all started to get the mashup treatment, and I actually felt my brain using itself as its own sensory input. Like someone plugged a power strip into itself. I heard a voice say “He hasn’t started using his lungs yet”, which was pretty creepy (perhaps some kind of connection to being in the womb?). It felt like a bunch of people were above me, looking down, but there was no down, just out. I started to feel really guilty about things, but kind of ‘as everyone’. That as humans, we aren’t using all the tools we’ve been given properly, and that we are letting someone down. That there is some big thing we are supposed to do.
The ocean sound started to creep up and I started to sink back into myself. I was expecting to get that horrible sleep-paralysis feeling when I came back, but I had never actually gone to sleep…so I tried moving a finger. Moving one single finger a quarter of an inch after not having a body feels indescribable. I clenched my fist, one at first, then the other, and wiggled my toes. Yep, I’m in this body again. I slowly sat up in the tank, both exhausted and completely rejuvenated at the same time. I pushed open the door, and as my pupils shrank back into tiny black dots, I looked around for someone. Still alone. I blindly reached for a towel, and stumbled out into the real world again. Catching a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror on the way out had a certain completing-the-journey quality to it. After taking a shower to get the salt off, I sat around the outdoor firepit where everyone was. I tried my best not to talk about the experience as not to influence theirs, but I think that lasted about ten seconds.
After all four of us had gone in the isolation tank for one hour each, we all had completely different experiences and explanations – but we all agreed it was one of-if-not-the-single-most life-changing feelings we’d ever felt. And seriously, the way you physically feel afterwards is like getting a massage, doing a full workout, and getting 8 hours of sleep all at once.
Edward showed us the concept video for Floatspace, his next endeavor. He wants to set up isolation tanks for public and commercial use, and we talked about all the new possibilities that would arise. What if you could skype with other people while inside the chamber? What about virtual or augmented reality systems? If I could have, I would have invested a cool million right then and there.
With our journey complete, we thanked Edward I think about a hundred times before we climbed back into the car. The quality of sleep I had that night was unrivaled, and I was able to partially slip back into that floating feeling. This morning I woke up an hour before my alarm clock.
To sum it all up, go do this. I feel embarrassed that I haven’t done this before. Until you try it, you won’t understand what I’m talking about.
Why nothing really matters.
Written by Daniel Finfer of Ancient Lasers