Hello everyone! This post is all about my meditation practice, in the tank and out of it. If you are a meditator, or interested and have heard it’s amazing, I recommend you find a float tank and try it out.
I have been a student of meditation off and on since high school. I went to a soto zen master a few times in my early adulthood, and they loaned me a copy of “Zen Mind Beginners Mind”- which I still read every few years and it continues to make a lot more sense to me each time I do. (I highly recommend reading this book if you are a student of mediation. Yes I eventually returned their copy and got my own.)
But I wasn’t ready for Zen when I was 20! I was just too busy and crazy and couldn’t see the benefit or detect the benefit from meditation with just a few classes. I tried off and on to get up early, sit down and meditate through my 20’s and early 30’s. But I just didn’t stick with it. (If you are 20 and meditate, good for you and keep it up!)
A big part of the problem: Even as a young man, and in relatively good shape, my knees ached almost instantly when I sat and meditated. They BURNED! And my back felt tired and then, after a few minutes, it would burn, too. On top of that my mind raced and I had serious doubts about why I was there, what was I doing, are these Zen priest people “real”? (Yes they were! They were very kind and humored me about their beautiful, ancient tradition of Zen Buddhism.)
But now, in my 40’s, I have just a tiny bit more understanding and my back is stronger. (Maybe). And over the years I’ve finally got to where I really love meditation (seated on a cushion traditional style) and I KNOW that it helps me in so many ways. But my knees still hurt after 15 minutes, so that is about as long as I go on the cushion.
I had been aware of float tanks from Altered States and from a world religion class I took in high school. But I thought float tanks were all about the CIA and science experiments and talking to dolphins. Even after I had floated I didn’t really make a connection that floating WAS meditation for a few months. I guess I expected it to be, instantly, something much different.
But floating is, for me and for most people I talk to, pure meditation. Meditation without knee pain, without back pain. Meditation without much of any sensation at all. The breathing (which is a basic tool for meditators, for sure, and one I use in the tank), a few body sounds, and your heart beat if you listen carefully, is all you can detect after you’ve been floating for 20-30 minutes. Yes- it’s sensory DEPRIVATION.
In a certain sense, sensory deprivation makes meditation much easier. One doesn’t have to focus on the breath as much, or a mantra, or counting, or body scanning visualization exercises, and on and on. Its just pure silent space, where mostly all that exists is one’s thoughts, memories, emotions, and some surprising content too.
In another sense, (and this is just my theory) this can make meditation much HARDER- because one doesn’t have the physical body sensations and mild pain to use to transform or IGNORE your racing mind. Getting in the tank can sometimes make meditation harder because one is so much more aware of the racing mind but you don’t have as many tools to quiet them.
Here is what I do most of the time when I meditate in the tank: I get in, stretch REALLY hard, settle in, and allow all of my mind’s chattering to just go. I let it race on, let it freak out all it wants to. I let it talk about whatever stuff it wants or needs to, and I try to watch it. That’s it. Sometimes it makes me laugh. Sometimes it makes me sad. Sometimes it just critiques every aspect of the tank. Sometimes it just thinks about spirituality. Sometimes I see swirling colors. Sometimes I see flashing lights (seriously!) Sometimes I just think about dumb jokes. Sometimes I visualize playing music. Sometimes it takes me on a tour of my childhood home. But it keeps going, on and on…
But eventually, sometimes, it will stop. And I’m just laying there, floating in space, in silence. And it is the most amazing moment, it is a gift. It’s grace if you believe in that sort of thing. And it is so wonderful to reach it without my knees hurting!