Sensory deprivation chambers are used in science fiction as narrative tool to access the subconscious and to channel something other – something bigger than the individual. From the womb-like pods in The Matrix to the triplet tank of prophetic savants in Minority Report, sensory deprivation chambers are a sci-fi mainstay. Recently, Eleven from the Netflix sensation Stranger Things uses a both a laboratory tank and a homemade tank to access the Upside Down – the dark and unknown world that parallels our own world in another dimension.
Now, sensory deprivation chambers, often called isolation chambers, have come out of the realm of sci-fi and into the real world. They claim to help clear the mind, calm the nervous system and solve a myriad of health problems.
The activity of of using one of these chambers is called ‘floating,’ and as an activity it’s hard to categorize. Floating falls somewhere between bathing, physiotherapy, and meditation. Most float centres claim that floating will help to reduce stress, relax your muscles and help you to get better night’s sleep. But, it may be that somewhere along the line floating also crosses back into science fiction. I have heard stories of people who – after floating – have written books, had the clarity to make major life decisions, or had a chronic ailment disappear. None of these were my experience, but after going, I can almost see how this could happen – almost.
There are no electrodes, there is no primordial ooze. There is just a tank loaded with dissolved epsom salts and myself. The water in the tank is only about a foot deep and is so thick with salt that you actually lay on top of the water as much as in it.
What I discovered during my 90 minute float, is that floating is an intensely personal thing. We are all bodies in a space – something that we are usually more or less aware of. But when you float, you are without space and (very nearly) without a body. While floating I felt myself drifting – I felt as though I had drifted so far that I would never be able to find the hatch to get out of the tank. The chamber is only about the size of a double, but bed my internal compass was without a direction and I may have well been in a different space, a different time, and perhaps even in another dimension.
Gentle music is supposed to rouse you out of your deep internal journey and signal the end of your float, and by some magic it did – barely. I was quite far away by the end of my float and the sound would have been easy to miss. I did not come out and write the next great Canadian novel, but emerging from the float centre I did feel more relaxed and like the world was in sharper focus.
With centres quickly popping up in just about every major urban centre, a float centre is easy to find and worth a try. The first time is a challenge, so go again and maybe, just maybe, I’ll catch you on the flip side.