In the Black Key’s song Weight of Love, the listener is treated to a tale of two former lovers, out of love for a long time, feeling naked in a world where the love they are chasing isn’t a healthy one. It’s a song that shows we are always chasing something or someone, and that love isn’t reciprocated.
From strange hallucinations brought on by your subconscious mind to complete emotional resets, floating gives you the opportunity to give your brain and body a break in a way that not even a deep sleep can provide.
In our careers, friendships, and other obligations to ourselves and others, that sense of love and loyalty that gives us the will to live can sometimes lapse, leaving the sensation to disappear from our memory as well over time, stranding the victim to the curse of the nine-to-five workday literally killing the well being of many professional adults. Like many Americans, I suffer from “distracts himself with work syndrome” but you’d probably describe it with some medical term others like myself would forget in a minute. In the United States today, one in five adults lives with a mental illness. The disturbing part is that 60% of American adults go without treatment, pushing through the day, dreading the next. It’s scary that in 2019, one in five of us are fatigued, unhappy, anxious, and stressed.
How do we combat this mental health epidemic? After all, one in five compared to anything is a terrifying statistic. We have a war on drugs, war on teen pregnancy, a war on many things but it seems the war on mental health only goes as far as celebrities in commercials begging you not to kill yourself. There is one strategy that seems to be at least a popular one; if you can’t get someone to find a natural way to happiness, drug them. This attitude is especially prevalent in children and teens. Does he have too much energy? Does she have too many mood swings? There is a pill for that. There is a pill for everything and longterm consequences be damned.
In the pursuit of silencing the noise of the world and finding a radical way for me to tune out of the challenges and distractions of life in a healthy, non-drug and alcohol-induced way, I found a unique alternative therapy center in Alexandria, Virginia that could help me “unplug” if you will. This isn’t sitting next to a therapist, attempting a yoga class, or faux-meditation, in fact, this is nothing that you’d typically think of.
Floating is the prescription for a loud and fast-paced world according to some in the mental health world. More specifically, floating in a sensory deprivation tank where the space around you is pitch black, soundproof, and over a thousand pounds of Epsom salt make you float as if you’re laying back in the black sea. On top of all of that, the water is heated to your body temperature so your body’s extremities begin to lose sensation. While this is an underground phenomenon that is beginning to go mainstream, the handful of people I reached out to who have done it in the past swear by it and its strange healing powers.
From strange hallucinations brought on by your subconscious mind to complete emotional resets, floating gives you the opportunity to give your brain and body a break in a way that not even a deep sleep can provide. My interest was sparked, and I signed up immediately for an hour-long session, but not without signing up for another experience many recommend before you step into the dark tank.
If floating in the sensory deprivation tank is meant to give your body a break, the PandoraStar is meant to wake up every part of your subconscious mind. Nicknamed the “DMT Machine” because of the similarity in experience to hallucinatory drugs, the PandoraStar is a light projector placed within inches of your face that stimulates various regions of the brain by focusing rapid beams of light straight into your retinas while you lay back with your eyes closed. The common experience includes “visible” frequencies of patterns that can only be described as like having your brain turn into a kaleidoscope of patterns, colors, and strange mental projections that are in every sense of the word psychedelic.
Laying down while the PandoraStar did its work, all I can say is that the combination of relaxation and stimulation was definitely one of the strangest experiences of my life. Just the interaction between the processing ability of your retinas and the high intensity, strobing lights taps into that mythical third eye that makes you a passenger in your own body. Ending the session I feared a headache and light sensitivity, but within a matter of seconds, I felt like I had just woken up from an incredible nap. Does it sound crazy? It certainly felt crazy, but in my opinion, crazy good.
Still seeing colors and trying to comprehend the strange images that my brain conjured up, I walked over to my private tank room for my float session. The room contained a large pod, something you’d look at and probably think you’ve seen in an alien invasion film, where an unexpected farmer walks up to a mysterious, egg-shaped pod, and all of a sudden the pod opens up to expose either a baby from Krypton or a hideous creature from Mars. In my case, the attendant opened the pod with a button on the side of the tank, causing the top half to lift up exposing the dark body of water contained inside.
“Do people typically hallucinate in there?” I asked the attendant beforehand.
“Yeah man, I’ve had some experiences in there and we have a book in the lobby with other testimonials from past clients,” he said.
The visitor log full of flotation stories didn’t disappoint. One woman said half an hour in she dazed off into a meditative state and saw the face of her deceased grandmother. Another man said he felt like he was flying through space and time. A more recent entry described a man who, frankly, wrote an entire paragraph where he had a conversation with a giant, talking phallus. Are they honest? Are they crazy? I only had one way to find out if the benefits and effects of this strange form of hippie centric therapy was real.
I got down to my bathing suit, stepped into the warm, salty tub, and closed the pod door. I want to tell you I went on some insane adventure, but I didn’t. However, my hour-long session allowed me to relax, physically and mentally, in ways I was honestly not accustomed too. From the complete silence to the comforting darkness of the pod, it truly felt like I was disconnected from my body and became an entity of pure consciousness. Having already undergone the PandoraStar prior, my brain essentially went from highly active, to essentially shut down without literally falling asleep. It was pure tranquility, certain tranquility that could only be achieved not just when you are cut off from the world around you, but also disconnected from yourself.
While modern therapies and medicines can be important, there is a growing place for these alternative forms of meditation and mental health therapy. As strange as it sounds, while floating and the lights were very different experiences, the remaining factor was that I allowed my brain to stop thinking for a moment, and just go along for the ride.