Compete darkness. Total silence. Zero gravity. What if you faced your biggest fear?
Since I began this wildly passionate love affair with meditation just three short months ago, I have found myself toe-to-toe with many beliefs I have held true for my entire life. Each morning I rise before the sun and challenge my monkey mind to surrender to Truth as I purposefully reshape the programs that have been unconsciously running for decades.
And last night I got the opportunity to challenge yet another of those beliefs and test the fortitude of this new meditative mind.
A girlfriend texted me in the late afternoon saying that she was going to a zero gravity tank and that she thought I should join. I looked it up, tossed the idea back and forth with my husband, and just three hours later I was dropping my clothes and my fears as I dipped my toe in the salt-soaked water.
If you're not familiar with zero gravity tanks, the name tells the tale. It is basically an air-tight, light-proof, sound-proof chamber filled with 10 inches of water containing enough epsom salt to completely support and float your body and give the sensation of being suspended in space.
Since the water and the air temperature in the chamber are both set at the surface temp of your skin, you totally lose awareness of having a body. For those 60 minutes, your brain is completely relieved of the feedback loop normally coming from the physical sensations of your body. As you experience the feeling of "no body" in the black void of "no where" and "no time," you are left with only your mind and the space between thoughts.
As an avid seeker of all things expansive and enlightened, I was sold the minute I read the info on the website about the way that floating causes both sides of your brain begin to work in coherent waves, exactly like the neuroscience I have learned at the various meditation workshops I've attended. As someone who works each morning to get beyond my body and the external stimuli in my environment during my meditation, I knew the value of being able to strip that down from the get-go before even journeying through consciousness.
But what I didn't really think about was the complete darkness part. I have been afraid of the dark my entire life. Even as an adult I admit that I prefer a nightlight of some sort if there isn't going to be someone else in the room with me. And last night I honestly didn't fully process that part of the equation until I was standing naked in a bathrobe about to embark on this meditative journey.
As I received my orientation before entering my tank, I was shown that there was of course a button within the chamber that I could push at any time to bring up the lights and orient myself, but I knew that wasn't part of the experience. The true experience was to let go of control... to detach from the physical and allow myself to sink into the abyss of consciousness... to surrender. Even if that meant facing one of my biggest fears.
When I entered the chamber, I had a few minutes to float and get settled before the soothing music and soft lighting completely faded away. At that point all I could see was a thick blackness, and all I could hear was my own heartbeat and the rise and fall of my breath in my chest.
Somewhat obsessive-compulsively I had situated myself directly beside the button for the light, and I kept brushing it with my finger every few seconds for the first minute or so. My mind desperately needed to remind itself that I was in control and that I could stop this at any moment. I breathed deeply with eyes clenched tightly and repeated "I am safe. I am safe. I am safe."
At some point I found myself actively questioning what I was afraid of. That someone would come in? That there was an unknown entity in there with me? That the blackness would swallow me up?
As I confronted each fear I realized that none was bigger than my desire to seek Oneness. None was worth blocking my communion with the Divine.
So I let go.
I leaned into the fear, opened my eyes to the void, and let out a whimper of surrender. I released the button from my awareness and sunk into the embrace of the water. And as my body was lost in the darkness, I found the unknown.
To sum up my experience feels impossible. I have never done hallucinogenic drugs, but I imagine this might be close. All at once I felt like I was everything and nothing. I was myself and yet I was no one. In flashes of total awareness and moments completely devoid of anything, I saw and experienced sensations I had never seen nor felt.
I spent the first half of the time working through questions of the Divine. I wanted to use the time to "plug in" to the database and clear the tapes in my mind. But as I ticked through my questions and observed my busy thoughts, I slipped further and further into surrender. Overwhelmed with emotion at times, I witnessed myself asking the questions as a third party rather than the mind from which they came, and I saw the bigger picture. Suddenly the answers didn't matter and all I could sense was my vastness.
I repeatedly heard messages to "slow down," and I experienced the magnitude of the power within me... a mighty tree trunk traveling through raging rivers and steep waterfalls... an open plain blanketed in stars... whispers from my Native American guides to sink into the bigness of nature. I put words and pictures to it here to try to convey the essence, but it was less defined...more "of" me than "to" me.
At times I had the physical sensation of spinning in a swirling vortex. At other times I was floating through space. Still there were other moments when I became aware of the feeling of being "checked out" for a period of time but not quite sure where exactly I'd gone.
When it was over I felt like a newborn baby exiting the womb. I was sad and reluctant, feeling like the lines of what is "real" were blurred more than ever before. I wanted to hug Chloe and comfort her for what she must have been through leaving the warm, flowing embrace of my tummy for this busy, overly-stimulating world.
I emerged from the tank in a blissed-out fog. I was infinitely grateful to see my friend in the dressing room and to have another soul to commune with about the experience... to validate that this had actually happened... to ground me back into this reality.
We shared stories of our mental travels and lingered as long as we could...first in the dressing room, then chatting with the owners in the foyer and finally in the parking lot by our cars. It was like we could make it last forever if we just stayed close enough to the source.
I of course came home and gushed as much as I could to Brian (who is there floating as I type this). For such an indescribable experience, I found myself wanting to just talk about it as much as possible but stumbling to assign words.
In the 24 hours since I have found myself in deep gratitude and wonder. Just yesterday morning I had been having a meltdown of sorts about life and my meditation practice and my human expectations, and in a flash of a meditation miracle, I was brought back to the vastness of what this life really is all about. I was re-centered in love and re-grounded in my belief in the unknown.
If you had asked me when I woke up yesterday if I would be facing one of my biggest fears later that day, I probably would have answered "I hope not!"
Because who wants to be uncomfortable? Who wants to challenge their cozy spot in the embrace of the known quantities in their life? Who wants to go out on a limb and really change?
And I just had to float naked in a zero gravity tank in total darkness to remember that.
I love this magic life!