I wrote the piece below a few weeks before the initial lockdown period in March 2020. In some ways the timing couldn’t have been worse; as I’m advocating spending an hour in isolation just as the whole world was to spend much of the next 24 months in varying stages of solitary confinement. I have edited the piece below a little, but have generally left it as I’d written it at the time. This is partly to preserve the feeling it attempted to communicate, but also to reflect on the positive effects that recent events can potentially have on us as individuals. This seems important at a time when largely the negatives lockdowns and social distancing have generated are the only side of the coin getting a voice. I hope you enjoy it, and that it gives a flavour of my work and thinking. Unfortunately, the company I visited did not survive the pandemic as a business, there are, however, many similar facilities around the country providing similar services if you are interested in giving it a try.
In November 2019 I had the opportunity to experience an hour floating in an isolation (or flotation) tank at Calm Water Flotation in Nottingham. These tanks are pods resembling a huge covered bath (they measure about 8 feet by 7 feet). Inside the pod is approximately 10 inches of super concentrated salt water. The density of the Epsom salts used means that any adult should float effortlessly on the water’s surface. This water, and the air within the tank, is heated to body temperature, and a lid encloses the tank, which can be easily opened or closed by the user. A soft blue light illuminates the interior when you enter the tank, accompanied by some pre-selected ambient sounds (I chose rain on forest leaves for example), the light and sound continues while you take the first ten minutes to orientate yourself. After this initial ten minutes the light dims to darkness and sound fades to silence. There follows 45 minutes in which no external stimulus enters. The only audible sound is of your own breathing, your heart beating and of the tiny ripples your slight body movements make within the water. I found that it took a little time (about ten minutes I’d say although time does seem hard to judge with no context within the pod) to settle in and slow down some of the rushing thoughts that initially were clamouring for attention. This rush ridden out, I started to relax and allow feelings of weightlessness and serenity to wash over me. I started to enjoy floating in space, a sensation of both womblike safety and uncanny exhilaration. The almost complete lack of distraction made me fully aware of my body and its processes allied to unfamiliar sensations, such as not being able to tell which parts of my body were fully submerged, which were wholly out of the water and which were near or at the surface. This disorientates a little but in a not-unpleasant way, I felt like I was gently turning in a vacuum and the sense of up/down/left/right is distorted. Hard to describe without it sounding unpleasant, but it is very unusual and comfortable. While I can’t remember specifically thinking about anything I found that for some days afterwards my thinking became more focussed yet expansive, inspired to deeper exploration. I also experienced some poignant emotional oscillations, and a bodily sense of lightness and fluidity of movement. To return to the tank, once the 45 minutes is done the light gradually returns and the ambient soundtrack restarts for 5 minutes before exiting the tank, showering and leaving. All in all it was one of the most inspiring, transformative and chilled hours I have spent for some time.
A few days later on a podcast I was listening to the music journalist Taylor Parkes was talking about his childhood, and about when he had nothing to do. “You had nothing to do except pick up a book… and in that boredom one hundred doors flew open, you’d choose not to walk through most of them, but you saw inside”, and this really felt connected for me to my experience in the tank. The space provided by his boredom, the lack of stimulus paralleled to the tank allowing a congruent expansion of range of interests, focus, feeling and potential directions to suggest themselves. In therapy terms it made me think of Jung’s writings on therapy as alchemy – a sealed crucible (sealed by boundaries in place within the therapy room much like the tank or the boredom of a child’s lazy hours) in which transformation occurs. Thought and feeling can grow here, unchallenged for attention by the unimportant importance of our everyday lives. By removing this stimulus for a time we can give our own internally generated enthusiasm a space to establish itself, to yearn and hope, to cry and feel, to allow the space for a journey within to begin. Where we might be more aware of ourselves and feel safe while doing it even when it might be difficult and frightening.
As Jung might have put it, within this container we can turn base metal of our feelings and thoughts into the gold of insight, inspiration, acceptance and understanding.
Reading this back I am struck by resonances with both the lockdown periods imposed in the last two years as well as with meditative practices. The loss of sense of time, the reordering of priorities in recalibrating “the unimportant importance of our everyday lives”. It is an experience I have since repeated, and intend to continue, a small holiday for the soul.