Micha Peled, Director / Producer / Independent Film Maker, Teddy Bear Films

How do you describe NOTHINGNESS? Words fail. At least they do me.

But that’s the premise of floating. Eliminate all sensory stimulation, even gravity, and lsee what happens when you physically feel nothing at all.  

It was with this notion that lowered myself into the lukewarm waters of Zazen’s floatation tank. 

At first, the water is cold. Actually, it’s the air that’s cold. The parts that are not submerged are caressed by the wisp of a cool current. My head bumps lightly against the soft wall a few times as I’m swayed back and forth in the water. 

In “Altered States,” Ken Russell’s 1980 sci-fi cult movie, William Hurt plays a mad scientist who self-experiments in a flotation tank. But he goes in fully loaded on psychedelic substances. I, perhaps overzealously, deny myself any pharmacological assistance in the name of scientific integrity. In the movie, Hurt comes out of the tank completely bonkers,  Hollywood, as usual, offering no insightsinto real life situations. So I’m on my own on this.

In the meantime, things are getting more comfy. My body has adjusted and now the temperature is perfect. I settle in, laying still, my limbs stretched out but not touching anything. It’s effortless. My body is fully relaxed. Now, I have to deal only with my mind, which is racing. Here comes a review of the day. Then the familiar To Do list, ravenously claiming items into its fat belly. Who, what, when. Is this what happens to the minds of the few people who get to float up in space? I hope not. 

One theory goes that in eliminating our sense of gravity, the floatation tank frees our mind.  Much of our brain activity is tied up with constantly performing gazillions of calculations for muscular activity required to negotiate our gravity-burdened universe. Since we don’t need to do this heavy mental lifting in the tank, we become aware of a deeper layer of minute and subtle muscular tensions, knots and hot spots in our body. 

Flotation takes me somewhere else. Focusing on the physical aspect of no-sensation allows the frenzied list-making in my mind to dissolve into a weave of relaxed daydreams. They are very vivid and my eyes remain open, staring into the vast darkness. I touch nothing and nothing touches me. I hear nothing till a loud knock signals that my hour is up.

Back in my street clothes, I feel strangely calm, but I also have a distinct sensation of walking taller, more upward, like after a very good massage. Living for years with chronic back pain and related neuropathic issues, this feeling of a relaxed and straight spine is heaven-sent. On a physical level, I feel wonderfully transformed. The rest will have to wait till the next time.