I recently experienced a sensory deprivation tank, and it has me thinking about the senses. Calling it a tank may not be accurate. It’s more like an over-sized, but shallow, bathtub in a closet. The water is kept at body temperature, as is the ambient air. And the salt content is higher than the Dead Sea, so no matter what, you float.
There is vulnerability to the tank and to giving up my senses.
There are ear plugs to put in, which for me is always a challenge. The muffling of sound leaves me feeling unsafe. Like I won’t be able to hear the danger before it arrives. Of course ear plugs cannot block all sound, and inside the tank, I can still hear the occasional sound muffled twice, once through the water and again through the ear plugs. When I first entered the tank, I didn’t immediately lower my head, and could hear the occasional drip of water, like I was in a cave.
In the tank, there is no sight. Eyes open or closed, it didn’t matter. It was perfect absolute darkness. There’s something disquieting about such total darkness. Most people, in the modern world, do not experience complete darkness – at least not without effort. But in that tank, it was disquieting and impenetrably dark. I could feel myself stretching my eyes as wide as possible, but still saw nothing.
This quickly becomes disorienting because coupled with the lack of sight, there is a lack of feeling. The temperature of the water and the salt, make it feel like one is floating – and at times falling or flying. Lying on my back, I cannot feel where the water ends and I begin. The space, even having seen it with lights on, shifts from a tub in a closet to the vastness of the night sky. The walls and edges of the space side away, and the ceiling opens into endless darkness between stars.
Scent and taste are tricky. I do not think they can be taken away, at least without being replaced by something else. In the tank, there is the scent of water, and I don’t think there is a way to remove that. For all of the salt, it doesn’t smell or taste like ocean. There’s an earthy, almost dankness about the space – which probably helped create the cave sensation.
I wanted to be careful of my movements as each motion left my body moving, rocking gently in the deceptive space. The waves also created sound, no matter how slight, and I wanted to remove as much of my senses as I could, so it wasn’t until my time was almost over, that I touched my own skin. The salt and minerals leave a slick film over my body and my breast and stomach that stayed above water, were covered in dried salt, leaving them feeling sandy and dry. I can certainly think of ways to use touch in the tank on my next trip.
I had a 90 minute session, and was stunned when the music started (the facility used music to let patrons know their time was up). I thought the time would be too long, or I would get bored (or fall asleep). Instead, even my sense of time was distorted. It felt both endless, in a positive way, and like no time at all.
The best part of limiting my senses was how much it freed my imagination. I could let all thoughts drift away or let my imagination play like a movie. It created a lucid dreamlike state while in the tank, and left me so relaxed and centered for the next few days.