It all started with a groupon. Half off the price for one hour in a sensory deprivation flotation tank sounded intriguing, especially after I researched the concept - what's not to like about all that soothing epsom salt and 60 minutes of uninterrupted solitude? Plus, I love the sensation of floating and serenity and relaxation. Long ago in college, I had once gotten a deal on tanning sessions, and although I never repeated that experience, I did actually enjoy the time spent under those lamps in that coffin-like bed - it was warm and peaceful.
So I bought the groupon - a LivingSocial voucher actually - and when it was approaching its expiration, I finally made an appointment, in fact the only one available, since everyone else was cashing theirs in last minute as well. I started to feel a little nervous and thought about cancelling, but I didn't want to flake on a commitment or lose the money...or most importantly - give in to fear.
The day finally arrived. That day was today. I dropped off the kids at my mom's and drove to the establishment with the float tanks. Upon entering the reception area, I was told the rules (basically the grown-up version of "don't pee in the pool" which includes a lot of other stuff), given a healthy, yummy cookie (which I could actually eat ), and then I sat in awkward silence with two men in the waiting room - one reading a book, the other staring off into space, since his only other choices were our eyes or the ceiling or floor. I sipped water and rummaged through my purse for a hair band I knew I didn't have.
A few minutes later, the owner, handed me a hair band and whisked me to the bathroom where I was to shower briefly. When I was all ready to go, I stepped across the hall to the room with the tank, which was actually just a curtained off area next to another curtained off area with another tank. In fact, the reception area, waiting room, and tanks were all in the same room, or seemed to me to be, but it was very dimly lit and I was mildly freaked out, so I'm not totally sure, but such details have no bearing on my tale anyway.
The tank door was open, so I put in ear plugs, and peered inside. It looked very dark. Indeed, as I stepped in, I realized that when I shut the door, it would be almost pitch black. I was in a quandary. I didn't like the idea of not being able to see at all, nor did I realize in advance that it would be unlighted, but my only other choice was to leave the door open, which would create a draft, and more crucially, only a curtain would separate me from being exposed to the world. I couldn't take that chance. Worse than not seeing would be being seen. I really wished I had worn a swimsuit, but everything I read had recommended against that, saying that the fabric would add weight and create an uncomfortable wet/cold feeling.
So I closed the door and I floated and I didn't like it. Actually I liked the floating, but that was all. I tried putting my hands under my head, like the owner had suggested if I have neck/shoulder tension, which I do. Still, I didn't feel relaxed. I felt existential. I started to think that this is how atheists imagine death - simply ceasing to exist - a place of total darkness...but wait, if I'm thinking, that can't be non-existence, so actually this was more like hell, except for one big difference, I'm not separated from God. But even knowing that, and weakly attempting to pray, my intuitive self couldn't shake the creepy vibe, that something was spiritually amiss in this setting. I asked myself why my soul was at peace floating in a pool or the ocean, but not here. My answer: no sky, no sun, no trees, no space even to bask in the beauty of God's creation and to breathe in his grace.
Breathing. That was what happened next. I realized my mouth was closed, so I tried opening it and breathing more intentionally, but it still felt somewhat labored. Combined with the feeling of stuffiness/humidity and an irrational fear that I might suffer from oxygen deprivation (and even a vague paranoid delusion of a hypothetical situation that someone could be trying to kill me this way), I was overcome by an intense desire to breathe freely and deeply. I opened the door and gulped in the delicious air.
That's when I decided it was worth taking the one percent chance that someone would tear open the curtain and see my birthday suit. So I left the door open and went back to floating. Brr. And still no view. Sight yes; anything worth seeing, no. One thing I knew for sure, I couldn't close that door again. I would not face that darkness and feel the muggyness and worry about my breathing. It was all over for me, not more than 15-20 minutes into my hour.
This is not where my tale ends, however. First of all, I would be remiss if I didn't share one other part of my experience, which albeit a little embarrassing, is worth noting. In fact, it may actually have been the one thing I could take home with me. When I first laid down in the tank, the warm water, the dark room, my body stretched out...well, it put me in the mood. My husband is nearly always in the mood - perhaps it's more accurate to say he's on standby - and I'm mostly not, so this was interesting. It made me think that I should try taking a warm bath on those nights when I'm not feeling it, because it might just open up a seat for him if my love jets are all fired up. Sorry, I couldn't resist carrying the airport analogy further, though of course I will not talk about the flight itself, as this is a G-rated blog...well, maybe it's PG-13.
So where was I? Oh yeah, just getting out of the flotation tank. Wrapped in towels, I tiptoed a little ways down the hall toward the reception area, saw a man and woman seated at the reception desk, and called out the owner's name. Thankfully she hustled over to me, and I explained it wasn't working out. She was really nice and suggested I try folding up a towel to put in the door to let a little light and air in (beyond what the air holes were already letting in, which wasn't much). She saw by the look on my face that I was done, and she said understandingly, "it's just not for some people," and I nodded.
After I showered and dressed, I planned to just take off, but the owner came into the reception area, so because I felt like I should make some parting words, I said somewhat laughingly, "I guess I'm just a child of the light." She replied, "but there is light." I said, "There's a little," and she said, "I mean light inside of you." Then she invited me to sit down. So we had a conversation about God and darkness and love and Rumi and stuff like that. Just your every day Buddhist meets Christian kind of dialogue. Except that I was breathing silent prayers of help for what to say. At the end of our five minute chat, she said she wished I had liked floating because she would have enjoyed having me come there on a regular basis. And then she gave me another cookie. The end.
Well, not really the end. When I was in the car, starting to beat myself up for wasting money on another groupon that didn't turn out to be what I expected...I had an epiphany. What if the whole reason I bought the groupon wasn't for me in the first place. What if it was for those five minutes that God wanted to bless another person and draw her toward him...even to do a little name dropping, just in case...the name of my church, that is, because I know I'm biased but I really think it's the most grace-filled place where I live, and I know people there who have found their way in the darkness to light and healing and hope - hope was a word that really lit her up when I said it, as I was talking of God's restoration, of him one day making this broken world whole, but for now we get glimpses of his beauty as a foretaste of what's to come. The idea of community also resonated with her. She has only lived here a year and she said she really misses her spiritual community back east - I could see that longing in her face.
I reflected back on all my "spa" experiences - most of my groupon splurges have been for food or pampering. Nearly every single one was not the quiet "ahh" time I had hoped for (though still usually blissful, I admit), but instead a deep conversation with the aesthetician, always leading to spiritual things. I realized that because of my lifestyle, in which I am fairly consumed by raising and educating my children, it's rare for me to meet, let alone have hour long conversations with total strangers, especially those outside my faith. Rarer still is for that to happen right after I've just read Romans 5:12-21, one of my favorite passages about sin and grace, which excellently nutshells the gospel. In fact, I had been so moved by it that I read it aloud to my children just before we left the house, and it had sparked a good discussion between my oldest and me.
One last thing. Part of me wrestled with whether I did the right thing in ending my session early. Granted, I wouldn't have had that meaningful conversation with the owner had I not been "unusual," nor would there have been time for it. But still, it caused me to think about my fears and resistance to being absolutely, totally alone with God. Because I had the opportunity, albeit an uncomfortable one (but aren't those the best for growing?), and instead of praying away the distractions of my own body and mind, I pronounced the unfamiliar not good. I'm still unsure about this. Part of me is very convinced it was a light vs. dark experience and that I did the right thing in choosing the light. The other part wonders if I should have persevered longer, if it would have helped me to more fully trust and rely on God. Either way, Romans 8:28 is the final word and I find that comforting.