Ever since we exited the chambers, he hasn't been the same.
His hair, now free of his (up until two days ago) ever-present and carefully applied Kevin Murphy night.rider hair paste, replaced with a tie-dye bandana in the vein of Keith Richards, minus Keith's cavernously lined visage and undoubtedly cirrhosed liver.
His gaze, now wavering only ever between an intense and almost chilling gaze, and a far-off, unblinking stare.
His words, each idea, each sentence now tapering off with poetic, and at times, nonsensical madness.
He now plays only in D minor.
Where is he? Where has he gone?
"The fourth dimension..." is all he'll say. "...The other side."
I thought it'd be a sweet pre-birthday surprise to treat us (because at this age, what's a birthday present to another if both parties can't partake?) to two hours in a sensory deprivation float tank. I should have known the moment he saw the steel vessels and likened them to gas chambers that it wouldn't turn out to be as sweet as I'd hoped. It's true, I would have preferred the outside of the chambers to be painted bright white, perhaps with an ombre spacescape dripping down the sides, rather than the stark shades of red and black usually reserved for venomous snakes or women's power suits of the '90s.
But the price was right, and so was the intention!
For $84, or maybe $83 (the right price), two people can float for two hours in their own sensory deprivation float tanks, and emerge calmer, lighter, freer, less jetlagged, more peaceful, simply transcendent (that was the intention).
I also should have known on the drive there, the Pacific glistening to our right, oncoming traffic zooming past us on our left, that someone (not I) would end up battling thoughts of anxiety and paranoia rather than floating peacefully in a temporary womb-like state of existence. I asked if he was excited. I sure was! "Uh, freaking out a little," was his reply. Uh-oh. But he was still down for the adventure, he offered. That's my boy!
We arrived in Venice Beach on a busy Sunday afternoon, with not enough time before our appointment for me to circle the block 75 times in hopes of finding cheap (or free) parking. Instead we paid $20 for parking a block or so away, and I hope against all hope that that money goes to a nobler cause than whatever I can think of at this time, one that doesn't involve the discovery of which would have me shaking my head and stringing together a long list of curse words.
Float Lab has two locations, one in Westwood, with seven float tanks, and Venice, with two. Naturally I chose the one in which we could be alone together while being alone individually, and with a prettier commute. I'm not sure who runs the one in Westwood, since I've never been, as this is both our first time entering the fourth dimension, but surely they can't be cooler or more out there than the one who runs the Venice location. Crash, we later learned his name was, looked the part of a quintessential mad scientist (the beach version), with sunglasses akin to those you wear while in a tanning bed, or perhaps staring into the Sun for long periods of time. He spoke through the information and instructions rapidly and, I wasn't sure loud enough, for J, who maybe wasn't listening anyway, as I could sense him zoning out to a more hopefully peaceful (but probably not) place. Crash asked us if we wanted to use the bathroom before entering the float tanks, and we both accepted his offer, although I had half a thought J might sneak off and never return.
While J was still in the bathroom, I asked Crash if people ever freak out. He said he wasn't sure (I later learned this is because he doesn't stay to find out), but that, essentially, you're in with yourself, so really, it's an open-ended and subjective answer whether one freaks out or not. I laughed. I don't recall J laughing.
"It was horrific."
I wasn't sure if he was joking at the time, but I laughed anyway, and I haven't really stopped laughing since, even after I found out he was, indeed, not joking. But, what's not to laugh at? I mean, look at the pictures down there, especially the second-to-last one! It's completely mad in theory, but in another dimension's theory, it's surely the most natural and blissful idea ever.
We prepared by rinsing off and inserting the provided foam earplugs, though next time (oh yes, there will be a next time - for us both!), we'll be sure to use wax earplugs. The wall between our areas didn't reach the ceiling, so we were able to chat, which I'd like to think was comforting. Crash had left, locking the front door, and our individual room doors, all of which we could unlock as we wished and in case we ended up being chased out by our own minds. After I'd finished rinsing off, I noticed that I hadn't heard J's shower turn on. I called out to check his status, figuring he was on his phone. Turns out he was just staring at the chamber (LOL).
Our experiences varied in some respects, and converged in others:
- We both kept the chamber door slightly ajar at first to let in a sliver of light. I did this for a few minutes (maybe less), before shutting the door completely. Well, that's probably where our shared experience ended.
I suppose I was partly hoping for some life-altering spiritual experience, though maybe it has and I'm just not aware of it.. in this dimension. Instead, my earthly experience included:
- the relaxation of floating effortlessly in body-temperature, epsom-salt-filled water, to which I gotta say, I had a very brief moment of habitual panic, but I realized that the story I've always told myself after having nearly drowned as a child is just that - a story I can either tell myself or cease telling myself;
- the sound of nothing but my breath, which I kind of wanted to not even hear, and the occasional knuckle popping sound, which made me wonder if how I heard it is how the inside of my body hears it...;
- the sensation (ironic) of not being able to discern whether my eyes were open or closed (as Inez had informed me would happen);
- observing the feeling that I am in complete control of my mind, and so could imagine myself on a beach, or being eaten by sharks. (The only other time I felt somewhat uneasy is when I thought about germs or feces -not my own- floating in the tank with me.) I also noticed that because J was sort of next to me, that took care of probably a good amount of mind space that would have otherwise been focused on him or our relationship, or me in relation to my relationship, etc...;
- cool boredom, a term I mistakenly attributed to Pema Chodron, but which was accurately coined by Chogyam Trungpa, which is the spacious freedom deep within hot boredom, which is stifling and miserable. What I actually meant was that I was, at times, bored in the sense of feeling that my presence in this experience did not need to necessarily continue, for no other reason than I had experienced it and felt I had nothing more to gain or lose from it.
We entered the tanks about 30 minutes into our session, and I lasted about 45 minutes, checking the time every 15 minutes it turned out, though for the last 10, I began to feel nauseated, and were it not for that, I would have been happy to float with the cool boredom. I also thought I'd end up falling asleep in there, as I'd read that that happens sometimes, but no cigar. I rinsed off, taking great care to rinse out my ears, as Crash made me paranoid as fuck that if I didn't, I'd have salt crystals growing deep in my ear canals and I'd eventually go deaf or turn into a stalagmite.
By the time I finished, J had emerged from the chamber, telling me over the wall that, you guessed it, "It was horrific." But it wasn't just that for him, obvs. He dealt with anxiety and claustrophobia, and a fear of either me or Crash entering into his room and locking him in the chamber (LOLOL I'm sorry for laughing), as well as some sci-fi fears of being placed in some sort of cryosleep and remaining there for a thousand years without knowing it. His feelings of paranoia and entering deep into his mind eventually gave way to some relaxation and by the end, he went willingly back in for a few more minutes.
Before exiting the building, we stared at a painting on the wall for a bit, which got me feeling super stoney-maroney (see below). Exiting a space in which most of our senses were deprived and into the overstimulation of Venice Beach is... who knows how differently we might have been affected had we slipped silently and seamlessly into a darkened room to go to sleep for the rest of the night. Instead we ended up getting In-N-Out, as J needed comfort food and I have no control over my diet.
I'm not sure if my anxiety was delayed, but I had quite a fitful sleep that night. My body does feel less pained by my exercise-induced overexertion, though, and I was happy to see that I as my own worst enemy is not as bad an enemy as I used to be.
In conclusion, J is still somewhere in the abyss "on the other side," which is bringing me endless amusement and joy, and this is the longest post ever, but we plan to go back roughly once a month! Crash said he used to float for 6 HOURS at a time, when he had the time, and that he achieved some interesting abilities as a result, the details of which he seemed somewhat unwilling to share. I'm not sure we'll get to that 6-hour level, though I am curious about what kind of abilities I'd amass, but anything's possible in the 4th dimension!