It’s one thing to be naked around your best friend; it’s a whole other deal to accidentally touch each other’s bare skin, especially when you’re trying to achieve enlightenment. Perhaps Rachel and I should’ve sprung for individual time in the hotel spa’s only sensory deprivation tank, but what fun would that be? It wasn’t until we kept floating into each other’s various body parts that we realized that sometimes togetherness tends to interrupt one’s achievement of zen.
We were at Amangiri in Canyon Point, Utah for the weekend, the occasion being our 12-year friendaversary. After a particularly challenging year, I decided we would celebrate here because its remoteness felt like a chance to recharge, and I had also been promised all-you-can-eat gourmet food along with the room rate.
Rachel and I met while doing one of the most mortifyingly bad plays I’ve ever performed in. We clung to each other like a life raft amidst embarrassing scenes such as the interpretive “rape dance” in which we writhed in a semi-circle on the floor; stood in a line holding lit candles (far too close to each other’s hair for my comfort) while singing black spirituals; and a particularly creepy scene where Rachel donned a men’s suit jacket and I sat on her lap while she pet my head. All while wearing Catholic school girl uniforms. They say trauma bonds people. We’ve been inseparable ever since.
After settling into our room and eating all of the free mini-bar caramel corn, I began perusing the spa menu. They have a “flotation pavilion” where one could drift off into a sensory-deprived nirvana for just $95. Even better, it was big enough for two. We could be deprived of all of our senses and split the cost!
“The flotation pool is clothing-optional.” Our attendant explains. “You can leave your suits here in the front room. Once I shut the door you will have five minutes before all the lights turn off completely.” The pool itself is really more of a pond. It’s perhaps 10 inches deep and filled with a saltwater mixture that simulates the Dead Sea. There is a blue light that emanates from the circumference of the pool, the only illumination in the room.
The attendant leaves us a stack of towels by the pool’s steps and closes the heavy black door behind us. We take off our suits and lay down in the salty pond. My mental timer starts: 5 minutes until the blue lights go off, 30 minutes total to get into the most relaxed state of my life. Bring on the meditation to end all meditations.
What It’s Like to Float in a Sensory Deprivation Tank
I want this to be life changing, so I prepare to clear my mind. Unfortunately my mind does not prefer to be cleared and thus begins the epic struggle between nothingness and thirty minutes of crazy time:
Minutes 1 – 3:
My first sensation is burning. I haven’t even shaved my legs in like two days. Why does this burn so much? I feel like I’m on fire and need a bucket of broken aloe leaves to rub all over my body. This will go away, right?
Minutes 3 – 6:
What if I had a tampon in? Would it fill up completely with saltwater and then would the saltwater flood my bloodstream? What kind of damage would that do? Or would it be good for me? Could I get toxic shock syndrome from this?
At this point, I reach for Rachel.
“Hey, would I die if I had a tampon in and it filled with saltwater?
“I don’t think you can get toxic shock from a saltwater tampon.”
I put my head back down in the water.
Why are the blue lights still on? It must’ve been more than five minutes by now. When are the five minutes up? What if they forget about us in here?
Minutes 8 – 10:
Saltwater is filling my shower cap. This cap wasn’t mean for keeping out saltwater. I should’ve brought one of those tight Michael Phelps rubber-skullcap type things. But I don’t own any. Also, I don’t know how to swim, which might be why I don’t own any swim caps.
Minutes 10 – 12:
Wow my neck hurts. I don’t think I’m floating correctly. I push my head down further and try to soften my neck, which somehow makes me crane my shoulders. I need to relax better. I start meditating. I concentrate my attention into my “third eye” and focus on becoming one with the universe. Ohm.
Rachel’s toe touches my butt. I open my eyes. Holy shit is it dark in here! I squeeze my eyes closed.
Minutes 14 – 17:
Did the attendant lock the door behind her? Because a killer with night-vision goggles could totally sneak into this pavilion and kill us. How would we even know he was in here? He could be standing over me right now, ready to strike. This could be some sort of next-level I Still Know What You Did Last Summer type carnage. I open my eyes again. Or maybe they’re still closed; I can’t tell the difference. I try breathing deep, cleansing breaths.
Minutes 18 – 20:
What if they release snakes into this pool? Wouldn’t that be crazy? I really want to share this thought with Rachel, but she might be connecting with Frida Kahlo right now or developing the ability to inhabit animals like Bran Stark for all I know. Plus she’s terrified of snakes. I’m going to let this thought go.
Minutes 21 – 24:
What if Rachel has disappeared? I haven’t bumped into her for a few minutes now. What if, somehow, some way, she was kidnapped and I won’t even know it until the lights come back on. When are the lights coming back on, anyway? Hasn’t it been thirty minutes yet?
Minutes 25 – 26:
My shoulder really hurts. I adjust it back and down, but the way I’m floating is all wrong. I bend my right arm hard, so that my hand is up by my shoulder, kind of like I’m catching a baseball. This movement keeps my shoulder down, but now I’m contorted into a weird position like Han Solo when he was frozen in carbonite. What if this water turned into carbonite? What if I got frozen like this, my hand perpetually clawing the air?
I have to pee. I’m going to have to crawl out of here on my hands and knees somehow.
Minutes 28 – 29:
Woah my eyes burn. Why is saltwater rolling into them? It’s been like 45 minutes already. I can’t take it anymore.
I start paddling towards what I hope is the rim of the pool, not wanting to disturb Rachel in case she’s been gifted with the exact location of Bigfoot so they can wrap up that Animal Planet show or maybe the secret recipe for Twinkies. I can’t open my eyes from the stinging pain. I grope around until I feel the edge of the pool. I pull myself along the circle feeling for the entrance and the stack of towels. If only I can blot this firewater out of my eyes.
Why is it so freaking dark in here???
I bounce off of Rachel, who is sitting up and also feeling the wall. “My eyes are burning!” she yells out. We grab hands and continue our circular quest for the exit, naked and afraid, in ten inches of water.
We find the towels just as the lights come back on. I am so happy that my senses are no longer deprived.
I feel a tremendous sense of disappointment and shoulder pain. How was it that I was unable to reach euphoric levels of nothingness? Turns out Rachel didn’t fare much better at the sensory deprivation tank, a ball of burning sensations and boredom, any attempts to achieve altered states no doubt ruined by the occasional brushing of my bum.
There are moments in this lifetime where we do have to walk, or float, alone I realize. I can’t wait to tell Rachel all about this realization over dinner, or maybe later before we fall asleep, or possibly tomorrow at breakfast or on the six-hour trip home.