How 60 minutes in a sensory deprivation pod revealed my need for control and fear of vulnerability.

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“I put in my ear plugs, entered the pod, chose to completely close the lid over me (instead of keeping it open or cracked) then laid down on my back, eager to release and enter Nirvana. Within seconds though, the eagerness on my face disappeared and turned to distress. ‘This… this kind of sucks…’ I thought. A minute or so in and I was wondering how much of this I could take.

Collin, the manager, happily showed me to the small, dark blue, secure feeling room that housed the float tank. When I saw the pretty multi-colored light show on display inside the tank, I thought “BINGO! This is for me. This is my jam. I am going to LOVE this!” I had no fear. I was asked to choose the background music I wanted playing during my session and I picked — wait for it — a symphony of pure, real and raw whale sounds. DREAM COME TRUE. I am a Pisces and I’ve always wondered what it would be like to live underwater, like a mermaid, interacting with all the ocean creatures! Collin strongly suggested I only have the music and lights on for the first 5 minutes of the experience, because the point is to have zero outside stimulation. Total sensory deprivation. They liken the pod to floating in space or being deep underwater. Darkness. Silence. Weightlessness. “Sign me up!” I was beyond ready to blissfully drift off into my ultimate fantasy.

So, I put in my ear plugs, entered the pod, chose to completely close the lid over me (instead of keeping it open or cracked) then laid down on my back, eager to release and enter Nirvana. Within seconds though, the eagerness on my face disappeared and turned to distress. “This… this kind of sucks…” I thought. A minute or so in and I was wondering how much of this I could take. I noticed right away a deep ache in my gut. It was wretched. My legs were tingling, my feet were twitching, and my head was struggling to fully release into being upheld purely by the water and not my clenched neck muscles. The ache in my gut was SCREAMING at me.

As more time passed, my body was begging to switch into the fetal position or turn over on my belly…both of which are impossible and would lead to me drowning. I really wanted to reach out with my hands and steady myself by the sides of the pod. Then I wanted to put my feet down on the bottom of the pod or just sit down and bring my upper body upright. But I didn’t. I remained eerily still. Floating weightless, with nothing under me but water and nothing around me but a smooth, plastic shell — panic began rising up inside of me. By this point, I was probably 7 minutes or so into the float — and that may even be a generous estimate. But, thankfully, whatever time it was, a different instinct kicked in. Tapping into what I’ve learned through the practice of meditation, I decided not to react out of my discomfort and just hit the panic button and bail (there is a bright red panic button in there FYI) but instead to keep still and… work with it. Be curious. To step back and observe my thoughts, feelings and body. I decided to continue to lay on my back, palms up and legs outstretched, even when everything inside of me said “CHECK PLEASE!”.

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Patients undergoing surgery or most medical examination are usually put in the supine position, laying on their back. It allows for maximum access to all areas of the body for inspection. In that position, I did feel incredibly exposed and vulnerable, especially with my mid-section facing out and up with nothing to shield it. No clothes, no objects…. nada. I have had similar reactions before when people have given me massages that touched my mid section or when they perform Reiki/energy healing on me. They can touch my head and heart all day long, but as soon as they lay their hands on my stomach, I have a very strong emotional, visceral reaction. I have come to understand that I store all my “stuff” in my core. My fears, anxieties, insecurities, negative beliefs, wounds, traumas, etc. Anything unresolved is hanging out right there in my body. It’s a party!

I gave myself permission to experiment and to try to comfort myself, even as I continued to stay on my back. I took my hands and laid them both on my belly and repeated “You are safe. You are supported.” I took several deep, long breathes in and out. A few minutes of that and then I moved one hand from my belly to my heart and repeated the same mantra “You are safe. You are supported”.

It hit me — my deepest longing in life is for support. I love community and connection and relationships, and I desperately want to feel that I am supported tangibly by the people and structures around me in life. I sometimes feel alone, abandoned and without a network of support (even when that is not the reality). And when I do feel like I’m a lonely island — I retract, and I revert to control. I do anything to cover and protect the parts of me that are vulnerable and weak. I find a way to make myself feel grounded — and I camp out there. I grasp for external things or people to hold onto so that I can feel steady and secure. I usually prefer to see myself as transparent and open and fluid…but I am much more rigid and uptight than I ever realized. And that need to control was buried very, very deep in my core. Hence why my gut was the loudest voice in that pod. It was freaking out. It was super uncomfortable, to say the least.

It would be a grave mistake for me to see this part of me as “weak” or “deficient” however. These self-protection behaviors are simply the survival mechanisms that I have developed over time. They were strengths when I first discovered and utilized them — however they are no longer serving me. They are actually keeping me separated from the things I want most — community, connection and relationships. In order to truly have what I desire I must find a way to live in the space of letting go, allowing myself to really show up and out to the world — and stop grasping outwardly for support. By laying hands on my belly and heart and speaking affirmations, it was revealed that my sense of security and safety can and must come from deep within — not externally! I must learn to trust myself, even when I feel extremely vulnerable and skittish. No one and nothing other than myself and my Higher Power can truly support me and make me feel safe. Therefore, I have no need for past protection behaviors. I can begin to feel at ease navigating life while being exposed and open. I can stop fearing what will happen if I embrace groundlessness. My Higher Power’s got me. It’s the saltwater keeping me afloat, and I am free to surrender and just be.

60 minutes finally came up. I had to really take my time exiting the pod and coming back into myself. The staff was so incredible and I felt horrible seeing the reaction on their faces when I said through tears “That…nearly…broke me.” I felt like I let them down! And this was supposed to be my thing! I love water! I love lights! I technically got to swim with the whales!

But as always, the solution to my self-criticism was self-compassion. I had to give myself grace and understand it was OKAY that this experience wasn’t what I had expected. The takeaway was the teachable moment it gave me — not the end results. Sometimes the random things we do on a Saturday afternoon can end up having a lasting impact on our wellbeing and growth journey if we are truly awake and open to being fully present. We can walk away exclaiming “AH HA!” and transforming deeply. But only if we remain still, choosing to receive the lesson — and resist our instinct to hit the bright, red, panic button, and bail. Be curious and hang in there.

Compassionately guiding clients towards fully authentic and empowered living, real self trust and healthier behaviors & beliefs.

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