So Much Fear: What First Time Floaters Need to Know: An Excerpt From "Floating in Quiet Darkness" by Lee & Glenn Perry by Glenn and Lee Perry
Anything can happen in the tank – from the rewards of consciousness, deep rest, creative insight, heavenly dreams, confrontation with fears, finding the door to peace, to experiencing the ridiculous. John Lilly used floating to investigate and explore consciousness. What is in the way of being more conscious? Fear!
After two years of floating every day first thing in the morning, I found myself in the tank with this large fear of the dark, and I felt scared! At first, all my attention went to feeling scared, and I stayed with that fear until I could quiet down, until I could ask myself, “What is going on? Did someone leave something here?” After I was quieted enough to sit up, I opened the door and breathed slowly until I felt comfortable enough to lie down again. I did that three or four times while I was looking for the place that was so scary to me. About the fourth time, I saw myself as a little kid with my two much older sisters playing our game where I was the doll pushed into the dark closet. We played this regularly. It really scared me, and I was obviously still carrying the fear, 35 years later.
In our first year of being full-time with Samadhi we noticed that many people had fears before their first float. Ken Russell, the director of the 1980 movie Altered States, sheepishly came out of the tank a little more than 10 minutes after he went in, saying he had recently been caught in an elevator when the power went off. Toni Lilly (John Lilly’s wife), even after she had been floating for a few years, panicked and popped out the top of the tank, prompting John to ask us to make sure floaters could find the door when we gave them the orientation. When panicked, people can behave very unpredictably. It can be assumed the first thing a floater will do is try to get out, fast, spurred by the “fight or flight” reflex. Thinking where the door is is not the first thing most people will do in that situation nor can we expect them to look for a light switch.
During our introduction to the tank we ask that when they first get into the tank they open and close the door several times to get its feel and location. Many people are introduced to floating at float centers. The best float result is achieved with the greatest reduction in distractions, including light, as long as that is comfortable for 80 them. When the floater wants to get out, for whatever reason, and does not recognize the feel and location of the door easily, the center owner and the floater can be at risk.
As we learned from our early floaters, many people have some fear about floating their first time: about it being too hot or too cold, being naked in an unfamiliar environment, being alone with themselves or something else. The most common fear expressed is claustrophobia. Often it is not just claustrophobia – though some people have that fear, too. It is the fear that they will have an experience that is difficult. Many of us have demons we are afraid will show up in the tank when we float, whether it is a hurt we endured, or how we hurt another, or something else we were unable to process at the time. The difference between the fearful people who will float and the ones who will not is the former have reason to believe there will be sufficient benefit from confronting the experience.
As Joe Rogan (actor, comedian, television host and host of The Joe Rogan Experience podcast) has said, “Imagine the joy and satisfaction that someone can get by dealing with some fear that they’ve had. They come and float and some fear that they have had, they deal with on their own and that creates a ripple through their life.” We had one floater who, after the first few minutes, came out to the reception desk and asked for a chair to sit next to the tank the whole time. She came back the second day and did the same thing. On the third day she sat outside again. Then the fourth day she floated. Can you imagine the power she left with that she would have missed if we had tried to “manage” her fears away?
After we had floated for more than 40 years, Lee and I floated in vertical tanks with an Epsom salt solution, created by Christopher Messer. Heavy ankle bracelets were used to keep the body vertical, and the buoyancy maintained the head above the solution. After floating for a while, I became terrified that I was going to suffocate. It made no reasonable sense since the tank had no cover and my head was in a large room with lots of air. In front of the tank there was a wet wooden deck where I could reach my arms out and rest 81 them. Since it was easy to immediately lift myself up, I waited a moment even though I was terrified. Finally the fear was more than I wanted to deal with. I lifted myself up by pushing down on the deck, raising my chest out of the solution. I quickly took several deep breaths. Without the chest constriction I instantly felt better. I waited a few seconds and let myself back down into the solution. Almost immediately the terror returned, and I lifted myself up again. I repeated this process for about 20 minutes, each time working to remain in the solution longer. Though I did not completely handle the fear in this session, it was much less by the time I stopped.
Then, not long ago, I floated in our tank when the solution was a little warmer than I like. That always makes it seem stuffy to me. My nose happened to be stuffed up, so it was not easy to breathe through my nose. Amazingly, that old panic attack came back. I felt like I was going to suffocate. I put my towel in the door so it was open a crack, and laid down. I still was scared. I opened the door all the way and lay back down, and still I was scared. I got out. This was the choice that was most comfortable for me at that time. That evening when I went to bed I recalled the incident. I imagined being in that situation, felt the fear and stayed in the experience. I have done that a number of times since, each time until I fall asleep or cannot imagine the fear any longer. If I want to experience it and can’t visualize the fear, I lightly squeeze my nose to bring it back. I know that if I create situations that allow me to confront the fear of suffocation, and eventually experience it fully, it will disappear. I soooo wish I had known this when I was young and scared of asking girls out.
Before I floated the first time, I was looking for some way to improve the quality of my life. I was not very happy, and I really did not like being in that state. I needed to change and, as a result of reading John Lilly’s book, I thought floating might help. It became very important for me to float. I was willing to go through a lot of momentary, short term fear or discomfort for a higher quality of life forever after.
Excerpted from chapter 8 of Floating in Quiet Darkness: How the Floatation Tank Has Changed Our Lives and Is Changing the World by Lee and Glenn Perry. Excerpt copyright © 2020 by Lee and Glenn Perry, reprinted with permission of the publisher, Gateways Books and Tapes, Nevada City, CA 95959.
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