The Cleanest High
This is not an advertorial.
When I still used to wear glasses, I would often leave the house without them, finding pleasure in a blurry, transfigured picture of the world around me. This was a low cost improvisation to satisfy a minor obsession with altered states of consciousness. For some reason, I’ve always wanted to be both present and not.
Living in Singapore means that drugs have never really been an option. Alcohol too, usually just means vomit, chaos, and bad decisions. So when I got wind of a recreational activity that apparently involves you floating in a tank for 60 to 90 minutes, I thought, why the hell not? The worse that could happen was that I’d freak out, lose my mind, and never have to worry about bills or lunch choices ever again.
The first thing about floatation therapy that unnerves the uninitiated is that you’re actually supposed to be naked in the tank. And by naked I mean balls (or butt) naked. The concept is to be freed of all physical entrapment, like a baby elephant born and released from its mother into a fresh, cool puddle of mud. I suspect that having trunks on also restricts the flow of your chi, though I couldn’t confirm this fact. Regardless, this meant that the first intense sensation I experienced upon descending into the salt bath was a sharp stinging from a rash on my left butt cheek.
I’ll admit, as I was led down a winding corridor to my floating room, I felt like a test subject in a human experiment. Every room door had numbers on them. Inside, lights transitioned between blue, green, and red in open tanks. As the water in my tank rippled menacingly, it revived memories of Dark Water and all its accompanying “imaginary friends.”
My guide, a young lady with a streak of green in her hair, was super cheerful. “This isn’t going to hurt,” she might even have said with a wink.
You’re allowed to keep the lights in the floatation tank on. In the event that, like me, your lively imagination is all too capable of conjuring demons and decapitated hands out of dark bodies of water, it might be wiser to switch them off. The small, enclosed space might also be uncomfortable, but being in complete darkness proved to be helpful in keeping any potential anxiety at bay.
I wanted the tank to be my second chance at leaving the womb, at beginning again from a blank slate.
After about 15 minutes (I know this because music plays for the first 10 minutes that you’re inside), I slipped into a semi-conscious state. For me at least, this was where the magic began. In the time it took to get to this point, I did all the things you’re supposed to do. I contemplated past mistakes, people I’ve insulted on a whim, and all the questionable individuals I’ve ever dated. I brought myself back to those moments, struggled to feel shitty again, and hoped for catharsis.
I asked myself some tough questions too: Could I have done differently? How can I change? What do people see in me? Was I wrong? What do I want out of the short period of time I’m going to be spending on earth?
I hoped to be reborn. I wanted the tank to be my second chance at leaving the womb, at beginning again from a blank slate. The standing mirror in the room, I assumed, was there for me to admire any new facial features or physical enhancements floatation therapy was sure to endow me with.
Being in that tank, I couldn’t see a thing. But the feeling of levitation lulled me into a state in which I thought I was asleep. I could feel the water tickling my ears. I could move my toes without feeling as though I was engaging my entire body. I felt all this despite knowing for sure that I was still awake. The best way to describe this is that it’s like that moment right before you fall asleep.
If you’ve ever undergone general anaesthesia, this is also a lot like that second right before you go under. Like how the pure oxygen you’re given wraps your head in lightness while the anaesthesia slowly eases you into this almost supernatural cloud of euphoria, it’s the cleanest high you’ve ever experienced.
At one point, I remember thinking about how vodka promises the worse hangovers, beer makes you feel bloated, and the taste of whisky or anything with too much sugar in it tends to cling to your teeth. In comparison, this was the purest form of inebriation I’ve ever experienced. The abrasion on my butt cheek stopped tingling, and my mind went completely blank, which was great because I never did get round to figuring out if I actually want to be a better person.
When I walked out of the floating club, I felt capable of absolutely nothing.
When the music finally came on again to let me know that I was five minutes from the end of the session, it was like waking up from a deep sleep. This was despite the fact that I had never actually fallen asleep. For a moment, I experienced this mysterious but intense sense of well-being, as though I’d had 8 hours of uninterrupted rest, only to wake up to the realisation it was 7 AM, a Saturday, and I wasn’t exhausted. Man, was that some kind of wonderful feeling.
But of course, soon remembering that I was in a small, dark space made me scramble out of the tank almost a little too quickly. I was hit by a freezing blast of air-conditioning, and turning on the lights in the room revealed, to my disappointment, that all my imperfections remained. As I stepped into the shower, the inconsistency of hot and cold water only reinforced the fact that I was back in the real world.
In the days following the floatation therapy session, I remain skeptical about whether I’ve enjoyed any kind of reduced tension, better sleep, or heightened creative thinking. These are apparently the reasons why this is even a thing. What I do know is that I was in an extreme state of relaxation. When I walked out of the floating club, I felt capable of absolutely nothing. The only thing weighing my mind was the price I had paid for the session (it’s kind of expensive).
In any case, I genuinely felt like I had been emptied of all human pre-occupations. And perhaps what floatation therapy truly aims to accomplish is this; the slow erosion of who you are, to the point that you wake up one day to realise that both you and your life have been completely transformed.
So if you do decide to give this a try, my only advice is this: Make copies of your birth certificate and passport as evidence of your former life, just to be safe.