Sensory Deprivation

It’s silent. Actually silent. Not the kind of silent that you get at night, where the house may creak or the wind may blow. Not even the kind of silent that’s broken only by your own movements. I can feel myself move, but I can’t hear it. Sound is just an enormous void; there’s nothing there.

It’s weird, yeah, but it’s also kind of cool. Where else can you feel that sort of isolation? You’re always hearing something, even if it’s just background noise, but in here? It really is empty.

On top of that, it’s perfectly dark. Just like with the silence, the darkness is complete. There’s not even the slightest hint of light. I can’t make out so much as an outline. I lift my hand into the air over my eyes and see nothing. I only know it’s there because I can feel the movement of my arm and the impact as drops of water fall from it onto my face. I cannot see any difference between opening and closing my eyes.

I can feel the water moving around me and if I push enough, I can bump into one of the walls of the tub, so the world isn’t completely blank for me. I can reenter it to some degree. But if I lie still, the tactile stuff starts to fade. I can’t tell what’s in the water and what’s in the air. I can’t feel any part of my body unless I’m actively moving it. Even breathing starts to fade into the background.

It’s an incredibly cool feeling, to be so completely alone. It’s an isolation of your choosing, like going camping so you can see the stars instead of the smog. But with sensory deprivation, you’re not just trading in one sight for another – you’re trading in light for darkness. It’s an escape from the entire world, not just the bits that bug you.

But here’s the secret – you can choose to perceive a new world inside the tank. I can decide if I want to experience something new, something of my own creation. If I let it, my brain can fill in the gaps. It’s difficult, yes. I have to be able to shut off everything in my mind and just let my brain do it’s own thing. Nature abhors a vacuum and all that.

It’s like a waking dream.

It starts out small, just snippets of voices cracking across your eardrums. You’ve got to train yourself not to resist them, to let the sounds in even as your instinct is to freak out and try to find out where they’re from. You’re not gonna succeed; you are gonna panic.

They’ll expand from there, once you get comfortable with the input from nowhere. Full sentences and even meaningful ideas will start to pepper your mind. There are voices you recognize, of course, friends and family and the like. I’m never alone in there if I don’t want to be. After a little while, I’ll enter a sort of trance – all I have to do then is let my mind drift to someone I want to think about and I’ll hear them speaking to me.

The eyes come next and they start out simple too, with flashes of light and color like cliché screensavers. But if I keep myself relaxed, just breathing in and out, letting the sight flow, it starts to organize itself better. The light forms shapes. It goes from a pulsing blob of bright yellow to split squares and circles, with spots of orange, green, and purple scattered all around. It becomes dynamic and dramatic, overwhelming my mind, burying me in a sea of chaotic beauty, as all the while, my friends chatter cheerfully in my ears.

If you give it long enough, you hit a new stage too – the merging. The wall between sight and sound falls. I stop hearing voices and start hearing other things, things I can’t even put into words. Sounds that spark explosions of color at the edges of my mind, sounds that open up gaping whirlpools in my imagination, storms of sound that rage like hurricanes, all smashing against one another and filling my mind with a tapestry of senses that pass beyond what I can even classify as a sense.

The world changes for me. It becomes something unutterably unique.

The wave I ride in that tank is breathtaking. It is an unparalleled trip, an unmatchable high. And all of it is right there, right now, hiding behind some jagged boulder in the trenches of my mind. All I have to do is flatten the landscape and clear the interference. Create an open, hospitable world. A canvas.

My brain will take me where I need to go.