One Step at a Time

There’s a lot of things I want to do in this life.

Some of those things might qualify as what people think of as “Bucket List” material. Large goals, accomplishments, and things that take time and dedication, or at least a strong decision to achieve. To me, this is only half of what I want out of life, so I’ve recently started segmenting my Bucket List into two. I call this results-based group this list my “Depth List”- things I’ll look back on and be proud of because of the skill, time, and difficulty they take to accomplish.

And then there is a group of other things that I call the “Breadth List”. These are things that don’t necessarily take time and energy to reach. Instead, they’re an ever-growing collection of new things and experiences that I want to add to my collection of knowledge.

At first glance, the Breadth List may seem shallower and less important than the Depth List. Granted, it’s necessarily shallower, but it’s not less important. If the Depth List is a growing collection of my personal outputs, the Breadth List is a growing collection of inputs that act both as a reward for successful output, but also as a creativity catalyst that helps in my Depth outputs.

To use a metaphor, a car can only go so far on one tank of gas. In this case, I’m the car, and my gas is learning about both myself and the world through novel experiences.

Last night, I tackled a bit of a white-whale that’s been on my Breadth List for quite some time.

Enter the Chamber

The Float Tank!

Float tanks (or sensory deprivation chambers, or a dozen other synonyms) are a pretty simple concept. Basically, you take a large jacuzzi style bath and put a sound blocking roof on it. Then, fill it with body temperature water. Proceed to add hundreds of pounds of epsom salts. Voilá. Vous avez un float tank.

I’d been wanting to take this on for quite some time after hearing non-stop about it’s benefits from Joe Rogan’s podcast, and later Tim Ferriss’s as well. Supposedly, float tanks are able to create an environment where the barrier between body and world dissipates, and I wanted to test this myself.

I took my friend Azzedine with me to Spa Ovarium in Montreal’s Rosemont neighbourhood. We were greeted by the staff’s smiling whispers and soft new-age music playing from hidden speakers. I’m not a spa guy, and I was wondering what I was about to spend $80 on.

We were led into a room with what looked like a 60’s Volkswagen Beetle hatchback filled with steamy water. I hopped in, turned the lights and music off, and closed my eyes.

The Experience

At least, I thought I had closed my eyes. A moment later, I realized I was blinking- except I couldn’t tell when my eyes were open and when they were closed. The darkness was heavy, but I felt light. My body was floating about 3/4 below the surface in about a foot and a half of salty water. I couldn’t feel the water-line on my skin because it was the same temperature as my body- I had to make myself bob up and down slightly to feel where the water was. If the water wasn’t moving, it was impossible to tell.

I’ve never touched a dolphin, but the mix of the salt and water made my skin feel like what a dolphin looks like it might feel like. I layed there as motionless as possible for an hour, occasionally being jolted back to reality by bumping into the sides of the tank.

At it’s most interesting, I had the strangest sensation of being truly nowhere. My sense of reality was distorted, but in a non-threatening, pleasant way. At it’s least interesting, floating there was extremely relaxing. I could feel my bones pulling away from each other, undoing the daily damage of moving around, sitting, and compromised ergonomics. The cracks and crinkles of my shoulders and ankles echoed through my earplugs like gunshots in the silence. A few times, I completely lost my sense of place. I pushed my feet against the bottom of the tank and couldn’t feel myself moving through the water until I hit my head on the other end. It was disorienting to say the least.

I’ve always had a hard time trying to make meditation a part of my life. I’ve often leaned on other mindfulness activities like long walks as ways to get into my zone. However, after floating for an hour, a mug of hot tea, and the cold shock of walking out into the Montreal winter at 11PM, I felt a certain whole-body loosening I haven’t felt in quite some time. My gait was lighter, and my thoughts were clearer. It’s like I’d scooped out a bunch of the interference that had been building up in my body and brain. I felt like I was listening better, and my thoughts became coherent sentences with surprising succinctness.

Breadth as a Growth Tool

There are several reasons why creating breadth in experience is important, but most convincing is the way we ingrain habit in ourselves without noticing. We often inherit habits, tendencies, and ideas from everything that influences us. The culture we surround ourselves with (including our jobs, family, and friends) quietly tell us what we should do, and most of the time, we listen. Making it a point to include breadth-expanding activities gives us an opportunity to see more of the world to make better decisions about what we want and what we don’t want in our lives.

Or, more concretely, it helps us make better decisions as to what is going to help us or hinder us in our growth and happiness.