Surrendering to the Abyss: My Journey with Float Therapy
There is absolutely nothing like floating weightless in 1000-pound saturated salt water, surrounded by pitch-black silence. Nothing. Not soaking in a tub, not floating in the sea, not meditating at a silent retreat. There is nothing that comes close to the experience of letting go completely in a space that is so dark and so soundless it is for all intents and purposes, the abyss.
After completing a series of three one-hour sessions of float therapy over two months, I am won over. I will definitely be floating again. But I wasn’t completely convinced after the first float. And after the second float, I didn’t know if I would go back. My three floats took me on a journey through love, death and communion of the deepest, spiritual and emotional nature, dredging up one of my deepest wounds, and guiding me on a path of healing.
I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning…
I wasn’t drawn to “floating” (as they call it) because I wanted to relax, or relieve anxiety, tension or sore muscles, or for any reason described as a benefit on the venue’s website. I went into the experience with a specific aim: I wanted to heal myself.
My shadow work this summer had brought me into a core wound of separation and abandonment. A part of me—a very young part—was always clinging, controlling, desperately try to hold onto something that seemed to be slipping from my grasp. Manifesting in my own perceived continual scarcity—a feeling of me against the world.
I would never be able to undo the past, but I knew I needed to find a new way of coping with my emotional triggers: learn how to mother myself, rather than fall into old patterns of sabotaging my own efforts.
When I asked my intuition about what a path of healing would look like, all I saw was water. Swimming, floating, surrounded in warm turquoise water. When I shared this with a friend, she suggested float therapy, and at that moment it clicked. I knew it was exactly what I needed.
When I entered the tank for the first time, and pressed the button to lower the lights, I was awe-struck by how dark it was. I had never been anywhere without a tiny smidgen of light. In the tank, it doesn’t matter if your eyes are open or closed. And so it took some getting used to. I breathed through this tension, asking myself to surrender to the abyss.
It was much like where I find myself traveling in meditation, which I also call the abyss. I see myself suspended in darkness, in nothing. I like to think of this as the in-between place, between the physical and spiritual, where I receive intuitive downloads from, where something is formed out of nothing.
So here, suspended in darkness, I found myself overcome by the manifestation of my own intuitive visions. It was wonderful and scary at the same time.
With nothing else to distract me, I came into intimate connection to myself. My heart immediately began speaking to me. It ached, it felt broken. I realized I was hoping to feel some kind of immediate nurturing presence and holding of the Great Mother in the water I had seen in my vision. But floating in the darkness, I didn’t. All I felt was the stark reality of my own flesh and emotions.
I cried into the salt water and asked the abyss, “Where do I go from here? How do I mend this deep divide I feel within myself, and between me and you?”
And then the vision of Turtle appeared. A baby sea turtle, digging itself out of the sand, and pushing itself, stroke by stroke through the harsh physical, towards the great ocean, until it finally met the water, and was carried off with the waves.
“Feel my warmth against your skin,” the abyss said. “Allow me to hold and carry you.”
And like the baby turtle, I did. I lifted my arms and legs gently through the soft water, felt its slippery presence against my skin, and allowed the gentle current I created to buoy and guide my movement. And I was comforted.
I felt the water within me, too: A knowing that this great sea was within my heart. All I had to do was open to it, and I would be held.
I began my second float two weeks later, excited to see where my healing journey would take me next. I wanted to commune with the abyss more deeply, allowing myself to become one with it, and one with myself. I continued to desire to work through the wounds that created a reality of separation within me, and have those barriers of separation revealed as illusion and immediately removed.
But this is not where my journey took me.
After settling into the dark abyss, I was overcome by an acute discomfort. Not quite panic or anxiety, but a deep feeling of, “this is not right.” The dark quiet felt oppressive and overwhelmingly lonely, and instead of being suspended within the great life-supporting source of water, I felt that I was meeting death. Just as everything else had vanished in that abyss, it felt as if I had disappeared, too.
Memories of childhood surged forward, of being alone, becoming convinced I was dying, and crying for my mother. Crying until I had exhausted myself and fell asleep, because no one was home.
I didn’t know what to do—should I stay in the discomfort of this triggered experience? Or should I imagine myself floating in a bright, magical pool surrounded by faeries and rainbows to comfort myself? So I surrendered to the abyss and asked.
And then my arm and foot met the solid side of the tank. “Here is something real,” the abyss said.
And so I stretched both arms and legs out, so that I could feel the container in which I floated. I closed my eyes and placed myself squarely where I was in this physical box. “Here are my hands, here are my feet. Here I am in Pasadena, CA, fully alive and present,” I told myself.
That night, I felt raw and ripped open, like I didn’t know where my body ended or began, like I couldn’t quite believe I was alive, physical or real. I took a blanket and wrapped myself up like a swaddled baby, and asked my wife to hold me.
I had been a cautious, anxious child. The possibility of disappearing felt too close and too real, so I avoided risk at all cost most my life, never interested in dancing with darkness. And in so doing, pushed the allure of death deep into hiding. But now, it had reappeared. This was my death drive unmasked and unveiled.
And this is what I was learning: Life and death are two sides of the same experience. If I was to mend the spiritual divide within me, between me and my life force, I would need to heal my relationship with death and embrace the internal abyss within me, too.
It was six weeks before I came back for my third float. After a couple weeks, I wasn’t ready, and didn’t know if I ever would be.
But then the healing that had been born out of the first two floats took root, grew, and shifted the energy within me. Through a multitude of practices guided by my intuition (too lengthy to go into here), I felt more grounded in myself physically than ever before. And soon my curiosity overcame my fear, and the blackout room of water was once again an appealing proposal.
As I was settling in, an interesting thing happened: I kept believing I saw, out of the corner of my eye, the water below me glowing phosphorescent blue. I sat up to check a couple times, but I was met by just blackness.
As I relaxed into the abyss, I realized that I felt… good. Just good. I listened to my heart beat, and found it soothing. I kept my eyes open, and allowed my mind to drift. I asked my highest self to reveal to me whatever I needed to know, surrendered, and floated in and out of a pleasant, light and dreamful sleep.
It was then that I realized why this float was so different from the rest: I had begun float therapy because I wanted to mother myself. And I had believed that the water would be my mother, and I would learn from her.
What had changed was not my relationship to the water and the abyss, but my relationship to myself. That day I was fully content and capable of mothering myself. And alone with myself in that tank, that is exactly what I did.
Float therapy brings you into such a close relationship to yourself, it accentuates current reality, seen and unseen. So however you may be feeling about yourself, however you may running away or blocking yourself out, comes out of hiding.
During my first float, I was shown the potential within me for healing and unity. During the second, how I had separated myself from life, out of fear of death. And during that third float, I lived what it is like to be fully present, contented and comforted by my own presence. Content to just be me and feel, do, see, know, feel and think nothing else.
This coming from someone who strongly identifies as an introvert, spends much time alone, deep in reflection and intuitive discovery. And yet, what needed to be revealed, could only be known in that abyss, suspended in epson salt and water. Just my breath. Just my heart beat.
Maybe the phosphorescence I had seen out of the corner of my eye, was my heart reflecting itself back to me.
(I floated at Just Float, a lovely facility in Pasadena, CA. I highly recommend it if you are in the area!)