Updated: Jun 1
In the last blog post I explained why a number of people report seeing colours and patterns during a float session.
In this post I ask,
Why do some of us have visual hallucinations during a float session?
Before I answer that question, I thought I would give you a few examples of visual experiences that some of our clients and myself have had. It is worth noting that this is not as common as people think it is, some people are more susceptible than others, but it is not truly known why.
One client stated they saw a small red dragon flying around inside the pod, another saw the most beautiful cat they had ever seen. They have all been positive experiences and childlike and intriguing in many ways. To date I have had 5 extremely vivid hallucinations during a float session, this has been over a period of 8 years with around 800 hrs of floating.
There is one particular float session that stands out for me, I floated in the early evening with music at the beginning and end of the session. I am not sure how long I was in there before the magic started to happen. This was the fifth time that something appeared, I knew something was going to happen when I had the sensation of someone shining a bright light on my face (My eyes were closed at the time, the pod light off with my head away from the lid). This had happened on the previous three visual experiences, so I was aware of the sign so to speak.
I could see the pink of my eyelids where the bright light was shining on my face. In my mind I knew it wasn’t there, but I let go of that thought immediately and then opened my eyes. The first thing I noticed was that the I could see the room lights on through the lid of the pod, it was as though the outline of the top half of the pod was like a forcefield (imagine the forcefield on the Death Star). The lines of the pod were shimmering with some sort of electrical energy, the strangest thing was that the lights in the room were on. The lights were definitely off when I started the float session. I looked down and could see the shower in the corner of the room, I felt as though I was drifting down very slowly. As I was falling, I looked up and could see the walls of the room bending inwards (Think Inception). The more I fell the more the lights on the ceiling started merging together as the walls literally began folding in on themselves until the lights disappeared and all that was left was darkness. I closed my eyes and next thing I know the music came back on and it was the end of the session. I don’t know how long the visual hallucination went on for, it may have been 30 seconds or a minute, time doesn’t seem to exist in the pod.
It was definitely the most vivid visual I have had to date, I would like to add that this was just from a float session. Since then I have had a few minor visuals, colours and shapes mainly. You are probably wondering why, I had the same thought after the float. I think part of the reason was that my mind accepted it and just went along for the ride, if you start focusing on a visual for too long during a float it will disappear. There are a few reasons that may explain why this happened which I will explore below.
Upon reflection, the key aspect with all these experiences was the fact that I was overly tired prior to the float session. In the earlier days of starting out and working ridiculous hours to get the business up and running combined with the extra stress of maintaining the business, floating was needed! Hence the lack of sleep on a number of occasions.
It is well documented that a common side effect of sleep deprivation is hallucination, as evidenced by, but not limited to, long distance swimmers, ultra-marathon runners and overly ambitious university students. According to one Stanford researcher, at least 80% of people will hallucinate if severely sleep deprived (severe meaning anything from getting only a few hours sleep in a single night to going for days without sleeping). Given such a high frequency, there must be a physiological basis for those induced visions of things not really there.
Lack of sleep disturbs visual processing, which results in false perceptions that can manifest as hallucination, illusion or both as I found out.
Your brain is constantly making up its own reality whether it receives actual reality-driven input from your senses or not. It works because your brain tries to fill in the gaps when it’s deprived of sensory stimulation. Basically, your brain constantly wants to find patterns in things. So, when you have an unstructured stimulus, like a uniform field of light or white noise in your ears – or both you’ll potentially start to hallucinate because your brain is trying to fill in those gaps, convincing itself that it is actually seeing or hearing things that aren’t there.
Beyond a doubt, we ‘see’ with more than just our eyes. And what we see is affected by, among other things, by how much we have slept.
This is also the case in a sensory deprived environment. In a study called, ‘Cognitive factors in source monitoring and auditory hallucinations’ by Morrison and Haddock, 1997. It was found that short term sensory deprivation was found to lead to increases in perceptual disturbances. Hallucination prone participants experienced greater perceptual disturbances than non-prone participants.
This result can be interpreted as supporting a source monitoring explanation for the generation of hallucinations in the absence of external stimuli. Essentially this means that these unusual perceptions arise out of an abnormality in the brains’ inferencing mechanisms such that new evidence (including sensations) is not properly integrated, leading to false prediction errors. In the absence of external stimuli, perceptual distortions are presumably internally generated by the individual, and in addition are misattributed as external in origin possibly due to an abnormality in updating one’s experience of the world with this new data.
You may be wondering why some people can have visuals and have a deep float experience whilst others just have a relaxing time in the shallows. There are a number of factors, some of which I spoke about in this blog and the previous post. Are there other factors exclusive to the individual? How can someone best approach their float to increase the chance of having a profoundly deep positive experience?
‘Setting’ is comprised of the details of the space that you’re in physically, at the float centre the physical setting is already set up for you. There is a clean space with relaxing music and all the necessary amenities. All you really have to do is walk in, get in the float room, get naked and float.
What we are responsible for is how we interact with that space i.e. Have you arrived in a calm manner or did you rush to get to the centre? If you rushed, then it can take you a lot longer to really get into the session. Being in the right frame of mind before you arrive will help you get the most out of your session. You may have a specific intention you want to focus on such as reflective practice or just a simple intention to relax and refresh.
The biggest difference between those that have ‘deep’ and potentially visual floats & those that have ‘light’ floats is in their concept of the pod itself, this can be interpreted as a reflection of how one views themselves. Is it just our physical & mental self that enters the pod or something much, much more?
There’s a great difference in viewing the float pod as a large salty bath to help you relax and a microscope to explore the unknown mysteries of consciousness. The key lies in our expectations, these directly influence the outcome. Even more so in an environment that involves our private mental world.
So, the float pod is only a vehicle. You simply have to open yourself to it, there may be mental resistance or ego boundaries at play that limit the potential of visuals and consciousness exploration. If you enter the pod and are only concerned with comfort and psychological security, then once you lower the lid you are not only shutting out the outside world you are also shutting out the unknown from your experience. By letting go you are potentially inviting significant insight, spontaneous moments of ‘no-mind’, ideas and possibility of vivid visuals.
Once the physical self is merged with the water, only then is the mind truly free to explore. It is the fear of losing a firm grip on the situation that holds us back, relinquish control and trust in the security of the pod and your mind. Just go with it and feel the moment. What you will experience could well be profoundly significant in many ways.
When we relax the mind and our fears of losing control (which we never truly had), we create a space within and without, which allows the fresh and vibrant to arise.