Re-Post: The Two Pillars of Psychedelic Floating

Posted by Dan

paranormal_man_floating1I’m slightly hesitant to post an article with “psychedelics” in the headline, given some of the rooted connections between floating, John Lilly and, arguably, huge overuse of mind-altering substances. BUT … this is a really well written article by our friends up at Float House north of the border that breaks down the “set and setting” – a phrase often reserved for reference to psychedelic practices – of floating. It explores the similarities between the two types of experiences, and in particular, it attempts to get at why some of us have mind-blowing “out of body” experiences and some have “average” float experiences (amazing, in their own way, but not the out-of-body experience that some have come to expect from movies like Altered States or from experiential stories told by float luminaries like Joe Rogan).

“How do we interact with that space, presently or absently? Are you in the zone before you arrive, or are you rushing in from a frenzy of appointments and only settling down an hour into the session? Have you set any coordinates for your mind during the session? It could be a relationship you want to focus on, or just a simple intention to relax and refresh.

The biggest distinction between those that have “shallow” and “deep” floats is in their concept of the tank itself, which is a reflection of how one views themselves. Are you a bag of meat hooked up to a car battery, or are you something much, much more?

There’s a chasm of difference between looking at the float tank as a dark, salty bath, and as an instrument for personal growth; a telescope through which to explore the unknown mysteries of consciousness and our deeper psychological structure. Our expectations directly influence the outcome, especially in a game that exclusively involves our private mental world.

So, the tank is only potentially a potent psychedelic. You simply have to open yourself to it. Because unlike psilocybin, for example, no matter what kind of mental resistance or ego boundaries you have, ingesting a certain dose will unapologetically tear your reality apart – regardless of your opinion on the matter.

But like all psychedelics, these cannot be fully leveraged by a closed mind. If someone firmly identified with their ego system and only concerned with their comfort and psychological security shuts the hatch on the tank, they at the same time they shut out the unknown from leaking into their experience; an unnerving quality which constitutes the vast majority of the Universe. Of course, significant insight and spontaneous moments of “no-mind” may still occur, however much more infrequently.”

For my part, I kind of groan when I’m (fairly regularly) asked about that stupid 1980s movie. I’ve never actually seen the whole thing, but I’ve seen enough to be able to confidently tell everybody that they’re not going to have that experience without the use of some kind of ketamine cocktail. And with that in your system, you’ll pretty much have the Altered States (the movie) experience no matter what you’re doing.

I am confident in telling people that they will experience an altered state when they go into a float tank. What that altered state is … is largely dependent on the factors this article breaks down really well. It seems important to remember that anything that shifts you out of your regular mode of thinking is you experiencing an altered state. For some, that’s drugs (or “entheogens”, since some substances classified as “drugs” aren’t actually drugs at all); for others, it’s alcohol; for others still, it’s a piece of art, or a piece of music, or meditation, or sitting and staring at a body of water. For many, and increasingly so, it’s a float. When you shut out everything external and your mind is able to operate in a different mode without being distracted and hyperstimulated by endless sensory inputs … you are in an altered state; you’re having a psychedelic experience, as Wikipedia describes it: “an array of experiences including changes of perception such as hallucinations, synesthesia, altered states of awareness or focused consciousness, variation in thought patterns, trance or hypnotic states, mystical states, and other mind alterations.”

Anyway, here’s the article:

The Two Pillars of Psychedelic Floating

Re-posted from
After about 10-15 minutes, I decided to fully close the door to the tank. A few minutes later I was seeing rainbows of colour swirl and stream past my body. I felt like I was slowly flying upward through the solar system. It was so real. I saw stars and planets, each direction I turned. I wasn’t sure where I ended and the rest began, but it made me realize that I am not my possessions, or my thoughts… I realized that I’ve gone my entire life without really letting go… I never let go… I’m always trying to hold on…”

This is the account, admittedly a rare one, of someone’s first session in a float tank. Responses to an hour and half in sensory restriction range from psychedelic, mystical and out-of-body experiences, such as the one described above, to the arousal of primal fear and general discomfort.

“I think I’m claustrophobic,” “It was a bit stuffy,” “Ah, not for me,” others will say.

In light of such contrasting experiences, you must be led to wonder (at least, I am) – what is the difference between those that reach cosmic depth and those that bob around in the shallows? Is it simply air quality and water temperature, or are there other factors exclusive to the individual? How can someone best approach the tank to increase the chances of having a profoundly positive experience?

The answer may lie in a simple phrase coined by Dr. Norman Zinberg, 20th century American Psychoanalyst and Psychiatrist, which came as a result of his extensive work and research into drug addiction:

“Set and Setting.”

Most are familiar with this term in the context of taking doses of LSD, psilocybin (or “magic mushrooms”), MDMA, Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), and the like. It is well known amongst psychonauts that your mindset and the place where you choose to trip are the two most vital influences on the quality of your experience.

So, a deep thirst for control, paired with an aggressive and unfamiliar environment will spell the difference between a transformational, ecstatic celebration of the Universe and simply freaking the fuck out.

Involved in “Set” is your entire inner world. This includes the tone of your thoughts and emotions that day, your expectations and reservations of what is to come, and the overall structure of your personality and belief systems.

“Setting” is comprised of the details of the space that you’re in physically; the people you’re with, the trees or skyscrapers that surround you, and the presence or absence of candles and Pink Floyd.

“Wait a second. How do ‘drugs’ and floating in water relate to each other?” Good question. Although I disagree with your use of the label “drugs..” Let’s go a little further in drawing the parallels between floating and these entheogenic medicines to develop a crucial distinction which will allow a fuller concept and definition of floating, as well as what is possible with it.

The word ‘psychedelic’ originates from Ancient Greek. It is a combination of two words that essentially mean to make visible, or reveal, the mind.

It is a common misnomer to suggest any type of substance that produces a “trip,” hallucinations, or an altered state of consciousness. In actuality, these substances are a means to access the psychedelic state, where we are removed from our usual fixed vantage point and may see our minds, behaviour, and the mysteries of life with more penetrating clarity.

Allow Wikipedia to elaborate:

“A psychedelic experience is characterized by the striking perception of aspects of one’s mind previously unknown…Psychedelic states are an array of experiences including changes of perception such as hallucinations, synesthesia, altered states of awareness or focused consciousness, variation in thought patterns, trance or hypnotic states, mystical states, and other mind alterations. These processes can lead some people to experience changes in mental operation defining their self-identity…different enough from their previous normal state that it can excite feelings of newly formed understanding such as revelation, enlightenment, confusion, and psychosis.”

These states of profound ecstasy, insight and revelation, can be induced by various means, such as controlled breathing, natural or synthetic substances, and – surprise! – sensory restriction.

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