When I close my eyes, it’s almost total sensory deprivation. I can still sense the sunlight before my closed eye-lids, and the waves crashing against the shore are still audible, but in that muffled, talking-through-glass kind of way. Otherwise I’m weightless, unburdened even of my own body, all sense of direction lost as I float in the salty water that perfectly matches the temperature of my skin. The smell of the ocean fills my nose (along with some seawater) making it impossible to smell anything else. As I drift there, an image from the movie, Immortal Beloved, comes to mind – the young Beethoven, having momentarily escaped his abusive father, floats in a pond reflecting the starlit sky, the soundtrack playing “Ode to Joy.” I hum a few bars in my head and think about the time Sam and I came to the consensus that Beethoven’s music was just so much cooler than other classical musicians’.
It’s summer in Tanegashima, which means that my life has become generally intolerable. Monday through Friday I spend seven hours in the office doing nothing, or occasionally pretending to do something. I usually spend the first hour to hour and a half of my day staring blankly at an open New Yorker. This allows me to fool my brain into thinking it’s getting more sleep. After I start wondering if anyone’s noticed that I haven’t turned a page all morning, I actually read one of the articles. When I’m not reading, or pretending to read, a New Yorker, I’m reading, or pretending to read, a book. Sometimes I monopolize the computer to check some e-mails or work on this blog, but that’s only when I’m not thwarted by this guy who inexplicably uses the communal computer, even though he has his own computer and internet connection at his desk. The only good thing about sitting in the office like this all day is the free AC. Because even though sitting at a desk with nothing to do sucks harder than most well-seasoned prostitutes, sitting in the blistering heat all day would be WAY worse. In addition to the heat, leaving the sanctuary of the air-conditioned buildings usually means acquiring at least one new bug bite. The only way to escape the office, the heat and the bugs is to submerge myself in the ocean from time to time.
Eddie and I have started “swimming” a lot lately. Originally we intended to get some exercise, but floating turned out to be a much more enjoyable activity. Now whenever we go to the beach, we spend about 10 minutes just drifting around, followed by about two minutes of swimming back a little closer to shore, followed by more floating.
For me, floating is like meditating, but without the work. I often find it difficult to block out distractions and get to that place of “inner peace” while meditating, but while floating, it’s easy. The water acts as a buffer between me and the world and the thought I’m most often distracted by is how until that moment, I wasn’t thinking about anything. It’s so relaxing and rejuvenating that sometimes I don’t want it to end.
Recently I read a New Yorker article about CIA interrogation techniques used on terrorists. One of the ways they broke down their prisoners was through sensory deprivation. They would keep people alone in the dark with either loud music or static being pumped into their cells. They would deliver meals at random times to confuse the prisoners’ sense of time. This tactic is apparently designed to create a dependency in the prisoner – to make them understand that they were helpless and would have to depend on their captors for even the most basic things. In addition to making them more willing to talk, it also severely psychologically damaged many of the prisoners.
While the sensory deprivation isn’t total, the thing that makes floating wonderful is the respite it offers from the rest of the world. But on the other hand, too much sensory deprivation, forcibly imposed on someone, will break that person’s mind. I think that people lose their minds when subjected to sensory deprivation because without physical clues, they begin to lose their sense of being. I imagine that they start to wonder if they even exist or matter anymore. Sometimes I think that August in the office will drive me crazy. Everyone in the office is eerily silent and I begin to lose my sense of purpose and wonder why I’m here. And this even though they serve snacks at the same times every day.
I escape from all this by drifting in a world occupied only by me, by floating. Every now and then these thoughts invade my salt water cocoon and it’s not lost on me that the damage done by one kind of isolation/sensory deprivation is remedied by another.