When we begin the process of closing our eyes and going within, stuff starts happening. Not in the external world, but on the inside. And when this stuff starts happening, it’s not just one thing that happens and that’s it – oh no, the experience moves and flows. And those who have spent a long time hanging out in this internal space have tried to conceptualise in spoken and written word how this experience changes and how it becomes more subtle. Within the buddhist tradition, they have described this as different stages of samadhi, or different conscious states. Having had the chance to study these I thought it would be interesting to look at them to see how they compare with states that may (or may not) have arisen for you in the tank:
- Placing the mind: In meditation, this is when you try to concentrate an object, usually the breath or an auspicious image or a mantra. Outside of Buddhist thought, there is also a profound meditation in which you place the mind on EVERYTHING! Yep, that’s right, you expand to encompass it all. If you want to try to accomplish this state of samadhi in the tank, you simply need to try to concentrate on one thing, or indeed on everything. Infact, one of the pieces of advice that I give most often to customers is to just rest in the landscape of the mind, but to become aware, consciously aware of what’s in there.
- Continuous placement: In this samadhi, you are able to stay with focused attention for longer periods of time on your chosen object. To experience this in the tank you must be able to watch a few rounds of breaths or sit in the landscape of the mind with all of its thoughts, images and stories for a little while before you drift off
- Resetting: Here you are able to stay for even longer periods of time with your chosen object of concentration. This samadhi requires a good dollop of mindfulness!
- Close placement: Now the mind is now able to stay on the object pretty much continuously but it still requires enormous effort. Personally, I have found the stages of samadhi from here onwards very difficult to achieve in the tank, I will explain why below.
- Taming: Once this stage is reached, all major distractions have now disappeared, you will be so absorbed in the object that no other mental images appear. However at this stage, there remains some very subtle distractions, something there in the background that doesn’t quite want to show its face. Deep meditative joy arises at this stage.
- Pacifying: All obstacles have now disappeared, the mind and the object are becoming one and in realising its full potential, the mind begins to really become alive.
- Complete pacification: The mind is now absorbed in its object.
- Single pointedness: The mind is now effortlessly wholly absorbed in its object
- Spontaneous setting: The mind is now effortlessly wholly absorbed in its object and can now move to become one with any object. This is also known as unity consciousness.
Now, whether or not those stages made any sense to you, you hopefully get the point, that eventually, there is a full realisation that the mind and everything that it perceives are one. And at this stage, incredible bliss arises.
Trying to slot my experiences in the tank into these states of consciousness I have found pretty tricky. I think that this is because the tank is very, very good at teaching us to surrender but not so good at encouraging mindfulness – it’s just so damn comfy in there! I have, personally, found it very difficult to stay on one object for prolonged periods of time.
And yet… and yet… the tank does give me real and tangible bliss, a feeling similar to when I am able to attain deeper states of samadhi in seated meditation.
So why is this? Honestly I don’t know, but maybe, I think, the tank is able to help us move more freely through these states. Infact, after one has reached the state of single pointedness, the scriptures talk of yet more subtle states, one of which is a feeling of limitless space and of the physical body completely disappearing… sound familiar to anyone?
So I’m just going to throw this completely crazy idea out there and see what your thoughts on it are.. Is it possible the tank is allowing the mind to travel so freely through these states that we are kind of skipping backwards and forwards…. I’m just gonna put it out there… Do you think that the float tank might just be a time and dimension travelling machine?