June 23 2016

From Float Tanks to Silent Retreats: Why Are People Looking for More Extreme Forms of Sensory Deprivation?

By Mark Sisson
53 Comments

quiet finalI’m thinking about a Philip K. Dick story, never published, perhaps never put down on paper or even imagined. In this story, which might only exist in my mind, the world is awash in sensory stimuli. Bright lights, flashing signs, an endless cacophony. A world of quick jump cuts. It’s like the Khaosan Road at 11 PM, standing on a Los Angeles overpass at rush hour, or living inside a Youtube video. Imagine your first night in the Amazon, only instead of insects and birds and other creatures, it’s horns and conversations and alarms and drunks and car doors and rattling manhole covers and ringtones. In the world of this story, silence is a premium. To escape from your senses, you need to pay up.

$1000 gets you three days in a retreat center staffed by robed monks who prepare vegetarian meals and confiscate your smartphone and other noisemakers. No one talks, no one demands answers. The floor and walls are padded, limiting the noisy reverberations of human locomotion.

$100 gets you an hour in an isolation tank filled with lukewarm saltwater attuned to your body temperature. For that single hour, you won’t hear, see, or feel anything. When the hour’s up, you return to the sensory soup.

At work, “mindfulness experts” lead mandatory classes training you to be at peace in your head and company memos urge you to utilize the “quiet room” at least twice a week.

Sounds a little crazy, right? Like something out of a dystopian novel?

But it’s real.

And everywhere you look, people are trying to get away from it all. Sensory deprivation, or “float” tanks, are springing up all over the world. Meditation retreats are exploding, and pretty much everyone has a meditation app on their phone (even if they don’t use it much). Google searches for terms like “float tank,” “silent retreat,” “mindfulness,” and “sensory deprivation” have been trending upward for the last few years. Silence is in.

Why?

One reason is Joe Rogan. For many years, he’s championed the use of float tanks to counterbalance the sensory onslaught of normal life. To eliminate the exogenous chatter and be alone with your own head to confront the self-talk we all engage in—and hopefully come to terms with your problems.

Another reason is the drive for productivity. In the tech community, mindfulness retreats, meditation rooms, and float tanks are productivity tools. They don’t care so much about enlightenment, or knowing oneself as they do the increase in productivity and focus silent mindfulness retreats promise. That you might improve your ability to be a functional human being is a nice side effect.

Although my description of the dystopian Dick-esque world is exaggerated, it’s not that far off from reality.

People need an outlet. They don’t have much time to be alone with their thoughts. They don’t know what to do with themselves when they are finally alone in a quiet place. You get that little glimmer of boredom, or self-talk, or “what the hell do I do now?” and must choose. Do you shy away from the quiet and check your email? Or do you embrace it, revel in it, plumb the depths?

Above all, the growing trend of float tanks and zen retreats and meditation apps and completely booked camping reservations and everything else indicates that we know, at least implicitly, that we need to get away from the noise. We don’t really know how to do it without help and we may not even be fully aware of the problem, but we know that something isn’t working.

What are people avoiding? What’s all the noise doing to us?

It’s a cardiovascular disease risk factor. Noise has emerged as a legit risk factor for heart attacks. Some research even finds that it directly worsens endothelial function

It’s annoying. Life doesn’t sleep. Planes are always taking off and landing. Traffic is getting worse and worse. Horns are honking, alarms are going off. “Annoying” sounds trivial but it’s a real detriment to one’s quality of life. Imagine living in a constant state of annoyance. Awful, just terrible. Plus, annoyance mediates the relationship between traffic noise and heart disease; if it’s annoying you, it’s probably bad for you.

It reduces sleep quality. The closer you are to an airport, the worse you sleep. Loud noises during the day may affect our sleep at night. Even if we can’t consciously hear it (as during sleep), the cochlea in our ears are affected by the soundwaves. Quiet time reduces stress in nurses, Quiet time in the hospital improves outcomes and sleep in ICU patients.

It increases stress.

Although epidemiology is mixed, experimental evidence shows that individuals exposed to loud noises have increased levels of stress hormones in their saliva, urine, and plasma. This may indicate a difference between acute noise and chronic noise; at least in fish, repeated exposure to a loud noise increases tolerance.

It reduces productivity.

In a more recent study, exposing workers to low-level “office noise” increased the perceived exertion required to complete a task. Older studies have found that office noise decreases the number of attempts a worker is willing to give to complete a task or solve a problem. Chronic industrial noise exposure is even worse, increasing fatigue, cortisol, and post-work irritability. In anesthesiologists, intraoperational noise (sounds playing in the midst of an operation) increases the perceived difficulty of a procedure.

Many of the benefits of silent retreats, float tanks, and other interventions stem from removal of the stimulus causing these health effects. If your world is quieter, you’ll sleep better, have a lower risk of heart disease, improve your productivity, feel less stressed, and less annoyed. These are all pretty basic, and I think they probably form the majority of the measurable effects. Industrial, office, and traffic noises are evolutionarily novel. Our genes “expect” a more silent world, so avoiding noise pollution and instilling periods of quiet is simply restoring what was lost.

In one study, a music researcher was looking at the effects of different types of music on physiological markers in healthy people. He found typical results that you’d expect. Techno and rap getting people amped up, Indian sitar and classical chilling them out. But the most striking changes were found where he wasn’t even looking: in between songs. Every time a song changed, there was a 2 minute lull of full silence, during which subjects would show signs of complete relaxation. They were more relaxed during the silent intermissions between songs than during a relaxing song or the big length of silence before the experiment began. What mattered was the contrast—the shift from sound to silence.

This is the crucial piece of the issue.

The world is bigger and somehow smaller than ever. The avenues for entertainment and information and communication are unparalleled. It’s an incredible time to be alive. But how often do we really, actually appreciate that fact? It’s only through its absence that we appreciate anything. Recall Louis CK’s “everything is amazing” bit. Everything is amazing. Turning everything off helps us realize it. Silence is a break from the madness.

Just as we must rest to get the benefits of strength training, we need silence to enjoy the noise. Otherwise, it’s a din.

People need an outlet. They don’t have much time to be alone with their thoughts. They don’t know what to do with themselves when they are finally alone in a quiet place. I fully support the commodification of silence and sensory deprivation if that’s what it takes to help people stay sane. An hour in the tank is easier to squeeze in than a long hike in the mountains an hour and a half out of town. Silence and sitting meditation is easier to maintain when you’ve dropped 1000 bucks and everyone else is in the same boat. So this post isn’t meant to rail against these trends. I’m more concerned with why they exist and what they’re offering.

What do I do to grab a respite from noise? Well, I’m no good at meditating—I’ve tried, believe me—so I have to cheat at it.

So instead I’ll go hiking whenever I can. I’ll watch the sunset when I remember to. I’ll go paddling and lose myself in the rhythm of the waves. I’m not much for float tanks or silent retreats, but they serve much the same purpose.

Now, I want to hear from you. You get that little glimmer of boredom, or self-talk, or “what the hell do I do now?” and must choose. Do you shy away from the quiet and check your email to escape it? Or do you embrace it, revel in it, plumb the depths?

How do you deal with an overabundance of noise? What’s your outlet?

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53 thoughts on “From Float Tanks to Silent Retreats: Why Are People Looking for More Extreme Forms of Sensory Deprivation?”

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  1. Yes, sadly, these days, I find I have to schedule my sensory deprivation. The following may be something no one understands but MDA folks: My kids are going to camp this summer, and husband on a business trip, and it will be the first time I am alone in my house, probably since the kids were born. I’ve become obsessed with looking forward to that time, like the way a marathoner is looking forward to a big race. I imagine it every time my teen snarks at me or my little one gets worked up. I’m letting a neighbor pet-sit so I won’t have to take care of anybody. And I imagine sleeping in, cleaning up that pile of junk in that corner, having coffee with a friend, and reading a good book.

    My husband is going someplace far away but interesting, and has asked if I want to come. I think about how much I’d rather go through a drawer of junk than get on a plane and deal, and I’ve said no. It’s insane, looking at my choice from the outside.

    I may re-think it because it would be to a place I’ve never been, and in general I’ve always been geographically curious, but clearly something in my life is lacking that the need for silence is calling.

    1. Monica, it sounds like you just need some “me” time during which you’re responsible for no one but yourself. You can clean up the junk in the corner or have coffee with a friend anytime. Just schedule it and don’t let anybody tell you their needs are more important. If it were me, I’d take the trip. The opportunity to visit this new place, just you and your hubby, could be some quality “me” time that might not happen again.

      1. Shari, thank you for the response. I’m wavering a little, because of course, there is also the pressing need of investing in one’s spouse–I learned a great phrase once: “be present to your partner.” Competing needs!

        1. A few years ago I refused to go on a family trip to Orlando just so I could have the house to myself. I totaly understand.

        2. Being your best self for your partner (and he for you) is no bad thing, though? And maybe just a little “absence makes the heart grow fonder”? 🙂

    2. I have to say….I am doing the SAME thing! And feeling the same kind of ambivalence. I agree that sometimes the soul calls deeply for drawer cleaning and quiet, but I honestly feel kind of guilty for not taking advantage of the ability to travel to some romantic far off place. I applaud you for listening to your heart and not pushing yourself to do something just to be able to have the “street cred” or Facebook posts that come with travel. It’s better for the planet to have staycations anyway, right??

  2. Great article, Mark. Noise overload is definitely part of my life. So when I take a few moments for silence, I usually extend it for a few more moments, since it takes a while to decompress from the overstimulation. Sometimes you really have to push through the discomfort of silence before you can feel its benefits.

  3. I’m not surprised at the upward trends on Google. Sure, float tanks and retreats have become trendy ways to increase productivity, etc. But the desire stems from a real place of deficit that’s been caused by modern life. I imagine there are statistics out there mapping the average amount of noise the average person takes in today vs. even a few decades ago. And that might be just environmental noise (not considering the huge increase in noise that comes through our increased access to personal devices that are noise makers). That said, “quiet time” should probably play a bigger part in healthy living recommendations.

  4. Ah, silence. I know there are tons of benefits to getting more time outdoors in more remote places, but a massive decrease in pollutant noise has to be one of the best, in my opinion.

  5. I’m really looking forward to going through a float tank session. Friends of mine have done it with differing experiences. Some fell into deep meditative thought. Some fell asleep. Either way, sounds like a soundless/relaxing environment worth paying the premium for if I can’t get out to the woods.

  6. Interesting results in the music study. I can see the possible headlines: “Looking for Relaxation? Throw Out Your Enya Collection. Silence is Better.”

  7. Yeesh. No matter what the discounted mortgage payments, I’ll take my home as far away from the tarmac as possible, thank you.

  8. A mindfulness retreat isn’t really about escaping from anything. It is about learning to change the way we process experience, including the experience of noise. It is about eliminating the internal resistance and struggle against our own experience so that things like noise are no longer a problem. Yes, a silent retreat creates a simplified environment, but not to create a vacation from stress. Instead the simplified environment supports the development of the skills of mindfulness that can then be taken out into the hectic world, making each mindful moment its own vacation from stress.

  9. re: They don’t know what to do with themselves when they are finally alone in a quiet place.

    Personal environment and diet aside, too many people are flat out uncomfortable just being who they are. Quiet alone time is disturbing and must be avoided with stimulation. Social media is like crack for this sort of deliberate distraction.

    A major factor in this is a pathological side effect (one of several) of our tribal heritage, a phenomenon that psychologist Nathaniel Branden termed “social metaphysics” – allowing your world view (including of yourself) to be defined by what you think other people think. If quiet time is threatening, some work on self-acceptance is often indicated.

    1. My mom, 90, is the biggest social butterfly I know, and always has some social plan in the works, busy/busy/busy. If I get around her, she has many projects (all that seem to involve my help since she’s long term SAD lifestyle old age infirm). It’s just non-stop. She is very happy and cheery, though!

      Once, maybe 10 years ago, she said, “I keep busy because my life is very sad…” At the time, her husband had had a series of strokes and was bedridden and pretty much comatose–opposite of Live Long/Drop Dead. She had had two bouts with cancer, death could come anytime, and walking was painful. So the busyiness is her way to stay “in the moment” and happy.

      At the moment she is teasing my happy little cockatiel with some newspaper comics. My cockatiel is in heaven, playing with her.

      So the issue is complicated. I’m desperate for silence and she’s desperate for distraction. Both of us are looking for peace.

  10. Mark, you put your finger on it: when you go to unplug, look what you do: it’s all a nature experience, which you’ve talked about a lot. I think that’s the key; we spent a few hundred thousand years as a species with our sensory inputs primarily birdsong, rustle of grasses, movement of water, wind in the trees, etc. Now we have to seek that out. I did a TedX talk on the topic, inspired by you and the ancestral health movement. We need to refashion our built environment to make daily contact with diverse ecosystems possible for everyone. Tall order? Yes, but think of what we’ve done in the past 100 years.

  11. Our modern workplaces are putting more demands on our time. Employees are expected to work in “open space” offices, without even the small amount of noise-reduction that cubicle walls provide. We’re expected to answer emails from our phones even after work, and to participate in conference calls when we’re traveling. If you choose not to drive to work and instead take public transportation, the noise from that can be extreme. (I take the San Francisco BART train every day, and the noise from those trains is infamous in the Bay Area, even with noise-cancelling earphones.) I’m working toward unplugging in various ways, and anti-noise retreats are an important part of that. (Anti-light, too!) That’s one reason I see the new trend of “Glamping” as kind of sad- you have Wifi and music and electric lights- yikes…

  12. Packing up this morning to go spend a long weekend at the quietest campground I know of… and no, I won’t tell you where it is. I just went on my first backpacking trip last fall, I’m in love. Peace and quiet in the Cascade Mts., and bonus, I can go for days without having to speak!

    1. Do you go camping alone? I think that would be amazing, but I’m too scared to try it.

      1. Not alone this time, youngest son and granddaughter with me. However I often go camping and backpacking alone, and have for decades. I have NEVER had a problem, whether in a campground or the wilderness. If you are afraid, you can keep your cooking knife under your pillow at night! Or maybe a self-defense class will put your mind at ease.

  13. Oh, Monica, I so understand. I’m 62, working, my girls are all grown and out of the house, and my husband recently went on a 3.5 week business trip to India. I wondered what I was going to do with the alone time. I’m fortunate enough to live in a quiet village, so each morning I had my lemon water, and then took my coffee and book outside and sat in the garden on the dirt, sipping, reading and listening to some birds with one particular one having the most beautiful ever-changing song. I found the time to organize my drawers, put away my winter things and pass a bunch of stuff along to someone else to distribute for a new life. I also went for late evening walks, watched the sunset and felt the unusually cool evening breeze. I hardly watched any TV and forgot about my email completely. One day, I went food shopping with a friend and found canned, wild-caught Alaska salmon (unusual since I live in Israel); another evening, I had dinner out with a friend. It was all so restorative, especially the quiet mornings.

    Mark, I want to thank you. I read something of yours almost daily, and you never cease to amaze me with the thoughtful articles you publish for all the world to enjoy. Your articles are well-balanced, non-judgmental, highly informative and interesting. And possibly the most impressive is that you are willing, with a fine sense of humor, to correct and update any information you have given out in the past that you discover is wrong or about which some new evidence has been uncovered. That is what I call humility. Thank you so very much.

      1. Well, Elizabeth, that makes at least two of us. By the way, I always enjoy reading your comments!

  14. I struggle to “unplug”. To me it seems like a waste. All my life, there has always been a wolf at my door, competition trying to steal what I worked hard to obtained. Unplugging, idle time seems like time to get soft, to open the gates for enemy to come in. Yet, I know, at least empirically that it has some advantages. So I force myself with absolute dread to do so. I make sure it is never enjoyable and it only for shortest amount to achieve some benefit. I never want to grow complacent.

  15. I unplug by setting aside what I call my “quiet time” every morning. It means getting up extra early but I miss it when I don’t. It’s a time of prayer, breathing and journaling while I sip my coffee (with coconut oil and collagen peptides). I don’t allow myself to check texts, emails, Instagram or my blog statistics until I’m done. Having this daily meditative time really me feel more balanced.

    1. I have had a morning quiet time for many years. Recently, I omitted it because I was staying with friends and it was difficult to do it. I found myself more and more “off” as the days passed.
      When I get really discordant inside, I try for to get to nature, especially by a river and hopefully with the ability to lie on the earth. Sometimes I tell my son the same thing when he gets frazzled: “You need to get to nature.”

  16. I’ve always wanted to try that. I think it goes well beyond counteracting the daily noise. I think it freaks the brain a bit because that is a level of deprIvation one normally can’t achieve.

  17. I am very sensitive to noise and won’t eat in a noisy restaurant, have no interest in going to concerts and even though I live in a rural area I’d like my next house to be further off the road!

    1. I discovered recently that my 7 yo granddaughter is similarly afflicted. I chose that word because she can’t enjoy the loud music that her younger brother loves to dance to when I crank up my high watt stereo. Glenn Miller on vinyl, wow. Dance, dance, dance. The power of the music just isn’t the same at low levels.

      But I love you both, y’all just different, Nothing wrong with that.

  18. I close myself in my room and read a book, sometimes for hours. If the house is too noisy I have been known to climb a tree with my book and just disappear for a while. Very few people look above them without a reason.

  19. Ah, silence.
    I am grateful that I live alone (well, no other humans, just my two cats) in a 1900 sq ft house. I have a basement closet that is well insulated from outside sounds that I can retreat to when even my usually quiet house is too loud.

    As an introvert, I need my quiet time away from people. If I don’t get enough, well, let’s just say I’m not a nice person to be around. Add in high functioning Aspergers, and yes, I’ve had public meltdowns when there’s been too much noise and nonsense.

    I’ve learned to extend national holidays, like taking July 1 off to make the 4th of July a 4 day weekend. I may run errands, maybe spend some time with family and friends, but the rest of the time will spent completely by myself/with the furballs, devoid of human contact and noise, to re-balance the rest.

  20. Regarding sound and stress, just this morning I had an experience that is a great example of how a sound can raise one’s blood pressure and anxiety. I live in a touristy mountain town and as I was driving my child to camp, next to us in the other east bound lane was a large pick-up truck pulling a camper. The truck had one of those noise amplifying exhaust pipes. We were next to them almost the whole drive through town. I became so annoyed and irritated by that sound that I said to my seven year old “I am sorry, but I have to complain about this! That sound just makes my blood boil! It is so inconsiderate do of people around them. They have that on their truck for the sole purpose to look cool and annoy people.” Then went on to explain to her the term “noise pollution.”

    To me, those exhaust amplifiers are like giving an auditory middle-finger to the people around you.

    Our town gets insanely busy with tourists in the summer because we live near a National Park. So busy, in fact, that we rarely enter the National Park during the summer anymore and just go to the local “secret spots” in the area. My house is in a quiet neighborhood about seven minutes south of town. On a hot summer afternoon, especially after driving through town, my favorite thing to do is sit curled up in our hammock chair on our front porch in the cool shade of quaking aspens, and just relax. I imagine that it is similar to floating in a tank of water, but FREE! Seriously, lying/sitting in a hammock in the shade on a hot day is one of the greatest pleasures in life!

    1. Just an FYI, no exhaust system amplifies sound. A quiet exhaust muffles the explosions happening in your engine. Noisy exhausts just have less muffling happening. Since all trucks are cars leave the factory meeting federal standards, if it’s loud, it’s been modified.

      But I hear ya…….

  21. Growing up in the middle of a forest in a small town amongst owls and cicadas I think it’s not “noise” and “no/less noise”. It’s the beeps, crashes, yelling, and noises that have only been introduced recently versus the chirps, buzzing, the wind, and the trees that we feel so in tune with that we instinctively relax hearing them. A rainstorm isn’t quiet but it is one of my favorite relaxing sounds.
    A forest is often alive with noise, particularly at night. Yet it is the most soothing sound to fall asleep to. It always frustrated me that, when attending college and moving to a city, I was considered the strange one for needing the TV and lights off in order to fall asleep. I can’t wait to move back to the woods one day!

    1. I totally agree with you. I’m very easily annoyed at noises to the extend that I feel I’m more sensitive than average but it’s not all noises. As long as it’s not too loud in a “I will wake you up from deep sleep” way, I like hearing birds chirp and children play, or even a baby cry. It makes me feel like there is life around, unlike in the dead of winter. I hate barking dogs though, to me it’s akin to car alarms.

      Speaking of winter, there isn’t many things I like about it but one thing is the silence. There is less agitation in winter and the few sounds that are still there are muffled by the snow, it’s really comforting I think.

  22. I do a “Holy Hour” every Monday at 4 PM. I go to my church (which is BIG) and I basically have the place to myself. Sometimes I pray. Sometimes I read. And sometimes I just sit there and look at Him while he looks at me.

    1. Empty churches are great places to reflect and think. The environment, meaning knowing that this building exists, often will all manner of symbols and perhaps art, because fellow travelers are seeking answers to the questions we all have, is pervasive.

      Spoken as an atheist!

  23. It seems the older I get, the greater my intolerance for useless noise: people nattering-on and on about nothing just to fill the silent spaces, parents yelling at their kids at the beach (sometimes I wonder who is loudest, the screeching children or the parents yelling the same ignored commands, over and over?), booming car bass, car alarms, sirens, etc. Stuff I have no control over. I can’t afford nor do I have available an isolation tank, so I finally broke down and invested in a set of compact, noise cancellation earphones designed to block out most noise. They aren’t perfect, buy they really do help so I carry them in a small velvet bag with me wherever I go and instead of getting irritated, I just pop those babies on and I’m off in my own little world where all I can hear is the sound of my own breathing and the steady beating of my heart.

  24. My wife wishes I would give her more quiet time. She sometimes goes into a reading room and shuts the door, that’s my cue to leave her alone and not share with her my non-stop stream-of-consciousness thoughts and opinions.

  25. I meditate for about 40 min, twice a day. I use a mantra to meditate and I’m sure it would work for Mark if he was taught properly.

    I have a neighbor who plays music so loud that for many ears I lived in a constant state of ‘annoyance’. I blame my annoyance for causing my immune system to not fight off the skin cancer around my eye, which developed during these years.

  26. I definitely treasure early morning quiet time. Even more, since having a family! I, too, feel really out of sorts if I miss it. I start the day with a bulletproof coffee, use the Headspace meditation app and, if time, some yoga or weights. It makes me much more focused for the rest of the day.

    I’m trying to switch off tablets etc. after I’ve put the children to bed at 9pm. So, I might watch a little tv or read and then go to bed. This is still a work in progress, but I feel better when I do!

  27. As I write this I am literally being assaulted by noise–Construction and traffic noise from outside, a ringing telephone and vacuum cleaner inside are mingling with shouted verbal communication and the dog barking. In my head I’m repeating “Calgon, take me away!” I know I need more quiet in my life, but finding the opportunity and location is a problem. I am one of the people boosting “float tank” in the Google rankings.

  28. I grew up on a farm, so long stretches of silence were the norm for us. My granddad worked at a cow camp in the mountains and we also got to go spend time with them every summer…more silence. I treasure my quiet times. My husband, however, grew up in a large noisy family that was constantly on the go, and can’t handle the quiet for long w/o feeling lonely. It’s a struggle at times. He turns on the tv even if he’s not in the room, and I retreat somewhere away from the noise so I can hear myself think. Then he feels lonely and neglected and it affects how we interact. We have had to find balances. I get up early in the mornings to have some “me” time before the rest of the family intrudes, but make a point of being in the room w/ him in the evenings. Sometimes we watch tv together, or talk, or I read a book and try to ignore the noise. At least he knows I’m available.

    1. One thing that helped me to avoid sensory overload is to always mute the television when commercials come on. You’d be amazed at how peaceful you’ll feel. Now if I could only press mute to quiet my dog when he barks 😉

  29. Based on some of these responses, I’m rather spoiled. I work on a military base (as a civilian) with a lot of unused space that is wooded. There are trails around the two side by side, small lakes near the office. Even during peak usage times, you can go several minutes without seeing another person. I’ve recently taken to exploring the woods, looking for the foundations of building that were in use during WW II, bits of old road, rock sidewalks or porches, bridges across streams in the middle of no where, and the occasional odd bits of stuff. I can still hear the occasional car go by, which is fine, because a time or two, I’ve wandered in such a random, twisting route, that I’ve lost all sense of direction, and wound up in a totally different place than I thought I was. Roads can be very useful at helping you find your way back to your car.

    I live in a semi-rural area. The property behind mine is 6 acres, 1/2 hay field and 1/2 pond. In the winter, it can be very quiet outside, especially at night. Unless there’s a party in the subdivision about a half mile away. Right now, we’ve got frogs, toads, cicadas, and other sundrey insects and what not, making it quite a cacophony outside.

  30. Love this post! I’m super-sensitive to noise and thirst for long stretches of silence.

    Too much noise leaves my whole body and mind anxious, agitated and unable to focus or function at full capacity. I hate it.

    For solace, I cultivate a quiet home (we don’t even own a television), savor morning coffee and afternoon lunch in blessed silence, practice yoga (ideally morning and evening), swim in a mountain-ringed lake (ideally morning and evening), and take walks along wooded trails.

  31. I’m definitely finding myself looking for some quiet time and some downtime where there are no schedules to follow or to do lists to manage. The working week is so “full on”…..thank God for the weekend. Go for a walk, play some music, try to meditate in a quite space……but leave the schedules behind on the weekend. Attend church, say some quiet prayers……just slow down a bit.

  32. I have never experienced a float tank or sensory deprivation. I prefer constant input as long as the visible, audible, olfactory and contact are intentional. I dislike the sounds and smells of motorized landscaping equipment, loud motorcycles, etc. However, I love scuba diving. The only sounds are my own breathing and creatures like snapping shrimp. The water surrounding and compressing my weightless body is relaxing and the wildlife observed drifting through a kelp forrest or tropical reef is awesome. On land, the sound of falling water is my ideal white noise. I have trouble falling asleep in total silence and need the distraction of white noise.

  33. I’ll probably never have a moment’s true silence again in my entire life, because when I was younger I used to go to gigs and clubs several nights a week, dance right near the speakers or get down in the mosh pit, hang out in noisy bars, then spend the daily commute with music blasting in the car or from my headphones – and now I have tinnitus.

    It’s like a high-pitched whine in one ear, slightly lower and softer in the other. The whine’s somewhere between forks scraping on crockery, and a high-pitched personal attack alarm.

    And it’s CONSTANT.

    So, I could wear all the noise cancelling headphones I like, book all the mountrain retreats, and it would come right along with me.

    I didn’t listen (ha!) when people told me to take better care of my hearing when I was young, and I don’t suppose anyone reading this will really think it can happen to them, but if your life DOES involve loud music (or any significant levels of workplace noise) please, for the sake of your own future peace of mind, wear foam earplugs or whatever’s more appropriate, and save yourself the damage.

    One of the worst things about this is knowing that it was entirely my own stupidity that landed me with it, because I think I’m pretty smart, but I also have this as lasting proof that sometimes I’m really, really, NOT! 🙂

    I’m thirty-something, and I’m told I’ll probably end up with a hearing aid in the next 15 years. That’s some scary stuff, if you’re as vain as me.

    Oh, and I can’t even listen to louder music now because there’s no top limit on this, and I don’t want it getting any worse, so I have to wear foam earplugs on trains, in cinemas, in fact I always carry a pack with me, because sometimes even a restaurant will crank up the background music.

    So, if you love music, think of it as investing in your future enjoyment and great nights out. I barely go to gigs now because I can’t justify the risk of any more damage. Don’t risk needing a hearing aid, for no reason, and decades before you even turn grey-haired.

    Meanwhile, I play a lot of nature-sounds and low-level classical & instrumental music, to drown out the never-ending 24/7/365/REST OF MY LIFE whine…

    Here endeth the cautionary tale. 🙂

  34. There’s an easy way to shut out so much noise–get rid of your television (or at least your cable/satellite service). Seriously, I moved into a century house 9 year ago and did not get television service. We have a tv that functions primarily for watching dvd’s (either workout videos or classic films). There’s not constant background noise and it frees time for reading, walking, playing, creating art, talking, or just sitting and watching the birds at our feeders. The best decision I ever made and it didn’t cost a dime (unlike float tanks and expensive retreats). One other side note, the point of meditation is not to “up” your productivity–way too many companies and institutions are thinking like that nowadays. It is meant to bring you closer to the realization that you are part of a unified universe where everyone and everything is connected. Beware those selling it as anything else.

    Lisabeth

  35. Awesome article on sensory deprivation! In this world of technology and a culture always on the go, having time to reflect inward is so important. I own a float center in the Dallas / Fort Worth area called Float Away Spa. I used to own a CrossFit gym for 5 years, but found myself working a split shift and becoming deprived of sleep. I would wake up around 4:15am to work with the morning clients, grab a nap in the middle of the day, and go back to the gym to train the evening clients. I would regularly get about 5 hours of sleep at night and a nap in the middle of the day. I heard about floating (aka sensory deprivation) in massage school. It wasn’t until my girlfriend bought me a 1 hour float for our one year anniversary that I was able to experience my first float. My first float was absolutely incredible! I knew that the schedule I had wasn’t sustainable and something was going to have to change. I went home that night and told her that if I can figure out how to make it work, I was going to sell the gym and open a float center. Well, two years later, here we are. Float Away Spa has been open for a year now (on June 18) and I am so thankful that I made that transition. It’s not easy starting all over, but I knew that something needed to change. I couldn’t keep going on like I was with the gym. It was destroying my health, and I have plans for the future that wouldn’t have been possible if I continued down that path. Not everyone has as profound of an experience as I did for my first float. Sometimes it takes a series of floats before people are able to completely let go. I would like to encourage your readers to seek out a float center near them. Flotation changed my life for the better and many people can benefit from some quiet time. Not only is it an amazing tool for stress relief, but it has several other benefits. I recently wrote a blog post on the benefits of flotation. You can find more info on flotation here: http://www.floatawayspa.com/what-is-floating-who-can-benefit/

    If you live in the Dallas / Ft. Worth area or are ever in town visiting, schedule a time to float with us at http://www.floatawayspa.com.