Float Tank at Galim Center in Israel. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Shabbat Sha-Float

"Sensory Deprivation Shabbat" is my new unorthodox tradition.

The “day of rest” is often my busiest day of the week.

While many people spend the day sleeping in, or at services with their families and friends, reading, relaxing… I usually arrive early for Shabbat services, in a rental car, carrying a binder full of papers and a pocket full of business cards. Such is the life of an ISJL Education Fellow.

While many families have a Shabbat routine, no two Sabbaths are the same for me. One weekend I may be leading services in Auburn, Alabama; then the next weekend I may be leading a text study in Atlanta, Georgia.

I absolutely love my job, and one of my favorite parts of being an ISJL Education Fellow is getting to travel all of the time and getting to experience Jewish practices in a variety of settings. However, as many Jewish professionals will tell you: When religion is your job, it’s hard to find time for your own practice.

Because my typical Shabbat is so busy, when I DO have the day to myself, I choose to rest and reflect in a way that encourages the deepest kind of rest and reflection possible. So once a month, I immerse myself completely in a sensory deprivation tank for 90 minutes.

For the uninitiated: Sensory deprivation tanks are sound proof, light proof tanks that are filled with about a foot of water and up to 700 lbs of Epsom salts; the high concentration of Epsom salts allows for easy floating (think floating in the Dead Sea). The water and air inside the tank are heated to exactly 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, the exact internal temperature of the human body. After floating for about 10 minutes, one is often no longer able to tell where one’s body ends and the water begins. With no sensation of touch, sound, or sight, one is truly able to reflect with absolutely no distractions. Many floaters report reaching incredibly deep meditative states, finding relief from physical and mental pain, and sometimes borderline psychedelic experiences.

I began floating in college to decompress after exams. Since moving to Jackson, however, I started floating regularly at my local float center in Jackson, Mississippi, Jax-Zen Float. No two floats are the same for me; sometimes I am acutely aware of every minute I spend inside the tank, and other times 90 minutes seems to pass within the blink of an eye.

It’s our brain’s job to interpret sensory input 24/7; when that input is taken away, it’s interesting to see where the brain decides to go. There’s really no way to really describe the experience fully, but I feel like I am able to fit several weeks’ worth of relaxation and reflection into one brief session in the tank. Without sensory input, I am able to reflect and achieve deep meditative states with virtually no distractions. Floating takes everything that I find healing and meaningful about Shabbat, and takes it a step further.

Secular or Orthodox, Jewish or not, I highly recommend that everyone try it at least once – even if it isn’t on the Sabbath itself. For me, though, I enjoy getting to spend Shabbat afloat.

Even though I often work on Fridays and Saturdays, I don’t feel like I’m making a sacrifice or compromising my own religious morals. I look forward to spending every weekend in a new city and getting to do the kind of work I enjoy doing. I’m happy to be with my communities and serve them in the best way I know how.

But when it comes to my own Shabbat, I find the deepest sense of rest and peace by taking a break from being with others, and connecting purely and truly with my own self.

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