The best sort of friends take turns inspiring each other. My blog post on WBEZ earlier this week prompted this reminiscence from Ravenswood bureau Caren Jeskey, who in thanking me for "antediluvian" (which I meant in the sense of "primordial") offered up the glorious rarity "endorheic." It was all I could do not to phone her, immediately, and shout, "Endorheic! Where the hell did you get THAT from!?!" But I was too fascinated skipping through its etymology. A French mashup of Ancient Greek, from endo-, meaning "within" and rheîn, "to flow." (Which, though I haven't done the legwork, has to be connected to both "Rhine" and "rain." How cool is that?)
But too much preface; Here is her report:
When invited to take a dip in Al-Baḥr Al-Mayyit, we stripped down to our suits without a moment of hesitation. Entering the gelatinous warm substance that resembled the bluest of waters, we immediately recognized that due to physics there would be no walking in. No standing on a sandy bottom. When we got thigh level or so, our bodies popped up like corks. We carefully placed ourselves on the surface and floated, hot Jordanian sun blazing down on us.
We had entered the Sea of Death, or the Dead Sea as it’s often known— an endorheic lake, meaning that it has no outlet to a larger body of water, thus forming a basin. It is highly saline with no in- or outflow, and uninhabitable by any living creatures except for bacteria.
Our bodies surrendered, completely buoyed in the temperature of a generously heated pool. We’d been warned not to shave that day, or the day before, to avoid the torture of salinity getting into any small nicks or scrapes. Still, some members of our group ran nearly screaming out of the “sea” moments after they’d entered, dashing towards fresh water showers. Apparently, some tender body parts could not tolerate the extreme burning and puckering that occurred.
The surface of the sea is situated on the “lowest land based elevation on earth.” It’s less than 500 miles away from where Noah is said to have built his ark, in modern day Iraq. After a while we maneuvered our way back to shore and scooped up handfuls of green mud to cover our bodies from head to toe. We allowed the mud to dry and crack, and made our way to the showers. Once rinsed off, our skin was buttery soft and our insides were too. The high levels of magnesium in the water gave us the benefits of the most amazing epsom salt bath filled that we’d ever had.
Several years before this trip I’d been intrigued by a place called Space Tanks that was located in the huge white concrete building at 2526 North Lincoln in Chicago. As a yoga practitioner, I'd heard many folks in the community sing the praises of the zero gravity sensory deprivation tubs Space Tanks housed. For some reason I’d never gotten the courage to try them, even though I was quite drawn to the idea. It’s good to take a break from sensory input. (Sadly, they closed in 2016. Happily, one of the founders William Faith let me know recently that they hope to offer the experience to Chicagoans again in the future).
It wasn’t until living in Austin Texas in 2015 that I discovered the incredible value of “floating” in such vessels. There was a place called Aquatonic that charged only $99 month for unlimited floats, a great bargain compared to the usual price of $25-$50 or more per float that most places ask for, (rightly so, since the tanks and their maintenance are very costly). The owner felt that this practice was so healing and necessary for the athletes he coached, that he wanted to make it accessible to them, and to all.
The first time I went I was escorted into my own private room. There was a shower, a bench, hooks on the wall, and a gigantic white tub filled with tons of Epson salts and water. The tub was pristinely white and clean, and an indigo colored light illuminated the water. As instructed, after I showered, I placed my ear plugs, made sure the spray bottle of clean water was in reach in case I got salty water into my eyes, and I stepped in. My body effortlessly floated on the surface. The temperature in these tanks is exactly the ideal body temperature, which is quite comfortable. I placed a small piece of a pool noodle under my neck as a pillow.
Before I’d climbed in, I had arranged for the indigo light to turn off after a few minutes of floating, and I had also arranged for the hypnotic music to silence after ten minutes or so. The other option was to keep the light and/or music on for the duration, but I was aiming for complete deprivation. Once I was comfortable, I pulled the top of the tub down part way, and later on I pulled it shut, as I felt more safe. It became a beautiful addiction. It enhanced my sobriety and gave me a place where I felt at peace without the help of mood altering substances.
Day after day after day, I’d work, then take the short walk to Aquatonic and climb into what I found to be the perfect place. Sometimes I’d fall asleep and have vivid dreams, or fall into a reel of daydreamed images that soothed my soul. Ten minutes before my 90 minutes was up, the music and soft light would turn on, bringing me back to reality. I’ve never felt relaxation like I did in those tanks. I moved away from the area a year or so later, and it was too far to go for daily floats anymore. I learned a few years later that they had shut down; perhaps because of their own generosity but I’m not sure.
Neil mentioned his experience at Space Tanks in a recent post. I was delighted to read his words “…for about an hour, at one with the universe, an amoeba on the calm surface of an antediluvian sea. Serenity settled in,” since that meant he’s also felt the bliss of a float. Lucky guy. I had to look the word antediluvian up, and learned that it can mean “ridiculously old fashioned,” or “before the flood.” I flashed back to my time in Jordan and it’s been fun to relive such a special time. These days I take a bath almost daily, and you bet I have a 20 pound bag of Epsom salt in the corner of my bathroom at all times. The magnesium takes away my chronic pain, just like magic. This world is full of wonderful things.