A Message from Leena & Emma: We *love* Chris. He is a riot. He’s deeply thoughtful and deeply funny. Which is why we asked him to lead a retreat for QSY this fall, along with the wonderful Leslie. Chris approaches his yoga and mindfulness practice with zeal and curiosity. We’re tickled to share this story about the first time he tried a float tank. It gives a little taste of his humour and personality. Check it out!
Last year – after years of hearing hype and fanfare – I decided to try out a sensory deprivation floatation tank. Everyone I knew who had tried them swore they were deeply restorative. A wonderful place to relax, notice your experience, even meditate. So, I eagerly went to my local float place determined to check out the salt water experience for myself.
I emerged pretty salty. In more ways than one.
The place was warm and welcoming, but I was a little disenchanted by the tank itself – it looked like a mechanical sarcophagus in the middle of the room, with pipes and machinery feeding into it. I imagined myself inside this sterile white chrysalis, floating for 90 minutes and emerging (I hoped) transformed! I shoved the mushy ear plugs into my ears, hopped into the body-temperature water, closed the door, and then relaxed into the saline bed of water. Not long after being in the tub, I noticed that my body was drifting through a very subtle current churning in the water around me and I was gently (but repeatedly) bumping into the sides of the tank…doing a slow drag down to the bottom where my feet would land squarely on the pipes and a suction tube.
This was not meditative or enjoyable. My thoughts went a little something like this: “What the heck? I thought this was supposed to be a floatation tank and I, ya know, don’t move!?” Each time I would drift down and bump my way along the sides, I would yank myself back up in to starting position and think “okay, now I’m settled“…only to be carried softly back down by the persistent push of the water’s flow. “Argh! This is so annoying!“. My mind fired up and my thoughts grew more and more hostile.
What’s hilarious is that earlier that day I had posted a quote from Byron Katie on Instagram and commented how I am working on “loving what is”. Like a “good” yogi or meditation practitioner, I saw that I was being reactive in my thinking, holding expectations of the way this tank experience “should” be and rejecting “what is”. I thought to myself: “Chris, this is the experience you are in and your discomfort could be from your inner dialogue, so let’s radically accept that this float tank is like this, the experience is what it is and let’s practice loving acceptance of that“.
What a crock.
I continued to bounce around the tank and push against my anger that something needed to change, something should be different. Somehow I was trying to be a martyr for radical acceptance – proving to myself that I can be in an experience and allow it to unfold without reaction or judgement. But eventually I snapped – “Alright, that’s it!” my inner voice shouted as I launched myself out of my whirlpool pod. I showered off, got dressed and proceeded towards the post-tank hangout zone.
The receptionist noticed I was out of the tank early, and came to talk to me. He inquired why I had left and I shared how I was lazy-rivering all over the place. Shocked and concerned he checked the tank and noticed the pump had been left on. Then he asked the million dollar question: “Why didn’t you alert me that something was up?”
Did he really need to hear my diatribe about radical acceptance and loving what is? Instead I just said “I just thought that’s what the experience was supposed to be like”. He profusely apologized, assured me that was not how it was supposed to be and credited me another float.
Did I ever feel silly.
Looking back on the experience, I realized there was a part of me that felt I would have “failed” as a yogi if I couldn’t transcend that discomfort; and I know there was another part of me that was unwilling to do the actual labour of getting out of the tub, showering the salt off, getting dressed and talking to the receptionist about what was going on. A closer look revealed I wasn’t really trying to accept reality – I was trying to avoid feeling embarrassed or ashamed of myself by asking for help. And instead of honoring that or exploring that more, I tried to shut it out through reason, logic and spiritual high-horsery.
I also realized that there was nothing in this experience that I had to radically accept. Radical acceptance is most valuable when work for change has been exhausted, and not accepting the situation will only cause more suffering. Radical acceptance is for more radical situations than a float tank pushing you around.
Low and behold the tank was a chrysalis of transformation. I emerged salty and pissed off thinking I had failed being a “good” yogi. Yet as I let the experience sink in more and I reflected back on the swirling float, I began to notice that I often accept things that actually could be different. I was mis-applying the idea of radical acceptance to a situation that didn’t need to be accepted!
This story serves as a helpful reminder to me that I can influence and instigate changes in my life. And that sometimes spiritual ideas like radical acceptance can be a roadblock to taking necessary action.
A question for you: Is there anything that you are “tolerating” in your life because you think you should? Is there any inner angst, itch, emotion that are you suppressing in order to be in and “accept” an experience? Is there wisdom in those emotions? Do you, like me, have spiritual ideas about the situation that might getting in the way of you advocating for yourself? Is there a way you can connect with others for insight?
I teach yoga, and I am committed to being as humble and honest about my spiritual inquiry as the next person. I try to share from my own experience, and mishaps, what I am learning and figuring out in relation to spirituality and life. I love sharing space with people who want to do the same – to think deeply about themselves, the world, how to live in it, and laugh at ourselves if we realize we’ve been taking ourselves too seriously. If you’d like to practice yoga and meditation in a space like that, I hope you consider joining my good friend Leslie and I this September at Building Fires: A Fall Yoga Retreat. I look forward to hosting a retreat with space for self-reflection, inner listening, and a whole lot of belly-laughs.
Christopher Bourke has worked for a decade in the field of mental health and addictions, supporting youth and adults living with complex and developmental trauma. He deepened his yoga practice through teacher training at Queen Street Yoga and continued professional development in therapeutic yoga with Susi Hately, Andrea Soos, Trudy Austin, and Kathryn Bruni-Young. Christopher weaves together his knowledge of trauma, family systems theory, and dialectical behaviour therapy with movement techniques to help students hone their greatest resource – presence with self and others.