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    Corona Float Tank

    By Dr. Tim Seelig–

    It’s time to write my column. And here we are in the middle of a pandemic that now includes “Shelter in Place.” There is absolutely nothing I could write about the spread of the virus that would not be out of date in two hours. So, I decided not to write about the virus, but about its ramifications on our daily life.

    I could write about the incredible hardships everyone is facing, except for the 1% who remain immune to the things the rest of us feel. The very core values that make the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus who we are have all been taken away. For 42 years, we have thrived on being a family, turning that family into a chorus, and going out into the world to make a difference.

    Needless to say, cancelling our concerts and gala has obviously had a major impact on our organization. It’s not just the performances we do, it’s the rehearsal process where we sing, and breathe together, a healing notion in and of itself. I suspect many arts groups and LGBTQ organizations will simply go under. Not to mention all of the artists and musicians who are not getting paid. If you have an extra $10, please send it to your favorite group now!

    As I thought about how all of this feels, I was reminded of an experience I had recently—the newish rage of the float tank. The sensory deprivation tank reduces external stimulation such as sound, touch, light. The salt water, using between 1,000 and 1,500 pounds of Epsom salt, is extremely buoyant, making it easy to float. For an hour, life as you know it is literally suspended. I found myself humming “Defying Gravity” but I stopped because even humming is disturbingly loud inside your personal egg.

    Shelter in Place has turned my entire life and condo into a big float tank—without the salt water.

    It has reduced or eliminated external stimulation—such as friends, shopping, theater, singing, dining out—even traffic or public transportation. All of a sudden, I feel I’m back in the tank, wanting out long before my hour session was up. I’m deprived, people. I need my life and my stimulation back!

    The feeling in the float tank is obviously one of floating. For me, that was not a comforting feeling. I felt I had lost my mooring. I couldn’t sit or stand. There was nothing to hold on to. I need familiar, tactile, dependable, sturdy things around me.

    I felt—and feel—like “the foolish man who built his house on sand.” Matthew 7:24.

    We have “built our house” on many of the things that have kept us busy, focused on what we do, rather than who we are. Now we are home, facing “who we are,” losing much of “what we do,” looking for footing and some security. Those things are most definitely not coming from the news or the administration.

    These days are especially difficult for controlling personalities who like to be in charge and to make decisions quickly and definitively. We are the ones who like black and white and nothing about this virus falls in that category. It is tough for an Enneagram 8, ENFJ (extrovert), and one whose strength on the Core Clarity chart is Activator. Workaholic, Type A. For those of us, Shelter in Place is tantamount to a prison sentence. Just to be sure of who I am, I retook the tests with the same results. And I’m not getting my sentence shortened for good behavior. This prison is definitely not as hot as Oz or Orange Is the New Black. It’s more like Shawshank Redemption.

    It does remind me of one of my all-time favorite poems by my friend, Patrick Overton: “When you come to the edge of all the light you have, and take that step into the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things will happen: you will step on solid ground or you will be taught to fly.”

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    Well, soon we will be at the edge of the light we have. Hopefully, the Shelter in Place order will be lifted and light will dawn again. Is faith the answer? If so, faith in whom? God? Yoga? The government? The routine we had before the pandemic? Each other? Ourselves? There is a part of the answer in all of those. OK, maybe minus the government. Watching the current administration deal or not deal with this has been one of the most disheartening aspects of the entire situation. It rests somewhere between misinformation and outright lies, blame, racism, ignorance, and denial.

    There is no question that this pandemic will change the world we live in. It will change all of us. It is a huge paradigm shift. How much of what we were previously doing was just collecting busy points? We’ve learned we don’t need nearly as many face-to-face meetings. That’s a good thing. We’ve found ourselves reaching out to family and friends more. Another good thing.

    I would not write such an article without providing some hope or ways in which I am looking at this time. Don’t get me wrong, I am so ready to get out of the float tank that I can’t even describe it. I will confess that the first time I tried this, I stayed in the float tomb as long as I could. I thought I must be near the end of my hour. It didn’t matter, I thought, “I am a grown man and I can make my own decisions.” When I could take it no longer, I took control of my life and exited. When I got to the locker holding my life (phone), I realized I had only made it 22 minutes!  Dan lasted maybe 45, Bobby—an experienced floater—lasted the whole hour.

    In my Shelter in Place tank, I do not have the freedom to choose. I’ll be here until at least April 7—maybe longer. One of the definite benefits of this time will be reentry into our lives. I, for one, will be looking at the things that had me running around like a chicken with my head cut off. Busy, busy.

    Some years ago, there was a hugely popular set of YouTube videos made by the Busy Drag Queen. She would just run around all over town, pulling her carry-on luggage spinner full of drag paraphernalia behind her. She would run into people in various stages of crisis. For example, she would run by a homeless person asking for food and say, “Oh, I am so sorry. I would love to help you, but I’m a busy drag queen.”

    I wonder how often I may have done the same thing. Not in drag or with luggage, but with me simply getting so focused on being busy that I missed the important things and people in my life.

    Having had our routine completely upended, we now get to look ahead and decide which ones we want to add back in. We get to use the Marie Kondo advice. Only adopt back into your life “things that spark joy and enhance your every-day routine.”

    I know some of the things I will add immediately: live music, friends, eating out (!), walks in the park with Clara.

    I know some of the things I will not add back in: busy, busy, and float tanks.

    For now, I’ll focus on learning about myself. I’ll be making plans for my first days out of prison. I’ll encourage my friends and family through the phone and internet. And finally, I’ll take apart the jigsaw puzzle I just finished and put it together again!

    Happy shelter, friends.

    Dr. Tim Seelig is the Artistic Director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.

    Published on March 26, 2020