The Baal Shem Tov was the founder of Hasidic Judaism
The Dance of the Hasidim
At the festival of Simhat Torah, the day of rejoicing in the law, the Baal Shem’s disciples made merry in his house. They danced and drank and had more and more wine brought up from the cellar. After some hours, the Baal Shem’s wife went to his room and said:”If they don’t stop drinking, we soon won’t have any wine left for the rites of the sabbath, for Kiddush and Havdalah.”
He laughed and replied: “You’re right. So go and tell them to stop.”
When she opened the door to the big room, this is what she saw: The disciples were dancing around in a circle, and around the dancing circle twined a blazing ring of blue fire. Then she herself took a jug in her right hand and a jug in her left and – motioning the servant away – went into the cellar. Soon after she returned with the vessels full to the brim.
It is said the Sufi Muslim poet Jalaludin Rumi invented the whirling dance of the dervish when he was walking past a the sound of a goldsmith at work with his hammers. In the rhythm of the hammering he heard ecstatic music and he began to turn and to turn . . .
As a follow up to my last article on floatation tanks, I recently sat down to talk with Christopher Messer, one of the founders of a new floatation center, called Float On in Portland, Oregon. A veteran of the floatation tank experience, Christopher believes the longer you experience sensory deprivation the deeper it goes. Since he has been floating and building his own tanks since 1977, he had a lot to say when I spoke with him on New Year’s Eve. Here are some highlights.
Does the law of diminishing returns apply to floating?
It’s an endurance thing. The longer you float the more you’re in Theta waves. And the more lucid you’re going to get. This is the same thing the Buddhist monks are trying to do. But this is it without falling asleep and getting the rap on the shoulder with a stick. When there is no external stimulation the internal mind has to take over. I’ve done a 13 hour float, and it just keeps going and going. Thought goes away, identity goes away. It’s about effortless doing.
I hate technique. The tank is all physiological. You’re autonomic nervous system takes control. 98% of everything you think about is repetitive anyway. You don’t need it. If you were on a deserted island for long enough thought would go away. The minute thought stops, presence takes over. The tank kills thought without effort, without technique. Our whole culture is based on technique.
So thought just becomes unnecessary, like flippers on land?
Thought knows that the minute it stops, presence takes over and thought dies. And thought will do anything to stop that. That’s why the tank is so perfect, you can’t directly get rid of thought. It has to leave without effort. It’s like a surrender, but don’t make it into a technique. Our whole culture is about becoming – you gotta get to the next level, “I got to get the degree, I got to get the house . . .”. Well good luck with that, cause it’s just made up anyway! The only time you’re truly happy is when you’re just being.
What would a culture look like where everybody floats?
That’s my dream. Our culture is about change from the outside-in. But you change it from the inside-out and it’s going to work. It’s funny, remember the Skylab in the 70’s, after the Apollo missions? They had these Americans out there floating in space, and they’d have Russians come out. But sometimes guys would be alone for weeks at a time. And mission control would call them and tell them to do stuff. Well, mission control found that they would do the tasks slower and slower. And then mission control would tell them to do stuff and they wouldn’t want to do stuff. And then mission control would call them and tell them to do stuff . . . and they would turn off the intercom!
You get space happy. It’s called break off point. Same with the U2 spy planes. They’d be up there on the edge of space. Close to zero gravity. And they would just lose interest in earthly things. They would stop believing in nationalism and just say – oh, well there’s the planet.
The floatation tank is still a fairly new device. Do you think people are going to come along and try to attach different techniques and codified ideas to the experience?
Well, it started out very scientific. But it very quickly became a mystic experience.
So yeah, people have used different techniques with floating: cyber vision, listening to learning tapes, holosync stuff. You can add on things, but personally I don’t like that. There’s nothing better than nothing. It’s so simple.
For millions of years we were just hunters and gatherers. We are not built for all of this. Language and time and self. That’s all brand new phenomena. When thought first came in, people thought they were hearing voices. Language started as a way to warn people. “Hey! There is a mountain lion behind you!” This evolved into language, but somehow along the way identity got involved.
Once you have language you can create an external analog of everything.
Yeah – I’m separate from everything else. I’m better. Then you’re getting into counting, keeping track of stuff, counting what you own. And the rest is history. I think once we got into agriculture that’s when we took a wrong turn.
So it’s New Year’s Eve 2010. What’s the future of floating?
Consciousness just wants to become more consciousness. This is what the tank is doing. There are areas that were once unconscious, and consciousness is saying – I want to be here.
We used to be in the Information age. Now we are in the Communication age. Consciousness is expanding itself. And the float tank fits that perfectly. Floating is just a way to get back to your natural state.
Counting Coup, Part Two : A chat with Ill Odor about life on the road, doing time, Bigfoot, cops & roadkill. Read Part One here.
Once upon a time, personal power was tested against the backdrop of the wilderness. In this age whatever environment you find yourself in will do. I don’t want you to think urban exploration is the only way to go – so I want to mention Bill Soder (aka Ill Odor), a fellow I met on a recent bicycle tour while camping in the Redwoods. At the age when many people retire & buy an R.V. he has been pitting himself against the adventures of the road and the wild continuously FOR EIGHT STRAIGHT YEARS – bicycling from state to state, carrying everything he owns, and camping night after night. Before he started he was terribly overweight and sickly, and suffering from regular seizures. One of those cases where the doctor pronounces, “the end is near.” One day while watching TV he was seized with the inspiration to ride his bike into town for a cup of coffee. He told his son he was going to bike into town and his son scoffed, “C’mon Dad, you’re too lazy and fat to make it into town.”
Whereupon he vowed, “I’ll make it to the coffee shop – not only that, I’m gonna bike to the original Starbucks in Seattle . . . and get a fucking cappuccino!”
Since he had never done any bike touring before, and he lived in Boston, this statement was an intention of Counting Coup. Thousands of miles later he called his son from the Starbucks in Seattle and had the barista confirm his location and order. Since that day he has lost a ton of weight, and is feeling in better health than he has his entire life, and he says he is also happier now than he has ever been. He has cycled coast to coast a few times, and been up and down the Pacific innumerable times, and has (in his sixties) explored the deserts of New Mexico and the snowy mountain peaks of the Cascades, all of which his doctors would have pronounced impossible for a man with his conditions. Castaneda’s Don Juan would have said he has grown in personal power.
Here is a short audio interview conducted with Bill Soder about some of his adventures. The interview was conducted at Standish-Hickey Park, California by the author as well as two road companions who can also be heard asking questions during the interview—and who incidentally went down into the tunnel described in Part One.