Andrew Penn

WS #3 – Kaiser Psychiatric Nurse

Andrew Penn

Tell Us About Yourself:

I am a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner with Kaiser Permanente in Redwood City. I am also an Assistant Clinical Professor at the UCSF School of Nursing. I received my Masters Degree in Nursing from UCSF in 2005 and have been working in mental health in one capacity or another for over 20 years.  I treat patients for a variety of different psychiatric conditions. As a nurse, I was trained to look at patients holistically and I am constantly encouraging my patients to find ways that they enjoy to slow down and find peace and quiet. Often, in my busy life, I need to take that advice just as much as I need to give it.  I’ve long had an interest in all the different ways that people have learned to explore their inner worlds. When a friend told me with enthusiasm about her experiences with floating, I wanted to try it.

Describe Your First Experience Floating:

I really appreciated the warm welcome from the Oakland Floats staff, and the time that they took to orient me to the floating experience. I’m a little prone to claustrophobia, so I was a little apprehensive if I was going to be comfortable in the tank. Once I got in, I immediately enjoyed the quiet stillness inside the tank.  Before I was a nurse, I was a photographer, and I used to spend a lot of time in the darkroom developing film and making prints. Even then, I found the quiet, dark space to be very peaceful, and in this way, the float tank felt familiar.  As I began to float, I had the most peculiar sensation, that of my body being like a plank of driftwood, turning slowly in a current in a lazy river. Since this would be impossible in the space of the float tank, I chalked it up to my brain getting used to the lack of sensory input and found it curious and pleasant.

Has Your Float Experience Changed Since Your First Float?

What I really like about floating is the shift in the experience of time. I tend to be someone who is constantly on the go, and like many people in our day and age, even if I don’t have something to do, I tend to busy myself with checking my email, my facebook page, etc.  Having that 90 minutes in the tank gave me space to think and time to just see what emerged from my mind. I’d sometimes drift in and out of a dream-like sleep. It was a very pleasant feeling.  Often, in this state, my mind is quite generative. I’ve worked on upcoming talks that I need to give while floating in the tank. Not only did I think about what I wanted to say, I would think about how the ideas fit together in a really useful way. I’ve come to think of the time in floating as a kind of “think tank!” Having this kind of uninterrupted time alone with my thoughts has been really helpful to my creative work.

Do You Feel Lasting Effects After Each Float?

I emerge from the tank in a really quiet, reflective, slow-moving way. For me, this is really valuable because I do tend to be like a busy honeybee much of the time. I would find that this stillness would often stay with me throughout the day after a float, and I would sleep really well that night.

Do Float Sessions Impact Your Work, Habits or Hobbies?

I think about the time in the tank as a kind of meditation. Sometimes in the tank, an unpleasant sensation would arise. Maybe I’d feel bored, or restless, too warm or too cold.  If I reminded myself that I didn’t need to do anything about it, and it was just a sensation, and that it would pass soon enough, I would soon find myself noticing something else and the sensation had passed.

How Would You Explain the Experience to Someone Who Was Interested?

It’s a valuable way to build some time into your life where you’re not busy, not trying to get anything done.  It’s a kind of meditation, yet it can also be a very generative time. It’s both a little daunting, yet very exciting.