30 Days Challenge (Niall): Learn a Language/ Full Moon Swim/ Floatation tank

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Learning a languageScreen shot 2015-03-31 at 11.02.00

At the moment my baby girl is learning to talk and experimenting with language. It’s fascinating to hear her playing with sounds and language. I read that just being exposed to English for the last year has made it her main language and if she was move to a country where they speak a different language she would find it extremely difficult to learn the new language as she hadn’t been exposed to the sounds for the previous year.

So what are the chances of a 33 year old learning Italian in thirty days?  Very slim indeed. I gave it my best shot. I really did. I’m going to Italy this week and I really wanted to roll into town and wow my Italian friends with my new language. I used the Michel Thomas method and app.  The brilliance of the method is that it teaches you to think how Italians speak, retraining you linguistically. And it definitely works. I also watched a Ted Talk by Benny Lewis, an Irish polyglot. He reckons that the main barrier to learning a language is fear of making mistakes, and that you just need to show some neck and get talking to people and learn from your mistakes.


Now I’ve always had plenty of neck but the problem for me was exposing myself to Italian people and having the opportunity to make mistakes and so learn from them. I searched online for language exchange partners ( I also looked for lessons but the cheapest I saw was €40 per hour- not in my price range if I was looking to do it 3 or 4 times a week ). I found some people and added them on Skype. And even getting over the initial awkwardness of a Skype conversation with a total stranger, invariably we ended up speaking English as I don’t yet have enough Italian to hold my own. We’ll have to wait and see how I get on speaking Italian with the locals this week. I doubt they’ll be blown away. What advice would I give any aspiring language learners?

1. Use the Michel Thomas method or app. It’s good value for money and very easy to use. It gets you talking and thinking your language without putting too much stress on your brain.

2. Move to a country that speaks your chosen language.

2a. Obviously we all can’t do that so you just have to find a way to immerse yourself in the language as much as possible and give yourself the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them. Cherish any friends you have from that country and speak the language with them even if you make loads of mistakes.

3. Ask someone who actually learned a language for advice.

Floatation Tank

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Flotation tank, Sensory Deprivation tank, Isolation tank, Float tank, John C. Lilly tank, REST tank and Sensory Attenuation tank are a few of the names given to this particular experience. For the purpose of the article I’m going to call it a Flotation tank.

When Dave set the challenge, I hadn’t really heard too much about it. I had heard Dave talk about them before but Dave talks a lot, about a lot of different things so it’s definitely one of the topics I chose to switch off about when he started on about them. Jessie had done a ‘float’ before but found the experience irritating (I enjoy thinking of Jessie irritated so again I didn’t really listen to her story). In a chance conversation on a night out I mentioned the tanks to Jessie’s brother Steve who had also done a ‘float’ but had not enjoyed the experience at all. Salt got in his eyes early on and he found the whole thing pretty terrible.


I was neither enthused nor perturbed the night of the float. I’d had a busy week both in work and socially, so I hadn’t really any time to think about it or research the experience. As I was walking out the door to the float, my baby girl, Connie, who had been performing row, row, row your boat in a vegetable basket, tilted over and faceplanted the floor with considerable force. There was some blood and a lot of tears and I didn’t want to go anywhere.

Connie is tough, like her mother, and was easily soothed and distracted. I was still shaken and feeling sorry for myself, more than the child – tonight of all nights as I’m going out the door. My wife is not only blessed with common sense but decisiveness. I was going and that was that. She obviously fancied a night on the couch without any annoying questions and interruptions. I got in the car and headed for Harvest moon on Baggott Street on Dublin’s South side. Traffic was light so I was there on time, and after noticing an exceptional piece of parking by Dave, I ordinarily parked a little further down the street and made my way back up to Harvest Moon.

I was still feeling the effects of the incident with Connie but my phone wasn’t working – the one night my bloody phone doesn’t work. I rang from Dave’s phone and was satisfied that all was well with Connie. When we found the cellar premises of Harvest Moon I was struck by how odd was its placement among Dublin’s more affluent and business oriented streets. Indeed, with its hippy décor and façade it would have been more at home down a side street in Berlin or San Francisco. We entered and were greeted by Romi who wasted no time in bringing us to our flotation tanks. I had loads of questions but little time to ask them. Romi told me to have a shower before and after the float, put in some earplugs and that she would knock in about an hour. Grand. 7.42 p.m.



Immediately I was struck by the heat in the outer room. I was beginning to perspire so I duly undressed and showered. I popped in my ear plugs and was ready to go. It didn’t as much feel like a tank but a small swimming pool, about 3m by 2m. I opened the door and looked inside the room that was dimly lit with a blue light giving it a lagoon feel. I had been instructed to close the door behind me, lower myself into the pool via the ladder as you would in a swimming pool (or like our full moon dip at the Viko) and when lying back in the water hit the light switch at the top of the ladder. I complied.

The first thing that struck me was the darkness. Total Blackness. I searched for light and could find none. One sense deprived. Total Silence. The ear plugs had well and truly blocked out the lingering sounds of the city or shower room area. Two senses deprived. Going deeper. Smell. Now I would not have the greatest sense of smell as it is but there was nothing in the chamber to arouse it. 3 senses deprived. The salt in the water keeps your eyes and mouth well above the level of the water. From my previously mentioned conversation with Steve I was mindful of salt getting in my eyes and mouth so that was the taste sense taken care of. 4 deprived. The last sense was probably the most important and most difficult to deprive. But whatever the combination of salt for floating and the water’s temperature, it made me forget my body (after a few moments of splashing about). 5 senses deprived. All I was left with was my mind.

Now I have had some experience with meditation and it is something that comes easily to me. I seem to be able to get out of my head and locate my mind when I summon myself to do it. Immediately my mind went to my lower neck where I had been experiencing pain the few days previously. This pain had my complete attention for a few moments and then it seemed to just dissolve into the water. It’s difficult to describe the ‘float’, especially because there is no timeline within the chamber but I would say that after the pain left me I seemed to enter a different phase. Yes I was thinking and all sorts came to mind – Connie falling, something I had said to someone at work that day, butternut squash, the weather, Neil Young, an ad from the radio that annoyed me- but all these thoughts seemed to separate and I could see cosmic patterns in front of me.

Every so often my awareness was brought back to the tank and I spent another phase consciously pushing myself from one side of the pool to the other. But it never took long to ‘go deep’ as I call it. In fact it felt like my default setting in the chamber was this meditative place or this sense of ‘going deep’ and that I had to consciously try to leave that ‘deep’ place. I continued to have phases of thoughts dissolved by these cosmic patterns. I was enjoying it. It felt great. Not invigorating – a very different feeling to the full moon dip- but great. Almost otherworldly. Like I’d entered a secret realm in my body and mind.



Then I heard a low thudding sound. It felt like it was coming from another world. The next knock was louder and it brought me back from the depth of the tank into a sitting and splashing position in the chamber. I made the mistake of turning onto my knees and then some water trickled from my hair into my eyes. I was well and truly back with my senses. Pain. I could not enjoy the aftermath of the homecoming from the places I’d been because of the soreness in my eyes. I hit the light and felt my way out to the shower room and washed the salt out of my eyes. The first thing I did when my eyes were free of the salt was check my watch for the time. That could not have been an hour. 8.46 p.m. No way? I couldn’t get over it. It had felt like 20 minutes. My concept of time had completely deserted me. It was still very warm in the outer room, uncomfortably warm for me. I dressed in the heat but longed for the relative cool of the reception hall. There I met Dave and Romi and we spoke about our respective experiences. I could tell by Romi’s enthusiasm to listen to us that she was a fan of the ‘float’ and indeed she was. She told us about various people that float and various studies we should read. We were slowly coming back to world and eventually left the premises and went back up to the street where the world was still there, right where we left it. As we left, Romi gave us a loyalty card whereby you can get free floats if you buy so many. It wasn’t a hard sell #floater4life.

Full Moon Swim

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“In the deep sea caves

By the sounding shore,

In the dashing waves

When the wild storms roar,

In Her cold green bowers,

In the Northern Fiords,

She lurks and She glowers,

She grasps and She hoards

And She spreads Her strong Net for Her prey.”


In Norse mythology, the Goddess of the sea, Rán, would entice men towards the cliffs and then catch them in her net and take them to her dark underwater realm. With this in mind our very own Goddess, Jessie, enticed us (Jessie’s friend Dragana, Dave and me) to Viko point in Dalkey for my first full moon swim on the night of March 8th. It was a wonderfully balmy spring night that came somewhat out of the blue after some very cold and wet early March weather. Someone had told me that despite the warm night the water would still be at its coldest as the temperature of the Irish Sea is regulated by the prevailing weather conditions of three months previous.

On the way out in the car, Jessie explained the art of the cold water dip. She had, in turn, learned this particular craft from Diarmuid, the self-proclaimed ‘King of the Viko’, who used hold court over the bathing pool for many years, ensuring infrequent visitors adhered to the laws of the sacred bathing place. The trick is to lower yourself into the cold water for a few seconds and then come out, air dry and go back again 3 or 4 times, developing what Diarmuid called a ‘second skin’ and thus feeling more at home in the water than out. He also advocated the importance of dunking yourself au natural, or ‘in the nip’ in the parlance of our times. The use of a towel between dunks was also prohibited. Cynics among you (me included) may suggest that Diarmuid’s motives weren’t exactly noble. But Jessie, though admitting he did enjoy the female form, stands by her King attesting his motives to be nothing but the purest love of outdoor bathing.

We reached Dalkey at about 9.30pm.i’d never been before and the place resembled somewhere more like the south of France than the east coast of Ireland. We seemed to have the place all to ourselves and with the moon for company and guidance we parked and set off for the point. From the road the sea looked calm and very still but as we approached the point you could see the white foam as the waves against the rocks. Jessie had never seen the water so high and I was struck by the strength of the water caressing the surrounding rocks. It seemed far from still and yet there was a sense of calm to the water that was enticing.

We stripped to our togs and after Jessie’s lecture about Diarmuid I was unsure if that was as far as we were stripping but before we even had time to discuss or formulate a plan Jessie was lowering herself down a ladder and into the water. Her steely demeanour gave little away about the temperature of the water. Rán would be proud, she never even flinched. Her grip of the ladder highlighted the power of the water. This was no time for risk taking and we all knew it. Then she was out and as I watched her jump around a little to warm herself, Dave had already begun his descent to the sea. Then it was my turn. We were moving like the waves, together yet apart, connected yet separate. Down the ladder I went without hesitation, feeling the first nudge of the cold water against my toes. Undeterred I pressed on pushing myself down until the water covered my shoulders. Then I was back out. It felt very cold, at first, back on the rocks but as the air dried me I could feel my second skin develop. So the King was right.

We continued in sequence with each dip as invigorating as the last. It felt great. When I was out of the water I longed to be back in it. Dave called time at 3 dips. Jessie went for a fourth and as she came back up I slipped off my trunks and lowered myself down into my sea pushing further down until my head and body was completely below the surface of the water and all my senses were consumed by the sea. The thought of letting go of the ladder briefly flitted across my intoxicated mind but I held on and eventually and majestically rose from the sea – All Hail Niall, New King of the Viko.

Niall manages our twitter account for the 30 Days Challenges

It's good to talk

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