Why do people want to float so much?
Well. Hilariously the answer to that question, much like the act itself, is both very simple and infinitely complex.
The short answer is relief. Or relaxation. Recovery, possibly repair. Depending on who you ask.
The long answer? Well. . . it’s complex.
My answer? Evolution. Here’s what happened to me.
I was like, this normal guy probably. I was 27, going through a music program at PSU in Portland Oregon for some reason, working at a small, local produce store called Limbo (RIP) with this dude named Peter. Peter was an odd duck but I dug that and one day he told me about this weird tank thing he did at some other dude’s apartment.
Uh, OK Pete. Lay it on me.
He started explaining the process to me, dark tank, lukewarm water, much ado about salt, and all this sounded weirdly familiar until I remembered where I had seen it! Altered States. I loved that movie. But maybe I didn’t want to live that movie necessarily. You know? But Pete here was making a good case for it. I can’t remember exactly what he said right now but it sounded absolutely nuts. It involved all kinds of cool things like going into a void and losing yourself and vivid dreams, magical hallucinations even! And I was pretty bored so I said what the hell right? I ain’t afraid of no bath.
So I gave the guy a call. Christopher. No dice. He had partnered up with three other guys and was opening up a retail center. His tanks were over there along with 2 rooms (the Ocean Float Rooms) for a total of 4. That sounded way more legit to me than going to some apartment but I was gonna have to wait like a month or something in order to try this out. Bummer. I ended up completely forgetting about it.
Until one day I was wandering around Hawthorne Blvd on the way home from school and I walked right past it. Float On. This is approximately 6 months after that phone call with Christopher. So, says I to myself, let’s see what this place is all about.
Step in. Talk to a guy who isn’t Christopher who shows me the ropes. We make our way into this rather narrow rectangular room with what I could only assume was a shower with walls and a ceiling, but it wasn’t. More like a tub filled with a foot of water and 1000+ lbs of Epsom Salts. It had a sweet blue light that lit up the water and gave the whole thing an ethereal quality to it and it was, obviously, not in use and would I like to try it? 30 minutes until they gotta kick me out of it. On the house.
No thanks. Wait? Why did I say that so quickly? Quick. Rationalize.
Well, if I’m gonna do it, I’d rather get the full experience I said. Do a full 90 minutes.
That was good. I was probably pretty proud of myself for coming up with that on the spot. And it seemed to make the attendant here happy. What’s your name again?
For those of you who know, Ashkahn is a king among men and a titan of the float industry. I couldn’t have had a better liaison to flotation than this man I had stumbled across. And just lied to. Probably. You can’t prove anything.
I didn’t think I would but I did eventually schedule and appointment for myself. I showed up, showered, stepped in, turned off the light and just kicked back. I was shocked at the buoyancy at first and didn’t really trust myself to float effortlessly as I was told everybody could. My distrust seemed to cause a bit of tension in my neck, my mind was wandering, I was very aware of my breath and heartbeat and all in all a bit thrown. I couldn’t tell if my eyes were open or closed, unless I was squeezing them shut, can’t be sure of how long it took but eventually my mind seemed to wear itself out and then, well, nothing.
The best way I can describe this to someone who has not experienced is to say that you don’t go to sleep but you wake up. But you wake up with this distinct impression of having been elsewhere. You wake up having this distinct impression of having been elsewhere in a place, a dream or a state of mind, with nothing, but not the traditional nothing, it’s more like having a tangible recollection or awareness of knowing no things.
And it is peaceful, and amazing and enlightening and relaxing all at once. It’s how I imagine “On the seventh day He rested” must have actually felt like. I drifted in and out of this state of being for what seemed like forever but could have also been an instant. This time dilution I have come to learn is a feature of the Theta Brain Wave, the wave that exists in between waking and dreaming, associated with heavy meditation, lucid dreaming, creative flow states and kids under the age of 6 or so. Called “The Zone” by athletes, it comes highly recommended by all who experience it. These float tanks are a fast track to that state. Most likely the reason Ashkahn referred to floating as “lazy man’s meditation” a euphemism that I still proudly support to this day 4 years later.
But this story does not end here. At some point in this drifting in and out I finally drifted all the way out and, for lack of a better term, became extremely restless, bored even. I remember thinking to myself, I have a lot to do today. What the hell am I still doing in this saltwater bath? But I had paid $40 for it (a size-able sum in Portland money, more so for me as a student) so I decided I was gonna stick it out. I didn’t have to wait much longer for the music to come on, a signal that 90 minutes was up, and somehow this music released all the tension in my body. Literally all of it. I remember sinking a bit lower into the water and feeling like I was supported by a tailor made, memory foam mold of myself. I didn’t want to get out. Ever. So I hung out in there for a song and relished in that feeling. When I finally did get out I experienced my first bit of float magic, something that to this day I am still hoping to experience again, a dragon that I chase almost every time I get in the tank.
When I got out it was the first and only time in my life that I felt the ground holding me up. Standing upright was completely and very literally effortless. Walking was a sheer joy. I made a mess in that room strutting back and forth, dripping water everywhere, marveling at this newfound ability. I showered, excused myself and walked home, not because I lived close by, but because I couldn’t believe this feeling was real! On the walk home I noticed a few more things.
For starters, the world seemed to be a slightly cooler place than before I had gone in. I couldn’t put my finger on why but everything seemed more vibrant, upbeat, positive and kind. I remember calling my girlfriend at the time and managed to say something to upset her (not an uncommon occurrence for a guy like me) and as she started in on me I realized that I wasn’t getting upset. Normally I would get at least a little bit upset but this time. Nothing. Nada. I apologized to her and squashed that real quick. For the next week I was incapable of becoming angry, annoyed or frustrated. Somehow, in a way that seemed to be more subtly profound than I had expected, floating had given me the ability to well, float through life. I felt like a hot knife and the universe was butter baby. I was unstoppable and so tension free and relaxed! What could be better!?
Here’s the thing though. I didn’t go back. For probably another 6 months. Why didn’t I you might ask after being so thoroughly impressed by my first visit? I have no idea. Looking back I think I did not realize the potential inherent in the subtle profoundness of the tank. But I did come to realize that potential one summer when I went on what my family now jokingly refers to as “The Resume Diet.
I hate resumes, thin sheets of paper filled with more thinly veiled lies. Nobody I know, in their right mind, doesn’t lie on their resume. What’s that? You don’t? Cool. Your medal is in the mail.
So I went about hustling work without the use of a resume. Which was proving to be a lot more difficult than I thought it would be (go figure). But nevertheless, I spent the majority of every day hitting the pavement, hunting for someone who would hire me for anything based on the merit of my immediate demonstrable abilities, or the current amount of silver on my tongue. I was relentless and so seemed to be my continual failure. I worked for shady contractors, an environmentally friendly house cleaning service, I sold records, music gear, almost blood plasma once, and occasionally weed. But somewhere in the course of my hunting I decided to go back to Float On where I discovered I could volunteer a few hours of my time in trade for a float. So I started doing that. A float here, maybe a week later another one and I was rapidly seeing improvements in my outlook and decreases in my stress level. Floating seemed to be shifting my negative attitude I had towards my current situation. I was feeling all around better about my lifestyle, and I was less hungry all the time, reaching for waters and oranges instead of Dr. Pepper (I was known to drink 12 a day) and Snickers ice cream bars.
But then I managed to get in 3 floats in 5 days. Each time I jumped in the tank my body seemed to relax more and each time I said to myself, surely I can get no looser than this, and each time I was dead wrong. In fact, on that fateful third float, I was dreaming a bit and in this dream I had a vision of a glacier. A shimmering white outcropping in a calm, cold sea, straight out of Nat Geo. As I was watching this glacier fill my vision a huge chunk of it cracked at the top and fell into the ocean and the second it hit the ocean I felt a knot I never knew existed in my right shoulder blade explode and my entire shoulder seemed to shift forward, propelled by the buoyancy back into a more solid fitting in my socket. Before I got in the tank that time my entire right arm had felt like it was flexing all the time, it was seriously affecting my piano playing (and was also likely caused by poor practice habits/postures). After the glacier incident, I never had a problem like that again. To be fair, it did not dissipate entirely in one go, but a large chunk of it did and more importantly, I realized the power of visualization during flotation. I managed to melt the rest of that glacier slowly over a period of 6 months to a year. Much like a lot of other issues I was having, physical and otherwise.
So then I was hooked. I found a job but was promptly fired 5 days later, a fact Jake Marty over there at Float On likes to remind people of when we meet. We should’ve known better than to take on a kid who was fired from a hot dog joint he’ll say. What were we thinking?
Floating has taught me a lot of things these last 3 years or so. A helluva lot. I discovered that the world is not black and white but exists in various shades of gray determined mostly by where in it you were educated (and by whom). I learned to take criticism better, which is a critical component to music school. Floating regularly is an ego destroyer and I’ve learned to love being wrong about things. I’ve discovered that I can see the big picture more than before, that faith in myself is tantamount to a happy, successful existence and developed empathy for all animals, plants and people. But one thing I truly love are the seemingly random bits of wisdom that get dropped into my head when I’m in there and how I realize I’ve evolved as a human being. Here is something I wrote down in the early days of Float On:
“Everything in life is cyclical, even floating. The cycles are equal and opposite, so the duration of good equals the duration of bad times. The trick is, during the bad ones, to know that there will be good ones of equal proportions. The trick for the good ones is to live them in small doses, so that the bad come in small doses, and eventually be accepting of the bad times in such a way that the two are indistinguishable.”
That is something, while it may not be profound to some, was so amazing to me because of the way it entered my mind, as if it had been existing in it’s complete form somewhere in there and all I had to do was dig it up. You know, Mozart always said that he received his compositions in their entirety, beamed directly into his head and all he had to do was write it down.
What if that is the way the human mind operates when freed from the constraints of perceived reality?
What if flotation is the gateway to that freedom?
There’s only way to find out. Get in the tank and see for yourself.