Everything Is Connected: February/March 2013
Ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in space
By Nick Mattos, PQ Monthly
Graham Talley is so jolly that I almost donâ€™t want to trust him. He and I sit on the low couch of his Hawthorne Boulevard enterprise, Float On, the West Coastâ€™s largest sensory deprivation tank center; I sip decaf Earl Grey tea as he tells me his personal gospel â€” the good news of flotation. â€œThe way to think about a float tank is like a perfect bathtub,â€ Talley explains to me, happily twirling his majestic 1890s-style moustache. â€œIt has a foot of water, and about 850 pounds of Epsom salts â€” which makes it about twice as buoyant as the Dead Sea. The water is kept at skin temperature, so you donâ€™t have a sense of where your skin ends and the water begins.â€ As a result, he says, the body can relax to a profound level, or as Talley puts it, â€œyouâ€™re throwing your body into homeostasis,â€ reducing cortisol production and increasing dopamine and endorphin levels. As a result, Talley notes that the brain moves from an alpha or beta state â€” what we experience as wakefulness â€” to a theta state of creativity and receptivity. â€œThe journey you take and the revelations you have in the tank, the relaxation you find in there, arenâ€™t some amazing miracle that the tanks do â€” itâ€™s just how our bodies are meant to function, which the day-to-day world doesnâ€™t allow us to do,â€ he says. â€œItâ€™s perfectly natural.â€ Granted, I walked in the door pretty well sold â€” as a meditator, a hippie graduate of the Evergreen State College, and a big fan of both the film â€œAltered Statesâ€ and of altered states themselves, Iâ€™m thrilled when Talley tells me itâ€™s time for my float. Iâ€™m handed off to the calmest, happiest hippie dude this side of 1971, who ushers me into a small room and goes over the practical basics (â€œdonâ€™t get salt in your eyes!â€) before leaving me to my float. I quickly undress, shower, and climb into the blue-lit tank â€” the water is precisely body temperature, so I barely feel it even upon first climbing in. I click the light button, and the blue light goes out. â€œOh, shit,â€ I say aloud. Iâ€™m surrounded with pitch-black silence, with absolutely no discernible light or sound. The salty water is so buoyant that Iâ€™m almost floating on top of it, my ears not even submerged. I canâ€™t feel my skin, or discern whether my eyes are open or closed. Basically, Iâ€™m floating in outer space. Three or so minutes into the float, ker-crack! My back and neck snap, so loudly it startles me. This makes perfect sense â€” â€œYour spine stretches out and decompresses and your muscles get to relax because theyâ€™re not fighting gravity all the time,â€ Talley explained on the couch. As a result, he noted with twinkling eyes, some floaters become up to an inch taller while in the tank from the decompression of their spines. I move my head from side to side in the water, amazed that the chronic range-of-motion imbalances that plague me as a desk-worker are no longer tethering me. Some time later, perhaps 20 minutes or an hour or some sort of crazy infinity, I realize that the babbling noise that I was hearing was not just a strangely intrusive thought â€” itâ€™s coming from my own mouth, an oddly-effortless speaking-in-tongues. An orb of pulsing green light flashes above me, each flash shooting waves of pleasure from my skull down to the bones of my toes. â€œItâ€™s common to get auditory and visual hallucinations in the tank,â€ Talley explained. â€œSome even have reported as extreme as religious experiences when theyâ€™re floatingâ€¦. By most definitions of it, you enter an altered state.â€ Yes sir, Mr. Talley! Ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in space! Finally, after a long, strange trip of bliss, I hear soft music playing in the tank â€” my 90 minutes are up. I get out, happy and slightly unsteady, rinse the salt from my body in the shower. After dressing and heading out to the lobby, I run into the same hippie guy who checked me in. â€œHow was it?â€ he asks. â€œHoly crap,â€ I reply, grinning. â€œNice,â€ he drawls, beaming. â€œWell, the effects are going to keep kicking in, so keep having a good float.â€ Strutting down Hawthorne, I feel like R. Crumbâ€™s Mr. Natural, my legs jellied, shoulders relaxed, head full of â€¦ nothing. I expected mystical aphorisms, or at minimum the sort of fuzzy contemplative din that often follows psychedelic experience, but instead the world is plain, unadorned, almost overwhelmingly lovely. â€œHey!â€ I hear behind me. â€œYo! Ryan!â€ I say, conscious that my mouth is turning the syllables of his name into mush. â€œYou look quite â€¦ jolly,â€ he says, looking at me suspiciously. â€œDay-drunk?â€ â€œNope,â€ I say, conscious of the relaxed grin on my face. â€œJust â€¦ floating, man. Floating.â€
Nick Mattos (firstname.lastname@example.org) would float again in a heartbeat. FloatOn is located at 4530 SE Hawthorne, Portland. For more information, call 503-384-2620 or check out www.floathq.com.