Everything Is Connected: February/March 2013

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Everything is Connected by Nick Mattos

Ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in space

By Nick Mattos, PQ Monthly
Graham Talley is so jolly that I almost don’t want to trust him. He and I sit on the low couch of his Hawthorne Boulevard enterprise, Float On, the West Coast’s largest sensory deprivation tank center; I sip decaf Earl Grey tea as he tells me his personal gospel — the good news of flotation. “The way to think about a float tank is like a perfect bathtub,†Talley explains to me, happily twirling his majestic 1890s-style moustache. “It has a foot of water, and about 850 pounds of Epsom salts — which makes it about twice as buoyant as the Dead Sea. The water is kept at skin temperature, so you don’t have a sense of where your skin ends and the water begins.†As a result, he says, the body can relax to a profound level, or as Talley puts it, “you’re throwing your body into homeostasis,†reducing cortisol production and increasing dopamine and endorphin levels. As a result, Talley notes that the brain moves from an alpha or beta state — what we experience as wakefulness — to a theta state of creativity and receptivity. “The journey you take and the revelations you have in the tank, the relaxation you find in there, aren’t some amazing miracle that the tanks do — it’s just how our bodies are meant to function, which the day-to-day world doesn’t allow us to do,†he says. “It’s perfectly natural.†Granted, I walked in the door pretty well sold — as a meditator, a hippie graduate of the Evergreen State College, and a big fan of both the film “Altered States†and of altered states themselves, I’m thrilled when Talley tells me it’s time for my float. I’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 (“don’t get salt in your eyes!â€) before leaving me to my float. I quickly undress, shower, and climb into the blue-lit tank — 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. “Oh, shit,†I say aloud. I’m surrounded with pitch-black silence, with absolutely no discernible light or sound. The salty water is so buoyant that I’m almost floating on top of it, my ears not even submerged. I can’t feel my skin, or discern whether my eyes are open or closed. Basically, I’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 — “Your spine stretches out and decompresses and your muscles get to relax because they’re not fighting gravity all the time,†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 — it’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. “It’s common to get auditory and visual hallucinations in the tank,†Talley explained. “Some even have reported as extreme as religious experiences when they’re floating…. By most definitions of it, you enter an altered state.†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 — 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. “How was it?†he asks. “Holy crap,†I reply, grinning. “Nice,†he drawls, beaming. “Well, the effects are going to keep kicking in, so keep having a good float.†Strutting down Hawthorne, I feel like R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, my legs jellied, shoulders relaxed, head full of … 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. “Hey!†I hear behind me. “Yo! Ryan!†I say, conscious that my mouth is turning the syllables of his name into mush. “You look quite … jolly,†he says, looking at me suspiciously. “Day-drunk?†“Nope,†I say, conscious of the relaxed grin on my face. “Just … floating, man. Floating.â€
Nick Mattos (nick@pqmonthly.com) 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.