JEFF SANDSTOE / The Bull
First, I kicked off my sandals. Goosebumps emerged the moment my foot touched the tile.
I stripped down and threw my clothes onto a black chair sitting in the corner. The air conditioning whistled from the vent above.
I stepped into the shower and turned the knob. A shiver went down my spine as the water ran over me.
Every four seconds, the sound of an air pump blasted away like a rifle somewhere off in the background.
I emerged from the shower numb and shaking. Looking ahead I saw the vault, the reason for my strange journey.
Grasping the metal handle, I was struck in the face by a blast of humidity from the chamber as I pulled open the it’s doors.
I stared into the black, and then I stepped in.
The door shut behind me as my foot plunged into the water below.
No more whistling vents. No more blasting pumps. No more cold.
I laid down in the water and stared into the darkness.
Then there was nothing.
What I had just entered goes by many names — “isolation tank,” “sensory deprivation tank,” “floatation tank” — they are all interchangeable.
The sensory deprivation tank was pioneered in 1954 by John C. Lilly, a physician and psychonaut— one who explores their mind by intentionally inducing altered states of consciousness.
The tank that one enters is pitch black, completely soundproof and is filled with body-temperature water. The water inside the tank is filled with large amounts of Epsom salts. The increased salinity causes the person to float on top of the water.
As a result, the person inside cannot see, feel, or hear anything except their own breath.
Lilly’s goal was to completely isolate his mind from the rest of his senses, leaving him alone with only his thoughts. The resulting effect is an individual left completely alone with a hyper-active brain.
The experience can be likened to a state of intense meditation. Some floaters say that this is the closest thing to being back inside the womb.
These tanks are used around the world for a variety of different reasons including meditation, therapy, problem solving, relaxation and for some, hallucination.
I floated to the top of the water.
The anticipation was unbearable. My heartbeat sped up, my mind began to race.
What’s going to happen? When am I going to start seeing things? How long is this going to take?
Nothing was happening; the questions kept lingering in my head.
I recalled what little meditation techniques I knew. Focusing, I began to breathe in and out.
My mind soon settled, I embraced the nothing. I found comfort in the emptiness and entered a trance-like state.
Then I saw myself.
“(Floating) is great for people looking for inner direction,” says the man named Crash, owner and founder of the Float Lab, one of the few floatation locations in the Los Angeles area.
“It helps you realize that you’re your own guide.”
We sit in Crash’s ocean-view office. Through the large window overlooking the beach, the sun is just beginning to disappear behind the waters of Venice.
Odd, hypnotic art covers the walls– images of people with blank faces staring at you from various locations. Orphic electronic music plays loudly in the background. A large black gargoyle statue looms overhead in a far corner. Large crystals and marble balls rest on top of pillars scattered about the room.
Crash first realized the potential for these isolation tanks while working on a Las Vegas recording studio back in 2000. Two years later he came out to the California and built the Float Lab from scratch, directly off of the world famous Venice Beach Boardwalk.
The Float Lab plans on re-fitting its tanks into Cellular Influence Devices (CID). These CID tanks will pair the remote atmosphere of a regular tank with video screens and speakers to plunge the floater into an intensified learning experience.
Crash says that the potential of these isolation tanks on the learning process is mind blowing. The process, called “intelligence transfer,” can be likened to downloading information off the Internet and imprinting it into your brain.
“Imagine the ability to watch Tiger Woods playing golf in the CID,” Crash says. “All of his motions will be imprinted into your muscle memory.”
In theory, after watching this, your body would remember Tiger’s swing and you will play like him.
“The potential for the CID is amazing,” says Ian Wilson, who also works in the Float Lab. “The technology is there…people just need the creativity.”
There are physical health benefits to floating as well. In a 2001 pain study, researchers discovered that participants reported significantly lower levels of physical pain after floating.
This study’s results are mirrored in Wilson’s own personal experience. “Normally, after I work out, I’ll usually be sore,” Wilson says,”but sometimes I’ll come and float after a workout…and I won’t be sore later on.”
All of the stresses from everyday life are put into perspective when you are inside these tanks. Things that cause you intense mental strain will line up before you. But while floating, all of these problems seem small and insignificant.
I saw myself standing, surrounded by what appeared to be little dominoes.
Each domino was of a different stress of mine: too many projects going on at once with not enough time to do them, current relationships and the struggles that come with them, the uncertainties of the future and the unknown.
My vision-self began knocking over each little domino until there were none left standing.
The vision of myself faded away.
A feeling of serenity washed over me like nothing I had ever felt before.
I emerged from my trance-like state, enlightened and satisfied.
I opened the chamber door, and regrettably, my senses returned.
My eyes became fixated on an old analog clock on the wall. My floating experience, which my internal clock estimated to be around maybe 40 minutes, was in actuality nearly three hours long.
Apparently, one’s sense of time is also completely isolated in this environment.
As I walked back to my car, I soaked in the world with heightened awareness. I walked past the legions of street performers and the crowds surrounding them, the ballads of tattoo needles from various parlors calling out to me.
A woman on roller skates flew past me, she glistened under a light coat of tanning oil. I can taste the coconut.
Our senses are what provide us with everything we know about the world. Although these senses are amazing, removing oneself from them every so often helps put one’s life in perspective and builds a greater appreciation of this world.
There is nothing else like the feeling of completely getting away from the world. There is no better escape.
“People are so caught up with everyday life, man,” says Crash. “You’ve gotta learn to appreciate the now.”
“You’ve gotta enjoy the process.”