Once again, I find myself naked in a stranger's dark apartment. I haven't told anyone I'm here. No one expects to see me for at least a day. And in the interest of reviewing a Portland
business, I'm about to voluntarily seal myself in a soundproof, homemade casket, half-filled with salt water.
I'm in the home of Christopher Messer, co-owner of FloatOn
, a startup relaxation center that allows clients to “float” ($30
$40 for 90 minutes) in one of four sensory deprivation chambers, or float tanks—soundproof, lightproof boxes filled with a foot of water and 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt.
The brochure promises the “most complete relaxation you've ever felt.” I must confess the homemade, black wooden box in front of me isn't doing anything for my nerves. I step in like Messer showed me and shut the surprisingly light, poplar door. It won't be my last surprise today.
The water is heated to 93.5 degrees. I'm told that's the average temperature of human skin, with the idea that the water temperature lets you lose track of where your body ends and the water begins. The skin-receptor neutral temperature in addition to the uber-buoyancy of the salt-rich water makes you feel weightless. The creepiest thing about the experience is just how eerily familiar it all feels. I'm immediately comfortable, even soothed, by the warm darkness.
“Floating” has, in one form or another, been around since 1954. John C. Lilly is considered the father of floating. But he had his medical research and credentials overshadowed by his experimentation with LSD and ketamine, which led to public misconception of the benefits of float sessions. Older readers might remember the 1980 movie Altered States starring William Hurt
, which was loosely based on a novel that in turn was loosely based on Lilly's sensory deprivation experiments. While floaters won't devolve into vicious Tasmanian Devils, like Hurt's character, I must admit that I did feel primeval, as if I was floating alone in the Sargasso Sea.
Messer explains that first-time users believe they might fall asleep and drown. The reality is, he says, is that you become hypersensitive. “Your reptilian mind takes over,” Messer says. “The tiger is still out there in the jungle, but you can't see, hear or smell him.” The result is an amazing consciousness of your own body, your own thoughts, your breathing. It's true: I swallowed once and it sounded like a bomb went off in the tank.
The tanks are clean (Messer filters them for six hours every night). Fresh air is constantly circulated. And earplugs, towels, and a shower are provided. Typical floats last for 90 minutes. But FloatOn will let you stay in as long as you like, so long as no one is scheduled behind you. Messer explains that money isn't his motivation. “I just want to get this out to the world,” he says. “If everyone's floating, the world would be a much calmer place.”
Though my session took place at Messer's home, the owners are building a location at 4530 Southeast Hawthorne that should open in mid-October. If Messer can provide such a professional experience in his apartment, I'm excited to see what he can do with a full center and larger, modern tanks.
When my session ended, soft Enya-esque music was piped in and I had to force myself to leave. My body and mind felt completely rejuvenated and I wasn't even pruney. After I showered and dressed, Messer gave me some juice and a hug as a sort of “Welcome to the club.” I left in a daze, already planning when I'd be back.
In case you're wondering, the top five songs that played in my mental jukebox whilst I floated
1) “Aqueous Transmission” by Incubus
2) “Space Oddity” by David Bowie
3) “Come Sail Away” by Styx (sung by South Park's
Cartman in my head)
4) “Wide Open Spaces” by the Dixie Chicks
5) “Party in the USA” by Miley Cyrus about 100 times