Some people have big dreams.

I’m one of them, but not in the traditional sense. What I’m talking about are detailed, sweeping recollections of the fantastic, synthesized realities experienced while asleep — impossible architecture and alien environments created when deeply embedded in REM cycle — visions that you could talk about for hours, and still feel your description hadn’t quite done justice to what you had experienced.

I’ve always been fascinated with the thought of existing outside of physical sensory interpretations, in large part due to my relationship with dreams. What would it be like to have your consciousness set free from the blitz of physical reality? Where does the mind go when there is nothing left to distract or alarm?

You google this sort of stuff enough, and before you know it, you’re naked and climbing into a giant pitch black tank filled with saltwater, about to be stripped of all of your senses.

I was totally exhausted when I parked my car and trudged toward Float On, a sensory deprivation float tank center located on the 45th block of SE Hawthorne. I’d been working construction since 5am that morning, and to be totally honest, the thought of laying down on a bed seemed far superior to that of stepping into the dim unknown that I imagined was in store for me. But what the hell, right?

Upon entering, photographer Adam Smith and I were greeted by an extremely pleasant dude behind the counter. We were a bit early, which is recommended, and were offered a variety of teas and also some from-the-tap pumpkin kombucha, which was delicious. The atmosphere in Float On was subdued and comforting, with soothing music and neutral colors. Several folks, both pre-and post-float, were hanging out in the lobby with an overall vibe of positivity apparent in everyone’s body language. I hadn’t even begun my float yet, and I was already feeling some post-work tension slipping away.

The service offered at Float On is essentially the simulation of having no physical form, usually for the span of an hour and a half. The thought of abandoning your senses and losing all means of physically engaging reality might not seem too appealing at first. It’s intimidating to even consider, and for certain personality types, I can imagine a sort of, “Why would anyone do that?” reaction. Because cool stuff happens to your brain. That’s why.


Our hero enters the pod. [Photo: Adam Smith]

As I sat pondering those motivations and doubts, our tanks become available, and we were ushered in. The particular model of tank assigned to me looked like something that would be used to put astronauts in suspended animation for deep space exploration. Being a huge sci-fi nerd, I viewed this in no way as a detraction.

The water in these tanks contains a serious amount of epsom salt for buoyancy and restorative purposes. If you have any cuts or scrapes, definitely apply some of the provided petroleum jelly liberally on that shit. I had a small scratch from work that I didn’t think would be a problem, and ended up having to climb back out and dress it up due to the instant and unbearable salt-induced sting that ensued. Rookie move. With my scratches appropriately dressed, I hopped back into my future-pod.

There I was, slowly bobbing above heavily salted water kept at a temperature so close to that of my own body that I could hardly tell it was there after several minutes, even when I focused.  One of the first things I noticed was that there was absolutely no difference in perceivable light levels regardless of whether or not my eyes were open.  I decided to go with open, since it felt more comfortable. About ten minutes in, my breathing slowed to a steady and relaxed pattern. It was actually quite peaceful in there. My thoughts wandered, and without any form of physical stimuli, I started to lose my perception of time.


A peek inside the chamber. [Photo: Adam Smith]

I had two opposing expectations when entering my pod. Having heard that it was both like dreaming, and like a psychedelic trip, I expected to either feel as though I was drifting off into sleep or as if I was coming up on a high, however, it was neither of those things. I stayed conscious, aware, and calm at all points, without ever drifting to sleep or experiencing the bodily side effects of any drug.

I’m not sure at what point it began to occur, but without having outside stimulation of any sort, my brain began to generate visual hallucinations. Cascading waterfalls of light passed before me, and then silhouettes of strange foreign shapes. I slipped in and out of a trance. The vast majority of what I was observing was equally, if not more extreme (at least in the visual sense) to a potent dose of psilocybin. But I was completely at peace, relaxed, loose, and free, with none of the attendant occasional euphorias or anxieties and paranoias of various drugs. In fact, I had completely lost all awareness of my body.

After an immeasurable amount of time, as if from a far-away void, music began to play.  It was soft at first, but gained in volume over the course of several minutes.  My residency in the abyss had expired, and it was again time to join the ranks of the busy city humanoids. For a few moments, it was as though my brain had to relearn basic motor functions. It was a bit of a struggle to get out of the tank at first, but I managed, emerging from the depths like an astronaut from a cryo-pod. Quickly showering the salt residue off, I got dressed, hoping to get out quickly so as not to impose upon the next floater’s appointed time slot. 

I hadn’t felt so entirely relaxed in recent memory. My musculature, which had previously felt fused and coiled tight from eight hours of manual labor, was almost entirely without ache or strain in a way that seemed almost unnatural.  Along with this came a pleasant and unimposing “here comes the sun” sort of euphoria. I met up with Adam, and on our way out we once again chatted with the desk attendant, whose knowing smile illustrated that he was quite familiar with the sensations I was experiencing. We thanked him and left.

Walking into the world felt unusual at first, as though I were a stranger there. But my mind felt at peace, and my body felt new. At Float On, I gave my body away to nothingness for a little while, and it came back to me in better condition than I had left it in.

Float On isn’t just for those chasing the dream-dragon. While the visual hallucinations are pleasant and enjoyable (and definitely worth the visit to witness), there are a whole host of reasons to visit these tanks. I came out feeling refreshed, with a mental calm that lasted days and with a body that felt as though it had slept peacefully for hours. Come for the light-show, but come back for the benefits to body and soul.


Written by Jared Brannan