I receive the gift for my birthday. N did not know that I had been secretly thinking about Float for years. Literally years. I had heard about it the way many hear about mysterious things: in passing, in flux, on a whim. I hadn’t been passionately, dedicatedly thinking about float tanks and their lofty dreamscapes over the years, but the idea of the float as a potential space to explore did not stay in my mind consistently. Instead, it floated in, floated out, floated on. I’m reminded of moths in Maine: small, particular, and unpredictable creatures floating in the summer air with schizophrenic lunges.
Speaking of Maine, when I called Float up to arrange for a session, to use the Living Social deal N had purchased, the man on the phone responded to my phone number with a “Oh, you’re from Maine, too?” The area code. Yes, yes I am. I don’t think they do Float in Maine, though I could be mistaken. The endless woods offer a significant space to float away in a New England, a Float unlike this float. It’s more . . . Puritanical Lobsterman out that way. When I was just about to get off the phone, appointment scheduled for a Friday afternoon (they apparently get quite busy on the weekends), I asked if I would be able to drive afterwards. I’m a busy guy. I can’t just float around for a while and not go back to the stupid shit that fills my life. The man responded optimistically: I would be able to drive after a few minutes out of Float.
Let is be known that I have no urge to be homeopathic or spiritual in my daily activities. I dabble and experiment. I meditate occasionally, stretch and do fake Yoga poses when I feel I’m getting too fat, or too “bunched up” within. But I do not have a system for approaching the healing of my life. I do things like Float when I’m mostly curious, or bored with the deeper substances of daily life, those that may sometimes afford introspection, but rarely go beyond predictability. I do some experimental hallucinogens, and enjoy hallucinatory conversations. I do enjoy drinking coffee, or drinking beer, in large quantities, and writing, like I’m doing now. When someone, like N, gives me an opportunity to explore new realms of consciousness, I never say no. I’m open minded. I know nothing much, but I expect nothing less than to have a full life.
And that’s how it was going to Float. It’s probably used by a few select individuals here in Seattle who find it relieving, or releasing, or something else, but those who are open to new experiences. The concept of Float is attractive, the price as much as a massage or acupuncture. It is simply something else. Something other. Something with potential. Unadulterated by cultural norms and figments of our collective imagination. A tube that can house a body, that can keep thoughts within. A built environment for isolation. Have you seen the Matrix? Have you seen the warm baths of energy-suck and confinement? That’s all I could have imagined before entering what Float, feeling Float, understanding Float, knowing Float. Craving Float too.
When I arrived at the North Seattle location of Float, near Green Lake, an area notoriously wealthy and white (race), I found parking more immediately than expected, but not after suffering from tremendous traffic issues. I’ll be frank: I was worried I was going to be judged by the staff of Float because I did end up getting to Float five minutes after my scheduled appointment start time, even when Float asks customers to arrive ten minutes early. I was told the Float waters would be blessed a night before my arrival. This note was given to me by email after I arranged for the session over the phone. I found the note particularly poetic and filled with joy, thus filling me with joy. Here’s the note:
We released a thousand white doves from our roof and began ceremonial preparations for your float in the Samadhi Float Room from 3:00pm to 4:30pm on Friday, 3/20/2015 for a legendary 1 hour float!
Last night a single candle was lit by our Swedish float specialist and silence fell over the gathered crowd as he donned white satin gloves to begin the purification process.
Due to the excited crowds, parking can be tough, right now we’re in the process of negotiating dedicated spots. Until then, please leave yourself extra time to find parking.
We’ve done a lot, all you need to do is
● Show up at least 10 minutes before your float to begin your de-stressification
● Avoid caffeine 1 hour prior to your float
● Do not eat a large meal right before floating
● Avoid shaving the day of your float
● If you need to cancel we ask that you do it 24 hours in advance to avoid being charged.
I mean come on. If you’re reading this, you’re probably excited for me. I mean, for past me. For me who was going to experience Float (who did experience Float, because I was excited as well!), for me who you’re hearing back from right now. It was probably the best email I received all day. And though I know it’s automated, it was still absolutely delightful. Why couldn’t more people in regular life talk like this? I was feeling floaty just reading and getting psyched for the Float experience.
Anyway, showing up to Float with my eyes lowered, who was to greet me but a friendly and very attractive young woman. Being hetero, normative, and slightly hetero-normative, I found the very attractive young woman easy to talk to. She greeted me with a smile, slight, with no ambiguity: she was not smirking, this was not mockery, she was generally happy I was present. With a shy “hello” from me, and without any true verbal foreplay, we got right into it: she led me to room #4 of 4 and we walked through the process. No, she was not disturbed that I was late, and we did not rush into me going into Float; instead, she provided the pacing of a kind caretaker. This was going to be special, magical even, and we both knew it.
The steps were iterated to me as I took off my hat and looked around. She said: we ask that everyone takes a shower both before and after the float. You can use ear plugs we provide if you’d like (she pointed at the ear plug container) but please use the q-tips before hand (she pointed at the q-tips). After the preparation instruction were over, she motioned for me to look at what I will refer to as the Float Sarcophagus. She pointed at the Sarcophagus and had an angelic brush to her tone as she described that I would enter by stepping with back facing the interior. She told me that if I want to turn the barely-visible blue light in the interior off, I may do so via a panel with two large buttons on it. That button was the one furthest to the back. To turn the heat of the float off, I would simply need to press the button closest to the front. After the shower, she pleasantly remarked, I should make sure to wipe off my face completely, as the tub was filled with so much salt that wiping would face would burn, burn, and burn some more. She said, happily.
Had I read the FAQ on the website before showing up to Float, I probably would have attempted to complete the young woman’s statements for her. Here, you can check out the FAQ and consider everything else I’m about to say in this review of Float.
In any case, the young woman retreated almost as immediately as we had entered the room, leaving me, fully clothed, with an open shower, and an open Float Sarcophagus, to ourselves. I should mention here that everything that is Float is silence. It’s all about isolation and silence. If you want silence, you don’t even need to enter the container: you can pay the money and go into this room and enjoy a period of quiet. And get a shower out of it too. But most people would at least want to try the dark tomb awaiting them. I sure did. It looked foreboding, scary, and a bit sexual. I had to get in there. I had to. But first I had to take my clothes off.
After a few awkward moments of peeling layers of clothing, since the floor is concrete and was completely wet (from the previous patron, I assume), I was naked showering in a shower made for a giant. Seriously, the shower was BIG. See this picture:
The shower included shampoo, conditioner, and body wash, all most likely organic and locally sourced, et cetera, et cetera. I merely rinsed before getting into the float tank. The water was warm, the pressure powerful. I felt too awkward to be sexually stimulated in the shower. Instead, I rinsed off, enjoyed the heat, and then left the shower to itself. To enter the Float Sarcophagus was kind of an experience in itself. I wanted to be completely confident, but there’s something about a dark, isolated space, with no one else around, that’s intimidating. After moments I got over it and, as the beautiful young woman instructed, I entered, my back facing inwards, stepping down into the nearly 6 inches of water within the tank. I shut the large door and was in complete, utter, warm, darkness.
It was a return to a womb. It was every unconscious moment. It was dreaming while being awake. It was awkward. It was welcome. It was perfect.
The benefit of Float is that the experience is different for everyone. You will not have the same experience of “stillness” (as the beautiful young woman mention referred to it) as me. I will not have the same stillness twice. Entering the Float Sarcophagus is, I imagine, akin to dreaming, or entering the the unconscious. Remember The Cell? Remember? As beautiful as curious as estranged, the landscapes were created by the mind.
When I started thinking about writing this piece, I immediately thought: I will tell all. But after reflecting, I don’t think I want to tell all. I will tell some things, though. Let’s start with the beginning: after an initial movement of my body, where I stepped down into the water, I was in Float, like really in it, my floating body positioned face up, buoyant and exposed, completely nude for all the darkness to see. I encountered the release after a few moments of awkward clarity. I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew I would be in this tank, in this space, for an hour. An entire hour of darkness, movement, me and myself. How narcissistic! How selfish! How beautifully alone with myself!
I loved it. I loved being able to close and open my eyes to darkness, to my imagination. I thought of all sorts of things. For better and for worse, one of the first images I had in my mind was of the beautiful young woman who was working at the desk. Then I thought about my body floating in the water. I thought about how perfect I was bobbing up and down in the Float Sarcophagus. I realized I was not breathing. I was taking a deep breath, holding it in, but not needing a frequent inhalation and exhalation. I thought of N. I thought of my body being six feet long and the Float Sarcophagus being eight feet long. I thought about the darkness. I thought about sound. There was no sound. I saw the blue light get brighter as my eyes adjusted. I thought about rods and cones and I thought about living in caves and I thought about those people who left children in houses for their childhood without any outside interaction, and what it would be like to grow up in a cave, and how that would affect my eyesight. I thought about sexiness and I thought about feeling sexual but I didn’t get aroused. I turned off the light and thought about suffocation. My back hurt and I thought that maybe it was because I had bad posture and new muscles were finding new pressure. I found an air hole that was slowly pumping in cool air and I tried to center my head around it. I loved that air hole, a connection beyond the warm, empty stillness. I reached out and the walls were a soft plastic, like skin, like plastic. I thought about this and I reached out and found two bars in the far corners of the Float Sarcophagus and I held them and positioned myself in what I thought was the exact center of the water. I let myself move and part of me thought I was moving and part of me thought I was not, and I slowly thought I was getting tired and then I thought I was not. I loved it. I thought about how amazing I was feeling and then I must have made a slight splash because a little wave must have sent a splash onto my face because all the sudden my right eye was stinging. From the salt of the water, I suspected. It went away just as all the thoughts went away and I was then glad I had experienced the pain of the salt. What would it be like to float in salt water without actually feeling the essence of the salt in the eye(s)? I thought about family and reflected on life for a bit, generally, emptily, and then I thought about time: had it really been very long, or was there a long time to go? I thought about how people living in caves end up having longer days because they don’t have the sunlight to tell them when to be awake. I thought about how long I had been in the Float Sarcophagus and could not respond with accuracy. Inevitably I splashed myself again and this time the burning lasted a while. I thought it would last forever but it didn’t. I started sinking into a general pacific state of mind and body devoid of experimentation other than this new state being perhaps the final experiment, when all of a sudden music went on and that was my signal to start getting out of the Float Sarcophagus. Of course I thought I was hallucinating at first because my mind had heard strange frequencies of sound during the experience because my ears were submerged the entire time. But the music was true and so I pulled myself up and crawled to the front of the Float Sarcophagus. I pushed open the door and walked to the shower.
I took a shower and kind of chuckled to myself. I used shampoo and conditioner even though I just shaved my head. I used a lot of body wash to wash away the salty mixture that had soaked into me. I noticed there was a mossy something on the wall and I thought, “How Seattle, to have a mossy something on the wall!”
Anyway, the after effects of Float include drowsiness, clarity, euphoria, slowness (mental and physical), intellectual curiosity (softer than normal), and relaxation. Other side effects for me included shortness of breath and general aches. I think the latter is because I have bad posture and don’t stretch very often anymore.
As I sauntered out of the room, fully clothed and feeling like I had just been exposed to a delightfully confusing secret, I stopped by the cashier. I had to pay the tax for the float because tax isn’t covered by Living Social (we live in the most truly fucked up gift cultures, don’t we?), which felt weird, but it was fine. I looked at the beautiful young woman who asked how my Float was. I told her it was amazing. I did not tell her it was “10/10 would float again” but I wanted to. She told me the best thing about Float is every time there are new ways to unlocking new types of stillness. I believed her when she spoke and still believe her. Like tripping on LSD or engaging in anal sex, I think that Float can bring a variety of wonderful feelings and emotional experiences when done in the right moment and only on special occasion. This was for me a special occasion because I had never done Float before, but I will certainly do it again, be it a gift from a friend or a gift from myself.
Would I recommend Float to others? Of course. Why not. I think it promotes meditation and mindfulness, it gives you a space to be alone, and a space to be still, and a space to be in isolation. These are all luxuries people who have the $40+ bucks should spend to engage, the same cost as a massage or acupuncture, generally speaking, in the United States. Do I feel guilty for doing something so narcissistic, so bourgeois? No, of course not. If the privilege is acknowledged and the meaning is rooted in the opportunity of personal growth, I do not feel bad or wrong for enjoying the unique bliss it afforded me.
What is one thing I would do in my next Float? I would probably push the first button, which I did not push this time, the one that changes the temperature. I would also probably prepare with some stretching ahead of time. I would also probably bring some questions to Float that need to be asked. I would probably meditate on those questions in advance as well. I would also like to try Float with a friend, where we are both in isolation in separate tanks at the same time. I would like to talk about Float to someone who has just experienced it alongside me.
Learn more about and consider spending time with Float Seattle here:
Greg Bem used to stretch everyday, back in 2012-2013 times. He was in the best shape of his life. Then he got a blood clot. He is now jaded from most activities related to health, though he does find that more nutritious food tastes better. Though he still loves tater tots with BBQ sauce. Greg is only slightly familiar with therapeutic physical activities, since most of the time he lives his life as a jaded conceptual poet.