The water and air in the float chamber are skin temperature, the darkness is identical with eyes open or closed, and there is no sound—thus there is no external input. In turn, my brain decelerated until its output also slowed, and then stopped. I was suspended in a place with no space, or time, or purpose. Once in a while, some quotidian thought would begin to surface at the edges—did I respond to that email?—and then bounce around in the lonely void of my skull for a moment or two. But it would soon melt away as my brain realized it didn’t care. Back to the void.
When my one-hour La Casa session ended with a gentle tapping on the wall—the prearranged signal from the spa—I emerged in a profound daze. I spoke slowly and quietly, like a smooth-jazz DJ, to the person at the spa desk who inquired how my session had gone. I felt more rested than if I’d slept for 16 hours on a pile of tranquilized chinchillas. Outside, colors were saturated; sounds were vivid.
I had to try this again, as soon as possible. For my second session, I went to Blue Light Floatation, on 25th Street in Chelsea. This turned out to be a loft apartment belonging to a tank owner named Sam Zeiger. But the setup was not nearly as weird as you might imagine: Zeiger cordons off a private area in which you float, shower, and change.
Having floated before, my transition happened more quickly this time. It took just a few minutes before I felt my brain and my body slowing, my restless thoughts fading out. If I chose to, I could purposefully focus on one idea at a time, roll it around in isolation, examine some part of my life with no distractions. Or I could just revel in the strangely exhilarating emptiness. At one point, I nodded off in the tank. The only way I knew this was that my limbs lightly spasmed—making a small splash—in that way limbs do when you’re at the edge of sleep. There was no clear line between consciousness and unconsciousness. (I had no fear of drowning, as my buoyancy was such that it would be nearly impossible to roll over accidentally.)
Afterward, as Zeiger handed me a cup of herbal tea, he recounted his own conversion story. “My first time was supposed to be a one-hour session,” he told me, “but the guy forgot about me and left me in the tank for several hours. I had a life-altering experience. I can’t describe it to you now in a way that wouldn’t devalue its meaning.” Zeiger eventually felt compelled to get his own tank and install it in his apartment. Floating in this tank—and maintaining the tank in perfect order, and renting the tank out to other people for $80 an hour—is now his full-time passion.
I went back to La Casa for a final tank session and I knew, as I emerged, that I was hooked. (Disclosure: La Casa gave me my two sessions on the house; Slate paid for the one in Zeiger’s apartment.) This is the closest you will ever come to having a drug-like experience without taking drugs. Though you will have no crazy hallucinations (at least, I didn’t have any—your hallucinatory mileage may vary), you will understand your brain in an entirely new way.
Consider: Right now there are dozens of thoughts pinballing through your mind. When’s lunch? This monitor is too bright. Should I ask her on a second date? My crotch itches. What is the person in the next cubicle saying on the phone? I should be more assertive. I’ll get a burrito at lunch. Am I a good person? These thoughts are all occurring more or less simultaneously. There is a cacophony—a noisy din—in your head. The absence of the din is a genuine revelation. I highly recommend you find that out for yourself.
Peter Suedfeld is now using his accrued wisdom about isolation to consult with NASA and the Canadian Space Agency regarding the effects of long-duration space flight in confined, monotonous environments. Glenn Perry still sells his Samadhi tanks, and says sales are on the rise—you can buy your own starting at about $8,900. The annual float conference is running again this August (motto: “Looking Forward to a Whole Lot More Nothing”).
As for me, I plan to climb back in a tank at least three or four times a year. Just thinking about the feeling I get from floating makes me crave it. I’m not sure I can fully explain why—but I’d love to ponder that question while buoyed by a tub full of warm, salty water.
Correction, May 15, 2013: This article originally misstated the last name of the co-owner of La Casa day spa. She is Jane Goldberg, not Jane Goldman.