As a follow up to my last article on floatation tanks, I recently sat down to talk with Christopher Messer, one of the founders of a new floatation center, called Float On in Portland, Oregon. A veteran of the floatation tank experience, Christopher believes the longer you experience sensory deprivation the deeper it goes. Since he has been floating and building his own tanks since 1977, he had a lot to say when I spoke with him on New Year’s Eve. Here are some highlights.
Does the law of diminishing returns apply to floating?
It’s an endurance thing. The longer you float the more you’re in Theta waves. And the more lucid you’re going to get. This is the same thing the Buddhist monks are trying to do. But this is it without falling asleep and getting the rap on the shoulder with a stick. When there is no external stimulation the internal mind has to take over. I’ve done a 13 hour float, and it just keeps going and going. Thought goes away, identity goes away. It’s about effortless doing.
I hate technique. The tank is all physiological. You’re autonomic nervous system takes control. 98% of everything you think about is repetitive anyway. You don’t need it. If you were on a deserted island for long enough thought would go away. The minute thought stops, presence takes over. The tank kills thought without effort, without technique. Our whole culture is based on technique.
So thought just becomes unnecessary, like flippers on land?
Thought knows that the minute it stops, presence takes over and thought dies. And thought will do anything to stop that. That’s why the tank is so perfect, you can’t directly get rid of thought. It has to leave without effort. It’s like a surrender, but don’t make it into a technique. Our whole culture is about becoming – you gotta get to the next level, “I got to get the degree, I got to get the house . . .”. Well good luck with that, cause it’s just made up anyway! The only time you’re truly happy is when you’re just being.
What would a culture look like where everybody floats?
That’s my dream. Our culture is about change from the outside-in. But you change it from the inside-out and it’s going to work. It’s funny, remember the Skylab in the 70’s, after the Apollo missions? They had these Americans out there floating in space, and they’d have Russians come out. But sometimes guys would be alone for weeks at a time. And mission control would call them and tell them to do stuff. Well, mission control found that they would do the tasks slower and slower. And then mission control would tell them to do stuff and they wouldn’t want to do stuff. And then mission control would call them and tell them to do stuff . . . and they would turn off the intercom!
You get space happy. It’s called break off point. Same with the U2 spy planes. They’d be up there on the edge of space. Close to zero gravity. And they would just lose interest in earthly things. They would stop believing in nationalism and just say – oh, well there’s the planet.
The floatation tank is still a fairly new device. Do you think people are going to come along and try to attach different techniques and codified ideas to the experience?
Well, it started out very scientific. But it very quickly became a mystic experience.
So yeah, people have used different techniques with floating: cyber vision, listening to learning tapes, holosync stuff. You can add on things, but personally I don’t like that. There’s nothing better than nothing. It’s so simple.
For millions of years we were just hunters and gatherers. We are not built for all of this. Language and time and self. That’s all brand new phenomena. When thought first came in, people thought they were hearing voices. Language started as a way to warn people. “Hey! There is a mountain lion behind you!” This evolved into language, but somehow along the way identity got involved.
Once you have language you can create an external analog of everything.
Yeah – I’m separate from everything else. I’m better. Then you’re getting into counting, keeping track of stuff, counting what you own. And the rest is history. I think once we got into agriculture that’s when we took a wrong turn.
So it’s New Year’s Eve 2010. What’s the future of floating?
Consciousness just wants to become more consciousness. This is what the tank is doing. There are areas that were once unconscious, and consciousness is saying – I want to be here.
We used to be in the Information age. Now we are in the Communication age. Consciousness is expanding itself. And the float tank fits that perfectly. Floating is just a way to get back to your natural state.
“The only time you’re truly happy is when you’re just being.”
Far out. Great to hear that John’s metaprogramming hardware is still doing float-point duties out there in the wide-open world!
Very cool interview. Thanks for doing this.
It’s true that when you’re floating and you lose all your thoughts you’re in what the Buddhist monks call “The Natural State.” When all your thoughts are gone you are in a state of nothingness. It’s pure clarity. I call it “unconditioned consciousness.” Because you’re just there in pure consciousness and until you’ve been there many times you can’t imagine how blissful it is. It’s like nothing in everyday life. I used to own a tank and many times I get into the tank about 8 PM and float for 12 or 14 hours. People would think that you get bored with but there’s no one there to get bored, and you just in this unworldly bliss– I just found it impossible to get bored. I was always surprised when I got out of the tank and saw the new world. I remember reading that some physiological experimenter had measured your sensitivity to light. And after a few hours in the tank your eyesight is something like 23,000 times more sensitive. It does the same thing for your other senses. When you get out of the tank and have a cup of espresso waiting it’s incredible! And I won’t even try to begin to talk about sex. 23,000 times more credible. Think about it.
soooooooo……… the sex thing? what is it?like done and satisfied in min? seconds? lol just wonderin
Michael – I just love the x 23,000 times more credible explanation.
There are about four new ideas in here for me and sometimes I go for weeks without a new idea. Thanks.
Charles,I don’t know whether you’re writing to me or Christopher. But I can guarantee you that the tank is a creative idea generating machine. Almost all my books have appeared to me first in almost total shape like a light bulb going on in my head when I’m floating. One example – I was desperate to finish an article for Outside Magazine about Central America. But I just didn’t know how to start it. Without an opening the rest of it was a jumble of ideas. I went into the tank and after one or two hours suddenly the article appears to me in almost word for word form. I went home and sat down at my computer with my hair still wet and wrote the article. The article was highly praised in the editors loved it. I think the trick is to have no expectations, just go into the nothingness and see what appears to you. Good floating, Mike Hutchison
Hey Michael Hutchison!
I’m glad you got a chance to read this article. I am reading your book on floating right now as a matter of fact! The guys at Float On loaned it to me, they are huge fans.
Great article! I can’t help but notice you’re saying some pretty enlightened things. It instantly reminds me of Jiddu Krishnamurti. If aren’t familiar with him you owe it to yourself to youtube him.
He talks about the extend of human conditioning, the illusion of ‘becoming’, the never ending want, the expansion of consciousness, and what death really is. And most importantly about freedom.
Thanks for the article. I’m doing my first night float at Float On this Friday with my friend who im getting to float for the first time 🙂
I am so glad to see floating getting more attention again. I have been interested in float tanks since I read about them as a teenager (25 years ago). Also very cool to see Michael Hutchison replying on this. His is a must read for anyone interested in floating!