How floating in quiet darkness inspires imagination

Most of us have experienced being so completely immersed in what we are doing that we lose track of time. When we are completely engaged in learning something new, awed by an incredible scene in nature, or absorbed in a creative pastime, we are energized, focused, and loving the moment.

Being present is a key to creative pursuits, yet our modern world is often at odds with this state of being. We live in a state of perpetual distraction that fuels stress, anxiety and unhappiness. Activities such as meditation and mindfulness are growing in popularity as people seek that elusive sense of calm that we find when we are fully engaged in the present.

More than a half century ago, a neuroscientist named John Lilly was conducting research into human consciousness when he developed what many consider an ideal environment for inner exploration: the floatation tank.

Floatation tanks are soundproof, lightproof enclosures containing less than one foot of water heated to skin temperature. Dissolved Epsom salt allows a person to float effortlessly in what feels like zero gravity. This allows one to experience calm and relaxation in an environment completely free of outside distractions.

Today there are hundreds of floatation centers in the United States and around the world, attracting everyone from professional athletes and celebrities to everyday people who enjoy the utter quiet and calm of floating in quiet darkness. Many people who enjoy floating have a spiritual focus and work in creative endeavors.

In 1979, we opened the world’s first floatation center in Beverly Hills. That location turned out to be the best place for our budding industry because of the many people engaged in creative pursuits in and around Hollywood and Los Angeles.

In 1980, we commissioned a professor from the University of Nevada at Reno to conduct a market research study and focus groups to determine who was using our center. He found an emerging market segment of people interested in self-actualization that he called “cultural creatives” – a term coined by sociologist Paul H. Ray and psychologist Sherry Ruth Anderson in the late 1970s to describe people interested in spiritual and psychological development. Cultural creatives see the world holistically and are interested in creating a better way of life.

In 1980 when we did the study at our center, it was estimated cultural creatives comprised only about three percent of the population. By 1999, that had grown to 26 percent and by 2008, 35 percent of the world’s population, Ray and Anderson write in their book “The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World.”

These are people who particularly benefit from the calm and creativity available through floating.

One example was a TV editor who came to the center on a Sunday afternoon with the challenge of cutting 20 seconds from his 30-minute program. Partway through his float he showed up at the reception desk, asked to borrow the phone, called his studio and told them where to make the change.

Another was the celebrated author Michael Crichton, whose books sold more than 200 million copies and were adapted into films such as the Jurassic Park series. He used floating at the center to overcome writer’s block. He found floating so useful that he bought a tank for his home.

A member of the U.S. bobsled team training for the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, contacted us to explore the benefits of floating in the sporting world. He and a sports chiropractor told us of their fascination with the spiritual aspects of floating. We learned that the spiritual journey can be accessed through the conscious performance of any endeavor.

This state of consciousness is better understood in Tibet and India and is not discussed much in our culture. Characteristics of being present include:

• A sense that we can deal with whatever arises in the situation.
• An experience of present time continuously unfolding.
• A space of heightened and dispassionate observation.
• A sense of peace, well-being and love.

To varying degrees, this is the state many of us are in when we finish floating, if we do it long or often enough. As with all unfamiliar environments, there is a comfort and learning curve. It can take several experiences floating for people to become familiar with the state of being present.

If you want to develop a muscle or a skill, the more you use it, the more you have it. The more we move into being present — being in our heart, spirit, or state of flow — the more we are there in the rest of our life, allowing us to be more functional and balanced. When difficult events happen, we are able to deal with them with greater ease. We see them with more clarity and less reaction. This sense of detachment allows us to observe ourselves and our thoughts, and let creativity and solutions to flow through our lives.

Author's Bio: 

Glenn and Lee Perry founded Samadhi Tank Co. and the commercial floatation tank industry in 1972. In their new book, “Floating in Quiet Darkness: How the Floatation Tank Has Changed Our Lives and Is Changing the World,” they tell how floatation tanks help people reboot the brain, access deep calm, and invigorate childlike creativity. Learn more at