For more than half a century, humans have been exploring our ability to grow and change — through floating in quiet darkness

In 1972, I was a very shy, nerdy kind of guy, working at Scientific Data Systems, when I had an experience that changed my life — and my view of what I could do.

Back then all computers were huge mainframes that did batch processing. Users would schedule time each week to use the machines and most had to wait on the results. Unlike other systems, SDS’s computers uniquely processed data in real time. This new kind of computer made things like space travel possible by allowing for remote control.

I worked on a project designing the first time-sharing system allowing up to 128 people to interact, via their own terminal connected by phone line, with their company computer. This system was used to explore the potential of what would become the Internet.

Although the systems we were developing would decades later spark a communications revolution, interpersonal communication was difficult for me because I was so shy. At lunch in the cafeteria, the only way I would talk was if there was only one other person present. Any more than that, and I would clam up.

Fortunately, one person I did speak with was my boss. Knowing that I was extremely interested in personal development, he suggested I read a recently published book, “The Center of the Cyclone,” by Dr. John Lilly. I read the book and was captivated by Lilly’s views on consciousness, spirituality, and life change. I saw an ad for a weeklong workshop with him and signed up.

At the workshop, I and other participants tried out an invention Lilly had been experimenting with for over a decade: the isolation tank. At that time, it was a tank of heated water in a darkened shack. Each person would spend an hour floating in quiet darkness, cut off from outside stimuli.

Most of us are accustomed to constant sensory input in our daily lives. Even when we disconnect from technology and other distractions, our minds tend to ruminate over the past, or anticipate or worry about the future. But when we disconnect from all distractions in the tank, we break the pattern of mental chatter. Suddenly we are able to observe ourselves, and experience a state of being fully present in the moment.

Many people come away from the experience of floating with a greatly enhanced sense of mental clarity, focus and creativity. After my first hour in the tank, I emerged feeling I was in a new and unfamiliar state of consciousness. It was as if the whole earth was a shimmering, shining, scintillating energy system, and time had slowed way down.

At lunch afterwards, John asked me to share my experiences. I found to my astonishment that I felt totally comfortable speaking in front of a group of people for the first time. I thought: If something could make me able to open my mouth in front of a group of people — wow, it must be really incredible! This is what I had been looking for.

After a week of listening to other people’s experiences, and having more myself, I got the idea of making a tank for myself, and perhaps manufacturing them for others. John was excited when I told him about my idea. It supported his goal of getting as many people as possible to try the experience of floating. He stressed that lack of distractions is what produces the impact of floating — the space of emptiness/nothingness that allows you to access calm, creativity, and new states of consciousness.

As I continued my day job at SDS, I used my spare time researching how to eliminate distractions such as light, sound, temperature, and gravity. I learned about the best ways to block noise from a UCLA physics professor, and took a sculpture class to learn about design.

John had used ocean water in his early versions, but the salt content was not high enough for me to float without having to put my feet on the bottom. Working with John, my partner Lee and I refined the tank by adding enough Epsom salt to the water to allow anyone to float effortlessly. Over time, through much trial and error experimenting with various materials, we were able to manufacture tanks that minimized sound, light, gravity, and all distractions.

As I continued to attend workshops with John, I was exposed to different states of consciousness and to his way of approaching life and the world: to make as few assumptions as possible, to constantly observe oneself, and to question values. Most of us make assumptions rather than coming from this “Beginner’s Mind.” Floating gives us the opportunity to access this state by allowing us to observe ourselves.

Attending those early workshops with John made me dedicated to expanding my consciousness. Creating the first floatation tanks for home use, and having consistent access to this environment, gave me a place to work on myself, and my inventions, in the total calm and solitude afforded by floating in quiet darkness.

Floating every day before work opened up a new way of being for me. Before, I had been in the fast lane wondering why everyone was going so slowly. Now I was in the slow lane wondering why everyone was going so fast! Everything went a little easier. I did not get upset nearly as much, and I was happier.

Now, almost five decades later, we have the benefit of countless people who have shared their experiences floating, and how it has changed their lives for the better. The floatation tank provides a place for people to experience the kind of deep calm, centered states that usually only advanced meditators achieve. It allows us to process fears or problems by examining them with a sense of detachment.

We have found that many people need to float three to five times, preferably on consecutive days, before they get a sense of the potential of floating. As with anything new, it takes a little bit of time to learn, and then you can begin to explore your potential. As we move out of the realm of mental chatter, we move into the heart of our being — a place where anything is possible.

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