I have a funny story for you.
I’ve been responsible for a lot of tedious internet duties lately and craving some stimulation while I work, so I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts. I happened on an episode of This American Life that totally blew my mind. You should give it a listen when you can.
The speaker discusses an experience she’s had ever since she was a child. It’s the feeling of entering a trancelike state, phasing out, and what she describes as “scalp-tingles” whenever she hears someone speaking softly.
The boring librarian at her school, Bob Ross encouraging amateur painters on PBS, the ladies lovingly fondling tacky jewelry on the Shopping Network; she would zone in and enter a state of sublime relaxation whenever she heard them speak.
As I was listening, my jaw dropped open. I’ve had the same experience my whole life!
Now I had always just written it off as something that everyone has and is so commonplace that nobody talks about it. Either that, or I just had a strange fetish for soft voices and that was that. So I was mostly just thrilled that someone shared my experience.
But here’s where things really got interesting.
The speaker goes on to recount her experiences seeking out soft-spoken videos on YouTube so she could trance out to them, and she discovers that this phenomenon has attained a pop-psychological diagnosis. It’s called ASMR, or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response.
What’s more significant for me is that there’s a huge subculture of internet videos, some of which have quite a following.
These videos are admittedly kind of ridiculous. Mostly it’s soft-spoken girls who take you through creative napkin-folding or tell you how to spruce up your bathroom for guests. Sometimes they just talk about their grandmothers’ jewelry.
Real Martha Stewart stuff. Not my thing. I’d really rather hear about hiking up a mountain.
But I took a few of the suggestions from the podcast and found some channels. In no time, I was sitting in a coffee shop, listening in rapt attention to gift-basket advice with my jaw relaxed and my eyes slightly unfocused. In fact, as I write this I’m listening to equineqt describe her favourite beauty products.
Amazing. Ludicrous, but amazing.
So there are a couple of reasons I wanted to write about this.
(aside from the fact that it’s kind of hilarious)
Obviously this kind of thing is a neat testament to the connectivity that’s possible these days, and everyone loves to learn that their experience is shared by a number of different people.
But there’s also a significant personal upshot to this discovery. Anyone who knows me would be flabbergasted to learn that I function this way. I’m one loud, goofy guy, energetic almost to the point of being frenetic.
I also avoid silence like the plague. I’m always listening to music; I sleep with old TV shows and films on repeat on my computer. Otherwise my brain scatters off in a million directions. That’s part of the reason meditation has always been troublesome for me. I try to centre myself but I can’t coerce my inquiries, anxieties, and distractions into silence. Even hiking, my most blissful activity, is about being highly engaged, just happily so.
That lack is a significant personal liability. People I know who do Yoga or meditate seem to have a rich experience and I don’t like missing out on that. As strange as it is, these oddball videos of girls discussing housewares are the only things I’ve ever come across that let me lose my thoughts and just rest.
I’ve been missing out on that.
So if ASMR videos can help me quiet my mind and meditate, I’m definitely going to pursue them. I want to be able to attain that serene state and profit from centred silence. I look forward to the benefits of a relaxed mind.
It will also mean my dinner-guests will be able to expect some pretty badass napkin-folds, so that’s cool too.