Yesterday the man on a ladder outside my window teetered as he made little touch-ups to the paint along the eaves and softies. Two stories up, I sat at my desk writing, or, trying to write, and the man made the hardness of the writing melt into waves. A sensation buzzed from the space just above my head to the cranium itself and flowed down my head to my shoulders, my neck, shivers and tingles whirling up and down and I relaxed into the thought, the words, the sentences. I couldn’t see the man’s face. Only his shoes. But I could hear him. Some call this feeling ASMR. I’ve experienced it since I was a child. A feeling of being highly aware and totally relaxed at the same time. Being simultaneously awake and away, present and in some far off place. But like inspiration, like insight, it comes at unexpected times, by surprise, suddenly. It can’t be planned, can’t be brought on by YouTube videos of women whispering or men shining shoes. Can’t be forced. I could hear the man scraping methodically in the beautiful, careful rhythm that I’ve heard the times I’ve watched my craftsman father and brothers making shelves, fixing plumbing. When the awaken comes, it seems like a glimpse from another world.
I said this mood can’t be forced. But it can be cultivated, and I think everyone do it, find that highly aware relaxed, almost hypnagogic, creative space by paying attention to the beauty of delicate, deliberate sounds.
ASMR is linked to synesthesia, which I also experience. It has also been described as a kind of mindfulness. That’s the positive side. It’s also correlated with neuroticism and disagreeableness. Both of which I also own.
I’m aware of the way the fuzzy feeling has been mocked or used or analyzed in media and peer-reviewed journals. I’ve been keeping track.
For example, Billie Eilish. I’ve never heard her music, have never wanted to. I recently read she is incorporating ASMR into her songs. I wonder if it’s forced.
What would your list of mindfulness sounds look like?
Here are some of mine:
1. someone washing windows (obviously), painting a fence, or setting a table
2. someone speaking English with an accent different from mine, but speaking very slowly
3. someone shelving library books
4. a flight attendant going through pre-flight safety procedures
5. a cat watching a bug crawl up a wall