|"ASMR" by illustrator Joanna Krótka.|
"Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is a neologism for a perceptual phenomenon characterized as a distinct, pleasurable tingling sensation in the head, scalp, back, or peripheral regions of the body in response to visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, or cognitive stimuli. The nature and classification of the ASMR phenomenon is controversial, with strong anecdotal evidence to support the phenomenon but little or no scientific explanation or verified data". -- Wikipedia
Since I was a child, I have always had this peculiar experience when someone approaches me from behind & speaks softly over my shoulder. This is the sort of thing that occurs on occasion in a traditional Western classroom setting where students are expected to work quietly & independently while a teacher &/or assistant moves about the room... looking over their pupils shoulders. I vividly recall watching someone who had come to help in our 3rd grade classroom move down the rows -- speaking to each child softly -- with great anticipation. I knew she was working her way towards me & it would soon be my turn. She would whisper something about my work, it didn't matter what & then...
As a child it did not occur to me that this might be unusual. I only wanted that feeling.
That feeling is what many people refer to as ASMR -- Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. I had no idea it had a name or that anyone else ever had this experience until I found mention of it in one of Jody Whiteley's videos. (See ASMR Stats. I have discussed Jody Whiteley in some detail in Sleeping with Jody.) Some people describe the sensation as "tingles." I find that the response varies from trigger to trigger. With a softly spoken phrase over the shoulder comes an almost numbing sensation that begins at the front of my skull & rolls back like a wave down my neck & spine. Other triggers evoke a more tingly, even ecstatic, full-body, slightly out of control sensation, one of which I will mention later.
I remember asking my mother about this once. She worked in psychiatry the majority of her life & I thought perhaps she knew something about this experience. She didn't. (This isn't surprising really since there seem to be very little clinical information about this phenomena & that which exists is very recent.) She also said she didn't recall having these experiences herself. I realize I never asked my dad, or my sister, or any other family member for that matter, but it might be worthwhile -- perhaps there is an inheritance to be found here.
Jody Whiteley's blog & videos sent me off on an exploratory mission across the ether. Here I found forums, articles, videos, music, etc. all describing or promoting that feeling I recalled so well (yet wasn't sure I had felt in a very long time). In the course of this ASMR hunt, I discovered the videos of Maria GW at GentleWhispering. Here, I made a fascinating connection. In the following video, you will see Maria (beginning at approx. 10:20), using a 3D stereo microphone, blow/wave an oil burner around her audience:
And doesn't it bear an incredible resemblance to "smudging"?
I thought about this at length. Smudging, particularly when someone waves a big, fat, smelly wad of White Sage around my face does not do much for me & honestly, I have always found the process somewhat counterintuitive. (That is, its efficacy as a cleanser or as a deterrent to spirit-beings is dubious to me, unless they are mosquitoes.) But, I go along with it because I am a social animal. On the other hand, I have had always had a fondness for the 'ghetto-fabulous' mode of full body smudging (even self-smudging) with charcoal or a joss stick & feather, simply because it gives me that feeling.
I have begun to wonder if some of the "magic" of the smudging ritual & how it "works" to put us in "that space" for ritual, is because it works on a sensory response like ASMR, or perhaps it is ASMR. If that is so, is there a tendency for people with stronger ASMR affinity to be more attracted to certain types of ritual, particularly immersive ritual with soft sounds, smudging, tapping, etc.?
It would make a wonderful research project, particularly as a survey of the pagan & metaphysical communities.
It might also be an incredible basis upon which to formulate ceremony.
I have been meaning to write about this for nearly a year now, but Life, you know... However, I felt a renewed desire to make it happen because I recently made yet another connection. When I am immersed in specific music, especially if I am dancing, the ASMR response can become nearly overwhelming. My entire body will tingle, I become covered in goosebumps, waves of sensation roll across my scalp & occasionally I even experience irregular breathing... doesn't this bear an incredible resemblance to ecstasis?
For me, it seems to happen most often with electronica (although that may just be a matter of habits), particularly with dubstep drops -- & apparently I am not the only one. There's a great deal more to say about all this, but for the sake of brevity, I will leave off here. But not without an offering. Below is the song which prompted this writing. If you are of the impatient sort, the first & biggest drop begins shortly after 2:20, but I suggest taking in the music in its entirety, especially if you know you have ASMR. The anticipation makes it that much sweeter.
And if you have ASMR, or think you might & want to leave me a comment or send me a message about your experiences, please do! I would love to hear from you.