Have you heard of Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response before? No, me neither. First let’s shorten it to ASMR. Evidently it’s the pleasurable feeling that starts on your scalp and then sends tingles down your neck and spine as you respond to a sound that stimulates you. Quite often it’s a voice or it could be a sound such as scrunching up paper. I’ve now discovered that the internet is awash with videos of people whispering or speaking in a way that some people find stimulating and engaging.
I suppose we have all sat in church listening to a preacher whose voice and style of delivery have us entranced, supplying a warm glow that we can physically experience. Sadly other preachers will have the opposite effect. Having read about the phenomena in my weekend paper I could recall a French teacher at school whose voice and style of delivery held me rapt. Others left me cold.
ASMR is in the news as some new academic research has suggested, I think, that if we can harness the type of sound that has this effect on us, it can aid relaxation, reduce stress levels and in some cases help us sleep better. I listened to a You tube clip of a woman whispering – viewed millions of times I think – and I could feel the start of that familiar feeling. People who know me well will be relieved to know that the whispering was at an audible level.
So far, so good, and a bit obvious I suppose. But the safeguarder in me is reminded that for some a particular sound or voice may trigger memories that are more likely to cause a shudder rather than a pleasant tingle. The trauma of lived experience of abuse may be recalled without warning and this is something we do well to remember in our church life. One person’s key to relaxation my be another’s doorway to feeling unsafe.
As I write this on St Pancras station the man playing the nearby piano only seems to know one chord which he has now played (badly) for two or three minutes. Its definitely not having the desired effect.