Like many Western celebrities before her, Sue Perkins became instantly enamoured of the Indian spiritual way of life, during her telly trip down the Ganges (of which I saw only one instalment) – particularly when it came to Death. According to Sue, we’ve got Death all wrong, here in the Nordic UK. (side note: I like to align ourselves with the Scandinavians (even if that’s up for debate) ever since cruising to Norway a few years ago and noticing striking similarities in weather, landscape, the wearing of alarming knitted jumpers and a general air of pessimism and misery, brought on by buckets of rain.)
Sue believes that Western sensibilities are just not robust enough, when it comes to the dearly departed. We hide the dead one away in a wooden box and, in a further move of disgust, a lid is firmly nailed down on top of it…….there, take that, dead person.
Very few of us are willing to go and view a dead body, and even fewer of us want to be in full view of the fiery oven most bodies are consigned to. Sue believes this is a BIG mistake. What we should be doing is wrapping the dead body in one of our old duvet covers, the one we’d have chucked in the charity bin; laying it on a makeshift stretcher thing; sprinkling it (when you’re dead you become an ‘it’) with the gaudiest flowers we can find, before processing it through streets that are preferably filled with as much litter, empty lager cans, fag ends and dog crap, as you can find. Once this fragrant journey (a journey which pretty much sums up what’s wrong with British culture) is over, you then barbecue your loved one down the beach, whilst praying that ‘it’ doesn’t come back as a grasshopper or a slug (like the one you squished underfoot this very morning.) Sounds just the thing, doesn’t it?
No Sue; we don’t do death wrongly here in the UK. FYI. You’d be hard-pressed to find the parents of a dead child wanting that child processed through unforgiving streets, wearing nothing but a flimsy sheet and then stand by as the body goes up in very public flames. That’s the kind of thing you’d just about be happy about if your dead relative was very, very old and sort of looked a bit dead, even when they were still alive. You might even think the fire might warm them up a bit.
Keeping Death at arm’s length is a very sensible thing to do. For this prevalent mindset allows us to go about our daily lives, without breaking out in a cold sweat every 5 minutes, in the face of the existential horror that is the contemplation of one’s own death. It stops us from teetering on the edge of the void, that is the total annihilation of everything we have ever been and everything we hold most dear. An enforced separation from this wonder-filled planet forever.
Unlike a lot of the poverty stricken people on Sue’s Indian road trip, we don’t fear that we’re on an endless crappy circle of life, from which there’s no escape; forever condemned to come back as something as uninteresting and put-upon as a doormat (you may already feel like a doormat) or a lampstand (since all things are made from atoms, I’m standing by my assumption that reincarnation also works for household objects)……or a woodlouse……basically any bunch of insects which all look exactly the same, robbing you of any sense of that most important Western trait – individuality. Also, my wooden shed is FULL of woodlice, whose only purpose in life appears to be fleeing in a mad exodus, whenever I open the shed door and introduce a bit of light, before madly scrambling back into the dark when I close it again. What they do in there I can’t be bothered to find out (probably just endlessly make more woodlice.)
The non-religious among us don’t have to persecute ourselves and make weary pilgrimages to some sacred bit of polluted water, just to ensure that we reach our version of Heaven which, by the way, doesn’t yet exist. Trust me, I have it on good authority. The Bishop of Durham, no less, has opined that your average Christian has got Heaven all wrong. It’s his view that, after death, comes The Big Sleep (not the one with Bogart) – an unknowable period of time where you lie there having a gigantic sort of snooze; conscious but not really (in other words a Christian Coma) waiting for the Second Coming.
Here God, presumably to a fanfare of trumpets or suchlike, and carrying a big banner proclaiming ‘Yes, I’m God!’ (or how else will we know it’s God?) will come back down to Earth; resurrect all the dozing dead; that’s right, no souls floating about in Heaven but actual dead bodies, still in the ground, which will be, presumably metaphorically, dug up and brought back to life (that’s where it all gets very Walking Dead.) The Bishop doesn’t explain how God’ll collect together and resurrect all those sprinkled ashes, but then God doesn’t seem to feel the need to do much explaining. And this army of Christian zombies will then help him build a new Kingdom, here on planet Earth, which will join with the Heavens, where God lives (couldn’t get more Sci-Fi, or Greek, if you tried.)
Just imagine all those long ago Christians, as far back as over 2,000 years; all facing death in the happy certainty that they’d be going to Heaven, and instead they’re still taking the most boring, mother of all naps in the known universe, waiting for a Second Coming that refuses to come. The Bishop of Durham’s new (but biblically correct) version of ‘life’ after death seems somewhat less comforting. And why is God making his faithful wait around for this Second Coming anyway? I’d like the Bishop to get his ecclesiastical head around that one.
Anyway, forget mysticism, spiritualism and Second Comings; I have the answer to your inner happiness and well-being, and it’s called ASMR (pronounced A….S…..M….R.)
I happened upon ASMR in a strangely mystical and God-given way. There I was, trawling through YouTube, when a strange video fell into my net. It was entirely unrelated to the stuff I’d been looking at, and had an image of a young girl holding a hairbrush and the words ‘tingles,’ ‘whispers,’ next to it. I have no idea why I clicked, but click I did and thus began my entry into the wacky and weird world of Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR)
The aim of an ASMR video is to create a tingling sensation in the head that travels down the body. This is a supposedly pleasant/euphoric experience, meant to induce relaxation. I’m assuming the tingling sensation is the kind I get when watching a particularly emotion filled event – like the opening ceremony of the UK Olympics, or the stirring flag waving at the Last Night of The Proms. Someone sketched my portrait years ago, which was the first time I experienced a sort of hyper-aware sensation of being touched, whilst watching someone draw me but not actually touching me (it’s difficult to explain.)
The first time I watched an ASMR video was distinctly underwhelming. There the pretty girl was, tapping her fingers on shampoo bottles; rubbing her hand up and down the bristles of a hairbrush; tearing off strips of selotape, all the while whispering directly into a state of the art microphone – what the hell is going on here, I thought – massively hoping it wasn’t some sort of perverted sex thing (this is a common worry apparently) until I landed on Gentle Whispering (aka Maria) – a lovely young Russian girl’s channel. Here I found video role plays where Maria was a librarian (hushed sounds of books and a library) or a white witch (many bewitching hand movements flying through my screen) or a hairdresser, washing and cutting my hair, complete with sound effects.
You must always wear earphones to benefit from an ASMR video, hence the prevalence of whispering. As a hairdresser, Maria couldn’t be more accommodating (unlike my real hairdresser.) ‘Are you ok?’ She frequently whispers in my right and left ear. ‘Is the water too hot?’ (sound of shower head water drenching your head.) ‘Would you like a head massage too?’ (sound of Maria probably rubbing a fake dummy head of hair but, due to amazing microphone, it almost feels like she’s rubbing your head.) My real life hairdresser does none of this. I had to beg her to use a flimsy foam thing so I could lean back on the rock hard sink without breaking my neck. She’ll whack the shower head up to boiling point, until I finally crack and pluck up the courage to tell her it’s too hot. She puts her blow dryer onto ‘jet engine’ setting and practically blows my face off, whilst giving my ears third degree burns. My ASMRtists would never wield a hairdryer, unless it was on a low power and heat setting – even though they’re actually standing in a room on the other side of the world.
ASMR videos are almost guaranteed to send you to sleep (best listen at bedtime) which means you’ll usually wake up to find that you’ve nearly been strangled by your own earphones.
I started out with a healthy dose of scepticism towards these ridiculous videos. I mean, what was I doing, gradually becoming addicted to an assortment of attractive women (men do the ASMR thing too but somehow the male whispered voice isn’t quite as comforting, and can definitely give off a horror movie vibe) all offering to wash my hair, put my make up on, give me a massage, play crystal bowls designed to get my chakra flowing, rub fluffy towels, light candles etc etc. All these sounds are amplified by something called a binaural microphone (which has a couple of fake ears attached at each end), which gives you the sensation that you’re actually in the room with the person who made the recording. And the amplified sounds, directed straight into your ears, are supposed to trigger the tingling sensation.
I don’t listen to these videos for the tingling sensation. I listen because I find the gentle tones used by the women comforting and sleep inducing. I suppose an audio book would serve the same purpose but I’m assuming they don’t use other sound effects. I also think I know the secret to ASMR’s success. And successful it is, there being a whole ASMR community out there.
Most of these ASMRtists are nothing but a sort of digital surrogate mother. Fussing over you; making comforting mother-hen clucking noises; asking if you’re ok; did you have a bad day? Would you like a cup of tea? (in-your-ear sounds of tea being poured, spoons being stirred), are you feeling nice and cosy, now they’ve tucked you up in a big fluffy towel? – taking you back to the days when you were cooked for, picked up after, taken care of and maybe read a bedtime story – some ASMRtists have also added reading well known fairy tales, sotto voce, to their armoury of ASMR triggers.
It’s all about stressed out (and maybe lonely) adults wanting to relax to the sound of a caring human voice, and boy do the YouTube comments bear this out. How ASMR is helping people with their anxiety; their depression; their ability to sleep so they can face another crappy day.
I don’t listen because my life is crap, or that I need a surrogate anything, but the ASMR videos are like a little piece of quiet and calm in an overly loud and overly stressful world.
The best players in the ASMR game are: Gentle Whispering (based in the US), ASMRrequests (also US and probably my favourite) and WhispersRed (based outside London.) The fact that these young women are also stunning probably has a lot to do with their success, but that’s true in any field.
So, unlike Sue Perkins, let’s put thoughts of death behind us and instead don our earphones and listen to a pretty, motherly woman tapping on a few bottles, or giving our hair a good brush.
May the ASMR be with you (I whispered that bit.)