I used to think ambient music was mostly good as music for studying, falling asleep, making out, or coming down off of drugs.* I listened to some, especially Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Vol. 2 (which is disturbing enough to be a problematic soundtrack to studying, falling asleep, making out, or coming down off of drugs).
When I had a child, I all of a sudden needed ambient music in my life in a way I hadn't before. I needed quiet. I needed prettiness. I needed to not think, to shut out stimulus. I've come to appreciate the power of quiet.
I've gotten into Zen Buddhism and the idea of using meditation and quiet as an antidote to and a way to better understand our noisy lives. I won't go into a long spiritual/religious discourse here, but I think the little bit of meditation I've done over the past year and the extensive reading on Buddhism and Zen Buddhism especially I've done over the past four years has made a noticeable difference in my life. I try to sit every day but usually for ten minutes and never longer than fifteen. Still, I come to crave that time in the same way you come to crave exercise if you get into the practice of it. I crave that quiet.
I started meditating in earnest when I was going through a stressful period in life. Some challenges at work taking up a lot of my time and energy, and on top of that I had a one-year-old who was radically altering how I lived my life, related to the world, and saw myself. I'd come home with so much spinning through my head that the only cure for it I could find was to sit quietly for a few minutes trying (unsuccessfully) to not think of anything.
Our world is so noisy. We are constantly taking information in. We rarely get a chance to reflect on what is real and true and what is just sound and fury. Meditating, for me, is a way to shut out all the noise and stop seeing myself through a filter of whatever bullshit has piled on that day/week/year/lifetime. It's a chance to experience life as it is for just a few minutes, without the constant stimulus.
In the same way, ambient music is sometimes a necessary salve for a chaotic and noisy life. I have several ambient albums that I listen to that provide some peace and solace and space to think. Where as a young person I'd listen to ambient to relax and chill out, as it were, in my middle age I'm listening to it to not think.
*Not that I know from experience, never having been one for any drug other than alcohol and coffee, but the proliferation of ambient "chillout" music coincided with the increased usage of ecstasy, cocaine, and other mind-altering substances in 90s electronic music culture.
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