Brain Food #762
Pushing our own limits
Thoughts of the day
The feeling of awe is closely linked to our experience of the sublime - something that is bigger and more powerful than us, leading to a combination of fear and admiration, a belittling and bewildering effect that strangely makes us feel more alive.
Over time, the definition began to let go of the requirement for a feeling of fear to be present, but it still gently holds onto what lies just beyond our understanding. Kant said the sublime is limitless, and so by learning how to be open to experiencing awe perhaps we also push our own limits.
Dacher Keltner is a researcher that has been studying awe for decades, and describes it as a moral, spiritual, and aesthetic emotion. Keltner has also identified a number of ways through which we can experience awe, and for the next few days, I will be sharing one of them per post.
One way to experience awe is through witnessing and admiring the beauty, courage, and talent of others. These can be public figures that are changing the course of history, talented performers or sportspeople, or simply other ‘ordinary’ people, who might actually be quite extraordinary, even if we often fail to acknowledge it. Slowly, we might begin to notice the vastness of human potential and the human spirit.
Interestingly, what we admire in others might also be a form of positive projection, pointing at strengths that are lying dormant or unexplored within ourselves. Think of the people you admire and what qualities you admire in them, and consider how you might find these same qualities within you.
Johannes Vermeer was the painter of the everyday. Even in the simplest of domestic scenes, he found something to admire in anonymous heroes, like his Woman Holding a Balance, painted in 1664.
Taking the time to look at the painting, even in its smaller, digital format, we begin to identify a combination of delicate skill, focus, and gentle patience in the woman, portrayed so beautifully through the hand of the artist, that might give rise to a dual sense of awe within us, both in our observation of the subject and the object.
Thank you for reading today’s Brain Food. Brain Food is a short daily newsletter that aims to make you think every day, without taking up too much of your time. If you know someone who would like it, why not forward it to them? And if you have just come across Brain Food, you can subscribe to it below:
For longer thoughts and Brain Food highlights from the archives, visit Medium.