Super 8 and the Compulsive Explainer.

When I wrote in A New Renaissance and the Transcendental, that:

“The stories we are starting to tell ourselves in the media, music, film, online, are slowly shifting in focus. While these stories remain gems in the rough, they are nevertheless growing and weaving a re-focused lens on inner-truth, and wittingly or unwittingly shine with a touch, or sometimes even a self-aware ray, of the Ineffable. It can easily be missed, disguised more often than not in the full-spectrum of life and expression that we currently live in, but easy to catch by those who have found themselves of late trying to scratch the same internal, cosmic itch. For Art, and its role as our collective mirror, ultimately survives through meaning. By which I mean that meaning must ultimately come from within us.”

For me Super 8 exemplifies this so well. With its obvious homage to 80s’ film making, it is a bit the E.T for this generation. It manages to capture the wonder and innocence through the eyes of its brilliant and authentic young cast, the look and feel, and a particular unfolding of story that we kind of left behind in that decade, but is nonetheless enduringly familiar. Well, to those of us old enough I guess! Yet, along with the wonderful nostalgia, it’s still the ‘self-knowing’ creative product of our current times.

There are two things that I want to point out. Firstly, that it’s a lovely and simple modern reflection on basic goodness. Central to the story is the genuine realisation that bad things happen. As if from the heart of this realisation, basic goodness shines radiantly and palpably throughout the film. It’s bigger than the personal dramas that each character endures throughout the wild events of the story. It sustains them, and resolves the conflicts that are set up in the story without turning to custard, maintaining the touch of authenticity. That basic goodness is a universal principle, and is at work throughout the film, highlighted by the fact that it can also be felt and understood by the extraordinary, imaginatively realised alien being. Which is the second thing I wish to highlight because the alien character is such an interesting reflection on our relationship to the experience of physicality and matter. It’s a ‘subterranean’ intelligence, a sentience far more animal-like than us, so in some sense it does not seem to posses a complex mind in the way we do. Nothing really new there, of course. But, it has a phenomenally evolved mastery and command of matter that is so utterly foreign and beyond our comprehension. It’s so wondrous you can’t help but get caught up in the sheer awe of it along with the awestruck characters.

So what is it pointing to? It seems as if the alien can do what it does due to the incomprehensibly different way in which it experiences matter and the physical universe. Its ‘technology’ is a direct manifestation and consequence of its unique experience of being!

This reminds me of something I remember reading recently, an excerpt from an article in Scientific American. I have no access to the article in full, but a detailed exploration of it can be found here. The gist of it says that the accelerating universe will leave no trace or reference to its history. To some distant future generation there will be nothing to see of the Big Bang, all trace of it will have been wiped out. Which also begs the question, what have we already missed?

The Big Bang era of the universe, presented as...

“More important, although we are certainly fortunate to live at a time when the observational pillars of the big bang are all detectable, we can easily envisage that other fundamental aspects of the universe are unobservable today. What have we already lost? Rather than being self-satisfied, we should feel humble. Perhaps someday we will find that our current careful and apparently complete understanding of the universe is seriously wanting.”

Science, with all its outward searching and examination of nature, will have to remember one day that the outer journey has been the inner journey all along. What is outer knowledge, ultimately, without a direct inner knowing of the nature of our being and experience?

I could write pages on the renewed importance and revival of meaning in our external life, as the expression and mirror of our individual and collective inner-life. For now, I’ll just say that we can easily see, if we care to look, what our current systems and priorities do to meaning and our ability to recognise it.

But actually, here I want to point people towards The Compulsive Explainer, who is one very sharp stick! I think he’s a very unique modern contemplative, who’s inquiry pulls no punches and makes no apologies. If you’ve come to this blog, chances are you’re into reading spiritual stuff. You may note how much of it can come bubble-wrapped in positivity, as if that is the only legitimate form that spiritual writing can take. Actually, I find much of the time it’s a bit of an indulgence that perpetuates a certain lack of depth. Inner opening really comes from feeling the truth of things. While The Compulsive Explainer would probably not describe what he writes as spiritual at all, reading his posts often comes with a breath of truth that speaks to the soul and leaves you in a contemplative space of opening. Or laughing out loud while at the same comprehending the dire consequences of our collective lack of awareness he’s pointing to!

For example, I will start you off here with this one: Social and Anti-Social

Then, this one: Negative Existence

Finally, this one: Inside and Outside which is a far more elegant exposition of the same themes I wrote about at the end of The Person and its Awakening, and Evolution and the Bodhisattva.

Be sure to read more, and check out some of the things he has to point out about poetry, Emerson, and ‘mass-man’.

Stories are to our Mind what Mind is to our Higher Self. By the way, if Higher Self is an expression that invokes in your mind some philosophical or doctrinal objections, then read it again, you’ve missed the point. Life, because we experience it happening, is our story. Though people are generally way too caught up in the dramas to really stop and take notice, Now. It takes moments of wonder, or being swept up by a circumstance bigger than ourselves, happening to us or around us, to open up the window through which it can be truly felt within us. And even then it doesn’t last. Much of our activity is bent towards trying to recreate this type of experience, but the hype leaves us secretly empty. In that sense the inner-work is the greatest adventure, for it works at revealing a hidden authentic nature within, Omnipresent, that gives the story its deepest meaning, and opens us up to the Presence of wonder, always.




Postscript: At the risk of losing what little credibility I have as a blogger of these types of ‘serious’ issues I really have to recommend Bridesmaids too! If you haven’t seen it, don’t be put off by the cliché chick-flick sounding name. Nothing terribly profound to explore here, just that Kristen Wiig is fricken hilariously funny. And that the film is another great example of the continuing revival of meaning and authenticity in the general climate of our story telling. In fact it demonstrates quite well something that The Compulsive Explainer points out in Social and Antisocial:“Or, what is most likely, you are not thinking at all, but reacting impulsively, moment by moment. Watching carefully, of course, to see how other people are reacting.” It’s not always that a movie has to be good, and it’s not always that a movie has to conform to our personal tastes, in order for it to show something deeper going on.


About ashok z

Currently living in Shanghai, freelancing both as a model and journalist. Committed student, instructor, and practitioner of Meditation over the past 16 years. Patron of inner-life, casually alarmed observer of global trends, and seriously irreverent. Or is that irreverently serious? Either way, one inevitably to follow the other.


  1. GarthS

    Just a general comment.

    Loving your articles Ashok, keep ’em coming, and I’m really enjoying your modern interpretation of Buddhism through the kaleidoscope of your other practices.

    • Thanks Garth!

      Buddhism at its core is an experiential path. A lot of the impulse behind wanting to write off aspects of its teaching as ‘superstition’ isn’t from experiential understanding at all, no matter how much ‘meditation’ its rationalising proponents have done. The minds attachment to rationality as the ultimate tool for validity and understanding is erasing our inner-life, even among ‘spiritual’ movements. The experience of Being and the infinity of forms that arise in it, is just so monumentally, inconceivably, bigger and more real than the ordinary rational mind could ever begin to imagine in its wildest dreams.

      Does that mean I’m anti-rational? Well, obviously not! It’s a tool, a fantastic tool that has become highly developed. But it’s a tool all the same, not the container of our life, being, and understanding.

  2. Thanks for the post! Can’t wait to see the movie. Your description reminds me of some personals ads I posted several years ago…titled, “Alien Seeking God.” :-D

    • Haha :D And did you get any interesting replies? This alien did have god-like qualities but I can’t say that it was more ‘enlightened’ than us. It was still very primitive, and communicated non-verbally. But this just adds to the demonstration. We can intelligently map out the material universe as it appears to our sensory nature and our mental life in its current condition. But as the movie suggests so well, it’s quite possible to ‘understand’ nature in a radically different way, that is far more contingent on the nature of being, and our experience of it.

      Hope you enjoy the movie, it’s a lot of fun :)

  3. Super 8 was a pretty good film, and your analysis is spot on.

    If you are interested in finding deeper meaning and symbolism in movies and entertainment, I recommend the work done by Steve Willner, who puts out fabulous explorations on this theme under the name “soundlessdawn” on YouTube.

    Keep the brilliance coming, Ashok!

    Peace! ~ Ben

    • Thanks Ben, I’ll check it out for sure!
      Yeah, there is something always in the stories we like to tell ourselves. A lot of the time it’s not entirely conscious on the part of the creators, either, which is really fascinating! It speaks of a wider consciousness that expresses through the lens of our mental life, leaving its traces for us to reflect on. Tres cool :)

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