Needle in a Haystack

I was quite enamoured of the life of the intellect once. Now more than a decade since departing the halls of academia, a small part of me thrives still in the world of study and ideas, a not quite articulated longing for the quiet, neatly stacked shelves of empty libraries, and their books of carefully reasoned arguments with clear, cleanly structured writing.


Like all idle wishes, this one for me at least needs only a small drop of the real life experiences' cold water to be shattered forever, and thankfully so. My years at University were the worst years of my life. Despite a reasonably effortless success in the world of reason and the intellect, I was miserable almost beyond description, and the further I followed what I would now call the path of the mind, the more so I became.

I became a student of Sri Chinmoy part of the way through my final year of study. Although keenly aware that the mental anguish and arid dryness of my student life was the complete antithesis of my blossoming spiritual life, I resolved to see out my degree, which had only a handful of months left to run.

A major in Theatre and Film and about to complete a Bachelor of Arts, I suddenly quit Film Analysis (FILM 331) as a concession to maintaining my sanity, a move which more than puzzled my lecturer. From their point of view it was more than unexpected—it made absolutely no sense! A single semester from completing my course of study, FILM 331 was its' cornerstone and the most important paper of my major subject. It was also the prerequisite jumping board for post-graduate study—in which my enrolment was definitely expected.

There is however a difference between renouncing the life of the intellect and the descent towards drooling idiocy. In changing my papers I was clever as well as spiritually wise—while the completion of FILM 331 was considered to be an essential proof of ones' ability to undertake future post-graduate study, it was still possible to complete all the requirements for a degree without it. And as you may have guessed already, further academic study was the last thing on my mind!


And so I stoically continued to completion, blessedly without the absurdly over-refined faux-intellectualism of film deconstruction, the obtuse language of cinematic semiotics, and the analysis of narrative in the context of the post-modern discourse. If your head hurts now, imagine how much mine did at the time...

My alternative was a zombie like sleepwalk through "Melodrama", a subject that when passed under the more candlelight-than-sunlight illumination of the intellect was anything but! I guess it was worth it—gaining my Bachelor of Arts seemed at the time the prudent thing to do, and it was only a single semester of torture to swallow breakfast, lunch and dinner. As a small respite I got to study Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. Reading literature and history from pre-Civil War America was a comparative luxury.

"The Needle in the Haystack" was an essay written in this final period of my academic life, the period which overlapped with the blossoming of a newly discovered spiritual life. Deliberately contrary and delightfully off the point, it was my not completely silent protest against the institution of intellectualism that my body was still trapped within. It was a direct critique not of the actual object of my study—film or one its' genres—but study itself, and the goals, beliefs and assumptions of intellectualism, and the self and world view that inform it.

Argued over the length of several pages, neither too long nor too short as predicated by the strict guidelines of my course of study, the essay itself made a point very short and simple.

A needle exists in a haystack. Any haystack, for the pile of dried grass is purely figurative. Before one begins to search for the needle, which in this case is analogous to academic inquiry, the question is begged, is the needle worth finding?

Like searching for a needle in a haystack, the intellectual path to the truth is tedious, blind and mostly uncertain. And should you find your needle, your sliver of truth, it is almost always relative, indeterminate and open to debate.

Real truth is intuitive. Guessed without due consideration argues the intellectual mind; known *beyond* reason or doubt replies the spiritual heart.

Alone on this track among my classmates, and probably the entire history of the Department as well, it was an argument completely from left-field. It secured a mark somewhere above pass but slightly below excellence, and to say the very least my lecturer was confused by the unusual direction and difficult to fathom intention of my reasoning.

I was momentarily set back by this luke-warm reception, but not really surprised. I had secretly hoped that it might be possible to argue spirituality upon the terms set forth by the intellect, but in the end the bridge between the head and the heart was a bridge too far.

I finished the final months of my degree in the manner of a prisoner serving his time, true freedom almost at hand...