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Competition is an unconscious issue deriving from a belief that we project onto the world. 

"Wake up, John."

The ground beneath him is frigid and damp, yet he awakens under the scorching sun. His arm feels like it’s kissed flame. From the ignorant darkness to the blinding light, his eyes adjust, using his hands like a visor. There is nothing around him. He muffles to himself, “A desert?” Glancing about, his frustration crescendos, and he kicks up dust. The wavy horizon blurs the line between blue sky and cracked dirt. He notices a quiet vulture studying him. Flashes of memories flicker behind his eyes. He questions, “How did I get here?” A cocktail of emotions intoxicates, he falls to his knees, pounding the earth with eroded power. 

Wake up, John.” A mysterious feminine voice prompts. John’s head snaps like a whip from side to side. He searches for any indication of a person. Vultures yapping catches his eye; two are clashing, while one sits sinisterly, its black beady eyes following John’s every move. The inexplicable voice continues, “Oh, you’re already up…Well, this is awkward but not entirely unexpected. All of your life, you were a fighter, John. And it will be no different here.” John snaps, “What is this! Who are you?” His head sinks, and he mudders to himself, “Who am I? John? Is that even my name?” The voice cuts, “Now’s not the time for questions, John. Focus on surviving.” John interrupts, “Surviving?! What is this? Some kind of sick joke? You’ve seen too many movies.” He stammers and shouts, “This is my life!” 

There is no immediate response. John anticipates one, but all he hears is the yapping of two more vultures on his other side. He looks across from them, and now the three vultures sit in perfect silence, their black eyes shining in the smouldering sun. John paces back and forth; it’s a tantrum, but also understandable. He gazes up and pauses, wincing from the stinging brightness. The voice returns, “Are you done? Let me get this straight; if you continue to interrupt me, you will be left alone to your own devices. And I promise you, your chances of survival will be nonexistent.” 

John wipes his sweaty hair out of his face and affirms, “Yes. I’m done. Uh… Sorry.” The temperature is rising. The voice carries on, “Good. There are four other people with you. But there are only enough supplies for one. And you are the first one to wake up. Make use of your head start.” John has a silent outburst. He is trying his best not to insult the voice again. She concludes, “All you need to know is that there are provisions at the top of that mountain.” John’s gaze turns to the summit in the skyline. He responds, “The mountain? Four other people?” He winces like someone squirts lemon juice in his eyes. 

Only a Nagging Sun

He awaits further instructions, but it seems that she said everything she intended to. John removes his suit jacket and wraps it around his head like a turban. He begins trekking towards the faraway mountain, wandering from the yapping vultures. Time passes, John walks, the sun blazes and travels. Suddenly he sees something. It appears to be a river. Excitement simmers to the surface; now, he can afford to run. His feet are hammering into the cracked earth as he races to the river. He was exhausted before he even started running, spitting out the salty sweat that drips in his mouth. Something’s off—His optimism turns rancid. The dried-up riverbed is full of the glimmery skin of slithering snakes. He pants in disgust. John knows he needs to keep moving; the beating sun devours his sense of vigour. Bending forward with his hands on his knees, he digs deep, searching for a second wind.

Greater time passes, sweat stinging, steps smearing into one another. The sun migrates to an early afternoon position. He looks up for the first time in hours and sees he’s not too far from the mountain. The time-lapse of the sky shows not much difference at all—no clouds to drift, not even a blemish—only a nagging sun, reminding him how dehydrated he is. He hears people arguing and sprawls down, ducking behind a boulder. Three people are standing in a circle, all facing one another. There seems to be only one way up the mountain; an unnatural path etched through the rock. The three are bickering, having a heated debate in a sauna—The distance muffles their dialogue. John peaks his head from behind the boulder, witnessing the fourth person creeping in from the outskirts of the mountain. Without much choice, John reluctantly crawls closer. As he slinks towards them, their words become clearer.

Five Cups of Water

The boisterous voice of a man soars, “You must think, I’m pretty stupid!” Another voice, this one of a much younger man, reasons, “Listen, I don’t want any trouble. How can we even trust that woman? She’s just pitting us all against each other.” The third person remains quiet, and the fourth person sneaks nearer. The Boisterous Man shouts, “Enough of these riddles & fabrications! I’ve been told what I must do, and it’s simple as that.” The Boisterous Man looks over his brawny shoulder and basks in the sight of an arsenal of melee weapons. There are five morningstars, five swords, five battleaxes, five cups of water, and five sets of handcuffs. They obstruct the beginning of the mountain path. The Boisterous Man turns his back to The Young Man & the third person; he strolls over to the weapons. The Boisterous Man taunts, “Do you have a preferred way to die?” The Young Man argues, “She never said anything about killing, only that there were enough supplies for one person.” The Boisterous Man insists, “This is a fight for survival, and I’m not taking any chances. I let my guard down, and then you’re the one doing me in. I don’t think so. I’m two steps ahead of ye’.” John gets a better look at the third person; she’s a young woman. The Young Man and The Young Woman exchange glances like they’re at a funeral.

The Boisterous Man slides a sword from the rack, metal against metal screeches; he puffs his chest, sneering forward, growling, “Who’s first? The dingus?” He locks eyes with the unwilling younger man. The Boisterous man grumbles, “Or the dame?” The Young Woman’s eyes open wide; she retreats a few steps. “Hey! Stop it!” John hollers. Rocks slide down from his slight vantage point. He descends the slope, joining The Young Man & Woman—they are both startled and relieved. John’s eyes slip to track the fourth person without moving his head. 

The Boisterous Man guffaws, “Well, well, well, look who’s finally ready to play with the big boys.” John takes a moment to analyze the situation. He scans every available tool and determines, “Why don’t you have the water?” The Boisterous Man stumbles; John clarifies, “There are five cups of water; you take all five. No need to fight us for them. You’re a big guy, probably pretty thirsty. I know I am, and I’m about half your size.” John briefly surveys the three other people, especially the two beside him. He is mostly hoping that they won’t overreact or agitate The Boisterous Man. John settles, “Plus, you still have to climb the mountain, and that’ll make you plenty thirstier” The Boisterous Man snarls, “I was planning on drinking all of the water anyways!” 

"Now what?"

John stares down and sighs, “Okay, well, why not have it now then? If you plan on killing us, and taking the supplies at the top of the mountain, might as well quench your thirst before you even get started.” The Boisterous Man wonders for a moment, staring at John like someone who’s fooled him once before. The Boisterous Man switches the sword to his left hand, grabbing one of the cups, watching them as he brings it to his lips. Smirking, The Boisterous Man goads, “If only you had a pair…” He sips the water, swishing it around in his mouth before swallowing. He exhales smugly, tossing the steel cup into the mountainside; it clanks and clatters along the way down. 

The Young Man concernedly probes John, “Now what?” The Boisterous Man is preoccupied drinking up the remaining water. John explains, “We wait.” The Young Man’s forehead scrunches up, discrediting, “We wait?! Wait for what exactly? To be slain by this madman?” John peers forward, motionless, confident. His eyes fixed on The Boisterous Man. John persists, “We wait for him to die.” The Young Man & Woman stare at each other like they’re struggling to solve a puzzle. John continues, “I believe that water to be poisoned. Or at least it contains some type of sedative.” The Young Man questions, “What makes you think that?” John responds, “Because this whole thing is a game, meant to test the kind of person we are. They want us to fight for survival, to be panicked, and conflicted. The weapons are to test our competitiveness, and the water our greed. It was never meant for all five of us, just the survivor.” The Young Man solves, “So then that would mean that everybody dies.” John affirms, “Exactly. I don’t know what’s at the top of that mountain, but whatever it is, it’s unexpected.”       

Nutritious Thought

Rather than believing there’s a limitation of resources, focus on what it is that you want. The world is abundant for those willing to be generous and benevolent. However, the same world can be a cruel, unyielding place for the greedy and fearful. To climb the mountain, we must first lay down our sword, our pointed wit—This includes our sarcastic inferences that we hide behind. After relinquishing the hostile assumptions and opting to elevate our consciousness, we transcend these treacherous waters. 

Every plateau presents its unique challenge and vantage point above the lower levels. To thrive at the mountain’s top requires tremendous grit, discipline and a sense of purpose. And there’s no greater purpose than from knowing thyself.  

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