The Five Hindrances

It is dark here, in the recesses of my mind.
A cold dampness leaches out of the corners
And turns my bones to brittle ice.
The fog pulsates with my breath, but forever obscures my vision.
Time has slipped away, as I helplessly try to navigate the trenches muddled by uncertainty.
There is no gravity, only suspended confusion.
My ears ache with the steady grumblings of the dragons that lurk here.
They are camouflaged in the murky air of this valley, I scramble away from the roars
But they seem to come from all directions.   

I begin to run.
Have I been running forever?
In these endless circles,
That make up the swirling neurons of my being?

Something grabs my ankles, sinking into my skin and drawing blood—
I tumble to my knees.
I am jolted out of panic and into a sudden awareness of my existence.
My hands sink into the mud, soft and suckling—
Reeking of decay and age and seeking new flesh to curdle into sludge.

My face hovers millimeters from the ground.
I can make out the blurry outlines of the rock and vine-smothered terrain that has pulled me to the Earth.
I breathe deep,
Filling my lungs with thick, heavy air; the sickening product of dragon’s breath.
My body works hard to leach oxygen from this toxic inhale, dizzy with effort.
I begin to crawl.

Desperation is the determined fuel.
Not yet submissive to this wretched territory, I move slowly, yet I move.
My hands grasp in front of me, and hit something cold and solid,
So unlike the hot pit of earth I slide through.
I squint through the fog and use both hands to feel this rising platform.
I tear at the vines that encase it, making my way to the smooth granite beneath.
I pull myself up onto the step, only to discover another.

I climb, my terror softened with courage stoked by curiosity.
I drag one foot after the other, step by step, up this rugged landscape.
The dragons roar in opposition.
I can see their shadows.
Poised on the sheer mountainside,
Anticipating my fall.
They jab at me with their weapons of choice.

My legs begin to waiver, my body refusing this steep terrain.
My eyes blur, and I crumble to a seat.
My muscles have morphed to concrete, my blood to iron.
I have climbed as far from the valley as I will ever climb.

Then I notice the mist begins to thicken.
It moves, it swells.
It slithers between the trees, crawling up into their leaves and weighing down their branches—
Until they splinter.
I smell the faint fetid stink of dragon scales,
Weakly I try to rise, sluggish and numb.
I have sat too long.
I blink rapidly as the sound of the dragon’s rumbling grows louder.
I shake my head fiercely back and forth, giving full effort to stretch my fingers and toes—
To break the gargoyle glue that hardened my limbs.
Like a crack of thunder,
I awaken.
I stand, shaking.
I step forward.  

Each step seems to last a thousand years.
The minutes move slowly, each tick drawn out an eternity.
And I begin to worry that I will never reach the top of this mountain.
I will forever be climbing alone, up a staircase with no destination,
Chased by dragons.
My heartbeat falls into double time, a deep drum deafening my ears.
My breath is quick and shallow as I begin to envision a life of infinite stairs.

I am clouded with desire to release my aching and bleeding hands from this hard granite.
To relieve my shaking muscles of this burden and let myself fall from the perilous climb into oblivion.
I loosen my grip, and in readying myself to surrender to this tender, incessant urge I suck in a breath of air…
And I realize it is fresh.
It delightfully stuns my lungs with cool, clean intensity.
As I make my way up this ancient, crumbling staircase, the fog has begun to thin.
Small wisps curl weakly around my feet, dissipating into the depths.
I am lighter, no longer a victim to the smothering weight of the mist.
I regain my hold, and step forward.

As I trudge endlessly,
My stomach begins to burn in angry knots at whoever shoved me into this foul valley.
A spark fueled by attention, I curse this faceless silhouette.
I am consumed with this fire, and my eyes are clouded with the smoke.
Heat rises from my pores, a dragon inferno.
Unable to see clearly, I trip.
Dangling over the edge I cling to the rocks that lend their gravity.
And here, I feel on my skin the soft warming of the sun that peaks over the edge of the ravine.
Overcoming the shadows of the valley the sun fills my heart with light
And I realize I do not need this fire of aversion to keep me warm.
I let it go, and step forward.

I can feel the slope of the mountain giving way to its natural curve.
I know the end must be near.
But my body is weak, my mind overwhelmed with doubt that I have the strength to complete this climb.
I am lost, I am weak, I am selfish, I am unloved.
I chant “I can’t” to my wheezing breaths.
My pace slows, my grip on the stones falters.
I can see clearly now, past the valley, to the steep mountains that line the horizon.
Intuition convinces me they have been climbed before.
I move with momentum gained from past battles.
I move without the suffocation of the valley haze, or the burden of vexation.
I move with gratitude for clean air and light, for my muscles to carry me this far.

I find that I am running, and I pull myself over the final step, collapsing onto the summit.
In the distance, the dragons whine and moan, distant echoes that no longer instill fear,
But encouragement.
I am alive.
I am happy.
I am free.

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