Symbol Paper - Rearing Cobra (Part 2/7)

Updated: Aug 19

This is a seven-part paper in the blog series 'What's it like to train as an Analyst? in which I explore the experience of training as a psychoanalyst from a personal perspective. Parts 1, 2 and 3 of Rearing Cobra are available as open access https://www.nicholastoko.com/blog. Parts 4, 5, 6 and 7 will be released to #JungianBitsofInformation members only. Register on the site to become a member and be first to read or listen to my latest blog or podcast.


The Beginning

I decided to train as a Jungian Analyst while onboard a British Airways flight from New Delhi to London in January 2016. I was returning home after spending several weeks on holiday in India. The decision came to me from nowhere, it was a complete surprise to me. It felt like a shock, maybe a flash of sudden insight, or an epiphany as I stared out of the aircraft window, sipping from a glass of champagne while reflecting on my experiences travelling around India.

Foresr Cobra
Cobra Species, Forest Cobra, Africa

For the first time in my life, I had treated myself to a ‘no expenses spared’ luxury trip to India which cost me a lot of money. I bought a round trip business class ticket because as an avid aviation enthusiast and a former trainee pilot, I simply wanted to enjoy life by experiencing business class in what was at the time, British Airways’ brand-new Boeing 787 Dreamliner - Boeing’s latest and most modern aircraft.


Despite the fact that I chose to travel in luxury throughout my trip, my physical appearance at the end almost betrayed the fact that I had stayed in significant comfort throughout my time in India. I looked like I had been ‘dragged through the bushes’, to use an idiom. Mark Twain, an American writer, said ‘The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why’. It was on this flight returning to the UK that I suddenly felt a deep sense of purpose - I knew exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I wanted to be a Jungian Analyst.


My life up until this point despite plenty of outward success was devoid of meaning. I was also recovering from a debilitating depression. Now, seven years later, with over 220 hours of personal analysis, having completed an MA in Jungian and post-Jungian Studies from the University of Essex, and created a blog and podcast called #JungianBitsofInformation in which I explore the unconscious in the workplace, I have achieved my ultimate objective to train as a Jungian Analyst.


So what exactly happened in India that gave me this awareness that I wanted to be a Jungian Analyst? Well, it was a series of unexpected and symbolic experiences including an encounter with a rearing Cobra on a street in Jaipur which led to my sudden realisation, and a transformation of my personality. The symbolic experiences set me off on a changed life course that I did not expect or even consciously plan for.


For as long as I can remember, I have had plentiful dreams of snakes, I have imagined Cobras in my waking fantasies and even encountered snakes in real life. When I found out that it is a requirement of Jungian training candidacy to write a Symbol Paper, I knew straight away that my Symbol is a Rearing Cobra.


The approach I have taken to my Symbol Paper is multi-layered. On the one hand, I have written my symbol paper to test my hypothesis that my experiences in India were ‘symbolic’ activated through a direct encounter with a rearing Cobra and on the other hand, I have researched the symbolism of the serpent to broaden my knowledge and to find out new information.


My encounter with a rearing Cobra in Jaipur, India

Encounter with a Rearing Cobra
Author's encounter with a Rearing Cobra in Jaipur, India, 2016.

My paper follows ISAPZurich’s Symbol Paper guidelines - First of all, the purpose of the Symbol Paper is to demonstrate an ability to understand an image or motif on the symbolic level and to distinguish between concrete and symbolic levels. Secondly, to show an understanding of the methods of association, amplification (archetypal and cultural aspects) and interpretation. Then illustrate psychologically, with personal real-life examples, how my chosen symbol furthered my own consciousness and transcended the rational. Viewed psychologically, symbols further consciousness and transcend the rational. The paper should illustrate this with examples.


The Symbol Paper is an important part of the training as an analyst. It is an opportunity for the training candidate to demonstrate their understanding of the #unconscious from a theoretical and personal perspective. The #unconscious is a term used in the field of psychoanalysis or depth psychology which describes mental contents which are inaccessible to the ego and to delimit a psychic place with its own character, laws and functions (Samuels et al, A Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis, 2013). It is part of our personality which is hidden from our own and others' conscious view. The psyche has a basic structure which is partly conscious and unconscious. In the conscious part, lies the #ego, the part of us that we consider our personal identity or personality. The ego is aware of both outer and inner reality or our outer and inner worlds, it is cognitively aware and has a role to play in maintaining our personality. From a psychological perspective, the ego is the centre of consciousness, however, it is situated within a much bigger personality, the #psyche, which is the sum total of consciousness and unconscious. The ego's size in relation to the psyche is limited and incomplete. The whole personality is referred to as the #Self, an ordering principle of the entire personality. I describe the psyche in more detail in the web page 'What is Jungian Psychology?' https://www.nicholastoko.com/what-is-jungian-psychology


#JungianAnalysis is a psychotherapeutic approach which aims to restore an individual's ego relationship to their entire personality or Self. The analyst uses different techniques to help an individual access their unconscious for therapeutic reasons. The unconscious is a psychological concept and its contents are also psychological. The contents of the unconscious is inaccessible, however, it can manifest in ego consciousness as images, symbols, dreams and fantasies. These may be seen as the language of the unconscious - examples of which include art, myths, religion and culture. The language of the unconscious uses metaphor to communicate its otherwise inaccessible contents to ego consciousness. The ego has to adopt metaphorical thinking to interpret the contents of the unconscious. Metaphor is a conscious device often used by artists to express the subtleties of mystery or as an aid to express the inexpressible. Myth, ritual and religion often use metaphor to communicate an inexpressible message. Ego consciousness also uses metaphor to interpret the unconscious. A way of thinking explored in a recent blog 'Two Kinds of Thinking' https://www.nicholastoko.com/post/two-kinds-of-thinking


I have also taken this opportunity to research the symbolism of the Cobra from an African perspective. As a person of African descent and heritage, I am keen to find out more about the symbolism of the Cobra in African traditions, myths and culture and to explore it from the lens of Analytical Psychology.


India was a life-altering experience for me. I became acutely aware of the unconscious, and with this new awareness and greater understanding of the psyche, I developed a new attitude which fostered psychological growth in my inner world. And to my surprise, I discovered purpose and meaning in my outer world. It began with a ‘big’ dream.


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