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 'Big Dream' - A Collision With a Serpent
‘I am taking a walk in a densely wooded area. Suddenly, I see a young boy aged 7 or 8 running in a densely wooded forest to my right. The young boy is followed by four Belgian Malinois dogs who playfully run after him. The young boy seems to be chasing after something but I am not quite sure what it is. I then see behind him, maybe 20 to 30 metres away, a man and woman whom I immediately recognise as his father and mother. They are barely able to keep up with him. They desperately call out to him, they too are completely unaware that he is chasing something. The young boy is very energetic. His parents call out his name beckoning him to slow down and stop. He ignores them and continues to chase something. I suddenly realise what the young boy is chasing. It is a snake, a deadly snake, flying randomly in zig zag movements within the densely packed forest. The snake flies randomly around the deep, green foliage and trees. It then dawns on me that the snake is headed in my direction. I am alarmed and immediately decide to get away as fast as I can. This is a deadly snake. I begin to run. I run as fast as I can but I can sense the snake is flying behind me in random movements. I run faster and faster but the speed of the flying snake is much faster than me. I can sense that the snake is getting closer to me. I run even faster but it is getting closer and closer. It is now right behind me. I can sense it. I begin to panic. The deadly flying snake is now right behind me getting closer and closer to me. Then everything changes. The snake slams into my back and collides with it. I stop. I am feeling shocked at the impact of the snake on my back. I look down and I see lots of little snakes slithering on the ground next to my feet. They are so small compared to me, they are not a threat at all. I look up and see a noticeably clear dirt path ahead of me’.
I will always remember this dream. I dreamed it in 2015 when I was in psychotherapy to address a childhood trauma which was affecting me in the form of a debilitating depression. For as long as I can remember, I have had vivid and quite alarming dreams of snakes, however, for the most part I did not take them seriously. If I had any thoughts about my frequent snake dreams, I would dismiss them as dark, disturbing, worrying and scary. However, on this one occasion, the dream gripped me, it caught my attention. I could not stop thinking about it. The content of the dream replayed in my mind over and over again. Perhaps one or two weeks before I had this dream, the psychotherapist treating me asked me a question, ‘Do you dream?’. I was actually pleasantly surprised to hear such a question. No one had ever asked me about my dreams and which I considered a bit innocuous yet at the same time it was refreshing to hear someone ask me about my inner life. I replied with intense curiosity at the therapist’s motivation for the question, I replied ‘Yes, I do’. The therapist then asked me to note any dreams and to bring them to our future sessions.
The psychotherapy sessions were a second attempt on my part to finally deal with a traumatic childhood memory and a debilitating depression which followed the break-up of a promising relationship. This time I was determined to get better and to overcome my stress, anxiety and frankly, distress. I faced a stark choice, an inner voice said to me ‘live or die’. No other choices. It wasn’t a literal choice of living or dying. It was a deep, existential choice, to find personal authenticity, purpose and meaning in my life or remain forever depressed, melancholic, unhappy, lost, dysfunctional and never achieve my true potential. The sessions were a combination of counselling, psychotherapy and Eye Movement Desensitization Therapy (EMDR).
I previously attempted psychotherapy, for the first time in my life, in 2013. It did not work out. I ended the process after a few sessions. My relationship with the psychotherapist activated a #transference which was more than I could handle. #Transference is an interesting psychological phenomena seen in therapy in which the client activates the dynamics of a previous relationship with a significant other into their relationship with the psychotherapist. However, I did get something out of the process which led to the unexpected transformation of my life. The therapist continually probed my childhood and family history which brought back long forgotten and repressed memories. Psychotherapy places great importance on the client’s personal history which suggests that therapeutic treatment begins with an exhaustive investigation of the client’s background. At the time, I was not working because I was off sick due to problems with some colleagues at my workplace which led to feelings of depression and anxiety, or so I thought.
Life felt meaningless and I could not understand why I felt that way. I was a successful management consultant, with a good income, middle class lifestyle in London, one of the greatest cities in the world, and lots of family and friends. None of this eased my feelings of depression and boredom. During one of the psychotherapy sessions, the therapist leaned over towards me and gave me a book ‘The Middle Passage: From Misery to Meaning in Mid-Life’ by James Hollis, a Jungian Analyst. The therapist suggested that I read it. I looked at the book slightly perplexed at their recommendation and wondered why on earth they thought the book might be of use to me. I had not read a book for years and I had no intention of doing so. I placed the book on the table next to me and continued to complain about my life to the therapist. I did not look at the book again until I was on the train heading back home.
The journey from the therapist’s practice in south-west London to my home in north London usually took an hour and a half. With nothing else to do to pass the time, I reluctantly opened the book. It was a late Friday afternoon. I read the book from start to finish over the entire weekend. I could barely put it down despite having not read a book for years. There was something about the content of the book which I found captivating and exciting. The author asked the following questions, ‘Why do so many go through so much disruption in their middle years?’ Why then? What does it mean and how can we survive it?’. The author presented an argument for change that was so compelling and yet so relevant to me - that to pass through midlife consciously, we render the second half of life all the richer and more meaningful. James Hollis’ book also introduced me to Carl Jung who up until that point I had never heard of, to the concepts and ideas of Jungian psychology and more importantly, to the idea of the #unconscious.
By the time I started my second bout of psychotherapy in 2015, I had read, through my own volition, several books by Jungian analysts and developed a bourgeoning yet informal interest in analytical psychology. Through reading about the unconscious, I developed a faint awareness that my ‘big dream’ was psychologically significant. It was clear to me that the young boy in the dream was me, ‘Nico’ as I was known as a child. The four Belgian Malinois dogs reminded me of our family dogs during my childhood who were very dear to me. The appearance of my parents was a little unnerving and paradoxical. My family was significantly wealthy for some time. I thought about my own family dynamics which are in stark contrast to the dream figures who appeared to be deeply concerned for the young boy.
As I reflected on the dream, I remember thinking how odd it was to see a snake with no apparent wings flying around in a dense forest. I also had this sinking feeling that the snake was deadly and venomous. I thought that I would surely die if it bit me. I have never felt so scared. I ran as fast as I could but I could not avoid the inevitable collision with the snake. The impact of the collision of the snake on my back had the feeling effect of an atomic bomb explosion. But I survived unscathed. The appearance of the tiny, little snakes on the ground seemed to greatly reduce the impending threat of death. I then felt a sense of hope as I saw the dirt path ahead of me. A clear line of sight ahead for about 20 to 30 metres. The dream which seemed so banal at the time led to a transformation of my life in ways in which I could not have possibly imagined. I went from misery to meaning in the second half of my life.