Elusive Purpose – the Two Snake Dream and Poem

A little over a year and a half ago, I was consumed by finding and identifying my purpose and being able to articulate it. It was a life-and-death struggle.

At the time, I was slowly recovering from very serious burnout. I was in the final throes of my MBA program, I had moved from China to Thailand, and the work I was doing stopped being meaningful. I was struggling to connect with others and had been having serious bouts of recurring depression. 

Though it wasn’t clear to me at the time, I was really stuck and trapped.

This became a season of intense searching for meaning, connection, and finding a sustainable way forward. Thinking about my purpose was really hard and depressing, yet I felt that if I could find and articulate a clear purpose, I would be able to come out of the hole I was in– and thrive once more.

One night during this time, I woke up with a vivid dream – a nightmare, actually.

In the dream, I don’t recall where I was – only that I was high up on a narrow passageway in a building above the trees. On the left was a wall, and on the right was a hand railing– keeping us safely on the passageway.

I had a snake stick in my hand and was leading a few people toward a doorway. As we neared the doorway, I came upon a big Gaboon Viper – a short, fat, slow-moving snake that with its long fangs, is extremely dangerous.

With practiced skill, I picked the snake up by the tail and used my stick to toss the snake off the passageway into the trees.

I then became keenly aware that just a few paces ahead of me, under the doormat of the door that we were on our way to, hid a Green Mamba- a quick, deadly, and highly poisonous snake. (When I was young I had several friends who lost their pet dogs to a Green Mamba bite – I knew the deadly effects of the fast Green Mamba strike).

I was unsure of how to safely proceed. I was fearful of going close to the doormat, even though it stood in the way of the door that I had come on this journey to go through. The risk of making a wrong move was too great.

I had come a long way up to come through this door, and the only way through was to deal with the Green Mamba – the journey had been too long, and the passageway was too narrow, and the expectation of the people I was leading was too great – there was no way around the snake under the doormat.

At this stage in the dream I awoke – not out of a fear of snakes, but out of being immobilized by fear on how to proceed– I didn’t know the solution to my predicament or what it meant. I read up on the Internet about snakes in dreams, but nothing seemed to click and I didn’t find anything insightful.

I talked about the dream a lot over the next couple of weeks with my wife, and I was puzzled – I couldn’t make sense of it. I wasn’t even sure it had a meaning at all – but it remained vividly in my mind and wouldn’t go away.

During a leadership lecture shortly afterward, I asked my professor Kurt April to describe what it feels like to find your purpose – how does it look and feel? How do we know when we’ve found our purpose? His response was indirect yet very insightful.

He mentioned that sometimes when we find our purpose it can be so strong that it takes control of us. The battle is no longer about working toward purpose but about how to balance our lives and health as our purpose drives us along with great force. I stewed and pondered on it for a couple of days, still quite puzzled.

A few days later, I prepared to write a poem for our leadership class poetry breakfast. I saved it for the night before breakfast as I didn’t know what I was going to write about. As I began to write about my snake dream, a clear and powerful meaning of the dream materialized and an interpretation of the two-snake dream emerged.

The poem only took about 15 minutes to write – it was as though the content and connections were there, and just needed to be written down.

So what does the Two-Snake Dream mean?

As I approached the door in my dream, I found what I was looking for – my purpose was behind the door – I just needed to go through the door. 

It wasn’t that simple, because even though I had found where my purpose was, there were two threatening snakes that blocked me from transitioning through the door. 

There was a big fat snake in the way that was clearly visible, and I was able to easily deal with it – I had the tools and skills to handle it, but the Mamba still stood in the way, hiding menacingly, lurking in the shadows. The only way to deal with the Mamba was by grabbing it by the tail, being fully committed, and conquering the paralyzing fears that held me back – that was the only way to get me and my little group through that door.

The dream and poem were powerful metaphors of the point I was in on my purpose journey. My purpose was behind the door guarded by the Green Mamba and could only be discovered and embraced by dealing with the snake. As I stood with purpose pulling at me – right in front of me within my grasp – I was paralyzed with fear.

As I chose to spend more time leaning into this fearful space, I began to see what I was afraid of (and still afraid of) – and many of these fears are fears that I had never been aware of before – the fear of failing, the fear of discomfort, the fear of being rejected and the fear of feeling alone. It turns out that there was a lot hanging on whether I made it through the door or not.

The door to our purpose wouldn’t have much meaning if it wasn’t guarded by our deepest fears. Our purpose wouldn’t have much power if we didn’t have to journey and conquer ourselves to find it, and then live it…