On June 5th, 2022, we lost Mary Jo Heyen, a beloved founding member of the Natural Dreamwork community, and my dream guide for over four years. I have spent the past months reflecting on what made my relationship with Mary Jo unlike any other. This writing gathers that reflection into words as an offering of appreciation for Mary Jo herself. This reflection helps me continue to absorb Mary Jo’s love and attention to my dreams. This reflection is also alive with hope. I hope I can honor what Mary Jo gave me, especially by bringing care and attention to my clients’ dreams and to my relationships with those in the Natural Dreamwork community. Most of all, I hope the rest of my life is one of deepening reverence for dreams.
I met with Mary Jo Heyen for my first Natural Dreamwork session in January 2018. I knew instantly that she was a wise woman to whom I could entrust my dreams. From then on, I met with her regularly every two weeks until mid-May, 2022. The years flew by, lived within a bi-weekly rhythm of stepping together into the flow of dreamtime, which felt all-at-once newly alive and immediate, mercurial and changing, ancient and eternal. As the world quagmired in political insanity and pandemic, the spiritual practice of entering dreams with Mary Jo as my guide was absolutely essential. I didn’t feel the need to explain why (to myself or anyone else). I simply knew I needed to show up – both for my dreams and for Mary Jo. And so I did.
For four and half years, I emailed her narratives of every single one of my dreams and we entered one, two, or three each session. That means that, over our time together, she read around a thousand of my dreams, and we gave deep attention to around two hundred.
Our final session was only a few short weeks before she died. In that session, Mary Jo was as vital and engaged with my dreams as ever. Her reverence for dreams was palpable, her eyes even tearing up, her voice catching as we entered one more dream together. When the session came to its end, we scheduled our next session two weeks out, as we always did. Meeting with Mary Jo biweekly was such an essential part of life that I already had our sessions penciled in my calendar several months in advance.
During our years together, I never seriously entertained the idea of discontinuing our work. Yes, there were times I felt the strain of committing precious time and financial resources in order to work long-term with a dreamwork practitioner. And sure, there were plenty of frustratingly painful sessions. Repeatedly, Mary Jo asked me to look, without berating myself, at yet another dream’s “ego-pinching” revelation of how I live conditioned, isolated, numb, detached from soul’s desire.
These were the times my mind raged, “Why keep doing this? Subjecting my wounded self to such scrutiny?” But those urges to flee were fleeting, because the dream medicine was consistently, organically, and mysteriously given. I doubted myself and my stamina. But my trust in the dreams and in Mary Jo continued to deepen.
After her recurrence of cancer, losing her suddenly was a real jolt that left me feeling disoriented and unmoored. In my attempts to tell people in my life about the impact of this loss, I found myself saying things like, “I never met her in person. But over Skype, she met me in Soul in every session.” I also told people, “Because she knew me through my dreams, she knew me like no one else ever has.”
These ways of describing my connection to her feel deeply true and from the heart. As I haltingly described our work aloud to myself and others, after years of quietly showing up for it, I felt pangs of regret. I wished I had more fully known these truths while she was alive. Losing Mary Jo made me more fully appreciate the depth of care and attention required of a Natural dreamwork practitioner and abundantly given by Mary Jo, who witnessed every single one of my dreams with reverence – from the poop smeared ones to the ones with the Beloved’s embrace.
In my first initial grief after losing Mary Jo, I sank into the conditioned numb place I tend to go when in pain. But soon I shifted toward gratitude and praise. In the words of Martin Prechtel, from his book The Smell of Rain on Dust, “Grief is praise, because it is the natural way love honors what it misses.” Many times, Mary Jo helped me deepen into sacred encounters in my dreams in which love honored what it misses and longs for. In these moments, Mary Jo taught me that love is alive even as we feel profound loss. Mary Jo taught me that this soulful capacity for love has always been in me, in each of us, in every moment, and even in our roughest, most conflicted relationships impaired by a long history of hindered struggles to connect.
In this reflective place of praise and gratitude, I have come to see that the relationship of dreamer and Natural Dreamwork practitioner is unlike any other healing relationship. Over my adult life, I have sought help from therapists, teachers, spiritual directors, and professional mentors. These relationships have been life-changing. Without these relationships, I wouldn’t have gotten through my rockiest struggles, or learned needed skills and self-care practices that deepened my work as a trauma-focused expressive arts therapist.
But each of these relationships focused on navigating the challenges of waking life. It is only with Mary Jo that I had a long-term relationship focused entirely on entering primary imagination. And, most importantly, we entered imagination’s realm for imagination’s sake, for Soul’s sake. We didn’t use dreams to mine the imagination for personal gain, self-improvement, or waking-life success. We went there instead to witness imagination healing the soul through imagination.
The dream field is shared, and exists beyond the bounds of small-self. Mary Jo had a deep relationship with her own dreams as well as with many people’s dreams. Therefore, when we entered my dreams, we stepped into a living field that was both uniquely revelatory of my own wounds and impairments, and yet at the same time a field of universal love, belonging, and healing. Mary Jo knew this and helped me learn this. Only with Mary Jo have I explored such a realm, taken such a journey into such mystery.
The Natural Dreamwork relationship is one of profound intimacy. It is a sustained practice of becoming present to sacred encounters. In dreams, though I often missed the moment of sacred encounter, Mary Jo brought me back to those moments. But more than that, she made each session a sacred encounter with her. Aligned with the dream beings who come to give help and love, she came to each session to give help and to love.
Perhaps the best way to put this relationship into words is to describe who I believed myself to be in the first dream I worked with her, back in January, 2018, and how Mary Jo saw me as so much more, even in that wounded state. And then, to pair this first dream with the last dream we worked together, revealing the less wounded self I had grown more able to be, and how Mary Jo still saw me as even more.
When I first began my journey with Mary Jo, I dreamed I carried a heavy wheelbarrow on my back while I climbed a ladder up a cliff. I believed myself to be the overburdened, weary one, unable to let go of this heavy burden. Yet I was so ashamed that I had to carry this weight that I couldn’t accept the help of the kind construction worker approaching as I struggled to hoist my wheel-barrowed-shelled body around the top of the ladder.
In this first encounter with Mary Jo, she saw my exhaustion and shame-driven lonely state of handling-it-all-alone. She also saw my deep longing for help, and believed me capable of looking that kind construction worker in the eye and saying, “Oh, yes, please help me.”
In the last dream we entered together, I was a young woman, living outside, sitting on a hill with a child, a dog, some puppies, and even a deer. At the bottom of the hill, I saw an old, chain link fence where a large section had been bent into a wide opening. A female lion was walking through this opening, followed by her cubs, and then the male lion. The lions were coming toward us. And I felt vulnerable and afraid, yet it did not cross my mind to stop living out in the open like this. Instead, I asked aloud, “How are we going to live with lions coming through the fence?”
In this last encounter with Mary Jo, she saw my fear, my uneasiness at living exposed with wild beings, a family of lions approaching. And she heard my question, “How are we going to live with lions coming?” as more than fear. She heard in it deep longing – the soul’s desire and willingness to live open, abundantly vulnerable in this place where fierce, wild, aliveness gets through the wounded-self’s remnant protective barriers. As she gathered this dream’s sacred encounter into a homework practice for me, her last words of guidance were, “Feel your vulnerability and fear as the lions approach, the mother lion, the father lion, coming for you…” and I heard tenderness and tears in her voice. I heard her awe. Once again, one last time, I heard her awe.
We met together then in shared awe. That is where Soul lives. In moments of shared awe.
Shared awe, I see now as never before, is the heart of our Natural Dreamwork relationship. Mary Jo and I braved together painful dreams, wound-revealing dreams, shame-smeared dreams, and embrace-filled dreams. Together we felt dreadful moments and moments of reverential wonder. That is what we did together, time after time. We stepped into the flow of primary imagination and felt awe. Mary Jo was committed to this, and helped me heal the wounds that kept me from being present. So that I could join her. So that we could be in the dream, joined together in shared awe.
Drawing by Liza Hyatt
Liza Hyatt, ATR-BC, LMHC is a certified Natural Dreamwork practitioner, board certified art therapist and licensed mental health counselor in Indianapolis. For more information about spiritual growth through dreamwork with Liza, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can learn more about Liza on the About Us page of our website.
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