“Mary Jo and the Mountain Lions” by Moira Crone
Mixed media and collage
48” x 60”
Mary Jo shared several dreams where she encountered mountain lions which are native to where she lived in Estes Park, Colorado. Always with a feeling of awe that is intrinsic to the sacred encounters in our dreams.
June 5 2023 will mark a year since Mary Jo Heyen left us.
In one of our last times together, she commented that starting with her diagnosis on April 16 of 2022, we had been following “a trail of dreams of a woman dying” and we surely did.
Mary Jo was very clear eyed about her dying and calmly refused any extraordinary treatments. She said to linger on would not be “more living” but “more dying”. This took some resolution in the face of a medical profession that is often oriented towards the next treatment, the next cure. But she stayed steadfast and her dreams and visions helped her all along the way
We spoke every day in that final period, working with her dreams, and then in the last week, also with her visions. For she began to see and hear things– mysterious— pinpoints of starlight in a dark sky, a coyote that moved towards a cairn in her yard where her dead are remembered.. the sound of a wind chime inside the house where there is no wind.. first very loud as if to wake her, and then very soft and intimate in her ear. And these and other visions were intimations she felt that “they” were looking after her. As were her dreams, where now instead of showing her in a house, she was in apartments– temporary quarters, and in one of the last ones, she had the idea she was somehow renting the apartment to a very nice man— and then she left with his dog and went off on a journey of her own…All told like the title of her wonderful book on dreams and hospice Mary Joe was “dreaming into the mystery “
The very last dream we spoke of together there was going to be a celebration, and she wanted to bring a dessert.
Did I remember them? A car pulls up and a man opens the large trunk. It is filled with ice cream sandwiches of every kind from very simple to wonderful fruit flavors and fillings; an abundance of frozen delicious treats.
She reminded me that many times in her dreams the “man” was driving a big old sedan as often the beloved in her dream did– and as for the ice cream sandwiches they were her favorite dessert as a girl…
And I told her you see you don’t have to worry about bringing dessert he is bringing it all for you. In that way he was showing you that the celebration was for you.
Mary Jo found great comfort and strength in her dreams. She was not an ascetic. She had a tremendous appetite for life, a real sensuality that is not the opposite of spirituality as some people think, but actually the basis for it. How she loved to cook, to eat, to taste the flavors of life. Because of her condition at the end, she could not swallow food or liquids, so she would treat herself in her last weeks to tastes, swish them around in her mouth and then spit them out– rum and coke was a favorite. As we spoke of this ice cream dream she told me she was looking forward after we spoke to having some cold ice cream — and I bet she did.
Mary Jo I miss you here on earth but your love of life and your love of dreams are with me still. We are celebrating you too!
Below is what I wrote about Mary Jo at the time she died.
Mary Jo Heyen 1949-2022
I join all of us in the Natural Dreamwork community, teachers, practitioners, clients and friends of the work, in mourning the loss of our dear teacher and friend, Mary Jo Heyen. For Mary Jo contemplating dreams was a very serious spiritual practice and it led her from being a client, to a practitioner, to a teacher of this work far and wide. If I could think of a single word for Mary Jo’s quality of soul, it is steadfastness. From the very beginning, and even long before we began working together, she knew for certain that dreams would provide the most significant spiritual path for her As she wrote me ahead of our very first session:
Ever since I was a young woman I looked towards my sixties, sensing that they held some fruition of my inner work. I’ve always paid attention to my dreams, diligently so in the past five years (the freedom that retirement provides). Keys show up often in my dreams, yet I don’t know what they unlock. So, at this precious time in my life, I return to my dreams and am committed to them. I trust them, I am ‘in love’ with them, be they filled with love or terror.
Mary Jo touched so many lives with her strong love of dreams, with her honesty and kindness, her generosity, and her steadfastness to hold to the truth. The many clients who worked with her all over the world, knew how beautifully she gave over the gifts of the dream. Within her own community in Estes Park, Colorado, Mary Jo established herself as an important presence, teaching dreamwork from her beautiful office in town, teaching meditation, volunteering for hospice work and leading grief works. With her husband Joe Heyen she did many good works and charitable deeds, often anonymously. Generosity is an important word in defining Mary Jo’s approach to life, her living was about giving. With generosity, she served on the original Steering Committee for the Natural Dreamwork organization, and also extended herself personally to help other practitioners. She served as a cherished mentor for many, and was always willing to listen and offer counsel with great generosity of spirit.
I know that we in the Natural Dreamwork community of practitioners and clients feel a profound sense of loss right now. But we should also take comfort. Mary Jo’s life illustrated the tremendous transformational power of dreams. She took them seriously and they guided her every step of the way. As she wrote in her book Dreaming Into the Mystery, “My own dreamwork is to this day my priority and my greatest teacher and it’s what helps me to be a trustworthy companion and guide when I step in with another’s dreams.”
Her commitment to her dreams meant that she let them guide her. At a certain point in her work, for instance, her dreams clearly showed her it was important for her to write and publish, and so she did. Her writing was always clear deep and direct and reached a wide audience in the larger community of dreamworkers including the IASD, and far beyond that. Her dreams guided her, and sometimes rebuked her, and her capacity to receive the difficult admonitions, and the feelings of pain and fear that dreams open us to, was something I deeply admired. She never flinched, she let her dreams speak to her and they spoke back, and guided her all along the way.
Mary Jo and I had a secret password which was the simple word, “hey.” It came from a dream we worked together in which she came upon a young woman who was sick and miserable and soiled. Mary Jo came to her, and instead of using a lot of words, she simply made her presence known by saying, “Hey.” That tender “hey” was straight from her heart. Mary Jo was gifted with language, but the lesson of the dream for her and for me is that more important than the right words is being present with the other and in such a case, the fewer words the better.
Such dreams often offered her support for the work she did with dream clients, and taught her ways of being with dreams and dreamers that can be learned no other way. But as useful as they were in helping others, the dreams were also teaching her how to be tender with her own soul, to honor and respect her true desires, and to distinguish them from what others demanded; to cherish her feelings of connection and love, and to accept her feelings of pain, of terror and discomfort. And– this is often the hardest part– to face her own reactivity without judging herself harshly and categorically.
Although she began as my client and my student, over our eleven years of working together, I confess with pride and humility that our relationship deepened and she became my teacher as well. Our relationship was tender and loving right to the very end, where we met every day and continued to follow her dreams. She died very consciously and with great nobility.
When I think of dreams as a sacred encounter, I now add the sense, thanks to Mary Jo, that our work with dreamers is inherently sacred, and that the conversations we are having with each other over dreams is a sacred conversation. It is good to remember this. Mary Jo taught me that, not only through words, but through her very being and presence. I know I will miss her gravely, we will all miss her, and yet her words and her example will continue to guide us far into the future.
And I hear Mary Jo saying to me, right now in my grief, ‘Hey.”
As we pay homage to Mary Jo, I would like to share a dream that came to me in at the end of last year, almost 7 months after her death. It illustrates what I wrote over the summer as I processed losing her. In that piece, which follows this dream sharing, I accessed grief’s alchemy and found a deep connection to Mary Jo that remains very alive and enduring. Yet, I needed to write over 1700 words and spend many contemplative hours to arrive at the same place where the following, simple, sweet dream starts.
Dream from December 27, 2022:
I am lying down on my bed with a dream practitioner next to me, female, young middle aged. (It feels as if the girl-soul of Mary Jo is with me and never left.) There is a dream moment that she is helping me feel. She says, “Hold my hand.” I do and feel a loving connection, energy flowing between us. I focus on this feeling. She says, “Can you feel it?” And I say, “Yes.”
This dream feels like a multi-dimensional, soulful response from Mary Jo to me. It seemed to offer reassurance from Mary Jo that she was quite well and still with me, always at hand. She seemed to be visiting to offer gratitude for my homage to her. The sacred encounter with her also offered an affirmation from the dream realm that I am growing as a Natural Dreamwork practitioner as I strive to provide the loving presence Mary Jo gave me in my work with clients. And most of all, this dream Mary Jo seemed to be sitting beside me as Soul itself, inviting me to feel the always possible connection to the healing vitality and constant flow of love that Soul gives us through dreams. This dream is alive, poetic, simple, the essence of sacred encounter. As Mary Jo would say, It needs no further discussion. It is love. Let the words go, the stories go. Put a period there and feel it. Love.”
Homage to Mary Jo Heyen and the incomparable depth of the Natural Dreamwork relationship
by Liza Hyatt
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.
Drawing by Liza Hyatt
I’ve been traveling in memories these last couple weeks. Sometimes hearing your wisdom from one of our mentoring sessions, sometimes seeing the exquisite wood in the room of your home as we met on zoom and imagining the land around you that you spoke of with such affection. I remember your laugh and your absolute candor. I recall my surprise at your height when I met you in person in Magnolia—and how delightful it was to be with you (and everyone) for those days. I saw then, that you were an anchor for us and a teacher.
What good fortune to be an apprentice to you as you grounded me in the rich elements of Natural Dreamwork. You held nothing back of yourself. Your reflections from your midnight loft gave all of us a front row seat to your soulful life. The interviews you gave in your last few months choosing to share several dreams that brought you fear and pain were a moving legacy to this work we all love so much. You chose those dreams that we might have the courage to know that ALL dreams want to bring us healing and wholeness.
Today, I want to honor you for being a vibrant and vulnerable teacher to me. How many times you stopped mid-sentence, to take a breath and feel into what you were saying. How many times you let tears flow as you spoke. These moments live in me and when I’m with a dreamer I still feel your tender support. This collage, Midnight Loft Song, honors you, too. May the image sing on behalf of you, dear Mary Jo.
So much love,
“Midnight Loft Song” by Donna Mazzola
Marian Enochs Gay
Mary Jo’s voice had a warmth and resonance I miss and can still hear. After she was diagnosed with cancer I dreamt of seeing her near, young and glowing. Her voice had a beautiful sound, a warm hum. I was able to tell Mary Jo about the dream when we talked on the phone. I could hear the sadness and love and more in her voice as we spoke.
Years ago during the time of a dream retreat Mary Jo and I were about to tour an old New Orleans cemetery with friends. But as we walked in she pulled me aside: “Do you want to talk about the dreams?” So we sat on the grass talking about a dream to be explored later. Mary Jo suddenly broke into a big smile. “We’re just two girls talking about dreams,” she said. And so we were. The moment opened to a depth.
The child who lives in our dreams was real for Mary Jo, at the core of who she was and how she lived. Through the years she would often remind me with her twinkle, Remember Marian, we’re two girls talking about dreams. I hear this still as a blessing.
Before I gave my first talk about Natural Dreamwork Mary Jo offered encouragement, as she did for countless practitioners. “When you’re speaking,” she told me, “look for the kind eyes in the room.” This carried me through and remains a practice. Mary Jo herself was often this kind gaze for many of us, a dear and steady presence.
I had this dream a few months after Mary Jo’s death:
Mary Jo is here. I feel amazed. Others are here, a woman. Rodger says to Mary Jo, “Mary Jo, you can say whatever you want to say. What would you say?” We are all listening. She looks out and sings slowly: “You’ve got to publish glad… ness.” I feel awe.
I take Mary Jo’s song to heart as best I can. It feels good to “publish” it here, feels meant to share. She offered her own gladness often, in writing, voice, presence. “Glad” at the root means to shine. It glows, as it weaves with other feelings. I can hear this in Mary Jo’s song, as it continues. And I hear it today as we sing back to her, with love and gratitude.
photograph sent by Mary Jo Heyen
A couple of months before her death, Mary Jo, my friend and mentor, participated in an art class called “Tangled Ribbons.” There she created this captivating piece of art. She shared her experience in the class as “an unexpected blend of fear, peace, absorption and joy.”
These beautifully tangled ribbons make me think of the many ways that Mary Jo touched others with her teachings.
Mary Jo was a gifted teacher. For thirty years, she was a beloved Spanish teacher. After retiring, she became a spiritual teacher of dreams for her clients, mentees, dream colleagues, hospice patients, grief groups and more. Readers of her books and other writings will surely benefit from her teachings for years to come.
Mary Jo’s gift as a dream teacher was born from her willingness to first be the student. For many years and right up until her death, she was a student of Rodger Kamenetz, her Natural Dreamwork teacher. Mary Jo also was a student of the teachers in her dreams. She called them “agents of the divine,” and her “beloveds.” She would come to write a book about them called “Who Are Those Guys?”
In that book, she described them this way:
“They come to teach us, to expose us to ourselves…to help us heal and repair…to recover our true self…our soul. They come to remind us how much we are loved and how much inner support we have.”
Mary Jo’s ability to become a beloved dream teacher to so many rested upon her willingness to be a student of these “guys” in her dreams.
As I remember Mary Jo on the first anniversary of her death, I gaze upon her tangled ribbon image. The white pearl ribbon running through the middle makes me think of Mary Jo’s pearls of wisdom that are touching so many of us that she has (and continues to) influence.
Artwork by Mary Jo Heyen
Dear Mary Jo,
One of my favorite book passages is in a chapter called “The Lives of the Dead” from The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. In it, little Timmy loses his dear classmate Linda, and afterwards one of his favorite things to do is meet her in his dreams.
He’s quiet about it, though, saying, “I didn’t dare tell the truth. It was embarrassing, I suppose, but it was also a precious secret, like a magic trick, where if I tried to explain it, or even talk about it, the thrill and mystery would be gone.”
In one dream, he asks Linda what it’s like to be dead. She looks back at him and says, “Do I look dead?” Then she sighs and thinks of an answer:
“I don’t know, I guess it’s like being inside a book that nobody’s reading.”
“A book?” I said.
“An old one. It’s up on a library shelf, so you’re safe and everything, but the book hasn’t been checked out for a long, long time. All you can do is wait. Just hope somebody’ll pick it up and start reading”
Linda smiled at me.
“Anyhow, it’s not so bad,” she said. “I mean, when you’re dead, you just have to be yourself.”
She stood up and put on her red stocking cap.
“This is stupid. Let’s go skate some more.”
Mary Jo, I went back into the coffee shop that we met at in Colorado and bought two strangers drinks. When I did, I took your book off the shelf. Held it in my hands.
When I hear someone talk about you, I get to read some of the pages from your life.
When I read your books and blogs and use some of your work in my own ventures, I jump inside your book with you.
When you show up in my dreams, I get to read some new pages, or maybe just throw on a red stocking cap and go skate some more.
I don’t blame Timmy for wanting to keep his dreams a secret. Something can get lost in the telling of them…but what you and I and everyone in Natural Dreamwork know is that something bigger can be gained too. Much bigger.
And I don’t know about you, but I like how Linda’s character frames her answer. Because sometimes, I’m the one who finds the book and pulls it off the shelf; other times, the book finds me. Makes me wonder if we aren’t all searching for each other…
You were barely in my life for 9 months, Mary Jo, and that wasn’t nearly long enough to say I really knew you like your family and friends, or long-time students, clients, and colleagues. But it’s still long enough to be able to say thank you.
*O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried, p.244-245
Remembering Mary Jo
What a gift it was to be in Mary Jo’s presence.
When Mary Jo spoke, whether face to face or in writing from her Midnight Loft, she was wise, compassionate, sometimes challenging and she revealed a deep inner knowing. She was always present.
What I continue to hold close to my heart are not only her words, but also the sound of her voice. The way she spoke, her gentle tone, her gaze, her pauses and how she was able to touch my heart with hers. She once said, “dreamwork is the call of my soul.” She was true to that call.
I often hear the sound of Mary Jo’s voice speaking some of her wise and memorable phrases:
~ This is a tender moment. Let’s slow down and take a couple of breaths.
~ Dreams are kind, they bring us what we can take…maybe just a sip
~ Perhaps, move from “too much feeling” to “so much”
~ In dreams we are invited to unforget, to remember the feelings we’ve forgotten.
~ Your dreams want to be in relationship with you
~ Feeling all of our feelings is our greatest potency
And near the end of her time with us, this:
“I am taking a different kind of medicine…the potent medicine of loving and feeling loved….to simply be with others, share some laughter and tears…and feel the connection we have made…”
Some connections cannot be broken. Our connection with Mary Jo is one of them.
When Mary Jo wrote about her lion, I remembered my own lion who came to me in my dreams. My lion wasn’t so gentle. She came in the midst of a great battle, and I was a vigilant warrior among warriors overwhelmed by the opposing force before I could lift my sword. I was a warrior who was watching our tribe’s watcher and who saw the coming tribe who would overwhelm us. In the midst of the chaos of battle, my lion killed my warrior. It was a moment of profound surrender…that moment of realizing there is nothing that can be done. A moment of acceptance. The dream contained huge medicine. Great healing is only possible when we’ve experienced grave harm. The watcher/warrior in me was strong and need a powerful manifestation of Lion to facilitate the release. As I’ve worked with this powerful dream, touching into the moment. In the experience of releasing the warrior energy, I’ve felt more powerful openings to my own inner mystic/sage and with it a more abiding patience and acceptance for myself and others.
When Lion Comes
by Laura Smith-Riva
There is a solitary lion who walks the landscape of my dreams. He does not roar or snarl. He is silent on padded paws. His eyes are yellow gold and his tawny coat ripples like the surface of a vernal pool.
I see him sometimes when I journey to the grove. Often just out of sight, tracking me. Sometime he sits by the lake, cat paws crossed. He yawns and turns to glance at me as I pass. Languid or bored, he licks his cat paw and cleans his ear.
“Lion” by Laura Smith-Riva, oil
Mary Jo Heyen (a tribute)
A friend, a sister, and co-worker in the deep threshold work of hospice care, Mary Jo was a precious guide who embodied a powerful practice of mindfulness and courage. She opened the world of dreamwork seamlessly with hospice families, the interdisciplinary team and the community at large. Her generous wisdom accompanied her at the bedside of the dying (even her own). Mary Jo did not shy away from the hard conversations and somehow magically touched the sore spots with a fierce gentleness. She leaned into words of truth when summoned and could move in even closer with her trained ear for the work of the soul. What an incredible treasured gift to co-labor with Mary Jo personally and professionally. The ‘presence of her absence’ is profound as I miss the beautiful resonance of her voice and her ‘right next to you’ way in the hard and happy places.
Mary Jo’s groundbreaking work, “Dreaming into the Mystery” bears the indelible reflection of her inimitable capacity to do just that, dream into the mystery. In fact, she left us carrying a well-earned Mastery of Mystery.
Mary Jo Heyen, M.Ed., was an author, founding member and certified practitioner of Natural Dreamwork until her death in 2022. She had a diverse private practice working with dream clients of all ages and backgrounds. Her practice included her volunteer work with the dreams and visions of those in hospice, their families and grief groups, honoring the gift of their dreams at this most important threshold. Her experiences in this area have been published in The Journal of Palliative Medicine and the 2021 release of her book, Dreaming into the Mystery: Explorations into Being with the Dreams and Visions of the Dying. Mary Jo was a featured teacher as part of the Shift Network’s Dreamwork Summit. Her work with dreams has been published in Dream Time, a publication of the International Association for the Study of Dreams (IASD) and she was also a Regional Representative of the IASD.