Natural Dreamwork with Mary Jo

the clenched fist…

Dream – I am talking with a man I care about. He puts his hand on my shoulder and then drops his hand to my hand, which is clenched in a fist. He covers my clenched fist with his hand as we continue talking…


I had this dream years ago…on the surface perhaps simple yet so revealing. 


The image of a clenched fist in a dream may not mean something to many people…so it may be interpreted or seen as a symbol for something. Yet my relationship with dreams, my own and others, has taught me that images in our dreams are unique and specific to the dreamer. While others may learn something for themselves from another’s dream…the dream image is impeccably chosen for the dreamer. For me…in my dreams…the image of a clenched fist held no confusion…


For most of my life, even when seemingly relaxed…even when safe…my fists were clenched. I could consciously open my hands and then watch as they returned to closed fists. Even in the morning I awoke to hands that were clenched. 


Trauma settled early into my body…unfelt feelings…feelings that were too painful or frightening to feel and they settled into my hands. My body and I learned early that I had to brace myself…be ready and vigilant.


Some trauma is swift and life changing happening in one event. For most of us our early lives were filled with slow trauma, the intermittent reinforcement that teaches us that our world was not safe and even worse, that we were alone in that place.


For me it was in the daily terror of which one of us will be ostracized today…the forbidden anger and helplessness of no way out….the enforced secrecy that kept the abuse hidden…the need to be hyper-vigilant…clenched fists…the constant bracing against the violent blows of words and threats that could annihilate. 


In this dream I am not alone. I am with a man I love and I know he loves me. He also knows exactly where my wound reveals itself…the conditioned way I learned to protect myself. And in a simple wordless gesture…he covers my clenched fist with his hand. 


He’s not saying I have to change…that it’s on me to figure all this out…that I first have to be worthy of his hand on mine. He is with me and loving me in the very embodied expression of the wound…my clenched fist. In my dream session I was invited to stay and deepen in this place…to feel his hand on top of mine…and if I could to slowly unclench my fist. I was not alone; he was here with me. I no longer needed to protect myself. I was in the remembering. He was taking me back to a time when my hand wasn’t clenched…to a time I remember being loved…felt the love.


Subsequent dreams continued this healing process…invited me to take the dream medicine…the feeling medicines. Sometime I could only take a sip of the valid anger…the painful silencing of my voice…the ever present utter terror…and still I took them. Slowly…slowly…healing came for me…came into me…


There are many many gifts returned to us when we are in relationship with our dreams…so much remembering of who it is we truly are. I will alway remember the morning I woke up, looked over at my hand…open and relaxed…at peace.


The Fist

Mary Oliver

There are days when the sun goes down like a fist,

though of course, if you see anything in the heavens this way

you had better get your eyes checked, or better still,

your diminished spirit.

The heavens have no fist, or wouldn’t they have been shaking it

for a thousand years now, and even longer than that,

at the dull, brutish ways of mankind –

heaven’s own creation?

Instead – such patience!  such willingness to let us continue!

To hear, little by little, the voices – 

only so far, in pockets of the world –

suggesting the possibilities of peace.

Keep looking.

Behold, how the fist opens with invitation.


(Image by Micheal Cleese)


Mary Jo Heyen is a certified Natural Dreamwork Practitioner working with clients throughout the country and abroad in person, phone or video conference. Learn more about her work with dreams at