Mystery Mama, who are you, and how may I provide you with excellent service today?
I’d like a large shadow-sandwich, with a side of honesty, and the willingness to be shaken.
Chocolate, not vanilla.
That will be all the money I’ve ever had.
Please pull around to the window.
Yesterday I found out that a woman I knew in the monastery is, after many MANY years, leaving monastic life. Mystery Mama has placed her order, and now this woman is pulling around to the window, to find out what her meal will be.
Some fast food: Fuck! I need something to wear besides robes. I need someplace to live. What’s it like eating after noon?
Some very slow food: How does community work, once I drop the status of Designated Holy Person?
Will she drop that status? It comes in handy, but it also keeps you from eating many of the most nourishing foods. Mystery Mama is different from Designated Holy Person, in that nobody has any idea. It’s more like the true person of no rank than the Guru. It’s embodied and manifest, but not necessarily recognized.
Yesterday night I dreamed I had a sweet junior high school boyfriend. Our ages were indefinite. Very young. Halfway to ninety. Both. Anyway, he came and sat next to me, then shyly took hold of my hand. I leaned over and put my head on his shoulder. Blond boy. I could’ve stayed like that forever. This is what people said at the yoga studio this weekend, after spending some time sitting, leaning back to back with a partner. Can we do this again? Can we be one another’s Mystery Mama?
Yes. Sometimes we can, especially if we let her qualities travel freely, instead of sticking them to one person, or to ourselves, and then clamping on for dear life. Mystery Mama is never stable, does not cling in any one being. She travels. Sometimes she decides to be you, then flips right over into the eyes of the person looking at you, abandons ship from that whole scene, and turns up in the eyes of the Identified Suffering Person you’ve just met. Actually, Mystery Mama’s main game is making sure you stay attentive to every encounter, gradually attuning to her presence through letting go of ideas of where she should and shouldn’t be. Your shoulds mean nothing to her, and that is a tremendous relief.
Owl is Mystery Mama.
Rose-breasted grosbeak is Mystery Mama.
Psychology textbook is Mystery Mama, and so is the Valley Snooze.
I am Mystery Mama writing, and Mystery Mama is this hospitable ruled notebook, with its beast-loving androgyne Krishna sticker on the cover. Mystery Mama is this sudden leap into summertime from winter, and the deep channels cut through eight inches of ice still hunkered on the forest floor.
I remember when this all turned around for me, when I went from feeling like a starving orphan in the world, to being a devotee of Mystery Mama, who feels so fundamentally loved that honesty and openness have become more and more the fabric of this life.
I was on retreat. Yes, I am often on retreat, in the immersion of community without talking. We were working on compassion. Sleeping in a dorm room of spectacular snorers who woke me up with intense regularity, I had a dream. There was a magnificent mountain, part of the great wall of the Himalayas, with a spur extending down into the valley where I lived. On that spur, people had built a temple, covering the mountain-stuff, and controlling access to it. The temple was ugly, false, and manipulative, claiming for itself power that rightly belonged to both to no one, and to everyone. And yet: almost all the people of that place were gathered there, to play the game of power and belonging.
I left, and walked to the walnut orchard outside the village. There, a beautiful woman, a dancer dressed in cream and brown, black and red, living language shimmering on her simple garments, came to teach me. We sat on the ground and sorted nuts into bushel-baskets: the good, the bad, and the broken. She was patient with me. Though she could do the sorting much more quickly and accurately than I could, she wanted me to learn, and so we worked side-by-side.
The next day, in a meditation session, we were invited to bring up a benefactor – someone who'd been kind to us and who had seen us in our wholeness. So I picked the woman in the orchard, from my dream. What happened next is indescribable, except perhaps in terms of what it influenced in me, in the world.
There was an icestorm coming. More exactly, there had been a slushstorm, and now brutal cold was coming to cement the resulting thick slush into solid ice. An announcement went out at the end of the day, urging people to clear their cars before disaster struck. But no one did. It was cold. It was late.
That night, I went out under bright stars, into the deep dark stillness of the New Hampshire countryside. She loves me! I felt, She loves me! I felt, If she loves me, then I love all these random, well-meaning Buddhist people, and their cars! Suddenly, I begin to wonder if I could clear not just my car, but my neighbors’. Not just ours, but everyone’s. I threw my whole body into it, slinging wet snow off in great slushy sheets. She loves me! Mystery Mama made all this seem not just possible, but fun. Not just useful, but a positively ecstatic good time.
Since then, the sense of knowing that something can be done, and that it will be less effort to do it, than to resist it, has come back a lot. Even when I have no idea how to do it, I still know that the way will show itself. Here goes. And now this, and this. Mystery Mama can be a bit ruthless with limitations, and she can also be astonishingly generous. Remember: she’s not into the temples, structures, and ownerships of this world. Her deal is discernment: Yes, no, mend this.
I am just beginning a year of internship work for the counseling course that I am doing, and yes, no, mend this are useful responses to have around. Mystery Mama is very useful to have around, especially if I honor her shape-shifting nature. I may be “the therapist,” but “the client” is the one who knows where the upstairs toilet is, in this wacky healing castle. I may be “the therapist,” but unless I can help “the client” connect with Mystery Mama in their own self, nothing much good is going to come of our interaction.
This way of being holds challenges. What about the Important Relationships in Our Lives? Well, they change. And also: I find that I can let myself and other people off the hook much more easily than I once did, because I'm not depending on some one source to meet all my Mystery Mama needs. I’m poly-mamarus. Mama-identified in the substance and workings of this world. Which is awesome. Are you my mother, as a question, has stuck around, and opened up into a gateway for marvel, rather than an endless exile's quest.
Julie Püttgen is an artist, expressive arts therapist, and meditation teacher.
108 Names of Now