So this fountain is seriously, outrageously beautiful.
It might be the best fountain I’ve ever seen.
There are flowers all around it.
And cool statues of unexpected things.
And sometimes on a sunny day you see adorable children running around in their underwear and splashing up a storm.
But here’s the important thing about the fountain.
If you bring the fountain something you feel sad about, it will take your sadness.
You bring a whine, a grumble, a piece of grief, a story of woe.
You drop it into the fountain. Maybe in the form of a pebble or a coin. Maybe just by speaking it. Or thinking it.
And the fountain receives it, whisks it away, and transforms it. You feel instantly better for having released whatever it was. The fountain has fulfilled its mission.
The fountain does not have a hierarchy of pain.
The fountain takes anything.
It doesn’t matter what the cause of woe is.
A stubbed toe? That’s legitimate. Bring your hurt and distress to the fountain and it will take it for you.
Giant, awful, unspeakable loss? The fountain will take that too, acknowledging the pain of it through the act of receiving.
The fountain does not have a hierarchy of pain.
Yes, of course we all know that war is worse than a computer malfunctioning, that a break-up is harder to bear than being late to a film.
But the fountain takes it all. It has room. And time. It takes all of it, without making distinctions.
Because the end result is the same: less pain in the world. Anyone is allowed to come and release the hurty bits.
We are all equal at the fountain.
There are two groups of people who do not enjoy the fountain.
There are the fountain-shunners.
That is to say, all the people who will not allow themselves to use the fountain, even though it exists for them too.
They are in too much guilt to feel safe using the fountain. Self-silencing.
How could I possibly consider my small problems when other people have real problems? My grief and pain are not significant enough for the fountain.
The fountain-shunners avoid releasing their pain to the fountain because they are afraid they are not worthy.
And often they also fear the reactions of the second group.
The second group is all the self-appointed fountain-policers.
They mean well. Just like the monsters.
It’s just that they’re operating under a basic misconception about the nature of the fountain, and this is reflected in how they react to other people using the fountain.
They wag their fingers at anyone they deem unworthy.
Who do you think you are, wasting the fountain’s powers on your small piece of pain?
They don’t realize that there is enough fountain to go around. They think you have to save the fountain for the people who — according to them — really and truly need it. They have made themselves the protectors of the fountain.
But the fountain does not need protection.
Sometimes these two groups are the same.
And sometimes they’re not.
It’s pretty damn tragic when you think about it.
The fountain is there to help us process and release our pain.
The more we make use of it, the better it is for the world.
When we express pain, loss, grief and hurt by giving it to the fountain, that pain, grief, loss or hurt begins to move. And then we aren’t holding it … and we aren’t held by it.
Freedom is a big deal.
People work against that freedom because they have a mistaken idea about protecting the fountain — or because they fear having shoes thrown at them: negative comments and judgment.
Where is the fountain?
In the beautiful thing that is the Complaints Choir. There are so many videos of this brilliant, brilliant communal fountain-ing practice that I don’t even know what to link to … but I think Chicago is my favorite. I also like Helsinki.
The fountain also shows up at Crankypants McGrumblebug’s Kvetching Whine Bar, which is a forum board in my Kitchen Table program. That’s where my lovely community brings its woes and grumbles, big and small.
The fountain is there whenever we throw things into the pot.
And of course the fountain is also right here on the Friday Chicken, when we list the hard that has been part of the week alongside the good.
Luckily in places that I run like the KT and the blog, there is no fountain-policing, because our culture is one of permission and play. But self-silencing still happens.
We have to protect ourselves and the fountain from limitation.
Every time we hedge — “I shouldn’t be complaining about this, it’s just a first world problem, I shouldn’t even care about this when there are children starving in the world.” — we are perpetuating the idea that the fountain is limited.
Every time we let someone else tell us that our moment of woe is too small, we are agreeing to a false idea that the fountain is not for us.
Look at this.
The work done by the Complaints Choirs (here’s the link to Chicago’s again) is transcendent.
You can almost feel the power of the crazy, beautiful healing is that is happening for both the singers and their city as they sing out the city’s sadness.
But there are some angry, vitriolic comments on the videos of these Complaint Choirs. Full of how-dare-yous and who-do-you-think-you-ares and other forms of your-pain-is-not-valid. The usual monster brigade.
The world is full of apologizers and fountain-policers.
But we do not have to let them silence us. And we don’t need to silence ourselves or each other.
When we allow this to happen — whether by other people or by ourselves — we are giving up our power and our sovereignty.
It’s not good for us. It’s not good for the world. And it’s not good for the fountain either.
The fountain is right here.
Of course it’s not just here. It exists wherever there’s permission for us to quietly state our pain.
Not to dwell in the pain, re-hash the pain, or to stay focused on the pain. Not to live inside of the not-useful kind of why.
But the fountain is there every time we acknowledge discomfort and give it legitimacy. Yay, acknowledgment. Yay, legitimacy.
Because acknowledgment and legitimacy lead to a very useful kind of softening. The sting doesn’t sting as much once it has been spoken and heard.
We’re here to use the fountain. So let’s do that. Consciously, intentionally and unapologetically.
Comment zen for today.
You can use this space as a fountain: to whisper pieces of sadness that want acknowledging.
Or you can talk about the concept, especially in the context of the online (and offline) culture that we live in:
What it means to use the fountain without apologizing for it. To know that everyone gets to use the fountain. Of course we don’t have to participate or listen, but we can make space for everyone else to get their fountain time.
As always, we all have our stuff. We make space for our stuff, we take responsibility for our stuff, and we don’t give each other unsolicited advice. Because this is a fountain.
p.s. At risk of stating (overstating?) the obvious, which you never think you have to do but then it pretty much always turns out that you might as well, the fountain is a metaphor. You know, like Bolivia. Just wanted to make that extra-clear!