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 stream of posts from people I follow at the Twitter bar (it’s my local pub).
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!
Aaaaah….. I think the fountain flows with streams of generosity and love. Oh yes let’s drink it in and let it wash the pain, leaving it clean and able to heal.
The water sometimes stings, the honesty and courage needed can be difficult to invoke if I’m looking at the fact that these injuries exist AT ALL and thinking maybe it might be easier to pretend they don’t and power on through…
But really, we know that they fester like that, unacknowledged, unwashed by acceptance and legitimacy and love they remain unhealed, maybe scabbed over, maybe more or less infected, but still there.
Some of the very deepest injuries might take a lifetime of washing. Tending to our healing everyday as best we can, even if it is only ever going to be imperfect. Still needing clean dressings and protection every day. STILL. And we can bring the pain of that to the fountain as many times as we need too.
But then, nothing is forever. In the end I guess the fountain will accept us in our entirety, as damaged and healed as we end up being with the same kind of love and acceptance as it always has.
And in the meantime what a beautiful, peaceful place the fountain can be when we feel washed and acknowledged and accepted and loved. The world is sparkly and full of rainbows through the mist, and the statues are pretty cool too.
Thanks to everyone for making this a safe space to be in pain, to feel it and see it and even ssssshhhh say it sssshhhh. What can I do to take the culture of the fountain out into the world? *ponders* #oohnewlifemission #nooldlifemissionwithlovelynewmetaphor
This is so very powerful. I sometimes forget that there’s no hierarchy of pain, that I am worthy. Thank you for this beautiful reminder.
It’s late, and I feel too keyed up to fall asleep easily, and I’ll still have to get up and out early tomorrow.
There’s a hole in the screen on the front door. We can’t leave it open to let in the fresh, cool night air without also letting in lots and lots of annoying little bugs.
I fall behind in things, and then I don’t know how to catch up, and it becomes a cycle that just gets worse. Pattern.
Thank you, fountain. I love you.
This reminds me of the Rumi line: “Be a fountain of the sun’s light.”
The fountain can take, and the fountain can transform.
(o) – my pebble.
Today was a day for dropping big pain in the fountain, and acknowledging the hard truths that came with it. Will be interesting to see what motion follows from here.
Thank you for this.
Thank you Havi for this beautiful post and for the wonderful ‘fountain space’ you provide here.
Thank you too for the ‘Complaints Choirs’ which have livened up my morning – I’ve just spent half an hour listening to them and laughing! My favourite so far is Helsinki, with that ‘mobile phone’ chorus.
From now on I shall whisper all my grumbles to the fountain, or maybe even sing them out loud!
Lovely, lovely post, Havi. I have a lot of pain to take to the Fountain right now – I am going through the break-up of a 14 year relationship. We have to put our house on the market and I have no idea where my remaining family and myself will be living in 4 months time and until the house sells, there is very little money to make a new place happen, which is frankly terrifying me. I’ve been homeless before and it’s not an experience I wish to repeat.
Right now I am trying to let it go and live in trust that it will all work out – whilst doing all I can practically to resolve the situation – but it’s oh so hard. So thank you dear Fountain for taking my pain.
I wanted to practice my Ukulele before my lesson on Monday and it was out of tune, so I tried to tune it and now it sounds awful and I can never tell when a string *is* in tune, so I fiddle with it but I can never tell when it’s reached there. And I worry that I won’t ever be able to learn how to tune it. And that this will always happen. And I can’t practice.
I’m seeing my old flatmate for the first time in a year tonight, and I’m worried he’ll bring his clingy, weird girlfriend so I won’t be able to just chat to him on his own and remember old times. All I want is two hours with him.
I know that I won’t pass my minimum skills at Roller Derby in a month or two, and I’ll have to work through them again. And I might miss Friday’s training and I feel bad.
I worry that everyone thinks I’m lazy when I miss practice or when I sit out halfway through a drill. I sometimes sit out because I get an agonising (still undiagnosed) pain in my calf.
And I miss the training because I have an undiagnosed digestive problem. Could be IBS, could be Crohns… either way it means sometimes I just can’t leave the house. And other times I go out and think I’ll be okay and then I’m not. And I hurt because I’m not sure that anyone really believes in me. I feel like they must think I’m lazy or whiny.
I’m scared because I’m trying a special diet that has worked wonders for a ton of people, but what if it doesn’t work? Or what if it works but I don’t like it?
I’m worried because the past few times I’ve got a lift from a friend, she’s said “How are you?” and I’ve had a bad day. (I’ve been really ill.) I’m mostly really happy every other day, just coincidentally the days I saw her I’d had awful, ill days. And she seemed really annoyed at me, and I’m worried she likes me less. And I feel hurt because I feel like my pain isn’t legitimate to her, like I’m not allowed to be honest when I have had a bad day.
Thank you fountain.
One of my friends uses the fountain a tad too much. I know it’s not possible to use it too much, but she seems to be spending a LOT of time there.
Or maybe she’s in fact a fountain shunner, which is why she complains. ALL the time. Sometimes I think some of her problems are real problems. Sometimes I think she should take a step back and realize how trivial some of the things she complains about are.
And all problems are real, of course, to the person that experiences them. And my friend is in a lot of pain. An awful lot.
It’s just that I can’t help thinking that she creates her own pain out of anything that will come her way, even when it’s a very minor inconvenience.
So this is what I would like to throw in the fountain:
I’m sad that she’s sad.
I’m sad that I get impatient with her and roll my eyes sometimes.
I’m sad that I actually wait for her to update her Facebook status with the latest misery, just for a laugh.
I’m sad that she has become laughing stock among my other friends. Most of them think “OMG, how can one person be SO unlucky? Must be because she complains so much!” One of them recommended she try an exorcist.
I’m sad that she gets on everybody’s nerves by complaining and never once asking how other people are.
I’m sad that even I find it highly comical sometimes.
I’m sad that by complaining so much she has become that stock farce character, the Unlucky Whiner.
I’m sad that she is painfully aware of being the Unlucky Whiner to all her friends.
I’m sad that I’m afraid to say anything to her for fear of throwing shoes at her.
I’m sad that her constant complaining has numbed me to the point of disregarding her real pain sometimes.
I’m sad that, even though she complains all the time, she still doesn’t know how to use the fountain.
I’m sad that, if I send her the link to this article, she will be offended.
Thank you fountain.
omg – I actually was posting something on fb today and literally said to myself “why am I complaining about this? It’s such a first world problem” – which I have *never* said to myself before. so thank you.
(it’s because one of my friends is living in the philippines and talks all the time about ‘oh, this is such a first world problem’… which just… ugh. makes ME feel crappy about anything I want to complain about.)
THANK YOU for writing this as it has been on my mind for a long time.
Here’s something for the fountain: I am truly tired of the “first world problem” talk. Problems are problems. Problems and pain are relative. You can only KNOW your own. And as Mother Theresa said, there is poverty much worse than physical and that is a poverty of love. In this “first world,” where there is “plenty” of material wealth, there is a real lack of love. So it may seem we are complaining about unimportant things when we have problems but they are a cover for a much deeper starvation of the soul.
Gandhi talked a lot about the happiness of people we would label “the poor,” for example.
There is a false sort of humility in this talk of “first world problems,” a condescension of sort that sits badly with me.
Again, thank you, and as my favorite nun liked to say, do not feel guilty about what you have, ever. Just be thankful and SHARE.
First of all – ShimmerGeek – oh. OH. I’m so so sorry. I wish I could take some of that ick away.
Havi reminded me today that there is no hierarchy of pain, and that’s why I’m here. I’ve only ever commented twice before I believe, because I’m so so frightened of wanting more. Of wanting more attention and friendship from people on this blog – things I’ve told myself I can’t have.
My illnesses have been getting worse for the last two years. IBS and CFS, migraines and polycystic ovarian syndrome. Suspected fibromyalgia. It all sounds so trivial sometimes. And I miss the world, but now I’m also afraid of it. I used to take trying new things as a challenge, and now I have become flaky and… Oh so frightened. I’m frightened of failing and of hurting. I cling to the things that feel familiar, and can’t handle change. And it makes me so sad and so frustrated and scared and angry..
I have little trust of most people. I only realized this recently… What if they say they’re going to be there, and then they’re not? Like for Past-Me..
I use shopping as a way of distracting myself from these uncomfortable feelings. I am spending money I’d rather save…
I want to be a writer. But there is so much doubt and worry there. And not just from me…
Thankyou, Fountain, for listening. <3
Hmm. I was all “Yay” over the post, and then I scroll down, and one of the early comments is someone talking about someone else using the fountain too much, and making their own pain.
So now I’m sitting here thinking “What if that’s one of my friends?” (Not literally, I mean “what if they’re thinking the same?”) And thinking that yeah, some of my problems are “self-inflicted” (my weight) or whatever.
And then wondering if I should post this comment, if it’s appropriate or inappropriate or what, but… it’s the first time I’ve come here and walked away from the comments section feeling worse than when I walked in.
Hello the fountain !
can i bring some coins to you?
the coin of feeling so incompetent lately
the lost jewel of loneliness
the random item of not knowing the next step
in the bonfire!!
Oh I’m so sorry – I really didn’t mean to make people feel bad… My comment was more about how conflicted I am regarding my friend – and how I should use the fountain more, myself.
Because as I was writing my comment I realized that the fountain isn’t about complaining so much as it’s about acknowledging the pain. Which my friend doesn’t do.
And I wasn’t clear enough: yes, I can’t help judging my friend because some of “her” problems seem trivial *to me*. And I feel bad that I am not acknowledging her point of view.
Only that it’s where I am now. And I’m sad that I should be the judger. I hate it. So this is really the sadness that I wanted to throw into the fountain.
I feel torn because I would like my friend to use the fountain, and to realize that she can’t use it “too much” – which is why I qualified my first sentence. But I can’t *make* her use it. So I guess I’ll be working on using the fountain myself, until some of my sadness is cleared and I can be really helpful to my friend, in a way that she feels comfortable with.
Hello fountain! So glad you’re here.
Fountain, I have five SEPARATE conditions that are all causing me to itch! FIVE.
I think they’re not contagious, so Fountain, I’m dropping them off here. Thankee.
You look beautiful today, Fountain. So sparkly.
See you soon.
I am a little sad that my beloved never initiates together-time. Sometimes it is not enough that he is always happy with whatever I put together – socially, for vacations, whatever. I wish he would be more creative in our relationship. I wish I did not have to do it all, all the time. Even though I am good at it. I know that his passiveness is not not-caring, but it still feels like I am carrying so much by myself.
Wow, it hurt more to write that than I thought it would.
There is my little pebble of pain, fountain. Thanks.
I’ve been thinking a lot about “shame” lately. Realizing what a huge role it is playing in my life. As I understand this post, self-silencing = shame. Others regulating the fountain = shamer-people.
Now I’m toying around with the idea of the fountain. Is it a metaphor for God/the universe/love/consciousness/humanity/facebook? What is the fountain to me? Is it the process of naming the pain “out loud” so that it may be free to dissipate/leave?
And how is it that I seem to believe that I am separate from the fountain and/or not worthy to “use” it? Why have I believed that there is a hierarchy of pain, when it feels more true that there is no such hierarchy?
Such good food for thought, thank you Havi. I love your sweet, brave soul.
I have become a self-silencer. It is a great way to break your own heart and rip yourself apart inside.
I have thought of creating a ‘fountain’ where I can “release the hurty bits” because pushing on with one’s heart full of pain leaves one prone to bits of breakdown and I don’t think see-how-far-I-can-make-it-before-I-breakdown-again is all that effective of a strategy for the long-term. I had the idea to create a blog, but why would I do that? That wouldn’t be just sharing my pain, it would be putting it on display, glorifying it even! How could I ever think of doing that? So I just write a bit here and there, just for me.
The writing helps but it is not enough. I have been fighting myself on this, but I always knew the truth.
“The sting doesn’t sting as much once it has been spoken and heard.”
Writing things in a document on one’s computer is allowing the words to be spoken,but never letting them see the light of day, never letting them be read, is merely speaking in an echo chamber. Talking to yourself. It is being heard by no one but yourself and sometimes that is not enough. Perhaps I will start that blog after all…
Fountain, I am the champion at denigrating my own pain. I keep waiting for a giant tragedy so I can really approach you. And even then, I feel that wasn’t THE ONE…
This week my stuckness became debilitating and I just kept thinking: “at least you have a job, at least you have this and that. You probably will never do what you would love to do, so get rid of it. The sooner the better.”
And then I hurt, I can’t sleep, I’m grumpy and sad… and then it starts all over.
And fountain, can I also toss in my anger towards people and what seems to me their monumental inconsideration?
I feel I’m the embodiment of sartre’s “hell is other people” ever second of the day. Would you take that and wash it away?
Re: “Anyone is allowed to come and release the hurty bits.”
Awesome! I feel like someone just gave me a present.
PS: i like the “plunk” and “splash” of dropping things in.
So much pain. So much wisdom.
Here’s a bit of what I hope is wisdom: your pain has to be spoken and heard. Heard. When you talk about it only to yourself, you can still release it to the fountain if you hear yourself. If not, you’re ruminating. Grinding wheels. And it doesn’t help.
When someone tells you about a problem and they just go on and on about it, they may not feel like they are being heard. So they keep repeating it, hoping that you’ll get it.
I learned those two things in a psychology pre-practicum class, and again in practicum, and at least once a year ever since.
And I’m glad to be reminded of them again, and about the fountain because, well, suddenly things are just not okay. I have been unusually sleepless lately (which is saying a lot because I have lifelong problems with insomnia), and have been completely unmotivated to do anything. Giant piles of iguanas and iguano (iguana excrement). And the things that usually work to improve my mood haven’t helped at all, so I’ve started trying different things. I’ve even spent hours watching television, which is totally unlike me. Today I tried recreational shopping, which is also uncharacteristic. I’m observing and taking notice and notes.
I realized that I had suddenly slammed into a major depression. Usually my depressions have an identifiable cause but this one doesn’t. Cumulative life stress. Plus: Some shoes being thrown. Some of my self talk. Physical pain.
Crap. Jota kah. Zwonsig. (I use random foreign sounds instead of swearing. Two letters of the Spanish alphabet. A number in German, which I probably spelled wrong.)
There’s a beautiful little stream that flows out of the park, about a mile from my house. I might make it a regular thing to walk down to the bridge and throw my pain into the water, maybe writing it on a leaf first, or dropping in a pebble. Leaves for the transient stuff, pebbles for the harder stuff.
Hugs to everyone who is at the fountain … especially the self silencers.
for whatever reason, the PS reminds me of Tashlikh, standing at the side of the pond throwing pieces of bread in to the water, with them letting go of things that were ready to be let go.
I’m so thankful for the fountain…
I have a boulder to dump it in! The past few weeks have been very rough for me. Someone I thought was a close friend, was using me and I didn’t realize it. I feel so sad that he isn’t the person I thought he was. And I feel disgusted with myself for letting him use me. My heart aches because he won’t be my friend or my husband’s friend anymore. I’m so angry that someone I’ve known over half my life would do something so hurtful, disguised as friendship.
I want this pain to leave me. “THUNK!” into the fountain!
I loved this post so much! It’s interesting to me that sometimes we feel so bad about sharing our true feelings and experiences because they seem trivial — yet those same feelings come between us and what we could be doing in our personal lives, our businesses, and our communities. I love the acknowledging and the letting go of the fountain.
And, being a Chicagoan, I loved the video!
This is so beautiful. Thank you, Havi.
I love that The Fountain is for everyone and does not keep score.
Pain is pain. Loss is loss. There is no hierarchy.
We are all deserving of love, acceptance, compassion. We are all worthy.
Very powerful writing, thank you Havi!
this post brought up a lot and left me thinking, untangling, realising…
I definitely needed a reminder on this one.
Let me just drop a huge symbolic weight in the fountain because…well, because.
I think about this a lot. “There are children starving in Africa,” “This is me playing the world’s tiniest violin for your pain,” or “you want some cheese with all your whine?” – Phrases I grew up with.
And yet I still often take other people’s complaining as a big huge invitation to fix them, including by putting their pain in the hierarchy of pain so that they know exactly how much of it they’re allowed to express.
Not anything on what I do to myself.
But I can’t feel too bad about a pattern I’m legitimately working on. And I’m working on this. Glad of it, too, because I can feel the importance down deep in my bones.
I am embarking on something very big and very exciting, and I am absolutely terrified that I’m going to mess it up. I want it so badly that the fear of failure feels bigger than the fear of not trying, which makes it hard to take the risks that I need to in order to to the big scary thing.
I’m afraid that I am lazy and not good enough and I am so so so scared of being judged. I want to be seen and validated as worthy of love. I know that only I can do that for me, but I still want someone else to do it. And I feel awful that I’m not enlightened enough to behave better.
Thank you, Havi! What a beautiful image.
Skipping my complaint-stones across the fountain–plink plank plunk splish BING!
Every time I write an email, I end it with:
“I’m sorry to be a pain, I hope you can help”.
I apologise in every email I send to everyone except for friends and family (which I don’t even sign off from).
I’d never thought about this in terms of the fountain; but it makes sense.
Reading that there is enough fountain to go around made me feel suddenly calm.
There is enough. I am enough.
I am enough. I am worthy.
Thank you, Havi. 🙂 Thank you for this post.
I have a lot of pain at the moment and I can’t stop crying about it.
I am hurting because I’m getting old and none of the dreams I had have become remotely true. And because I am a big, fat failure and I haven’t achieved anything in my sad, lonely life. Time goes by and things get worse, not better, because I get old.
Thanks for listening, fountain, and for not judging my pain as being irrelevant or unjustified.
Wow. What an awesome way of explaining such a slippery subject. I have always rebelled at the notion that one shouldn’t talk about their problems because either they are not bad enough or because someone else has it worse. Especially the idea that someone else having it worse is in some way supposed to cheer us up. No! The fountain is endless. And no we don’t want to dwell we want acknowledgement and to be heard. That’s ok and it’s not too much to ask for. Thank you so much for laying it out in such a digestible way. Ooh especially the protectors part!
I wish that I could have been loved in the way that I wanted to be loved.
I give up all the pain accumulated in the city I returned to six years ago – and the ensuing wackos that entered my life, the narcissists, and the truly crazy as well. All i wanted was to do my art and now I am afraid of most of them or don’t feel I fit – or am bummed that the narcissist ex caused me to not look that poised as I would have liked to have been. I want to be okay again. I want to move and start over. Hoping it is not too late at 46. Sad that I am still alone but grateful for this healing journey. I am ready to get rooted into something that matters and to quit worrying about if I fit in or if my art is wanted enough in this one stupid group of people. I give up the sadness that my sensitivities and the insensitivity of some of the people I have met this past year have caused me.