An old friend just reminded me of something I said to her many years ago and I was happy to be reminded. It's an image I use when I'm confronted by suffering -- my own or someone else's.
I imagine that whatever is causing the suffering -- physical pain, a thought or an emotion, someone's behavior or our own actions -- is like a drop of ink. When the ink is dropped into a cup, it colors the water. When it's dropped into a big bowl, it becomes dispersed, and the water turns gray. When it drops into the ocean, there's no color left at all.
This is an important part of our work in becoming human beings who are free and useful -- to create a spacious container for our suffering -- to be open and present to whatever is here, and to everything else that is not the suffering.
Sometimes we contract -- it's human nature, and it's not a bad thing. Sometimes we expand, and that's not a bad thing either. Rumi speaks about this in his poem "Birdwings" as translated by Coleman Barks:
Your grief for what you've lost lifts a mirror
Up to where you're bravely working.
Expecting the worst, you look, and instead,
Here's the joyful face you've been waiting to see.
Your hand opens and close and opens and closes.
If it were always a fist or always stretched open,
You would be paralyzed.
Your deepest presence is in every small
Contracting and expanding,
The two as beautifully balanced and coordinated