Sometimes while sitting zazen, I focus on my hands and my hara. My hands, in meditation mudra, capture a small amount of air ~ my sphere of influence and my daily interactions ~small, limited and contrained by my geographic and physical presence. But my compassion, everything eminating from my hara, is vast and full of potential. This is the aspect of practice that is not limited by my physical presence. This is the broad horizon of 10,000 things spreading out in 10,000 directions. Both of these aspects of practice are present in every moment but only one is really measurable, quantifiable and observable.
So a balance is struck between my influence and my potential for boundless compassion. Of course, my compassion is not boundless. I am limited by illusions and hamped by delusions. But the potential is there, it is not realized. I can have compassion for many but manifesting that compassion is, by neccessity, limited to only a few.
My physical presence. My small sphere of influence. That is what takes priority but it is so limited. Influence only goes so far and once that rope hits its length..it will fray and weaken. I call that “compassion burn-out”. When I tutored at an afterschool program, it was largely just me and 60-100 kids aged 5-16 that needed help in everything from basic literacy skills to grammar to calculus. Everyday I only had four hours to ensure everyone recieved the help they needed. Is that possible? No. It isn’t.
Running from person to person to person just frays the rope and made me tense, stressed and frustrated. Then everyone walks out dissappointed. Instead I looked at those that needed the help the most and focused on them. The 5th grader from the abusive household, the sisters from a broken household, the two girls whose foster mother just married someone from the sex offenders list, the 3rd grader whose mother is in prison. These are the people that needed the help and the attention because they were not going to receive it elsewhere. They only had one moment.
My circle of influence was limited to them although my compassion went to everyone in that room. But those that didn’t get the help they needed that day had to understand that while they may have to ask mom or dad to help on homework later that night, they at least had that option.
While some walked away seeing me as an ineffectual and occassionally unfair tutor, the ones that really needed help and attention walked out knowing someone was concerned for them. Compassion is not easy sometimes. We only have so much to give within our sphere of influence.
Don’t try to help everyone, focus on those that really need it, be a bodhisattva.