Weirdness on the Golden Gate Bridge

The San Francisco planners decided in their wisdom that the approaches to the Golden Gate Bridge should be more speedy.

It’s a good plan, but the vast project has required sacrifices, including a closure of the cyclists-only walkway on the west side of the bridge. (The bike lane reopened May 18.)

On Sunday, sunny weather brought big crowds of tourists to the bridge. Hundreds of people were walking, running, and cycling on the only available sidewalk, which is 10 feet wide.

To make matters worse, construction scaffolding narrowed the path to just 5 feet for stretches. So four lanes of pedestrians and cyclists were squeeeeeezing their way through the tight places.

I couldn’t help but notice that the cyclists fell into four groups, and that each group took a distinct approach to dealing with the situation.

The tourists on rental bikes were good-natured and patient, determined to have a good time.

The locals out for a spin kept their cool, too.

The fitness cyclists maturely accepted that they couldn’t ride as fast as they’d like, and they didn’t make a big fuss about it.

Then there were the jerks in Spandex – a handful of riders who were determined to maintain training speed even if it endangered others. Looming from front or behind, they shouted, “On your left!” and “Heads up!”

(The bridge rules are explicit: “Cyclists MUST yield to pedestrians…”)

I had invested a lot of time and energy in this trip to the City, a drive of 35 miles, and I was determined not to let the crowds sour my mood.

The drive to the City was wonderful; I sang songs that always put my heart in a happy state. But the trek across the bridge was a trial.

I forgot to mention that hundreds of Girl Scouts hiking across the bridge in more or less orderly rows.

I’ve been watching several TV series on DVDs that I borrow from the library. One is Bones, the wonderful mystery series about forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance Brennan and her partner, FBI agent Seeley Booth.

Booth is played by David Boreanaz, who’s perfect in the role of a federal lawman and former Army Ranger.

Booth is a regular guy with a cheerful attitude and an expansive heart. He’s a wonderful balance to  Brennan’s super-rational nerdy scientist. Brennan is a disaster at interpersonal relationships, and she gradually accepts that Booth is an expert in matters of the heart. It’s an inspiring series because it’s about a person who’s awareness is already expanded, Booth, and a character who’s growing into greater awareness, Brennan.

One of Booth’s defining qualities is that he doesn’t react emotionally whenever he’s confronted by jerks, which his job often requires. He demonstrates – rare on TV – that self-control is a characteristic of a superior person.

As I squeezed through the crowds while trying to avoid getting slammed by cyclists (at one point, a cyclist’s wheel caught my shoe from behind and nearly pulled it off), I thought of Booth and resolved not to blow the day by getting upset.

I realized that it was easiest to keep my cool when I kept my pace in the “harmony zone” – my pet name for the pace that leaves a margin of energy for nurturing upbeat thoughts and feelings. In this way, I was able to get across the bridge in a more or less pleasant fashion, and find humor in the situation.

I jogged for a time behind a guy who spoke a Slavic language and was built like a refrigerator, with huge shoulders and a soldier’s bearing. It was funny to see how the cyclists gave him a wide berth.

The bridge is never a quiet place. It’s always tremendously busy. Cars and trucks are speeding by, boats are plying the Bay, and tourists are strung out across the sidewalk. But I find that if I cultivate an inner harmony, aided by disciplined running, I always finish feeling whole and happy.

If you think about it, our experiences all happen in the brain. There is no happiness “out there,” no matter hard we try to pretend otherwise.

I met a group of young Buddhist monks – of all places – in the bathroom at the south end of the bridge. I don’t wear my monk’s get-up except for formal services, because my sense is that renunciation isn‘t something to be paraded outwardly; it’s something we prove, or don’t,  by our actions.

But I was grateful to those monks from Thailand for standing up for the truth that the real source of any happiness we project onto the world is a current of bliss that flows from a hidden source deep inside us, and that we can commune with that source in meditation, in the recesses of the heart.

The scriptures tell us that every “good” experience that stimulates our emotions in enjoyable ways is balanced by a corresponding crash. It’s the morning after the party, when we must pay the piper. What goes up – out there – always comes down.

Only the inner light never fails us. That wonderful light shines through us in a natural way when we cultivate attitudes of friendship, kindness, self-control, and compassion, instead of craving what the world can’t give. That fulfillment of a happiness that doesn’t fade is the lure of the spiritual path.

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