Ode to Thrust Bearings: getting unstuck

Humans progressed from sticking twigs into holes in the earth and then licking off the ants to inventing thrust bearings, glorified wheels that opened the way for the industrial revolution, advanced agriculture, and travel in outer space. Can we not find the equivalent to change our human interactions and bring harmony to the world?

. . . . .

The world needs more thrust bearings. Thrust bearings allow things to be mobile and flexible while remaining stable. They allow large heavy things to turn, move, and realign. They allow juxtaposed things to stay in connection with each other while one – or both – is turning, moving, and realigning.

We need more thrust bearings in world politics, we need them for social mobility, we need them to manage the relationship between finances and education, we need them to unstick prejudices, we need them to navigate clashing attitudes on abortion, same-sex marriage, minimum wages, health care, gun control, immigrants, and housing for everyone. We need them in the U.S. Congress. We need them between religions and cultures. We need them wherever there is war, poverty, destruction, or hate.

What is a thrust bearing? It is a human invention, a thingamajig with only one purpose – to allow objects to turn in relationship to each other on a axis. It is, in effect, a flattened ring of multiple ball bearings that fits between a same-size washer on the top and a same-size washer on the bottom.

Yes, there are tools for almost everything – give me a large enough lever and a place to stand and I can make the earth move – but my heart belongs to thrust bearings.

thrust bearing

The thrust bearing that thrills me most is 15/16” in diameter with a center hole 5/8” in diameter. It is a 304 stainless steel alloy mix of iron, chromium, nickel, and small amounts of other things. (See photo of my actual thrust bearing.)

Thrust bearings are put to use by slathering them in grease between their two washers. Think lox slathered with cream cheese on both sides between two toasted bagel chips.

After this photo was taken my heartthrob was slathered, layered, and placed on a small rod – an axis – atop a stainless steel pole 2” wide by 3’ high. A matching stainless steel “top piece” of pole 3” high was placed on top of the thrust bearing.

close up of wingThis 3″ top piece is attached to a “cradle” with finger-like prongs that hold a 120 lb. angel’s wing of Carrera marble. The wing is 39″ long. The concept, construction, and installation for the support pole and cradle were all done by museum installer par excellence David Graham alongside Patrick Burke.

The thrust bearing allows the wing to turn on a horizontal axial plane 4′ high in my garden. Not like a windmill, it is too heavy for that. But I can turn the wing easily to view it from different angles.

Very few things look the same from difference angles. Very few things are not metaphors for something else.

My thrust bearing has the capability to allow an object of up to 3000 lbs. to rotate on an axial plane at 10,000 revolutions per second. Try that, junior cadets.

DSCN5285A nearly life-size terra cotta woman titled “Waiting for an Angel” sits nearby. She is serene, sure that angels exist and, if she waits long enough, one will walk in to reclaim the wing that fell to the ground and turned to marble. (The wing’s sculptor is Elizabeth Turk. The name of the creator of “Waiting for an Angel” has vanished from my records. There is more about both on my blog Returned: One Angel’s Wing.)

Her dream is ethereal but the thrust bearing that allows the wing to move is concrete. It is not a wish, a notion, or a longing. It is real. We humans need both the dream and the tool.

Humans progressed from sticking twigs into holes in the earth and then licking off the ants to inventing thrust bearings, glorified wheels that opened the way for the industrial revolution, advanced agriculture, and travel in outer space. Can we not find the equivalent to change our human interactions and bring harmony to the world?


We need interior and exterior tools to bring us into equilibrium with each other so we can be flexible, creative, and work together to overcome inequalities such as food for some and not for others, medicine for some and not for others, education for some and not for others, safety and equal rights for some and not for others.

We are stuck. We confuse our selected morality with absolute truth. We trumpet the mythology of our own religion while mocking that of others. We justify killing as though we have no other option. We give precedence to one sex over the others. We favor some races and cultures over others. We imprison people unequally and label it protection of the rest of us. We think guns make us strong.

We entrench. We find it difficult to change our positions and beliefs. We close our doors and our borders and our minds and our hearts. We build walls against each other and then we bomb our way through them to kill each other. We feed our hate and fear and memory of harm done to us until it turns into harm and horrors we do to others.

We lack the courage and vision – or perhaps only the will? – to reconsider our stuck positions. We like thinking we are right, we like not questioning ourselves. But if we are to live in peace then we need to find and use our inner thrust bearings. We need to change our perspectives on what exists, what is possible, and how to get there. We need to do it individually and collectively.

So what does a thrust bearing look like? They are nouns, verbs, people, states of being, qualities.

For starters: Pope Francis, Jane Goodall, Desmond Tutu, neighborhood soup kitchens, dedicated teachers, fair trade agreements, cat videos, chocolate, inner-city gardens, deep listening to each other, forgiveness, reunions, interfaith outreach, art in our schools, nonviolent protests against injustice and inequality, paid maternity leave, respect for the homeless and poor, neighborhood libraries, smiles, increased minimum wage, diversity.

Love, education, and medicine are thrust bearings. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is the Golden Rule thrust bearing.

Many NGO’s are thrust bearings. Top of my list are Search for Common Ground, Doctors Without Borders, Bereaved Parents – Family Forum, Women for Women International, Chime for Change, and World Pulse.

Countless thousands of women in Africa are thrust bearings. UN resolution 1325 on “Women, Peace, and Security” to get women at negotiation tables and in the enactment of peace accords is a thrust bearing. Any book by Jean Shinoda Bolen is a thrust bearing, including the just-released “Artemis: The Indomitable Spirit in Everywoman.”

We need countless more. But to have more thrust bearings in our individual and collective lives we must first believe in goodness and possibility. We must hold tenaciously to the vision of living together in generous harmony.

We must accept we can be kind and still be safe, we can reach out and not be harmed, we can give and not be destitute, and we can listen to those we think are our enemies until they become our friends. If we do not, we will continue to grind against each other. There will only be friction between us. We will continue to be afraid in a fracturing world.

DSCN5270The woman in my garden has waited for an angel for nearly two decades. She is patient, loving, and kind. When we humans become more adept at using the thrust bearings inside us – love, patience, and kindness – heaven has a chance.

If a thingamajig 15/16″ across can hold something 3000 lbs while it rotates 10,000 revolutions per second, shouldn’t we as flesh and blood and passion and visionaries be able to find our way out of this stuck place?

I think we can. I believe it is possible.




Survival Cannot be Left Up to Men – Jean Shinoda Bolen

An interview with Jean Shinoda Bolen by Patricia Smith Melton


Gas in Syria, the government shut down, kittens all over the Internet. What’s a woman to do?

We persevere, pray, seed circles, write emails, pound on doors, and realize that the grassroots really is a force for change.

But, Jean, the grassroots is being trampled on.

The grassroots rises up again because it’s only the surface that gets trampled, the roots run deeper. Look at the Arab Spring. It rose, it got trampled, and it will rise again. It is like the seasons of the myth of Persephone, where you disappear in one season and you come up in the spring. I have great faith in the collective wisdom of women.

What is the role of humor in the face of tragedy? How do we stay the course?

You have to be able to laugh at what is also ridiculous in the midst of tragedy. I have written of the goddess of healing laughter, the goddess of mirth. In the worst of times the ability of women to laugh together a moment before they cry together is a strength that humanity has through women. Men don’t seem to be able to do this.

It’s the humor that we’re in the same boat together, the humor of women to laugh at a wrinkle. It says, “We’ll get through this.”

You write of the gods in every man. Which one can we work with?

Actually all of the archetypes of the ancient Greek gods are potentially in any women.  We usually have at least one of them as part of ourselves. When I am lecturing, I tap into Hermes, the messenger god. He also the one god that can go from the heights of Mt. Olympus to down into the underworld.

Some women become like Zeus. The gods are all in all of us, but men sort of repress them.

Men repress the gods or the goddesses in themselves?

The goddesses, and they suppress the gods that were not successful on Mt. Olympus and aren’t successful now. The patriarch is really hard on boys and men, it cuts them off from sources of deep meaning in themselves.

My grandson’s favorite color at age four was pink, but when another boy said pink was a “girl’s color,” he dropped it like a hot potato.

Right. That’s what happens to boys in a patriarchy where they can’t even have a choice of colors without being labeled or mislabeled.

Let’s say I’m in a situation that is confrontational, say a board meeting, and there is a man who at least fancies himself to be an alpha male, and I realize we getting nowhere. What is my best move?

 In the early days of feminism there was assertiveness training about saying truth to power. You have to stay in relationship to the man as a whole person, not just the Zeus that sort of takes him over.

So you get his attention by whatever means, but not by anger, then you gain strength in unexpectedly speaking to him from your heart with authority. There is a heart authority that people recognize. It’s a more effective way to make your point than to take him head on because he cannot afford to be humiliated in front of the board. Humiliation is the major fear that alpha males avoid.

What we need are alpha males who could imagine what it might be like to be a woman, little girl or boy, a person with a different skin color or religion who cannot control their circumstances or who are not believed. Lack of imagination leads to a lack of compassion. We need imaginative, compassionate alpha males and empowered and equal women.

Do you think it is innate in a child or adolescent to want to make a difference, to bring good to the world?

Our archetypal underpinnings make us different. If, for a girl or woman, their archetypes are in the categories in which Persephone, Demeter, Hera, and Aphrodite predominate then to be attractive, to be pleasing, to be receptive is a natural thing. It is part of the psychological makeup of that girl or women.

But the girl that speaks up from the very beginning, that finds bullying innately awful, who says “that’s not fair” and wants to do something about it, she has a strong archetype of Artemis, the huntress at the heart of the moon. This is the girl who is interested in nature and is often a runner, though not always. It is an innate element in some girls from the beginning, just not for every girl.

If a tipping point is reached where women’s influence started bringing major change in in the global community, what are the first benefits we would see?

That’s easy. What I refer to as the Mother’s Agenda would be at the top of the list. We would live so we provide for all children what each of us wants for our own child. Education, health, opportunities.

And there’s reproductive rights as well because you can’t take care of more children than you can take care of. Not every woman is into being a biological mother, but all women have a kind of relationship of looking out for children, animals, nature. Maybe not all women, but almost all women have a relationship to the earth as home. We understand when you abuse women and children they don’t grow up well and terrorism is one part of that.

Can a terrorist be changed?

Almost anybody can change, but there are kids who have attachment disorders, who become sociopathic, become egoistic, and can’t see a future for themselves. These children may be raised around terrorism, but I don’t think the mothers in these cultures want their boys to grow up that way.

An alliance of mother energy can change this. We are at a teeter-totter point in history and this teeter-totter can be tipped in either direction. Women in sufficient numbers will be that pivot that tips it for the sake of the children.

Survival cannot be left up to men because they don’t know how.

That’s a strong statement.

Well, the patriarch acculturates men and, combined with the natural archetypal energies in men, it means that we have brilliant left-brained men, and the macho men of the world make the decisions for the rest of humanity. Many of them have undeveloped right brains to the point that they have asymmetrical brains. The state of the world is in the hands of men with power and many of them are not whole.

They don’t have full resources.

No, if they did they would make different decisions. If there weren’t a bullied little boy in them that had to suppress his authentic self and wear the colors he was “supposed” to wear, definitely not pink, it would be different.

But when a tipping point happens, it happens quickly. The great sign of the possibility, and it’s all related here, is the sudden acceptance of gay marriage.

I use the labyrinth as my image. You aim for the center, but as you walk the labyrinth you don’t know where you are in the path, but suddenly you’re there.

My work with individuals in this transformational change is to help people to be their authentic self, to listen for their wisdom and dreams, and to connect with bad things that happened to them as well, so they understand it is all part of the story they are living.

Each of us has our magnum opus, not a book, not a monument. We have the magnum opus of our own lives that we are meant to live out.

. . . .

Jean Shinoda Bolen’s book on Atalanta, the Greek goddess of runners known for her firm grasp of her own worth, will come out in the fall of 2014. Harper and Row Publishers is also reissuing anniversary editions of “Goddesses in Everywoman” first published 30 years ago, “Gods in Everyman” published 25 years ago, and “Goddesses in Older Women published” 10 years ago.