Flying on the Inside

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Flying on the Inside

Like Stickeen, each of us can fly on the inside by finding the inner strength and commitment to walk across the many ice-sliver ledges
in our lives.

Naturalist John Muir, who was known for studying and exploring nature by living in it for extended periods of time, told a wonderful story about Stickeen, a dog who used to accompany him on many of his outdoor adventures. The dog had an enduring and joyous relationship with Muir and he liked to join Muir even in the middle of storms and in treacherous country. This particular story occurred on a trek across glaciers in Alaska.

Muir discovered as night was falling that he and Stickeen faced an enormous crevasse that was passable only by a precarious ice-sliver ledge. Muir realized that there was no alternative but to cross the deep and broad chasm by walking the narrow, ice-covered ledge.

Muir knew there was no way he could safely carry the dog across with him. With great remorse, he left the dog behind. Stickeen watched intently as Muir walked the ledge to safety. Muir looked back at the sad and lonely dog who loved him so much. At first, the dog paced back and forth as he deliberated whether to also walk across the ledge.

It seemed an impossibility to Muir that the dog could make it. After much deliberation, the dog finally decided to walk across.

Safe at last, Muir said that the dog, Stickeen, "ran and cried and barked and rolled about fairly hysterical, going from the depth of despair to triumphant joy. I tried to catch him and pet him and tell him how good and brave he was, but he would not be caught. He ran round and round, swirling like autumn leaves in an eddy, laying down and rolling head over heels."

Wherever Muir went, people begged to hear this inspirational story about the dog. Muir said that Stickeen had "enlarged my life, for through him as through a window, I have ever since been looking with deeper sympathy into all my fellow mortals." It is interesting to note that prior to walking across the icy ledge, Stickeen was a rather troubled animal, distant and aloof toward human beings. After his walk, Stickeen was a delight to all he met. He had transformed into a loving and devoted dog who joyfully interacted with others.

Stickeen’s story is a reminder of how absolutely joyful and ecstatic it is to successfully face our fears, to walk through them, and to make it to the other side. To successfully do this requires our “flying on the inside.” Like Stickeen, each of us can fly on the inside by finding the inner strength and commitment to walk across the many ice-sliver ledges in our lives. Just as Muir could not make the choice for the dog, others cannot make this choice for us. Muir, like others, however, can be an example of the successful outcome of such a courageous choice.

Love was the ultimate reason the dog made the decision to cross – the love that he and Muir had for one another, the love the dog had for the gift of his precious life. And, on the other hand, I would guess that the Love of God was what emanated through Muir, that he was an instrument of God's Love, and it was that Love that the dog chose not to be separated from. Muir was clearly “flying on the inside.”

Once we successfully cross our personal ice-sliver ledge, we, like Stickeen, are transformed from a fearful being to one who lives our life completely and well.


What fears come up for you as you recall the ice-sliver ledges in your life? Did these experiences result in your having greater compassion for people, animals, and nature? 

How might you increase being aware of flying on the inside in your personal and work life, especially during times you are crossing an ice-sliver ledge?

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Share with me what you experienced doing the Reflection exercise, or just say hello and let me know if you are finding my blog of value. 

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Reference: Muir, John. 1909. "Stickeen: The Story of a Dog." Introduction by Dan E. Anderson and Harold Wood. Sierra Club website.

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