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How Healthy Fear Can be Useful

I’m afraid because I did something stupid. Or crazy. Maybe it was both. What I did is really scary to me. I am afraid. Lots of fear. Sometimes fear is paralyzing. Action becomes difficult. That’s when fear is neither healthy nor helpful. Sometimes, however, fear is motivating and inspiring. Fear is most useful when it helps me move forward. Fear can be a great motivator if we are willing to let it inspire us to act.

Unhealthy Fear

There is the kind of fear that stops us from moving forward, causes paralyzing anxiety and keeps one stuck. I hate that kind of fear. It is not useful and is detrimental. It’s rare when it happens, but it does happen. When fear becomes a phobia, that is even worse.

(I’ve experienced that kind of phobia-like fear. I used to be deathly afraid of roaches. So afraid that I couldn’t even be in the same room as a roach – dead or alive. Once a roach died in the middle of the 2nd bedroom floor. I was so terrified, I didn’t use the second bedroom for months until someone came over and disposed of it for me. Needless to say, that was not a healthy fear.) As soon as I dealt with the fear of roaches, I became free from the fear. I haven’t seen a roach in years, and the last time I did, it hardly bothered me.

Unhealthy fear that is not a phobia is still paralyzing.  It is overwhelming and so frightening that it’s immobilizing.  I have had to overcome that kind of fear as well.  It took time, prayer, therapy, a good support network and a lot of faith. The good news is, one can triumph over unhealthy fear.  Today, however, I want to write about healthy fear.

Healthy Fear

Healthy fear is great! I love that it motivates me into action because I’m afraid of looking bad. I’m afraid of looking like I don’t know what I’m doing. So this defect of character, fear, plays into my other character defects. These 2 negatives negate one another and become positive! Healthy fear becomes the fuel which inspires and encourages me to take action. It gives me forward momentum.

There’s a part of the brain called the amygdala. It’s about the size of an almond and is in charge of our flight, fight, or freeze  response to stimuli. It has served us well in the past. Our ancestors had to defend themselves from dangerous predators and other wild animals. The amygdala was good for our reflexes and even today can save us from danger. Our instincts kick in when we have to run from danger. We know if we smell smoke or hear a smoke alarm, we have to quickly exit the building.

When we can’t stop the amygdala’s response, we find ourselves unable to function or do routine tasks. We become too anxious to ask for a raise or ask someone out on a date. So we have to know the difference between real threat and perceived danger. The trick is to acknowledge our fear and then use it to our own advantage.  So, here’s the acknowledgment of my fear…

The Story

I got an email from an organization that was accepting applications to teach an online class. I could potentially reach hundreds of fellow educators and teachers. Before I thought about it, I applied.  I wanted the opportunity to teach on a subject that I am passionate about, and have taught about in the past. Two days later they accepted my application and I was joyous – for about 30 seconds – before I panicked. “I can’t teach this class…I am not really an expert on the subject!”

I have been trying for the past ten years to write a book on this subject.  The more I write, the more I realize how little I know.  Therefore I cannot get this book written. I have tried, prayed, cajoled the gods, written, rewritten, all to no avail. Someone instructed me to stop writing the book. Instead, they encouraged me to start blogging on the subject. I could use the blog to do the following:

  • Compartmentalize my thoughts
  • Organize my subject matter
  • Only have to write a little bit (800-1000 words) about each subject per blog post.  (Baby steps!)

I thought, “What a great suggestion!” So, I started another blog…

Another Story

Fear and Encouragment

I had a dear friend, Edie, who attended a weekend retreat years ago where I taught about Judaism’s beliefs on the afterlife. She encouraged me to continue writing but life got in the way. I took detours and had some children, raised them, and accepted a promotion to senior rabbi (which meant I had more and different kinds of struggles to deal with). I never carved out ample time for writing. Edie continued to encourage me because she believed not only in me but also in the subject matter. She repeatedly mentioned that, despite the vast information available, so many people were not familiar with the subject.

Edie passed away suddenly a few years ago. It has been hard to be without her and I continue to grieve. Since death ends a life rather than a relationship, I can still feel her encouragement from beyond. She continues to inspire me to write this book, even if it’s just in blog format for now.
The address is:
I invite you to check out my new blog. It is very much like this one except with different subject matter and focus. Certainly, you don’t have to be Jewish to learn about Judaism’s views of the afterlife. Most Christian beliefs have their origin in Jewish thought and opinion anyway. I  have studied the afterlife from a Jewish perspective for many years but have hardly scratched the surface. Since I have to teach a class in 3 weeks, I had best get busy!
So, that’s how fear – the good, healthy kind – has inspired me to act!  I post on the Afterlife blog on Tuesdays and Fridays. I am using the desire to not appear to be unprepared and my true fear as inspiration to continue to write. I am letting all of you know about it because it is humbling, frightening, and simultaneously exciting to start this new endeavor.  In some way, it also keeps me connected to the memory of my friend Edie.  Every time I write about this subject, I am honoring her wish that I continue to educate and teach this vastly deep and rich subject.

Let me know if:

  1. You’ve ever used fear to inspire you to take positive action
  2. Any comments or suggestions (or questions) you may have about the afterlife from any faith tradition!

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