The Nothing, The Swamp of Sadness, and The Neverending Story

It’s hard to realize that it’s been almost 30 years since The Neverending Story premiered.

A young boy feeling lost and alone after the death of his mother in the home of a single father who is widowed and doing his best to keep life on track for them both is bullied and chased by other kids and finds his way into an obscure bookstore. In this place he is initially chastised and rejected by the crotchety and cantankerous bibliophile who speaks critically and disdainfully. A set-up to pique the interest of this child who will be the ultimate savior of the dying Empress and Fantasia, the embodiment of human imagination and aspiration.

Keith just ordered all three movies in the series for our little Luna, who, without any conscious influence or encouragement from me is currently enamoured with Barbie movies. She really wasn’t into watching this movie or anything she hadn’t picked out for herself. Four year olds may not know much, but they certainly know their own minds.

I guess that can be said of most of us at various points in our lives, right?

And so, Keith and I wound up watching it together while Luna decided to play and watch other things in another room. I was having difficulty concentrating and had a lot of distractions disrupting my focus, but two different scenes really grabbed my attention.

The first was when Atreyu, the hero in the book young Bastion is reading, is struggling through the dark, dank, and dreary Swamp of Sadness with his pony, Artax.

You're letting the sadness of the swamps get to you. You have to try. You have to care. ~ Atreyu to Artax, Neverending Story, 1984

You’re letting the sadness of the swamps get to you. You have to try. You have to care. ~ Atreyu to Artax, Neverending Story, 1984

I really identify with Artax: sinking ever slowly, motionless, being pulled under by the inertia and drag of the muck surrounding his feet, in an environment imbued with the greying darkness of sadness and despair. The poignant begging and pleading of the one who loves him most can’t reach into his mind and heart to get him to keep moving forward. He. Just. Stops. Moving.

Yeah, I can relate.

The next scene that slapped me into conciousness was the exchange between Atreyu and G’mork.

The Nothing Explained

Because people have begun to lose their hopes and forget their dreams. So the Nothing grows stronger.

This is the thing I keep fighting in my life, inside of myself, this Nothing: “the emptiness that’s left. Its like a despair.”

The good news is that movies like this and interactions with my loved ones and the numerous folks that are present in my life, both IRL and online, are continually reminding me to try, to care, to focus on my hopes and dreams, to engage and not give into The Nothing.

One such friend posted a video of a 15 year old, Jack Andraka, who has created a way to detect pancreatic, lung, and ovarian cancer with a sensor that costs 3¢ and only takes five minutes. I was intrigued and decided to watch it, although my anachronistic brain still doesn’t really like watching videos on my phone or computer.

My 3 Cents

Click on this image to go see: Jack Andraka My 3 Cents On Cancer, TEDxSanJoseCAWomen

If a 15 year old, using nothing more than the information available on the internet, his own questioning mind, and a persistent determination to make a difference, find answers and create solutions can find a way to create a sensor to detect three of the deadliest forms of cancer, what can I do?

What can you do?

What can we do?

One thing I know I can do. I can refuse to let current events and the constant bombardment of tragedy, terrorism (domestic and foreign), and the onslaught of emotional and psychological manipulation dictate whether or not I succumb to The Nothing and allow myself to sink below The Swamp of Sadness.

This month’s peace challenge from Kozo at everydaygurus is a focus on children. Create a post that focuses on teaching the newest generation about generating peace.

I was at a loss, especially after the recent events in the U.S. this month, which just triggered much of the same miasma of fear-based vitriol that has been floating around and seeming to increase exponentially with every new incident.

Then I read a couple of posts by Amy West: A word on parenting after the violence in Boston and Hating Dzhokhar Won’t Help. She offers some very basic and foundational truths for teaching peace to our children:

Show your kids that compassion is always more helpful than judgment. Because it is.

Be kind to your kids. Believe in their good intentions. The way you treat them teaches them how to treat other people.

She suggests that, “We can choose to act from outside of the fear response (the one that says hate him, that eye-for-an-eye logic),” and shares about an African tribe that approaches rehabilitation of those who have chosen wrong and harmful action. “The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behavior is not punishment; it is love and the remembrance of identity. When you recognize your own song, you have no desire or need to do anything that would hurt another.

I will work to remember to sing Luna a song of compassion, empathy, acceptance, and forgiveness as often as I am able. I will continue to focus on the things that help me think and act out of the love and peace that exists within me and reach for love and peace in those around me.

I will allow Luna to choose the terrifyingly pink brightness of Barbie movies and follow her lead to dance and play and focus on what she wants to do and enjoy, rather than focus on the fears of society and what I’ve learned to believe is wrong and distorted. I can refuse to pass my hangups, assumptions, and false beliefs onto her.

I will teach her about empathy and compassion. I will show understanding, acceptance, and forgiveness over judgment, criticism, and vengeance and teach her how to cope with the painful, bewildering, and overwhelming things in this world.

Now, what will you do to try, to care, and to fight against The Nothing?

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  1. Thank you. You have a lovely, thoughtful way with words, and I needed yours today. The reference to the horse has come up in my life a few times recently, as well as the swamp of sadness. There is do much coming at us on the way of negativity, and it’s easy to feel weak. Thank you, for helping see a way out of the swamp.


  2. I’ve been in bits literally for an hour since reading your post. If I may quote you…

    “I really identify with Artax: sinking ever slowly, motionless, being pulled under by the inertia and drag of the muck surrounding his feet, in an environment imbued with the greying darkness of sadness and despair. The poignant begging and pleading of the one who loves him most can’t reach into his mind and heart to get him to keep moving forward. He. Just. Stops. Moving.”

    I have been ‘officially’ Bi-Polar for a couple of years now, though of course in reality it has been much, much longer. I have the most brilliant woman in my life and 2 incredible kids and I adore the 3 of them with every fibre in my body. But I can’t always show it, as this blanket of darkness and despair just won’t lift, no matter what I seem to do. She is the Atreyu to my Artax, pleading with her eyes, her actions and her love for me to pull myself out of the mud. I want to more than anything, and I’m so scared that I might never be able to. I feel so selfish, I have all I ever dreamed of as a child growing up in various foster homes. I managed to find it, now I just push away and it is an insult to their beauty and unconditional love. They all know I love them, as I really do try, and come what may – I tell them everyday. But on the really bad days it must be so confusing and hurtful to them as they can’t possibly understand this warzone inside of me. I don’t even understand it myself.


    1. James,
      First, I want to thank you for taking the time and the risk to bare your inner struggles here. Knowing that what I write here connects and resonates with others is a huge blessing to me. I sincerely hope that those who discover this blog, are able to get something of benefit to them by being here.

      Second, I want to apologize for not responding sooner. I started to reply several times but either experienced technical glitches or life disruptions. I’ve also been struggling with my own symptoms a bit and was having difficulty focusing and following through.

      Finally, I just want you to know that however much it may feel like you are walled off, isolated, and alone – you are absolutely not alone. I won’t pretend I know exactly what you experience. That would be a lie. What I can say is this, hope is possible and so is healing – at least emotionally and spiritually, even if the neurochemistry and physiological conditions of the bi-polar remain.

      I’ve had some significant breakthroughs this year as I’ve been expiring and learning about possible diagnoses which fit patterns in myself, my relationships, and in the ones I love. One of those things has been learning about something called The Circle of Security, a therapeutic parenting group based in attachment theory. I realized that many of the difficulties I have had in all of my relationships: romantic, friendship, parenting, and the rest, is that I probably grew up with an attachment disorder based in the chaos, instability, abuse, and neglect, I experienced in childhood.

      Understanding that and learning new ways of responding to the things that can trigger and exacerbate the symptoms of the depression and hypomania has helped me to be able to be more responsive and less reactive in my relationships. It’s hard work and it may not be relevant in your situation, but I’m sharing this because I want you to know, you can move through this.



  3. Really great post! We absolutely have choice to make in the age of the internet and in our daily lives. Whether to contribute to the “nothing” or work to spread truth, imagination, kindness and education.

    Thanks for sharing! 🙂



    1. Rohan,
      Thank you very much. Shifting gears to realize each and every moment I can make that choice over the choice to give into the nothingness, has been a long time in coming and still one I’m learning to make.

      Meeting and interacting with you and so many others helps me get back on that track when I veer off.



  4. Excellent post, Kina! I love movies like this that we can enjoy as kids (I still remember the first time I saw it) and then enjoy for their deeper meaning as adults. This post really got to me on a personal level. As someone who struggles with chronic pain and mental illness, I can very much relate to some of the feelings that you described (and I fight daily to not allow myself to be pulled down.) My family is definitely the main thing that keeps me going. Blogging helps, too. And being reminded that other people like me are out there. Thank you for sharing this.


    1. Melissa,
      Thank you for sharing your response. I think writing on this blog has done so much for my mental health and for my improving relationships. It’s encouraging to know that sharing my journey is helping others as well.



  5. I cry everytime Artax is swallowed by the swamp. Every. Time.

    What’s funny is that I just picked this movie up for Trinity the other day, and another blog I follow wrote about the scene in relation to her PTSD. I think the universe is trying to tell me something… hm.


    1. Pam,
      This movie is so rich and relevant in so many contexts! As I was finishing up this post the 2nd movie was playing and I has some additional sparks of insight as well. Fodder for a future post perhaps.



  6. Wow. Love this! There are SO many take-aways from this film. I love what you wrote about Artax – comparing him to those caught in depression (they just stop moving). Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Great post, and I love your blog!


    1. Wendy,
      Thank you so much. I really appreciate the feedback.

      Depression has been an ingrained part of my life since adolesence, so I have more in common with Artax than Atreyu, although Atreyu is who I’ve always wished I could be.

      Looking forward to connecting with you more.



  7. Neverending Story? Absolutely…one of my long-time Top 10’s. You are so much more than nothing…love the verve in your thoughts tonight. Kudos for the closing challenge. Look for Defiance from me on Sunday!. Dan


    1. Dan!
      How luverly to see you. I was just catching up on the messiness of life and the differentiation of good noise from the other kind when your comment popped up.

      Interesting you should speak of Defiance. I’m introducing Keith to it now so I can view the next episode.

      A dear friend of mine and I were discussing the truths to be found in “children’s movies” such as Neverending Story and Labyrinth as well as authors such as MacDonald, Lewis, and Tolkein. Fantasy is rich with truth.



  8. I watched this movie endlessly with my kids when they were young. I think it is time to re visit it. Thank you


    1. WiseJourney,
      You’re welcome and thank you for visiting.

      It’s been an interesting journey parenting the four year old after already raising the others through adolescence and to adulthood. Revisiting movies from my youth and theirs with her is reminding me of lessons I’d forgotten.



    1. I agree with Kathy. This whole post fights against The Nothing. It also makes sure that the future generations will have Something to strive for. I am thankful for the change in attitude many Americans displayed after the Boston Marathon bombing. After 9/11 I tried to have conversations with people about loving our enemies, and I was literally thrown out of people’s houses. Today, there seems to be a lot more empathy and compassion. Thank you, Kina, for continuing to add drops of compassion, kindness, and empathy into the mix. {{{hugs}}} Kozo


      1. Kozo,
        I think that, perhaps, there are more of us willing to stand up and speak out against what you describe. I also think that there are enough of us who have overloaded on the overabundance of vitriol, hate-speech, and black & white, us vs them speaking.

        Our presidential and national elections occurred, then Sandy Hook, then all the hoopla over the legalization of same-sex marriages, combined with all the rhetoric about immigration, the depletion of our national financial security for fighting what so many believe to be a false and contrived war against terror. We are sick and tired of manipulation and propaganda. We’re sick and tired of tolerating bullies of all stripes and flavor.

        We didn’t inherit the better world or America the Reagan era alluded too and want to do better by our children. Ours is the generation rising into socio-political power and we want our voices heard and to teach our children how to use theirs.



  9. Glad to be here from Ultimate Blog Challenge. You are certainly not behind, you are exactly where you are meant to be. There is so much information here – your heart is huge and so loving and giving. Always grateful to read you!


    1. Julie,
      Thank you so much! I’ve had so many different thoughts running through my head over the past couple of weeks, especially in the last week. I’ve felt somewhat numb and kind of overwhelmed. I recognized that I’ve been kind of numbed out and checked out on an emotional level and over the past couple of days realized that I was letting The Nothing take over and dissuade me from using my voice and pay attention to what is going on internally as I isolated and insualted from all the externals.



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