Mythic soundtracks for when you feel like giving up

(Buena Vista Pictures)

Today I felt like giving up.

In actuality, I knew that I couldn’t and wouldn’t. But the feelings of wanting to were there. My first reflex was to think that by even having such feelings I had failed this stage of my test and, of course, that just made me feel worse.

Then wisdom spoke. And I listened. I stopped what I was doing and took a good chunk of the day and simply gave myself permission to feel that way. I kept silent and did not interact with the world during this time because I was tempted to say and do certain things as these feelings tossed and turned and I knew I would regret it later if I did.

In this particular instance the impulse to quit was brought on by mounting physical pain and exhaustion. Mentally, I didn’t think there was any cause for such feelings. But, of course, the physical and the mental coalesce.

In any event, regardless of the cause, sooner or later everyone feels like giving up. And by “giving up” I include all the many variations of it, be it quitting a single task, an entire project or even life itself. Quitting hope.

At times like this I go on what I call a mini-vision quest and if you like perhaps you can try this too. No fasting, deep seclusion in the forest, hallucinogens or sweat lodges necessary. All you need is a couple hours of time, your imagination and… music.

Instructions for Your Mini-Vision Quest

Here is a playlist of tracks from mythic soundtracks that I use personally. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to the pieces on this list. And while I use music from all genres to inspire myself, for the sake of coherence this post will stick to soundtracks. Consider it a sequel of sorts to my post on superhero soundtracks.

The Hero’s Journey needs a soundtrack, and unlike the characters in these stories we are fortunate in that we can actually hear the background music when it plays and consciously draw strength and inspiration from it.

But speaking of background, when I do this vision quest I don’t play the music in the background while doing something else. I turn it on, sit down, close my eyes and focus. I then willingly create my own hallucinations, i.e. imagine.

I imagine I am the heroes in the modern myths from which this music comes. I recall images of critical moments and scenes. I imagine that these scenes are symbolic representations of whatever struggles I am facing. And as I do this, as in any good vision quest or hallucinogenic trip, I start to become more than myself. My ego becomes magnified into a myriad crystalline facets reflecting the visages of different heroes across time and cultures as they all rush to my aid and I am no longer just the puny everyday self. I become a veritable army.

I offer you thus seven myths, seven heroes—seven different manifestations of yourself who will lift you onto your feet, pat your back and offer you words of solace. May they inspire and strengthen you on this day if you happen to be reeling from stress, pain, grief, discouragement or whatever else.

Dances With Wolves | “John Dunbar Theme”

Composer: John Barry

Everyone knows the feeling. Everyone has asked the question, “Is this all my life is?”

Regardless of who you are, no matter what your life situation, I say to you, “No, it is not.”

But to see how it is not, you have to look deep past the surface for the surface often looks like nothing is happening. You’re stuck. You’re trapped in a humdrum place in a humdrum life.

But I believe, with all my heart, that we are all the heroes of true epic tales from which the fictitious tales have sprung. This is a belief, however, that is rarely validated by external events. For most of us, the thrilling things that occur in stories and myths don’t happen in real life because myths symbolize internal processes where, spiritually speaking, you do leap across gaping chasms, slay dragons and save the prince or princess.

Feelings of hopelessness aren’t bad per se. They often signify the beginning of a new stage of your journey. It is John Dunbar’s attempted suicide in Dances With Wolves that sets his own mythical cycle in motion. Listen to this stirring theme by John Barry and  imagine the rest of your life as a great, open frontier before you with many wonders left to yet behold if you only have the courage to keep going. It is not a distance you will walk physically, necessarily. But it is a distance your heart must surely cross.

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King Arthur | “Woad to Ruin

Composer: Hans Zimmer

It is easy for one of high social stature to hold his head high and walk proud. The entire world is telling him he’s worthy of it, after all. But it takes one of true, inner nobility to be able to carry herself with dignity and composure in the face of the world telling her she is a loser.

King Arthur is one of my favorite mythical heroes because in him we see how the archetype of the nameless commoner (Wart) and the Once and Future King coexist within each individual. And Excalibur? Excalibur is nothing more than conscious human choice to awaken one’s full potential as a human being. It is a choice that must be remade every day, particularly on those days when you feel like quitting. Days like today.

Whenever I feel discouraged and want to remember and feel like the king and the god that I am, I turn this on, reassume a posture of dignity and strength and get back to the task at hand.

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Man of Steel | “Man of Steel (Hans’ Original Sketchbook)”

Composer: Hans Zimmer

If even Superman, a modern day sun god, sometimes feels like quitting, why should you be so hard on yourself for feeling the same way from time to time? And as the great superhero archetypes have shown us, it’s not about never having such feelings but rather what we do with them when we do.

You owe it to yourself to allow moments of wallowing in self-pity. There is nothing pathetic in this. But when you’ve decided that you’ve had enough, turn on this track and give yourself entirely to it as I did today.

By the 24:00 time mark, it was as if the sun god himself had floated down a cylindrical beam of light and landed in front of me.

Like a stern but loving elder brother he crossed his arms, arched his eyebrows and smiled. It was a gentle yet chastising smile. I sobbed and he threw his head back and laughed, not cruelly but joyfully, at my pain.

He reminded me of the many real-life heroes I idolize who have been through so much more than I and yet who still did not quit. It is then that I too smile and laugh. The thorns of pain throughout my body became petals of roses kissing and blessing me. I stroked the hair of the Orphan child within me—the one who feels unappreciated, misunderstood and abandoned—and assured him there was nothing to fear. And I told Kal-El he could fly back home to the world of imagination because I was ready now, ready again to face real life on its own terms.

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The Lord of the Rings | “May It Be”

Composers: Enya, Roma Ryan / Orchestration: Howard Shore

“May It Be” evokes two different mythical scenarios for me: the eve before embarking on a great quest when the hero is frightened and doesn’t know if he has what it takes, and midway through the quest when, sure enough, the hero realizes that he’s in for more than he bargained for and considers if it’s still possible to turn back.

The lyrics, which weave in Quenya, Tolkien’s invented (but beautiful) Elvish language, are themselves the best response to these thoughts and feelings:

Mornië  utúlië (Darkness has come)

Believe and you will find your way

Mornië  alantië (Darkness has fallen)

A promise lives within you now

The promise spoken of is the promise to bear your burden, to not let it corrupt you, and to see your quest through to the end.

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The Dark Knight Rises | “Rise”

Composer: Hans Zimmer

I am not immune to the voice of selfishness.

It tells me:

Walk away from these ideals. Stop seeing yourself as the saint or the martyr because you are neither. Go and have some fun.

And the Rogue archetype in me (manifested in The Dark Knight Rises as Catwoman before she transcends her self-limitations), the one who thinks that life and the world owe him something, says, ”Yes… yes, I may still do that.”

Whenever I start to hear these voices crowding the space in my head, I know that the Warrior archetype in me, somewhere along the line, must have fallen back into a slumber. And so I reawaken it with this, the final track in the soundtrack to the final film of the great Nolan-Dark Knight mythic cycle. It never fails to help me channel any and all negative feelings into something productive, something that can hopefully benefit others. Something like this post.

As you listen, remember these great lines from the film:

“Save yourself. You don’t owe these people any more. You’ve given them everything.”

“Not everything. Not yet.”

Here’s to giving everything. Rise.

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Sunshine | “Sunshine (Adagio in D Minor)”

Composer: John Murphy

There are days when I feel like there is nothing left in me, like this time I have truly reached my physical and mental limits, when the exhaustion is a black hole sucking me in, surely for good, and the pain in this physical vessel is screaming so loudly I cannot think clearly enough to remember my phone number. I put my head in my hands and I think, dear God I can’t I can’t do this anymore.

It is on these days that I sit down and I turn this music on. I close my eyes and I relive the latter portion of Capa’s mythical journey in the film Sunshine. In that moment, I am him and he is me. After having just gone through a supreme ordeal, he still has one final task left before him but by this point his body and spirit are spent. He is completely alone now and he has nothing left. He collapses, he bleeds, he cries, he pounds his head. He doesn’t know if he can get up.

But he can. And I can. And you can. I don’t care what you’re going through. You can.

Capa can’t quit because the entire world is counting on him, for without completing his final task the sun would die and the world with it. Compared to such epic stakes, you might think your own journey is not as important. But it is. In a way that I can’t begin to explain here the stakes of the choices you make are just as epic as in Sunshine because everything is connected and the law of interdependence works at both the micro and macroscopic levels.

The world, and the people you care about, are counting on you to keep the fire of the sun burning. To keep hope alive.

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Gladiator | “Now We Are Free”

Composer: Hans Zimmer

If “Sunshine (Adagio in D Minor)” is the sound of a hero giving absolutely everything he has left for one final sacrifice, “Now We Are Free” is the reward.

Sometimes, life really does feel like a never-ending battle, with too few patches of peace and comfort amidst constant strife and turmoil. As morbid as it may sound (though I assure you it is not), I often use death as motivation. I see it as the final, great reward that awaits me if I can keep the secret promises I’ve made to myself. It is the proverbial carrot-on-a-stick that keeps me going. What I mean by this is not that I want to die, and certainly not now when I have work left to do, but that I look forward to the cessation of struggle, the well-deserved rest, the peace, the freedom.

With its evocative title and ethereal vocals by Dead Can Dance-member Lisa Gerrard, “Now We Are Free” makes me imagine a great winged creature taking flight and leaving this world of sorrows behind. As with Maximus at the end of Gladiator, the work is done. Now it’s time to rest.

It’s time to go home.

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About The Pop Mythologist

The Pop Mythologist
The Pop Mythologist is the founder and editor of He has been a staff writer for the nationally distributed magazine KoreAm , the online journal of pop culture criticism Pop Matters and has written freelance for various other publications and websites.


  1. My “soundtrack” would probably include Carl Orff’s ‘O Fortuna’ but with visions of (arguably the best filmed Arthur version) Excalibur (1981) dancing in my head. Despite Apotheosis techno-raping it, this piece is still a great way to say FU to fate 🙂 (Depressing songs always make me feel better about MY life LOL)

    • Jess Kroll

      O Fortuna! Good choice. Possibly, for me at least, also Duel of the Fates from Phantom Menace. Probably the only good thing to come out of Episode I.

  2. Daniel, I’m thanking you for this awesome post! I’m th.rilled to hear all this glorious music in one spot! I’m awed at your sensibility. Excellent writing. Can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this, and want to get this collection for my I-pod.

  3. I’m with Maxim that O Fortuna is a great pick me up. I worked out to “Rise” and it’s awesome.

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