The Luck We Leave Behind

At many Shinto shrines in Japan, visitors can leave a donation and receive a written fortune on a strip of paper. Often, the strips are encased in small clay statues or “selected” by drawing a piece of marked bamboo (or, more rarely, the fortune itself) from a box.

Near the place where the fortunes are, there’s usually a rack or display of paper strips, like this one (located at the base of the mountain at Fushimi Inari). 

15J18 Prayer Strips at Inari

These strips are fortunes people drew but did not want to receive. By tradition and Shinto belief, if you leave your fortune at the shrine where you drew it, the deities will take that “luck” (or whatever the fortune originally foretold) away and it won’t be true for you any longer.

A lesson for all of us.

In life, we often receive “bad luck” we cannot prevent and cannot change. Sometimes, life puts us in unpleasant places. While we’re in them, there’s not much we can do, but when the moment–or season–or difficulty–passes, we have to make some important choices.

Among them: do we take our sorrows along as traveling companions, or do we make the (often difficult) choice to leave the unlucky past behind?

I’ve always known I wanted to be a writer, but the journey to publication wasn’t easy. It took me ten (long) years and five completed manuscripts before I found my agent and obtained my first book contract. Many times, along the way, I had to deal with failure and rejection. I wondered if my luck would ever change.

I’d like to say that “each rejection made me stronger” but that wasn’t always true. There were times when all that kept me going was the choice that I refused to fail. Each rejection, and each manuscript I trunked, represented a fork in the road where I had to choose to leave the “bad luck” event behind and move on toward the goal.

Had I carried the weight of all those rejections and all of the hours of unpublished work along with me on the journey, I might never have arrived. Emotional burdens pinch a person’s soul. It isn’t easy to leave them behind (and some we may always carry, at least in part) but we have to try.

The next time life seems difficult, and the past rises up behind you like a tidal wave, remember the Japanese tradition of “leaving behind” unwelcome fate. At a Shinto shrine, the choice is as simple as tying the paper fortune on a line. The papers flutter like little birds, carrying the messages away from the people who left them.

The message: you may not be able to choose what happened to you here today, but you can choose whether or not you carry it with you when you leave.

 Wherever you are in life, or in the pursuit of your dreams, I hope you’ll choose to carry the good parts with you and tie the bad ones to a tree and walk away. I know I’m trying to. 

4 thoughts on “The Luck We Leave Behind

  • October 19, 2015 at 12:43 pm

    What a wonderful metaphor, Susan! An important reminder for us all. I am SO glad you persisted…otherwise we wouldn’t have Hiro. 😉

    • November 27, 2015 at 4:10 pm

      Thanks, Kathy. I’m glad I did too. My life would be far less wonderful without Hiro in it.

  • October 20, 2015 at 1:51 pm

    Wonderful post, and something I personally needed to hear today. Thank you!

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