Feng Shui

By Patrick Marsolek (8/2012)

Does it seem superstitious to you to place a mirror in a certain place in the entrance hall of your home, so that the ‘energy’ of the room will feel better? Would you consider the landscape around a home you were building before deciding where to place the entrance? Do you believe there is an energetic relationship between the buildings you live in and work in and your emotional state, your financial success or your physical health?

These are three examples of the philosophical/architectural practice of feng shui (pronounced fung shway), an ancient practice which recognizes the relationship between humans and their environment. Although to many Westerners these kinds of practices and the concepts of feng shui may sound superstitious or pseudo-science, feng shui has been used for thousands of years, especially in the East, and is currently being used by businesses in the West.

Developers who want an edge are finding that implementing feng shui principles into their buildings pays off.  Their buildings sell quicker and their clients are more satisfied with the results. Along the “Gold Coast” of New Jersey’s Hudson waterfront, developers are erecting residential and commercial buildings with feng shui planning from the ground up. This planning is in part due to the influx of Asian people and businesses in the area, but it is also because Westerners like how feng shui practices support smart design and eco-friendly living. Lisa DeLove, the interior design director for the Roseland Property Company was quoted in a recent New York Times article, “Even if you’re not familiar with the history of feng shui, or don’t care about the energy and spirituality of feng shui, we’ve learned that it’s a very thoughtful approach to great design.” (see footnote 1)

Other businesses are paying attention. Whole Foods uses a feng shui consultant, as does Donald Trump, Virgin Airlines, and the Bank of England. In 2005, even Walt Disney acknowledged feng shui as an important part of Chinese culture by shifting the main gate of Hong Kong Disneyland by twelve degrees in their building plans, in an effort to incorporate local culture into the theme park. Millions of people worldwide turn to feng shui for help when they’re stuck in a career, considering relocating or rebuilding their business or even having trouble is their love life. Feng Shui has hit the main stream.

The Chinese art of 'feng shui', translates as 'wind and water', referring to the relationships of the energy of wind and water and how they interact. It also means 'that which cannot be seen and cannot be grasped'.  A core component of feng shui is calculating the interactions between the five elements (fire, earth, metal, water, and wood), yin and yang principles and the balance and flow of qi. Qi, also known as chi, is at the heart of feng shui and refers to the active, energetic principle within any living thing. One might also call it life energy, life force, or energy flow. (Qi was discussed in reference to acupuncture in AR issue #94.) Qi is referred to as Prana in India, Mana in Hawaii, Lüng in Tibet and even in Western popular culture as vital force, or “The Force” from the movie Star Wars.

Practices of working with this universal force also exist in other cultures. Vastu Shastra in India is also a system of thought detailing how the laws of nature affect human dwellings. Certain sacred precepts are used by Vedantic scholars to govern temples, vehicles, vessels, furniture and even paintings. Ilmu Tajul is another form of feng shui which also uses metaphysical and geomantic principles when placing buildings. This form is practiced by Shamans and architects in Indonesia and Malaysia.

In the West, one is more likely to have heard of the practice of smudging; or burning a ceremonial plant or resin to clear the energy of a space. Smudging is common in Native American traditions and is also used in the practice of Feng Shui. Lighting a candle at an altar can also have a similar intention. Culturally, even in the West, we do acknowledge subtle energies and utilize what skeptics call “folk practices” to shift how we’re feeling.

However, in the practice of feng shui, the awareness of subtle energies and our relationships to them has been made into a science.  How our homes or workplaces retain or dissipate qi is thought to affect our health, wealth, energy level, and luck. It is believed that the qualities of each object in a space and the surrounding environment affect the flow of qi by slowing it down, redirecting it or accelerating it, much the same way a rock will shift the flow of water in a stream. These disturbances will have an effect on the energy level of the occupants. Feng shui practitioners claim that we live in a constant stream of subtle energies and their work creates harmony and balance between us and our surroundings.

The earliest evidence of the origin of these principles dates back between 3000 and 5000 years to the Yangshao and Hongshan cultures in China. Later, feng shui practice split into two groups, the Compass school and the Form school. Compass school advocates use specific directions that are determined by mathematical formulas, numerology, and/or astrological information. The astrological information is thought to be connected to and influencing the earth’s magnetic fields. So a proper reading of the stars will help a practitioner gain a clearer understanding of the particular situation. There are several different branches of this school.

Form school teaches about the most powerful positions for houses and other buildings, rooms within structures, and furniture within the rooms. Every building, stone and planted tree is so placed into a landscape as to conform to the 'dragon currents' which flow along lines of the flow of Qi. These currents take on either Yin, which is described as slow, soft and feminine, or Yang, which is fast, hard, masculine. These energetic qualities need to be balanced. Often a feng shui artist practices a blending of the schools and even includes other elements from other traditions.

Some of the basic rules of feng shui seem logical and common sense to Westerners. For example, your home should not be built at the end of a dead-end road. The energy moves too fast down the road into your house where it then becomes stagnant. Round pillars are better than square, since they don’t cut the Qi. A kitchen stove shouldn’t be placed facing an entrance door, since it could be dangerous to be distracted by visitors while cooking at the stove.

In practice though, feng shui is not a simple art. Experienced practitioners are able to hold many, many variables in their awareness when doing a reading of a home or a building site. In fact, some people consider feng shui to be an intuitive art. It is not based on a logical system of tables, refined over its thousands of years of history - a complaint of the skeptics. Rather decisions are based on the practitioner’s overall reading of the flow of qi of the entire environment, including the stars, the balance of positive and negative energy, even past events and possible future changes.

In addition, some practitioners use a luopan, a specific feng shui compass.(see image) The luopan is a direction finder, using the earth’s magnetic field. Unlike the typical Western compass, it is divided into 24 directions, points to the South magnetic pole and may have up to 40 concentric rings on the surface denoting many of the different feng shui formulas. Since each practitioner may read the luopan differently, some consider it a form of divination, much like dowsing. The quality of information arrived at with the compass is a reflection of the person’s subtle awareness of the qi.

Modern reactions to feng shui are mixed. In China, feng shui was suppressed during the cultural revolution in the 1960s, but since then it has gradually increased in popularity. Western skeptics, though acknowledging some of aspects of feng shui are common sense, claim that most of it is superstition. This is not only a recent attitude. Matteo Ricci, a 16th century Catholic missionary to China, criticized feng shui as an absurd heathen superstition: "What could be more absurd than their imagining that the safety of a family, honors, and their entire existence must depend upon such trifles as a door being opened from one side or another, as rain falling into a courtyard from the right or from the left, a window opened here or there, or one roof being higher than another?"

This attitude has become the norm of Western materialistic thinking as any sense of interconnection between man and nature has diminished. But it also reflects the conflicts Christians have with feng shui. Marcia Montenegro, a Christian writer responding to New Age and holistic perspectives said: “It is entirely inconsistent with Christianity to believe that harmony and balance result from the manipulation and channeling of nonphysical forces or energies, or that such can be done by means of the proper placement of physical objects. Such techniques, in fact, belong to the world of sorcery.”

Even adherents of feng shui are critical of the watered down and commercialized versions tailored for Western New Age consumption. There are a whole array of metaphysical feng shui products available to improve your health, maximize your potential, improve your sex life and turn your luck for the better. These products certainly don’t take into account the energies of specific situations, relationships or environments, which is at the core of feng shui. Yet, in spite of feng shui being perceived  by some as a kind of divination or sorcery on the one hand or ‘Woo Woo’ fluff on the other, many people use it and value it.

A lay Westerner with no energetic awareness of his relationship to the world might, after reading a book on feng shui, consider his relationship to the world around him in a new way, shift the positioning of his furniture, and feel a qualitative shift in his space. The result might be that he would feel, in a small way, enlarged and empowered. The theory in feng shui is that literally everything is related to everything. If this person was feeling disconnected from his world and alone, this one shift in awareness, might bring him more meaning and happiness.

In the mainstream, a growing number of architects, environmental scientists and decorators are integrating feng shui ideas into contemporary building design. These professionals are not diving into the intuitive metaphysics of feng shui; rather, they’re taking the practical, tangible parts that work and using them artfully. Landscape ecologists have also discovered feng shui and implement its principles into their designs. The only remaining stands of old growth forests in some areas in Asia are “feng shui woods.” These areas have been preserved and are now seen to be part of cultural heritage, historical continuity and the preservation of plant and animal species. Some ecologists claim the presence of these forests clearly illustrates that feng shui is resonant with popular green ideas like sustainability and healthy environments.

Buildings and spaces designed with feng shui attract clients. People like the spaces and how they feel in them, and the buildings sell. (see image of building) Similarly, in its traditional form in ancient China, it was the aim of the geomancer to place every structure precisely within the landscape in accordance with a mysterious and magical system by which the laws of harmony and nature were expressed. Every feature in the landscape was thoughtfully placed to produce an effect which ultimately was perceived as beautiful. Some would even say that perceived beauty in a landscape may be occurring when the lines of Qi are in balance.

These systems of harmony and beauty are strikingly similar to the way the ancient Greeks, and some think the Egyptians before them, used the Golden Ratio to guide the building of their most sacred temples. The Greek letter phi represents the golden ratio 1.618 which many people believe was incorporated in the Egyptian pyramids, the Parthenon in Greece, Notre Dame in Paris and even the Taj Mahal in India - all buildings we still regard as awe inspiring. The spiral expression of the Golden ratio also mirrors some of the most aesthetically pleasing shapes found in nature. Thus, there’s something about humans wanting to live in a place of beauty and energetic balance. Such places inspire us to live healthier lives. Many different cultures have tried to map out how to create beauty and balance in predictable ways.

Another interesting correlate to feng shui lies in the mystical network of ley lines found across Britain. Originally Alfred Watkins coined the term ley lines to refer natural and man-made alignments of geographical features, including hilltops, springs, ancient monuments and megalithic structures. In the 1960’s, John Michell suggested a correlation between ley lines and feng shui, suggesting that the lines may not be only physical, and may also contain energetic or metaphysical properties. It has been suggested that the prehistoric monuments and megaliths were placed intentionally on these alignments because of their energetic properties.

The writer and researcher Tom Graves, in his book, Needles of Stone, later proposed that ancient peoples who built the megaliths, lived in a conscious awareness of their relationship to the energies of the earth. He proposed that they had a different view of the 'spirit' of a place, the genius loci. To our modern, materialistic mind, places are just commodities, to be bought and sold. In this earlier, pagan view, places had sacredness, a spiritual importance, that might not even relate to the physical characteristics of the place. Within this context, he proposed that some of the megalithic standing stones may even have been placed into energy lines in the earth, much the same way an acupuncturist would treat a human body. This was done purposefully to shift the energy of a place, release blockages and even induce a healthier place for crops to grow and people to live.

Though the concept of genius loci may be less mainstream now, people are still concerned about the healthy and viability of a home, a village, a community, or a whole region. In the West, many green, environmental thinkers and even physical scientists are seeing that the physical and energetic environment we live in does have an affect on our health. In the East these attitudes have existed for centuries and are still very much alive. The government of Hong Kong recently reported that about 9.4 million Hong Kong dollars, or $1.2 million, had been dispersed to villages since 2000 to conduct rituals to restore feng shui. These restorations are done in response to building, mining, and other forms of industry. This is not a new practice. In the early part of the 20th century, the Chinese government destroyed a whole railway line because the train, “destroyed the feng shui of tens of thousands of people on both sides of the line.” It seems that it wasn’t just the addition of the train that was not acceptable, but that the speed of the train was specifically causing problems with the people’s feng shui.

This kind of action resonates with people in the Green movement, who express concerns about the effects of highway systems and mining have on the energy of a landscape. People are concerned about the new technology of “fracking” for natural gas because of the long-term negative effects of the process on their environments. Many people can understand the fear of poisoning the drinking water, pollution from the fracking process. Fewer people are seriously questioning the long term energetic effects fracking might have on a landscape, and the energetic health and wellness of the people living there. Some acupuncturists, dowsers, and healers would even go so far as to say many existing industries such as electrical generation, mining, larger earthworks, and city construction are negatively affecting the feng shui of our homes and communities and causing many health problems.

Feng shui is one culture’s example of a belief many indigenous peoples have, that the whole world is interconnected, alive and in relationship with humanity. The awareness of interconnectivity and relationship to nature is growing in the Western mind, which in the past has tried to psychically sever itself from such “primitive” beliefs. Feng Shui and other energetic practices are being used more now partly because they meet our needs in practical ways. We feels better and the building we inhabit bring a sense of beauty into our lives. It may also be that as we wake up from our collective disease of isolation and disconnection we are needing to find ways to remember our delightful and healing entanglement with the larger living world.

1- ‘Gold Coast’ Developers Warm to Feng Shui” By Jill P. Capuzzo. New York Times, July 19, 2012

Patrick Marsolek is a writer, dancer, facilitator, clinical hypnotherapist and the director of Inner Workings Resources. He leads groups and teaches classes in extended human capacities, consciousness exploration, personal development, and  compassionate communication. He offers his services to businesses, individuals and families and in self-empowerment seminars. He is the author of Transform Yourself: A Self-hypnosis manual and A Joyful Intuition. See www.PatrickMarsolek.com for more information.