Feng Shui - A Method For Living

27th March 2009

Art or science? Myth or magic? However you categorise it, Feng Shui is here to stay. Popular for centuries in the Far East, this ancient Oriental practice gained credence in the West during the 80s and 90s, and still has its adherents today. More than just a type of interior design, it has a profound influence on all aspects of one’s life.

Literally translated, Feng Shui means ‘wind and water’, referring to the powerful forces of nature that shape the earth. It’s about positioning buildings and architectural layouts in such a way that harmony and good fortune are created. In a domestic setting, good Feng Shui creates happiness and health, promotes strong personal relationships and honourable behaviour, and brings prosperity. On the surface, it seems ridiculous – how can the location of a door or a set of shelves affect the way your children behave or the success of a new business venture, but there’s more to this traditional practice than meets the eye.

So, how does it work? Oriental medicine and philosophy are based on the belief that every individual has his or her own chi, a form of electro-magnetic energy that flows through the body, along the meridians that spread out from the chakras – seven separate areas of concentrated energy. The chi energy field extends outside the body, and so is affected by the chi of other people, and of places. Just as individuals have chi, so do buildings and locations, and the way in which each place is arranged can be beneficial to those who live or work there. Feng Shui, properly practised, leads to effective energy flow, and reorganises it when sharp corners, for example, interfere with harmonious movement, creating the poison arrows that lead to Shar Chi (‘killing breath’).

The forces of Yin and Yang must also be balanced in order to ensure good Feng Shui. The familiar black and white circular symbol demonstrates their opposing principles: Yin is dark, female, passive, soft, while Yang is light, male, active, hard. Neither can exist without the other, and each must be present in the correct proportions. Too much sunlight entering a house, for example, will create too much Yang energy (leading to aggression and poor health), but the oppressive light can be diverted into revitalising rainbow colours by hanging a crystal in the window. Interior decor should mix dark and light colours to co-ordinate the Yin and Yang. In areas for relaxing or sleeping, sharp edges and hard surfaces should be minimised or masked with loose hangings and curved shapes, to create a feeling of Yin.

Feng Shui places great importance also on the five elements and their qualities and relationships. There’s fire: red, summer, south; water: black/dark blue, winter, north; wood: green, spring, east; metal: white/gold, autumn, west; and earth (yellow/brown, centre). Chinese astrology characterises individuals by their date and hour of birth according to the elements, and Feng Shui pays attention to these too – so for someone born in an Earth year, too much water in the home would be inappropriate, because water destroys fire; decorating with red would be promising, because fire, associated with the colour red, produces earth.

From the elements Feng Shui then moves on to consider three other symbols. (No-one said it was easy!). There’s the Pa Kua, an octagonal reference device, like a compass but with additonal layers representing the attributes and aspirations of each direction; the I Ching, an ancient Chinese text with eight trigrams that must be consulted; and the Lo Shu square, in which all the dots add up to fifteen, and from which different positions can be determined.

A competent Feng Shui practitioner – profesisonal or amateur – is able to combine knowledge of all these components, and use the different symbols and directions to enhance the Feng Shui of various parts of the house. Once the separate areas of a house have been identified with their particular life aspirations, steps can be taken to activate the relevant corners to produce good fortune. Defensive action can be taken to protect a family or business from bad Feng Shui, or to mitigate its effects (a sort of cosmic insurance policy), while positive encouragement of good Feng Shui actively attracts good luck and good fortune. Beginners are recommended to take protective action first, before moving on to a more proactive approach. Often the corrective measures needed are very simple, and swift manoeuvres can be taken to improve overall welfare. Something as simple as making sure that the toilet lid is always closed can affect prosperity – because wealth is no longer being ‘flushed away.’

Some of the interior design elements of Feng Shui do seem pretty logical. Chairs and sofas need to be placed so that anyone who sits in them can easily see the door, so that freedom and spaciousness are conveyed. The use of candles and plants (such as bamboo or similar mess-free tree-like greenery) is encouraged, to give off oxygen and light, sources of great health and beauty. Other dictats seem less obvious – such as avoiding houses with too many corners, because they give off bad energy, or L-shaped houses because they represent meat cleavers, and therefore suggest the severance of vital connections, or potential injury to the residents. Hmmm.

There must clearly be some substance about Feng Shui, or the practice wouldn’t have survived for all these years, but our civilised, technology-driven existence wants theories and facts to support everything. It leaves no room for mystery and simple acceptance – but suspending belief in the ‘why’ or ‘how’ of Feng Shui, and just trusting, produces some astonishing results.

Jane Mendez, an accounts manager who lives in a traditional Buckinghamshire village, was suspicious about Feng Shui before a friend persuaded her to give it a try. “I used to think that it was for people with plenty of spare time and large imaginations,” she explains, admitting that she has been proved wrong. “Introducing it into my life brought the romance and passion between my husband and I back into full bloom… It’s hilarious how altering the position of my furniture and changing my wall colours can change an existence so quickly.” Jane’s enthusiasm is evident, and she’s a real Feng Shui evangelist now: “To all those sceptics out there, from another former sceptic, just give it a try… you have nothing to lose!”

There’s something both inherently logical and slightly lunatic about Feng Shui. If you believe in the forces of Chi energy, though, it makes sense to try to harness them for good, and to ward off any evil or detrimental effects they may have…

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