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Feng Shui: Not Such Hooey
by Marjorie Dorfman

What is Feng Shui and what does it want from the Western world? Is it hooey or merely the peaceful alignment of harmonious aspects within the dusty corners of our homes? What happens when someone dusts with "intention"? If it involves someone who is hired to clean your house, does this mean they should get paid more? And what about dusting with "mal-intention"? Read on for some truth, ala the oriental way.

Humanity models itself on earth, earth on heaven, heaven on the Way and the Way on that which is Naturally So.
– Laozi

Feng Shui, like most things, must be experienced before it can be understood. What is it, you may ask? The term literally means "wind and water" and concerns itself with an energy known as chi. It is an elusive concept that reveals one’s attitude of life by displaying landscape aesthetically. Still not clear? Consider then the art or practice of positioning objects, especially graves, buildings and furniture, based on a belief in patterns of yin and yang and the flow of chi that have positive and negative effects. The fundamental principle behind Feng Shui is the belief that there are five elements, some combinations of which create a positive cycle and some which are destructive. For optimum Feng Shui, a room would have an equal balance of all five elements: water, wood, fire, earth and metal; none of them, however, being too overpowering.

Putting this concept into practice might involve the following example. If a room has overpowering metal elements, such as modern metal furniture, the effect can be counter-balanced by wood elements, like green leafy plants or fire elements such as red throw pillows or candles. A natural element, candles can provide a good beginning for implementing Feng Shui design in the home.

Feng Shui reflects Yin Yang theory as it concerns the harmonious relationship between humans and natural objects. To the Chinese, human power follows the understanding of Heaven-Earth-Humanity and is exerted via subtle landscape preferences and a respect for nature. Nature created itself and should be venerated as the source of life. The Oriental path is clear: respect experiences, discern the truth by studying the past, stand between science and theology, and combine ethics with esthetics.

Feng Shui and clutter are two powerful counter forces because there really is no "should do" when it comes to cleaning out clutter. To live in a house divided against itself (that cannot multiply; much less divide) is and can only be a personal choice. One room, one corner, or one closet at a time is the best way to tackle the heap before your tired eyes. Alternatives of garage sales and "I’ll figure it out tomorrow" really don’t work unless you are Scarlett O’Hara because they do not settle the issue. They only help to postpone it to another cluttered time and place. Not only that, some people cannot bear to see others have their things or haggle over prices. I’ve heard of cases where people have bought their own things back because of that. The good news is that much of clutter is created because it has no place to live. Find a home for it; a way to keep or display that which you love, and it is no longer clutter. (Keep spouses, pets and children out of this type of arrangement.)

Feng Shui, once it is understood, is invisible but everywhere around us like air, whether we want it to be or not. For example, did you know that your bed has a power position? Did you also know that everyone who ever slept in your bed has left some of his or her energy there? (Not just cracker crumbs mind you, but energy. And what does this mean to all those places that claim that "George Washington slept here"?) The bedroom is the most important room in any house and is a crucial factor in the flow of energy. For good energy, the bed’s position in relation to the door is the most important consideration. There should be a clear view of the door from the sleeping position. It’s that old idea about seeing what’s coming (like not closing the shower curtain all the way because Norman Bates in gingham still lurks somewhere). If an unobstructed view is not possible, placing a mirror in such a way that it will reflect the door can restore Feng Shui.

Ideally, the bed should be situated in the opposite corner from the door. The farther away from it and the more of the room you can see while in bed, the more control over your environment and your life. It should not be in a direct line with the doorway. It is said that a bed thus situated can create illness or break a relationship. (That’s difficult to deal with, considering how difficult relationships are on the tangible, non-Feng Shui plane alone.) By far, however, the very worst position for the bed is with your feet pointing directly towards the door. If this cannot be avoided, the rushing chi can be deflected by the sound of hanging a metal wind chime halfway between the door and the bed. A faceted crystal over the foot of the bed will work as well.

The water element in Feng Shui is very powerful. There are two types: still and moving. Still water is associated with tranquility, peace, intuition, profound understanding, natural and acquired wisdom. It literally exemplifies the old adage "still waters run deep." Moving water is dynamic, bustling, "going places." It is often associated with such activities as networking and communications, and is considered a symbol of a healthy cash flow. A healthy life needs both types of energies (especially the cash flow) as each fulfills its own essential functions.

Moving water is associated with water fountains, water falls, paintings or photographs of water in motion. It is symbolized by pale blue or light aqua, the colors of rushing water. Still water is found in a brandy snifter with a flower floating graciously within it, goldfish bowls and paintings of lakes, ponds and pools. Dark blue, indigo and black are associated with this kind of energy. Consider too, that stagnant and still water are not synonymous and do not proffer the same energy. Stale, fetid water is negative. Be sure that if you use fish bowls or flower arrangements to change the water regularly so that they are always fresh, clean and clear.

Instincts are important when deciding which items represent your own individual "water element." Tradition is not as important as the "inner voice" that no interior decorator can give you. Colors are very personal. If something says still water or moving to you, trust your feelings about it even if you don’t get wet.

Gardening is another important aesthetic consideration for Feng Shui. Chinese gardens developed from the art of Shan Shui, which literally means "mountain water." Shan is yang, hard, still, sublime, vertically developed, close to heaven. Shui is yin, soft, movable, horizontally developed, close to earth. Shui embraces Shan, Shan surrounds Shui. Gardens, like all landscape, reveal an attitude that needs to be gently restrained and understated. This enables a more intimate experience and sense of fitting into the environment. Land is not considered a source of profit but rather that which encompasses humility and respect for the forces of nature and heaven.

Throughout Chinese history, geometric forms have rarely been placed on holy land, which is often seen in Western countries. Only in the Chinese Emperor’s gardens were such shapes acceptable because they symbolized respect for the natural forces of heaven and earth. Life and landscape are inextricably linked. Things on earth depend and rely on each other. A landscape is a living thing, a process of communication, a matrix of feeling. The philosophical conclusion in understanding the world is what the great thinker, Laozi called Naturally So.

And so it would seem that there is much about heaven and earth and humanity that we in the western world can learn from those in the east. But as an English man named Shakespeare succinctly put it in Hamlet, "There are more things in heaven and earth, my dear Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

Did you know . . .

Copyright 2005