During a recent trip to the United States, we noticed that Feng Shui had transcended « new age » sensibilities and captured the hearts and minds of some supposedly hard-core realists – friends of ours who happen to be high-flying corporate lawyers. How long before the most recent American fad would cross to our shores and spawn a bevy of charlatans eager to fleece the credulous?
Those of you who not have seen ‘Ally McBeal’, may question whether our legal connection is sufficient cause to investigate the phenomenon. Let me, therefore, at the outset, declare and interest: as a student of Asian culture since the early seventies, i have been aware of Feng Shui – the ancient Chinese art of geomancy – for many years. In my mind, it stands alongside Zen, Yoga, Kung Fu and Karate, the tea ceremony and callygraphy as practices, which, though defying conventional western reasoning, deserve to be studied.
I do not view the relatively recent interest in Feng Shui in this part of the world as a mere fashion, but as part of an ongoing process of discovering over ways of conceptualising the world. Acupuncture, aromatherapy, alternative medicine: should they be dismissed merely because the requisite scientific proof has not yet been adduced? After all, the professed interest of some mediatised airheads in Buddhism does not invalidate an eminently respectable belief system.
Be that as it may, the western discovery of Feng Shui suited my purposes. Some years ago, what little information there was on the subject in a language accessible to me, was hidden in dusty anthropological tomes. The recent interest in the subject has spawned the publication of a flurry of books, often quite beautifully illustrated and of coffee-table quality. I requested and received one for Christmas. What follows is a summary of my findings to date.
What is Feng Shui?
Feng Shui is concerned with a sens of place. Have you ever found yourself in a location, which you felt was intuitively right? A room where you felt utterly at home? An armchair positioned to provide complete comfort and a sens of security?
Feng Shui rest upon the premise that humankind’s prospects are best served by devising ways of living in harmony with nature. Nature, however, is not defined as subservient to man, but as a force to conjure, a power which can be harnessed to good effect, an energy which one disregards at one’s peril.
The Chinese considered these ambient forces as shaping the course of life, more specifically good or bad fortune. And Feng Shui seeks to influence outcomes – to enhance luck and deflect disaster. As such, it is not only steeped in materialism – this-worldly gain – but superstition. Attitudes to superstition vary greatly. Some resort to astrology to take decisions. Others use graphology to assess the suitability of jobs applicants (hence the request for a ‘lettre de motivation manuscrite’ in job offer columns in French newspapers). Many of us, without necessarily considering ourselves superstitious, have some atavistic reaction to 13 guests around a dinner table, black cats or broken mirrors; we play our lucky numbers and avoid walking under ladders. I never touch my computer on Friday the 13th – even thought it is considered a propitious day in Italy.
If you think that anything smacking of good luck charms or evil forces is a load of old balderdash, then Feng Shui is definitely not for you. If, on the other hand, you believe that it can’t do any harm to tap whatever source of good fortune is available, then Feng Shui may be worth investigating. Apparently, one does not need to believe in it – following the correct practice is enough.
Feng Shui rests, first of all, on the premise, that we live surrounded by good and bad energies called Chi – Sheng Chi is auspicious and Shar Chi spells trouble. The object of Feng Shui is both to enhance the flow of desirable energies and to deflect negative forces in order to achieve wealth, educationnal success, recognition, good health as well as a loving and harmonious family life. The second premise of Feng Shui is that all of this can be attained by creating the environment most fitting home and work conditions.
The different schools
As already pointed out, Feng Shui is an ancient Chinese art. It has been practiced over thousands of years and, as with the Chinese martial arts, for instance, different schools have evolved. Fortunately, there seems to be nothing doctrinaire about this different approaches and their methods can be applied in ecumenical fashion – what ever works for you is ok.
The three main schools are landscape Feng Shui, compass formula Feng Shui and symbolic Feng Shui.
Landscape Feng Shui…
…Is concerned with siting homes and tombs in the most auspicious location in relation the surrounding topography. The disposition of mountains, hillocks and watercourses are assessed to ensure the most propitious flow of energy. It is of interest mainly to those building or buying a new residence or commercial premises. Althought its rules have been translated into a city environment – notably in Hong Kong – it seems to me of only limited interest, as most urban dwellers would be hard put to ensure that dragon and tiger mountains, turtle and phoenix hills are correctly positioned in relation to their place of abode. Living in the backcountry and discovering that your present or prospective residence enjoys a combination of favourable features may, however, prove quite fun.
Compass formula Fen Shui…
…Seeks to determine the most favourable room and furniture arrangements based, as the name indicates, on compass directions. The orientation of a house can be determined by taking a compass reading looking out of the front door. When superimposing these readings on the floor plan of the home or office, the most propitious rooms for living, working, eating, sleeping and cooking can be identified. Similary, energising the northen, eastern, southern and western corners of a room is believed to improve the positive flow of Chi.
Symbolic Feng Shui…
…Focuses on the display of auspicious objects to achieve the desired effect. Their symbolism is as you would expect, steeped Chinese culture – e.g. the homophony of fish and wealth, the laden ship harbinger of wealth, two mandarin ducks representing conjugal bliss. The primacy given to all that isred or gold, to coins, to semi-precious stones, to animal representations – such as dragons, phoenixes, elephants, turtles and frogs – and their appropriate numerical combinations is redolent of Chinese new years celebrations and funeral ceremonies.
Modern school of Feng Shui…
…try to combine all these approaches to create an environment aimed to enhance good fortune while, at the same time, deflecting bad luck or poisoned arrows.
An ordinary, messy office far from Feng Shui. So we gave a free hand to Joële Vesin, Feng Shui practitioner, to make the right arrangements. How did it turn out? See the next Nordic.