FENG SHUI: FROM THE MYSTICAL TO THE PRACTICAL
by pam kai tollefson
Published in the Monthly Aspectarian, February 1995
Feng Shui, the ancient art of creating balance and harmony with the forces of nature and our personal space, can be beneficial to whoever uses its principles. It gives time-tested guidelines to utilize the power of place -- from the shape of a building to the location of your bed. And just as we affect our environment, our environment affects us. By putting ourselves in the best possible space, we derive the greatest benefits of peace and prosperity.
The term feng shui is now becoming more familiar to the Midwest. The ancient Chinese principles are being applied to bedrooms, offices, and every space we frequent. Mirrors, flutes and crystals are being placed as never before. Sometimes we do it ourselves, sometimes we hire practitioners to help us. Either way, we look for dramatic changes in our lives.
As the world gets smaller and cultures merge, adapting Eastern ideas about the environment to the Western mind requires skill and an understanding of the cultural philosophy underlying feng shui. This takes us from the Eastern mystical beliefs to the practical application of feng shui here in the West.
Attitude Toward the Environment
In the West, we have a tendency to believe that human beings are responsible for almost everything that happens. Aside from natural disasters, if something goes wrong in our lives, we or someone else is considered to be at fault and we point a finger of blame. Also, we have been conditioned to tune out our surroundings; we seek to rise above our environment to overcome obstacles -- for example, to step over laundry baskets or put up with a door that sticks instead of moving the basket out of the way or adjusting the door. We have seen no correlation, for instance, between a stuck front door and being stuck in the same old job.
In ancient China, when something out of the ordinary happened, the wise masters would look around to see what had changed in their surroundings. Is something different today than it was yesterday? Did a tree branch fall? Did a board break on the stairs? Even the most subtle variation deserved scrutiny. Over time, external changes in the environment were identified to coincide with certain happenings to the people who lived in that space. These careful observations became the core of the oral tradition of feng shui and were passed on from one generation to the next.
The feng shui master kept these observations to himself. Only when he was about to die did the master pass the art of placement on to the oldest living male relative, who was then the person sought out for the valuable information he possessed. It was important that one seek out the master to ask for help, because in no way would a feng shui master voluntarily offer advice. The Buddhas never offered unsolicited advice. Buddhists believed that every person was born with a certain destiny, a certain karma, a certain level of luck and feng shui. The Red Envelope
According to an old Eastern philosophical tradition, no one wanted to unwittingly interfere with anyone else's life plan, perhaps not even if he or she were drowning. It was believed that if it is your destiny to drown, it might be better for someone just to stand and watch it happen rather than risk changing your destiny -- and his or her own -- by pulling you out of the river. According to that philosophy, that person would then be responsible for you and your subsequent actions. Who would want that responsibility? However, there might be a way he or she could help save you. This would be through the good deeds that one is expected to do for oneself and for others in this lifetime. For example, by emulating the Buddha by being compassionate, kind and generous, a person can strive to rise above original fate or destiny. This important good works area is the biggest variable and gives one a chance to make advancement in this lifetime.
Today when giving feng shui advice, some practitioners use the Red Envelope tradition to comply with these ancient beliefs. When giving feng shui information, the practitioner asks for red envelopes with money in them for each piece of feng shui advice given. This tradition:
Some practitioners don't want to benefit financially from the red envelopes, so they give the money to charity. Whether they keep the money or give it away, they do a ritual with the envelopes to complete the red envelope
Feng Shui in Careers
Feng shui specialists, of course, analyze space according to feng shui principles. Their consulting can range from the very superficial effects of the environment to spiritual goal setting in a supportive environment. They deal with organization, efficiency, psychology, entities, history, timing, meditation and more. They work with all the professions as well as with those who want suggestions about their home.
Architects can design buildings with near-perfect feng shui. There are many sensitive architects who are open minded and eager to apply this old approach to new structures. At first glance, feng shui may look like just another set of guidelines to add to a long list of requirements that need implementation. However, on closer examination, one can see that architects already have been using many feng shui principles. Feng shui design is nothing radical or weird. It is good common sense, balance, and good energy flow and fits into what they already do in their practice. Feng shui adds a cultural and spiritual dimension to their building and creates a space with added good luck and personality, especially when well-timed ground breaking ceremonies, grand openings, housewarmings, etc., are included.
Remodelers need to be aware that, according to feng shui, a building is a body. Its roof is the spine or backbone of the structure. When the roof is cut into to add skylights, the building is undergoing major surgery. Remodeling can be a wonderful expansion of space or it can be an expensive nightmare. This is an area where feng shui advice can be crucial.
Builders, especially those who are working with homeowners or businesses that are remodeling without the input of an architect, can really benefit by using feng shui knowledge. Remodeling an existing structure can upset the balance and harmony in the building and in the lives of people who spend time in that space. So often, wings are added that jut out and create glitches in the structure. Long hallways lead from the old to the new area, creating "secret arrows". Doors bang into each other and can result in arguments and bickering. A home office addition reached through a master bedroom can cause insomnia and increase stress in a marriage.
Interior decorators and designers can use the proper placement of furniture, color theory, the five Chinese elements of wood, fire, earth, metal and water as focal points, and create an appeal to all the senses. They can incorporate feng shui principles either quietly or overtly, depending on the client and the circumstances. These creative people can set the mood and the "feel" of a space as either comfortable or uncomfortable. Decorators' and designers' business success depends on their learned and/or intuitive sense of feng shui.
Realtors are another group that can find feng shui invaluable in their business. Feng shui can help realtors sell houses that are difficult to sell by pinpointing the subtle problems that may make the difference between a house people just walk through or a house where people feel very comfortable, sit down and in a few minutes see themselves living there.
A woman in Beverly Hills had her home on the market for two years and just couldn't sell it. Living in California, she had heard about feng shui quite often. "It couldn't hurt and it just might help," she thought. Finally, she called an old Chinese geomancer/feng shui master. Among his recommendations: she was to tear up her listing contract, re-sign it at a certain time and move the "For Sale" sign. Within twelve hours of carrying out his instructions, she had a firm selling contract on her house. Using the Chinese almanac (Tong Shu) and Chinese zodiac may require a lifetime of study and practice to achieve the success just described, but by using a combination of feng shui and Western astrological timing and keeping good records, we can get increasingly good results.
A working knowledge of feng shui is essential for realtors working with Asian clients. There are certain homes that Asians will not buy, no matter what. If realtors are aware of this fact, they can pre-screen listings and avoid showing homes that automatically would be unacceptable. Taking the time to learn the basics of feng shui shows respect and sensitivity to cultural beliefs, creates a better rapport with buyers, and saves time in the long run!
When faced with sellers who have no sense of what it takes to display a home to its best advantage, a feng shui specialist (a third party) can address the issues of clutter and cleanliness from a cultural perspective of "chi flow" before addressing the refinements of feng shui and definitely before reducing the price of a home thousands of dollars.
From awareness of the affect of environment to red envelopes to real estate, we see how the mystical can become practical in the practice of feng shui.
Pamela Tollefson is a feng shui specialist in Bayside, Wisconsin.
© 1994 by Pamela Tollefson. All rights reserved.