Adapted version from my upcoming book: Your Life & Space Redesigned
- Noooo! For goodness' sake, don’t put the fish tank in your evil 2 corner, and especially in your bedroom!
- Huh!? What are you talking about? I love my fish! I relax looking at them before I go to sleep!
- Fine! Do as you wish, but you have been warned.
Funny as it may seem, this is what Feng Shui conversations may sound like sometimes and the reason why so many of us in the West have come to consider Feng Shui as an incomprehensible, exotic, superstitious nonsense. A series of do and don’t rules to be followed blindly no matter how strange or absurd they may sound to the recipient of advice.
Even though reputable and experienced Feng Shui Masters will seldom be as rigid and will always be flexible enough so as to find all sorts of alternative ‘cures’ for all the possible and imaginable inauspicious areas or features of your house, the fact remains that this is the bread and butter of Feng Shui. Finding remedies for inauspicious features in one’s space in order to remove negative energy and attract and bring in fresh good energy, health, good luck and abundance to the occupants of the house.
Balance and harmony
Feng Shui which has come to be known as the ‘Ancient Chinese Art of Placement’ in the West, is an art whose aim is to bring balance and harmony into one’s home in order to maximize auspiciousness and minimize bad luck, thus enhancing the well-being and abundance of the occupants. It is all about creating a harmonious and balanced space, creating more functional layouts and unobstructed circulation paths. Creating balance and harmony between the five elements of Feng Shui – wood, fire, earth, metal and water - in terms of qualities, shapes, colors and materials and fine tuning with positioning specific objects in appropriate areas of the house that will correct any possible elemental imbalances in the space –otherwise known as ‘cures’ - .
This of course is a very simplistic description of what is in fact an extremely elaborate and complex philosophy of Energies of Place. The creation of millennia worth of lifelong studies of Feng Shui Masters, observations and scientific facts as well as metaphysical concepts which are believed to be at work and influence those energies. As this is not a book about Feng Shui, I shall not get any deeper for the sake of clarity and maintaining focus on the point I want to make in this chapter.
Since its inception almost 6,000 years ago, Feng Shui had many different schools of thought develop throughout the years. Starting from the most basic and common sense ones like the ‘Form School’, to the most elaborate metaphysical ones which use the Feng Shui Compass, the Bagua, or Lo Shu square such as the ‘Eight Mansions School’ and the ‘Flying Star School’. Apart from the traditional and classic Feng Shui Schools, which are culture specific, there are also Westernized versions of it such as the ‘Black Hat School’, the Intuitive School and so on which became adapted versions for the western culture.
I am not going to talk about the different schools and their merits or limitations here, but will give you links to information about them at the end of this post, so you can find more information in case you would be interested in learning more about the subject. Here is just one link for you to get the general idea: https://www.thespruce.com/understand-the-basics-of-various-feng-shui-schools-1275250
What interests me more than anything is the main aim and goal of Feng Shui which is to achieve harmony and balance in a space in order to bring about more positive energy and well being as well as good luck to its occupants. That, and the ways and techniques used to remove negative energies and bring in positive ones and how these relate to simple psychological concepts that anyone can use to their benefit with or without Feng Shui.
With that, I am not saying that Feng Shui does not have its place, but I want to show how certain of the mechanisms involved which have more to do with common sense and basic Psychology, can be used in simple and practical ways to improve one’s quality of energy and state of mind.
In some of my blogs I have mentioned briefly the ‘snowball effect’ of a Feng Shui ‘cure’ or intervention and how this effect can potentially improve one’s state of being as well as state of mind which consequently may have a positive effect in what could be perceived as ‘good luck’.
Decluttering? But why?
A classic example would be the one of eliminating clutter and organizing one’s space. When this is done in a conscious and focused manner with the aim of achieving a specific result, it will be a task undertaken with a positive frame of mind all the while holding positive visualizations in mind of what we want to achieve.
In Feng Shui the advice given to declutter and organize one’s space, is given with very specific intentions: get rid of the stuck, negative, obstructive energy in order to clear the space and open up the way for fresh and new energy to come in. It is insinuated that doing so will bring more positive energy and auspiciousness to the person living in that space.
In our western world when we are told to declutter our space, there is more of a negative judgment attached to it and a sense of pressure to do so. It is something that we feel we have to do because either we cannot stand the clutter ourselves as it prevents us from functioning efficiently and feeling good in our space or we feel too ashamed to have people visit our messy home. There is no carrot at the end of the stick. Apart from the immediate relief we may experience after decluttering our space there is nothing more attached to it to visualize and anticipate. All we know is that decluttering is a necessary chore we shall have to do once in a while if we want to be able to function effectively in our space without feeling overwhelmed.
In the Feng Shui tradition though, clutter is much more than a bunch of stuff thrown around the house. Clutter is perceived as an entity that constitutes an obstructive and negative energy which does not allow for positive, auspicious energy to enter and circulate freely in the house. As such it is considered to bring inauspiciousness in one’s space and affect its inhabitants negatively in more than one ways. From physical and mental health to general bad luck.
The person who undertakes the task to clear this clutter then is already programmed to perceive and conceptualize clutter in a much wider and more meaningful for them context, one directly related to their well being and good luck. They are much more likely to engage in positive visualizations and future projections where they can see in their mind’s eye themselves in a positive light, having reached the desired state they want to achieve. Plus the very belief that eliminating clutter and bringing in more harmony into one’s space will bring upon all the good things they are wishing for, acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy or at the very least puts the individual in a much more positive state of mind.
We can see two very different dynamics here. The Western one is one of: “I got to get rid of this stuff because it is getting ridiculous”. Whereas the Feng Shui one is one of: “Am going to clear out my space of the negative obstructive energy to make place for the auspicious one to come in that will bring me and my family the desired positive changes we are hoping for”. The first one starts off with a feeling of pressure and burden, ‘I got to do it’ and the second with one of delight and anticipation for the positive results.
The starting point of undertaking action is diametrically different. Obligation, pressure and burden versus anticipation, longing and excitement, chore versus future reward. The first one is rather boring and oppressive and the second exciting with a vivid visual and mental component. There is much more multilevel engagement in the second case, which as a result on one hand makes the task much more enjoyable and gratifying and on the other activates both mental and emotional energy, thus giving the process much more dynamic energy and momentum.
Beyond the ‘mumbo - jumbo’ and into common sense
The snowball effect
As rational Westerners we generally tend to question and disbelieve what we perceive to be metaphysical, or superstitious ‘mumbo jumbo’. What we totally miss though, is that what may actually seem like nonsense makes great sense in reality if one is willing to remain open minded enough and see beyond the apparent ‘strangeness’ of it all. Here is an example of the snowball effect I was talking about earlier.
Imagine that you are working like crazy to make ends meet, your house is a mess, clutter everywhere, the layout of the house is such that it is not functional, you got no place to relax and restore your energy. This causes you frustration, reducing your patience limits and endurance, wasting your energy, limiting your enjoyment and preventing relaxation and a good night’s sleep. You wake up tired and cranky, you snap at your partner and/or kids and they react badly in return.
You leave the house frustrated in a hurry and pissed off, you get into an argument with a stranger who is blocking you in traffic, you are late for work, bark at your coworkers arriving at the office or employees of your business. Now they are the ones at the receiving end of the negative energy you were initially subjected to and carried around with you all this time. They get frustrated and angry and do not feel like putting in their best in their work, creating more problems for you at work and the negative snow ball becomes one huge big mess! In other words, what started as negative energy building up at home, you took with you and carried to the external world, which in turn reacted to it in negative ways and caused what we could mildly put as a ‘bad day’.
How do you think this scenario will work out for you in the long run? If you live day by day responding to life as it comes, without any greater picture in mind, with a narrow and negative outlook? Oppressed by chores and demands left and right, feeling like you control nothing or very little, lashing out your frustration and anger at others, reacting versus pro-acting? Blaming instead of taking responsibility? In other words being in a state of imbalance and driven by negative energy or state of mind?
This is an example of someone who has lost control, has fallen off centre, feels victim to their circumstances, overwhelmed by the pressures of everyday life, who is constantly running to catch up and does not have the time or frame of mind to enjoy life and everything that is part of it.
Now imagine this same person living in a home that is fully functional, good layout, relaxing, no clutter, everything organized and put in its place, easy to function in and enjoy. They can come home, relax, have a good meal, have quality time with their partner or family, unwind and sleep well. No mess, no stumbling on clutter, no endless lists of chores to do in their mind. Everyone’s schedule, wants and needs are carefully planned and addressed. They have made sure their life is simplified, streamlined, organized and balanced. They have cut off the superfluous, the unnecessary, the complicated and the burdensome. They have set out simple rules to live by and cohabit in a way that everyone’s needs are catered for and respected.
Of course it all starts with us, our personality, our perceptions and beliefs, values and needs, yet we do not live in a vacuum, we live in an environment, be that geographical, social, political or home environment. Our home being the space in which we spend half of our lives and which acts as shelter and sanctuary in which we restore our energy and experience and enjoy our closest relationships, is well worth our care and attention.
The focus is on creating a quality environment in which all members of the household can live in and function at their best without burdening or frustrating one another. A home which supports their lifestyle, values, preferences and goals. A space in which they can have fun, enjoy each other’s company and relax. A home which is valued and perceived as a sanctuary and shelter, as the hearth which nurtures their soul and gives them the positive energy they will take out with them into the external world every day.
If you don’t nurture your home it won’t nurture you
There is little more valuable than a nurturing home, apart from nurturing relationships. If your space is nothing but a hotel to you, do not expect it to give you back what you don’t put into it. You get what you give. If you do not put the effort in your home, you will not get back what you need. You are the sole creator of the nurturing your space will ultimately provide you with. The more of yourself you put into it, the more you will get back in the form that is most meaningful to you. You are your home, you make it what it is, nobody else.
You create the clutter, the disorganization, the mess, the cosy or uncomfortable environment. The beautiful or the boring, the warm or cold atmosphere, the style you enjoy or the impersonal one. The space that is functional for you or not, the home in which you feel good and happy or miserable and cranky. It is all up to you, all under your control. You pick, you choose, you decide.
A simple uncluttered environment is usually more calming, promotes clear thinking, easy functioning, yet it may also be boring at times. The more complex the environment, even though it may be more interesting it may also be more confusing, more overwhelming. What is the key factor in both is harmony and balance and not in general terms, but harmony and balance in relation to your specific and individualized wants and needs as we are all different. There are no absolutes but there are best options for each and every one of us individually and we better find out and/or know what these are.
The key is to find the right balance for YOU. People need both ends of the spectrum and all shades of grey in between. We need both activity and rest, safety and the excitement of exploration, stability and uncertainty, the obvious and the hidden, simple and complex, yin and yang. Each personality gravitates to different points on the different continuums according to their wants and needs. It is important to know where you stand so that you know how to nurture yourself best in order for you to feel good, function effectively and enjoy your life.
Space and function
A space is not inanimate but a living thing, a collection of forms, features, objects and arrangements, energies and emotional impressions. It affects our bodies, our thinking and the way we feel. The layout of a place, the furniture in it and how it is arranged, the circulation paths in it – known as traffic flow by architects and energy flow in Feng Shui - the orientation, the windows and doors, the natural light that enters it, all dictate how it can best be used and enjoyed.
A non functional place will have areas that will go unused, there might be no coherence, no harmonious sequence of motion, use or activity. It may force the inhabitant to engage in unnecessary movements, sometimes even cause injury or at best discomfort. It won’t have enough storage space to accommodate all the objects that the occupants need to have in order to function effectively. It may make it impossible or difficult to arrange furniture in a harmonious, functional or meaningful way. It may not allow the occupant to engage in the activities they want to engage in or restrict those significantly.
Each home has its own bones, basic structure and will or will not make certain layouts possible. It has its own personality if you like or genetic make up. As with all living organisms one needs to work with it. Accept what cannot be changed and work with what can be changed and/or what the building may allow or encourage. We need to do our best respecting what is and redesigning what can be changed or improved in order to create a more functional, harmonious and aesthetically pleasing result.
Beauty is harmony
Feng Shui ideally works with what is, changes what can be changed and finds ways to compensate and improve what cannot be changed, in order to bring about a more harmonious environment. The aim of always striving to achieve harmony and beauty is inherent in it. Once again there are no absolutes, what is beautiful for you may not be for me and vice versa. What matters is what looks beautiful to you, the one who lives in your house. Beauty and harmony bring about a sense of well being and satisfaction, calm and enjoyment. As such they are essential prerequisites to achieve that positive state of mind. It makes sense that it is very hard to feel happy and content surrounded by what looks ugly and/or obstructive or disharmonious to you. Even though this fact is obvious we do not always pay the necessary attention and we may suffer for it unnecessarily.
The whole idea of using Feng Shui ‘cures’ to balance the elements, combat Sha Qi, or negative energies may be totally foreign to a westerner but if we can better understand the concept and aim behind it, we may very well translate it to our own cultural or individual language of reality, norms and values and use it to our advantage. The key thing to remember is that what we want to achieve is beauty, harmony and balance in order to promote well being, functionality and pleasure. The better we feel in our space, the more effortlessly and efficiently we can function in it, the happier we are in it, the better our state of mind will be. The better our state of mind, the more positive the energy we project to the external world. The more positive the energy we radiate outwardly, the better the external world will react to us, and there we have a positive snow ball effect!
The subconscious mind, space perception and reactions
What in Feng Shui may be described as a positive energy flow in our reality may be simply an unobstructed and smooth circulation flow in a harmonious space. It is easy to understand why common Feng Shui features may be considered positive or negative. For example, large overhead beams above one’s bed are considered inauspicious. Why? Because our subconscious mind takes mental notes of what it perceives as possible threats. For example a large beam in an earthquake prone area above one’s head and bed may not feel very safe and these mental notes stay there as little alerts in our mind which will help us react faster and more efficiently in case of actual danger. This is something however, that one does not want to have when going to sleep because they do not allow the body and mind to relax fully and completely.
Same thing happens with the most common Feng Shui advice to not sit with one’s back to an open door. For the very same reason: we are programmed to detect any threats to survival. Even though our logical, conscious mind may know that we have locked the door and nobody is about to come in and attack us surprising us from the back, our subconscious mind will not shut down. It will tend to be more on alert if we sit with our back towards the door than if facing the door with our back against the wall, the result being a negative effect on concentration levels.
Try and engage in and focus on a demanding mental task sitting with your back towards an open door and your back against the wall facing that same door and feel the difference. When the subconscious alert system gets activated, even though the effects may not be visible outwardly, they still take hold on our thinking ability in the form of being more distracted, more exhaustion as we have to put in more mental effort to remain concentrated, or in the form of frequent breaks of focus, moving around in our chair, changing position and so on. The effects are of course much stronger when we are talking about external doors and less so where inner doors are concerned. However once again it depends on whether those inner doors have direct access to a vital circulation path of the building or not and how much visibility there is and control one has over possible ‘intruders’ or ‘threats’ in that space.
Another example in Feng Shui is you do not want to have the staircase directly behind the entrance door. Before you ask why, imagine yourself entering your home where in order to reach the main living area you have to climb a straight, narrow staircase with no landings which begins right after the entrance door going upwards. Now imagine entering the home and having an entrance hall instead, where you can take your coat and shoes off, rest your bag and umbrella, take a breather and proceed further in the main house living area smoothly and unpressured. Which scenario feels more inviting, restful and comfortable? Which one requires more effort and feels more of a burden?
Even though the reasons why Feng Shui dictates not to have the staircase straight and right behind the door are quite different and are related to a symbolic representation of the ‘wealth’ of the house flowing straight out of it through the main door, one can observe that there is a strong symbolic representation of the flow of energy within a given space. Feng Shui meaning Wind and Water, one can readily visualize how the energies are conceptualized to flow within a given space.
A sense of space – Yeayyy! vs OMG!
If you were to imagine actual water flowing through your home and water symbolized your wealth, you would generally like to have it flow in a gentle and harmonious way. You wouldn’t want it to become stuck or stagnant but not to flow out and away too forcefully either. According to Feng Shui water being associated with wealth and considered a nourishing energy, you don’t want to let it get out of your front door too forcefully and flow away. You want to somehow gently retain it and the way to do that is either by having an entrance area to act as a retaining ‘pond’ or have the staircase begin on the side of that entrance but not directly facing the door.
Personally I do not adhere too closely to the specific symbolic meanings of Feng Shui but I do find it meaningful to be aware and observant of how the space develops in relation to the designated rooms and existing circulation paths or traffic flow as these are usually referred to. Visualizing energy as water flowing through space, it helps me get a better feel of how large is large enough or how small is too small, how wide feels comfortable enough and how narrow feels too obstructive. How fast that ‘energy flow’ may be running through the space and whether the layout allows for gently retaining that energy and creating a restful and harmonious living area as well as ‘nourishing’ all the areas of the house appropriately.
If when entering your home, the entrance is so tight and narrow that there is no room to do what you need to do, which is basically get out of your coat and shoes, rest whatever you are holding and take a breather, then you know that there you have a minus point. If it is the only one it may not be such a big deal, if it is one of many then you know you have a problem that needs to be addressed.
If for example you have to climb a straight narrow staircase with no landings whatsoever, carrying your groceries to boot, before you can get to the point where you can rest your bags and take off your coat, this is becoming quite uncomfortable and tiring. Having to do that every single day it becomes a burden. One that you may get used to eventually but nevertheless one that you could probably do without. The functionality of the entrance of a house is what can make it feel welcoming or repelling. In the second case if you feel that in order to get in your home and relax you have to go through obstructive narrow spaces, get out of breath or exhaust yourself after a difficult tiring day at work - day in and day out - at some point the negative effect will become more noticeable and pronounced. In very simple words when you get back home you want to have a feeling of ‘Yeayyy!’ instead of an ‘OMG!’ one.
Function and natural flow
The number one concern in a space is functionality. No matter how beautiful the space may look, if it lacks functionality that beauty goes down the drain. Enemy number one of functionality are obstructions to the natural flow of movement in that space. Once again if you imagine that flow like water, you do not want to see it swell up anywhere and overflow. It may be OK to have a temporary and short ‘swelling’ if right after there can be a release of the flow into a wider space, but if you keep that water in too narrow or obstructed a space for too long it will feel uncomfortable. In other words if you would have a short narrow hall giving to a wider living area it would probably be fine, but if you had a very long and narrow hall before you could enter any wider room, then you might have a problem. Add clutter to the equation and it is easy to imagine what that would do or feel like.
Other examples may be the case of circulation paths within rooms and around furniture that are adding up steps on your FitBit monitor when you would gladly spare them. If you need to jump over your bed to get to the en - suite bathroom you know that the space at the foot of your bed could be more generous. If you work from home and enjoy cooking, you may want to consider having your working area close to the kitchen and not at the other end of the house. We all know how engrossed we may become working on the computer while our food is being reduced to a black scorched substance tenaciously enamored with our pot and we don’t want that!
Simplifying entails making choices
Enemy number two of functionality is a bad and dysfunctional layout that does not allow for the activities that need to take place in that space to be undertaken effectively and enemy number three is lack of appropriate storage space to store the items needed to engage in those activities. So if you have no possibility to have the proper layout nor adequate storage space or to create some, it makes sense that it might be a good idea to reduce the amount of objects you would need to use in that space. In other words minimize, simplify and opt for things that are multifunctional instead of having a different item for each different use. Think Spartan, Japanese, whatever you may have associated with simplicity and minimalism.
A simple, practical example in the kitchen might be to have fewer pots and pans that can be used for many different uses. A wok for example can be used to fry, stir fry, cook and even boil things if you have to. A pot with a steamer basket can be used for boiling, steaming, sauté or broil. When you buy things for the kitchen think of how many uses that item can have. Do you need a mixer, a blender and a magic bullet or is there an appliance that can do it all? What are your priorities? What is your favorite style of cooking? How many people do you cook for? How much storage do you have available and for what things? What are your non negotiables? What can you do without?
Not enough closets? No possibility to create a walk – in closet? No other clothes storage alternatives? Perhaps it is time to rethink your wardrobe and adopt the Steve Jobs style of wearing the same black outfit every day? Yes, am joking but not totally. It does make sense though to pay extra attention to how your clothes combine with one another so that you can create many different combinations with fewer items. It also makes sense that you only want to keep but the very best and what you love and wear most. Trust me you will end up with a wardrobe filled with fewer but much higher quality garments that are smart, combine well and effectively make you look good. Yes, you do need to make up your mind and make informed choices. A personal stylist might be well worth your buck at some point.
Few of us can afford to have everything we want, when we want it and as we want it. Most of us have to compromise, make do without certain things and not others yet that doesn’t necessarily mean that this fact should render us miserable and unhappy. When we consciously make choices with specific goals in mind, by definition we are in control and that gives us a sense that we can manage things, we are on top of it. Totally different reality than feeling we are victims of our circumstances.
What exactly is ‘auspiciousness’?
Let’s get back to the more seemingly abstract aspect of Feng Shui. So how on earth can Feng Shuing your space have any relevance and effect on any form of auspiciousness? How can it affect your health, well-being and state of mind, abundance or chances of success? Is it anything to do with which corner of your house is linked to whatever corresponding area of your life – which is essentially what the Bagua is all about- or which Flying Star is visiting which particular area of your house, or could it be with what you have decided to believe it is?
If we were to imagine the situation of the ancient Chinese, it may be easy to imagine and presume that a clean, well aerated orderly dwelling which receives plenty of natural light would be more likely to be conducive to good health than the opposite. So there you have the basics for good health. The very same holds to our present days, a house that is not well aerated or heated enough will be more susceptible to mold, mold is generally bad for you, causes all sorts of problems and reactions, affects the immune system, the lungs and so on and so forth.
Here we have one very real and practical aspect of good Feng Shui. The right building in the right place with the right orientation is perhaps the main and most important prerequisite for what would constitute a dwelling with a good energy. The specifics are covered in the Form School of Feng Shui, the most common sense and practical one.
What about your sense of well being? Would you feel happy and jumping from joy if you were living in a dark humid basement? In a chaotic, cluttered space? In a space where you could not find how to arrange your furniture? Where you could not find a corner to relax? In a home that got too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter? If you did not have enough space to do what you wanted to do and had to constantly put away one thing before being able to bring out the next as if living on a boat? A space where you would spend a considerable amount of your time trying to accommodate your needs and try and find solutions to your problems instead of simply enjoying it and/or being productive?
How would those facts affect your sense of well being, your energy levels and degree of satisfaction? How would that affect your mental and emotional state in the long run and how would that mental state affect your efficiency and productivity at work? How would your performance at work or even home business affect your chances of getting a promotion or do well in your business? How would that affect your chances of success? Wouldn’t it be plausible to presume that the degree of sense of well-being you get in your house can be directly related to your degree of professional or business success?
Don’t get me wrong, am not saying that it is impossible to succeed if living in a tiny basement, all am saying is that the way our environment affects us can be significant enough to make it worthwhile for us to pay attention to it and ensure we do our best to optimize it. Doing so increases our chances of well-being, being in a positive mental state, having a good attitude and functioning better overall.
Creating a supportive space
In other words the whole Psychology of Feng Shui is based on common sense and manipulating and optimizing factors in our environment which can influence us for better or for worse. From basic sanitary concerns that may affect our physical health to a whole array of factors related to interior design that may affect our mental and emotional state, the way our space is laid out and set up, plays an important role in our state of mind and well-being. In turn, our state of mind affects our attitude towards life in general and the way we show up to the world. The way we show up to the world affects how the world reacts to us and there you go. The snowball effect in action. Might as well make it a positive one!
The ancient Chinese may have used bizarre and foreign to us concepts and methods, but they apparently worked for Feng Shui to survive to this day and age. Some of the rational or metaphysical explanations may not seem plausible or clear enough for the western mind, but if we examine them from a psychological point of view they begin to make more sense. The important thing is to keep the baby even if we decide to throw the bath water. Keep what has value and utility and discard or leave aside what we don’t need, comprehend or believe in.
The aim is to achieve the best possible result for us, our health, well-being and satisfaction and do so in an empowering way. Learning and borrowing knowledge from different cultures in order to grow and develop, deepen our experience and widen our perceptual angle can but help improve and enrich our lives. The important thing is to understand that one cannot just adopt a different culture’s norms, values and traditions without first filtering and integrating them into one’s own cultural language and that may mean looking at those from a different point of view and expressing them in different ways.
If you are interested in my upcoming book: Your Life & Space Redesigned, please leave a comment with what areas of interest you would like to see addressed in the book, so that I may include them if not already covered.
Thank you and much appreciated!
References and resources:
If you are interested in some books about the subject: