Lesson 1

Feng Shui Now

A brief look at the phenomena of feng shui today. I will explain how it came to the West and my own role in its popularity.

What We’ll Cover in This Course

Understanding feng shui requires an understanding of its background. A complex combination of spiritual, philosophical, and practical beliefs, feng shui is one of the few ancient crafts perfectly suited for today’s modern world. This course will take you from the roots of feng shui to practical ways to apply it to your home and office. You’ll come away from this course looking at your surroundings much differently than you do now, and understanding more about why some arrangements work and some do not.

East Meets West

Welcome to Feng Shui Design. The next eight lessons will introduce you to the practice and start you on the road to basic feng shui application. I highly recommend you purchase the course texts, as they will be invaluable to your study of feng shui now and in the future. Interior Design With Feng Shui will give you a history of the practice as well as information about the components and philosophies used in its application. Feng Shui Design will expand on those and offer more photos, illustrations, and solutions to challenges you may face in your own life.

It’s Trendy . . .

It seems you can’t turn on the TV or open a magazine without seeing an ad using feng shui, the ancient Chinese art of placement, as a marketing ploy. You can’t open a magazine, newspaper, or tabloid without reading about a celebrity — be it Madonna, the Duchess of York, Michael Ovitz, Donald Trump, numerous fashion designers, and even someone at 10 Downing Street — employing feng shui to improve their environment and therefore their fortunes. Just this past May, a news story ran on the front page of Britain’s venerable Financial Times about how feng shui was cited as an “inalienable human right” in a legal battle over a shop lease in London.

. . . But Ancient

Despite being an au courant fad, feng shui — pronounced “fung shway” — is nothing new to the Chinese. In fact, feng shui is a millennia-old practice.
The Chinese have long believed that if a home or business had a harmonious and positive flow of ch’i, which refers to cosmic breath or energy, those living and working there would benefit, thus enjoying health, happiness, and prosperity.
Palaces, farmhouse, temples, and even entire cities were laid out according to feng shui’s precepts. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Historically, in China, practices varied. There were many different schools: some interpreted the shapes of earth and water bodies to divine the most auspicious spot to live and work. And practitioners’ abilities varied from wise man to charlatan.

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feng shui

Feng Shui in the West

Today, in the West, there are many schools of feng shui and many different people with different levels of knowledge and skill hanging out their shingles. For those seeking to glean some useful wisdom on their own, the following lessons will enlighten you a bit on this ancient practice.

Westerners first came across feng shui during the time of Marco Polo. He wrote of the checkerboard grid of streets in Beijing, which was laid out according to feng shui. Initially, in the 19th century, Westerners did not embrace feng shui. Missionaries and businessmen viewed it as an inconvenient superstition that interfered with missionary zeal and dampened capitalist dreams. Feng shui banned crosses on churches (they were said to impale the earth) as well as such practices as building railroads, lumbering in forests, and installing telegraph lines.

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Trump Towers uses a metal globe to disperse the excess ch’i

Over the last 30 years, Western contact with feng shui has been more accepting. In fact, western companies in Asia, such as J.P. Morgan, Chase, Citigroup, and Dow Chemical, have widely incorporated feng shui principles. One Western bank executive commented over 20 years ago, “We always have someone call in a feng shui man to check out our new Asian offices. It’s very necessary. If we didn’t, our Chinese staff would probably quit.”

But how did this ancient and arcane art become so ubiquitous today?

Master Lin Yun

One of the foremost Masters of feng shui in the world, Master Lin Yun began his training in Beijing when he was six years old. He was taught for nine years by a lama trained in the mystical Tantric Black Sect of Tibetan Buddhism. His instruction included mystical arts, such as meditation and blessings, and Chinese texts and teachings, like the I Ching and feng shui. He has studied law, philosophy, and urban planning, and he lectures extensively worldwide.

Why’s a Nice American Girl Learning About Arcane Chinese Arts?

A few years ago, I was interviewing a New York architect about how feng shui cropped up in his projects in Asia and the United States. As we sat down he commented, with a wry smile, “So you’re the one who brought the germ over.” By germ, you might have guessed, he meant feng shui, and indeed its popularity and influence has spread since my first book came out in 1983; but that was certainly not my aim. My aim was to write about a subject that was ancient, but still in use today; a subject rich in lore and legend, where the line between fact and fiction, practical and mystical, sometimes seemed blurred.

I first learned about the mysterious workings of feng shui in 1976 when, under an East Asian Journalism fellowship, I began Chinese lessons with a man named Lin Yun. He turned out to be a foremost expert in feng shui, and our language lessons were regularly interrupted by some desperate individual who had tracked Master Lin Yun down. This might range from a person with marital problems, a jeweler whose store had been robbed, and even a doctor suffering from insomnia. Each time we’d close our Chinese text and embark on a new feng shui escapade.

A Harmonious Environment = A Harmonious Life

Unbeknownst to me, Master Lin Yun was apprenticing me in this ancient and arcane art of creating spatial harmony. While I knew from five years of Chinese language study that feng shui translated literally as “wind” and “water”, in my studies with Master Lin, I began to appreciate the complexities of how the Chinese approached their living spaces. I learned that our environment affects us; that every hill, river, building, wall, window, and door, and the ways they face wind and water have an impact. I came to understand the Chinese notion that if you harmonized your environment, you could harmonize your life.

What it Takes

As I have mentioned, there are many different levels of feng shui practitioners. However, it is my believe that no matter which sect or school you embrace, if the practitioner brings good training, experience, and intuitive spiritual and learned knowledge, as well as compassion and an open heart and mind, the end result will be the creation of a positive and nurturing environment. Taking time to get to know and trust the person who will advise you on feng shui is imperative.

Feng Shui’s Impact

Today, feng shui is becoming much more accepted and pervasive in the West, sometimes on a small scale, and sometimes on a large scale.

Local real estate agents in my little suburban town are constantly dealing with customers voicing feng shui concerns. A large national residential real estate developer hired me to advise on the exterior feng shui of an upscale condominium development on the Hudson River in hopes of attracting Asian buyers. The condos sold out almost immediately.

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Blending traditional principles with modern style

Feng shui is entering the mainstream. It pops up regularly in the media: on TV sitcoms, in magazine and TV ads, in New Yorker cartoons, and even as a weekly column in one L.A. newspaper. One annual health care design symposium has featured different feng shui consultants as speakers three times in the past decade. Master Lin Yun regularly lectures at such vaunted institutions as the United Nations, Harvard University, and University of California, Berkeley.

But Does It Really Work?

I must admit that I am a skeptical Westerner. The case stories you read in the following lessons are a few examples I have observed during the last 25 years. Feng shui seems to work, but who can say why? Is it common sense? Is it ancient wisdom? Or is it the clients’ will to believe — a self-fulfilling prophecy? I happen to believe feng shui’s success comes from a mixture of all these elements. It incorporates many diverse elements, ranging from ancient philosophy and superstition to good design and common sense. Even though I was well schooled in Chinese culture, with a B.A. from Barnard College and two years of living in Asia, I never imagined I would ever be advising others on this ancient art. But here I am.

The needs and goals of my clients vary tremendously. At any given time, I may be working with a family where the father has been out of work for over three years; a couple with fertility problems; a design or architecture firm with internal conflicts; or a health and beauty spa seeking to create a comfortable and soothing environment for both their beauty technicians and their customers.

Sometimes I consult once, and sometimes a client brings me in repeatedly. For example, over 15 years ago, a partner of a fledgling two-man financial firm hired me to advise on their new office. Over the years, as the business has grown and they moved to larger quarters, they rehired me to look at the feng shui of each new space. Today I am advising this same firm on the renovations of three entire floors of a midtown New York City building, and they continue to outperform the S&P.

Another long-term client is a talented dress designer working out of New York and Pennsylvania. Before she opens a store, she will send me blueprints or have me visit a site. She can hardly keep dresses on the rack, a problem many stores wish they had.

Coming Up

I hope you will find the next seven lessons helpful. They are based on Master Lin Yun’s treatment of feng shui as well as my own personal and professional experience. If some of the information is too mystical or philosophical, just skip to the next section — I promise I won’t quiz you. It will be in your best interest, however, to do the assignments for each lesson. Following the lessons and the assignments will allow you to make the most of the course, the classroom, and the practice of feng shui in your own life.

You’ve probably got many questions about where this practice came from and how it came about. Lesson 2 will introduce you to the origins of feng shui and its impact on, and use in, Chinese landscape, architecture, and design.

Assignment: Feng Shui Now

First, grab a notepad and pencil and take some time to walk around your home. Take in the different rooms and note your immediate reactions to them. When regarding each room think about these questions:

  • Which rooms make you comfortable? Why?
  • Which rooms are you not comfortable in? Why?
  • What are the distinguishing differences between the rooms you like and dislike?
  • What associations do you have with each room? Positive, negative, nostalgic, etc.?
  • What changes would you like to make in the rooms you are not comfortable in right now?

Keep this list for reference as you go through the course. Many people apply good feng shui intuitively, and you’ll be amazed to learn the philosophy behind those applications in later lessons. Others of us need more instruction. Either way, you’ll know more about how to fix the imbalances in your uncomfortable rooms after we move through a few more lessons. Stay tuned!

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