Hankering for some changes in my life a few months back -- namely a little more money and a little more love -- I came upon some feng shui advice. The Chinese practice had a lot to say about rearranging one's space in order to rearrange one's life. In a poetic kind of way, it made sense.So I started to move furniture and shuttle big piles of belongings from one spot to another. I located my "wealth corner' and graced it with a hand-blown perfume bottle -- my personal symbol of abundance. Then I removed a big fat bookshelf from my "relationship corner' (wow, now there's a barrier to intimacy, I thought) and replaced it with seating for two.
Also in the name of love, I made space on my shelves for someone else's books and made sure I had a sweater not my size in my closet. Now I'm working on clearing clutter from my "career and work" area; maybe that will get me some raises!
My apartment is more enjoyable to live in -- and I have found new love. Did rearranging the furniture do it? It's hard to say. In investigating feng shui further, I discovered that most masters consider the stuff I was doing to be mere window dressing -- though they admit it may sometimes work.
True traditional feng shui is a 6,000- to 8,000-year-old practice that involves precise analysis and calculations and is considered highly reliable in its effects. Recommendations about how to change your environment are based on in-depth analysis and calculations and take into account your birthdate, the position of the planets and the actual state of your physical surroundings.
While there's not a lot of agreement on this cosmic art, clearly it speaks to a recognition that we're related to the larger web of life, and that the quality of our physical surroundings affects our health and relationships.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
"Feng shui challenges the Western paradigm whereby we look at buildings and built spaces as inert, individual objects. Feng shui tries to sensitize us. Before one builds a house, one has to recognize what the land, the wind are telling us about its fitting placement. I think it has a huge effect on our health to look at things this way. When we design environments oblivious to this, there is increased environmental stress. Not feeling at home leads to stress. We don't need to throw out everything Western. We're struggling to maintain our rigorous analysis and learn from broader visions.'
INGRID LEMAN STEFANOVIC, associate professor of philosophy, University of Toronto, specialist in the philosophy of architecture
"People are stronger than buildings. You can overcome almost anything; it just takes a lot more of your energy. When a building has good feng shui for you, you don't struggle as much. There are general principles: a symmetrical building, especially a square, on a symmetrical lot is healthier to live in. It's generally better to have roofs that aren't too pitched, especially where you're sleeping, and the head of a bed needs to be against a solid wall.'
MALCA NARROL, feng shui consultant, bachelor of architecture
"Don't put in stupid feng shui cures. People hang up a wind chime and think it's feng shui. It's not. Most books you read describe Westernized feng shui. The secret of feng shui is to put yourself inside a circle. Look at Oprah's stage, look at Connie Chung's -- they're circular. Imagine you're sitting on the toilet, draw a (21-inch-wide swath) on either side of your hips and in your imagination extend it through your home. You don't want to sleep, cook or sit in your office in contact with that (trajectory)."
PETER LEUNG, feng shui master
"Geomancy is a Western practice that refers to the reading of site and geology, but it very quickly became involved in numerology. Does it solve things by changing numbers on an address or the position of a chair in room? Not likely. But if you believe it, it will make a difference. So often in Western design, balance equates with symmetry. Feng shui equates balance with a much more subtle condition. That search for balance in itself is a useful discipline. What upsets me is interior decorators who have latched onto it. They say, "Red does this, blue does that' -- it's an abuse of a rich cultural tradition."
DAVID LIEBERMAN, professor of architecture, University of Toronto and University of Waterloo
"Resistance to moving furniture can be like resistance to changing our way of thinking. Objects hold energy. When we clean out a closet we free that energy for some other purpose. Cultural baggage attaches to symbols, but when we touch their essence, underlying principles show up across cultures. I hope that part of feng shui's gift is a growing appreciation for the role of symbol and metaphor and their potential to uplift, inspire and heal."
HELEN WILLIAMS, feng shui practitioner