Religion & Culture | Feng shui: What your home and office say about you
China has given the world a melange of mysteriously effective practices aimed at achieving wellness.
Thai Chi and Qigong are two such modalities practised by millions of westerners. Feng shui, a 4,000-year-old practice on the other hand, has remained highly specialised and somewhat obscure.
A practitioner is rigorously schooled in a discipline that prioritises spatial arrangement to facilitate energy flow. Yes, your home and office can reveal a lot about your spiritual, financial, emotional and physical health.
One feng shui site offered these rudimentary tips: Start with a raised bed, to allow energy to flow. Place the headboard against the wall, far from windows and doors. Avoid placing mirrors and desks in bedrooms. Keep plants, clutter, and water features out of your room to maintain balance. Lastly, incorporate balancing colours, soft lighting, and inspiring artwork.
A good practitioner
But feng shui is far more complex and finding a good practitioner that has met robust certification standards can be a challenge. Often, it has been said that feng shui is an intuitive art; that a worthy practitioner is highly sensitive, mediumistic, with the ability to discern the inconspicuous.
Wisconsin-born Michelle Gonyea didn't mind sharing her expertise on the subject. Sitting in a Thai restaurant in an Upper East Side neighbourhood in New York seemed the ideal place for Gonyea to prove her salt.
Gonyea is more than a practitioner. A registered nurse at a well-known New York hospital, she brings a sentient dimension to a sometimes dry subject.
"Feng shui means wind and water in Chinese," she opens, lending structure to a subject that has long eluded so many in the West. "We basically have two intertwined energy fields - the human and universal or environmental."
Wheels of energy
Yoga and Western rite occultism have offered detailed explanations of the chakras or wheels of energy that exist within the human body.
On that particular field, Gonyea makes a passing reference. What concerned her, at least for the moment, was our immediate space - our environment and how it impacts our life, for good or bad.
"Our space is like a mirror of what is going on inside of us. We can read people by looking at their environment."
Gonyea, who initially studied this ancient art in Boulder, Colorado, and later, New York, where she learnt about the yin-yang principle, the flow of chi (energy) within and outside the human body, the five elements, and the use of the Bagua Map (that shows the areas of your home or office that are connected to specific experiences such as health, relationships and work).
She has since used this knowledge to counsel well-heeled clientele on practical ways to improve their lives.
"I begin by looking at the floor plan of the house, apartment or office in question. How furniture, appliances, etc, placed in relation to entrances, doorways and exits are important, but equally relevant is intuition."
There is definitely an intuitive feel to this work because feng shui is not only about realigning or rearranging once abode. That is a very Western explanation of a very esoteric practice. Colour therapy and fumigation are also used in re-establishing order. She refers to these procedures as clearing.
"I particularly like fumigating the space, followed by a quite internal blessing as what can be called the last phase of the work." Gonyea describes adding some alcohol to Epsom salt and setting it alight.
"This is purifying and clears stagnating energy (and), essential to lasting success is a client that embraces a new philosophy of living; there must be inner transformation or transmutation. Mental, spiritual and behavioural changes are sometimes necessary."
Hoarding is very much a psychological statement, according to Gonyea. "When we declutter, we change the vibratory energy of the space. As we make these physical changes we feel a difference at a psychic level. Our thoughts are more lucid and congruous."
Gonyea holds that healing begins from within and without. "Just attending to our space can prove to be therapeutic. That's why I serve as a facilitator. The client must physically make changes to his or her environment, must do the work in removing clutter, and really be the leading participant from the beginning to the end of the process."
In her nursing capacity, Gonyea uses the fundamentals of feng shui in caring for patients.
"The immediate surroundings of the infirmed contribute positively or adversely to their state of mind. This is a practice that is not particular to Asia alone."
Feng shui underscores the Taoist belief in a natural world that is interconnected and interdependent. We are our environment and, in turn, our environment speaks for us. It is a symbiosis that is at the crux of Asian culture.
As globalisation takes root, this belief system continues to find expression in foreign lands. In New York and California, architectural and landscaping designs based on feng shui are commonplace.
Expectedly, feng shui has its fair share of detractors. For many, unconvinced by its purported good, shelve it as another practice in the ever-growing arena of pseudoscience.
Others view it as an indulgence of the wealthy. Gonyea baulks at such suggestions, convinced that en vogue wellness modalities are not outside the framework of scientific enquiry.
"Feng shui has endured this long because it has brought visible, tangible results. The rich and poor attest to its rejuvenating and curative properties. To believe otherwise runs counter to everything I have seen over the years."