The popularity of Feng Shui in recent years has led to a plethora of books on the subject, representing a vast array of different approaches to the ancient mystical science. The Compass School, Landform School, the Western School, the Black Hat School: each has been represented in various publications, yet to the uninitiated, a great deal of confusion remains (likely due to the wealth of information available) about what Feng Shui is and how it works.
The basic belief about Feng Shui is that it can bring to the home a nourishing relationship to life-force energy, thus procuring benefits for those that live there. Just how this energy (referred to as “Chi”) is harnessed, however, depends very much upon what book you read or to whom you speak.
Since my own introduction to Feng Shui in London in 1996, there have been moments of uncertainty. I was introduced at the same time to both the Black Hat approach and the Compass School. The two differ in their placement of the bagua map (a chart of thematic life aspirations inspired by the oracle the I Ching): more traditional schools orient the map according to cardinal directions, with the Career area being in the North, whereas Black Hat practitioners reorient the map for each room, with the wall along which the door is located indicating the location of the aspirations on the Northern sector of the bagua map. (The Western school follows the same system as the Black Hat practice.)
I vacillated between the two approaches for a while, eventually opting for the compass approach as I preferred the concept of aligning with higher energies. After all, in using Feng Shui we are said to be tapping into a higher power, and so I felt that this system most supported my vision. The London workshops I took with Lillian Too focused on this method, and so I stuck with it. For four years I carried my compass with me, focusing on which of my four optimal directions I was facing while eating, working, sleeping.
I found that as I focused on compass directions, there was a degree of negativity that crept into my thinking. My astrological makeup means that, as an “East” person, my best directions are North, East, South-East, and South. But what was I to do if, for example, I had to give a presentation on a stage built facing the West? My mind would be focused on the fact that I was facing my “Six Killings” direction. I could not readily face my good directions, as I would be facing either the sides of the stage, or have my back to the audience!
Following the compass school led, for me and for many others who I know, to a degree of fear and invalidation. It led me to doubt the fact that I have the power to accomplish anything I wish, whatever direction I face, as I am myself an embodiment of universal energy. What had been intended to be a support mechanism became a prison. Despite some doubts, I staunchly resisted the concept of aligning the arrangement of the bagua map with the door. However, one telephone conversation with Rhea Peake, founder of Enviromancy™, changed my mind (something that is at times no easy feat).
I was considering having Rhea come to work on my apartment, which despite my diligence was not bringing me the results I desired. I had been uncomfortable with the concept of Western Feng Shui, as I felt it would just be a diluted version of the potent original formulas. I was, however, very much impressed with the clarity of Rhea’s views and the degree to which they matched my own. We were discussing the two approaches to room layout, and she alluded to the fact that Chinese homes were built along cardinal grids and that while it made sense to use this method of Feng Shui in such situations, given the fact that our own homes pay no attention to these directions, it was working against the architecture to give them priority today. Clearly their importance was more significant if the homes were built with them in mind, as was the case when the ancient texts were written.
This reasoning immediately brought about an epiphany and a total reworking of how I viewed Feng Shui, as there were direct parallels in this view of cultural relevance to two other areas of my life. In my work as a classical piano historian, I was aware that composers in the 19th Century did not make markings in the text for pianists to highlight certain voices because it was common practice at the time; pianists today who follow the letter of the score, however, do not pay attention to these vital musical details because instructions on how to do so were not written down. Historical recordings by pianists of this period reveal that these voices were indeed emphasized and are vital to an accurate representation of the work. (There are those today, of course, whose instincts allow them to pick up on what had been intended.) Clearly, working by what is written alone is not enough. One has to recognize that some things were not written because they were understood at the time, and that what is written is not all that is required.
Similarly, my own spiritual experiences have led me to believe that those who vehemently follow the letter of ancient religious texts often fail to read between the lines and, in following rules that are culturally rather than universally relevant, end up acting against the very intentions of the teachings. Indeed, we have seen in recent times the dangers of fundamental adherence to words pronounced thousands of years ago.
And so I realized that in trying to work compass alignments into a space that was not aligned with them to begin with was, in the words of the brilliant pianist Dinu Lipatti, like “dressing up an adult in children’s clothes. This may appear charming when thinking of a revival, but it can only be of interest to those searching through the dead leaves of the past.” He further advised that one “never study…with the eyes of the past or of the dead: you may end up with no more than Yorrick’s skull.”
When Rhea came to work on my space, I was introduced to a living form of Feng Shui, one which worked with the elements and aspirations on a personal level, using symbols which are relevant to us in the West (and to each of us as individuals), seeking to separate the universal from the cultural, working with the underlying principles upon which this science is based rather than with the rules exactly as they were written.
As I was preparing for the first of my teaching and consulting trips to Japan in 2003, I was aware that it would be highly inappropriate to call my practice ‘Western Feng Shui’ when I was going to an Asian country using a historically Asian practice. I realized that pitting East versus West kept the practice dichotomized, whereas Feng Shui needed a more neutral term that spoke to the transcendent, timeless energy of the essential truths it espouses. And so I began using the term Contemporary Feng Shui, which speaks to applying the principles in present time, regardless of geographical location. This also raises the reality that things always change – that one must adapt and evolve. And while there are those that would say that only by following the external rules first communicated thousands of years ago can we truly do Feng Shui, I would say that a lack of freshness and evolution goes against the very results that the practice aims to cultivate. Indeed, Tao Te Ching 76 speaks volumes: