If you understand theory and the characteristics of Qi energy, then fixed feng shui maxims be damned, you’ll be able to analyze your way through feng shui.
Qi (pronounced “chee”) is one word used to describe the universal life force that connects all people, our souls and consciousness, our bodies, and all flora and fauna. It is life energy. It is breath and spirit. It can be interpreted as an energetic equivalent to the concept of a singular god. Qi is the totality of cause and effect, and the totality of all synchronicity. It encompasses the laws of thermodynamics: concepts of equilibrium, of energy transfer, and assumes that the whole of the cosmos is one closed system.
At its core, feng shui is the study of how Qi flows. How Qi flows in a particular area determines the character and condition of that area.
If you’re intuitive and sensitive, then you already have a sense for feng shui because you have a keen sense of Qi or life force energy. Maybe you can’t explain yourself, not in concrete vocabulary terms, but you just know, you get a feeling for a place based on the character of the life force energy you sense around you. Dude, that’s feng shui. Except “feng shui” is the metaphysical science that tries to explain why you just know, why you get a feeling.
Yin and Yang
One concept of Qi is that it is not only a unity, but also a binary. Qi is comprised of Yin and Yang, principles of passive, potential energy and active, kinetic energy respectively. If Yin is the dark, then Yang is the light. Yin is soft, cold, and feminine. Yang is hard, hot, and masculine. Yin is yielding; Yang is pushing. In the I Ching, which will be explained later in this chapter, Yin is depicted as a broken line and Yang as a solid line. Yin and Yang are the opposites and also the complements that form the unity of Qi. All components of the natural world possess either a Yin dominant or Yang quality.
The first step to applying feng shui is to determine whether the primary occupant of a property or living space is Yin or Yang. Then the property itself is characterized as either predominantly Yin or Yang. Feng shui seeks to bring balance between the occupant’s Yin and Yang character with the living space’s Yin and Yang character. The living space’s Yin and Yang character must also be supportive of the occupant.
If a person is too much Yin, then purposely seeking out a living space that is Yang will help bring balance to the person’s character. A person who is already too much Yin who dwells in a Yin dominant living space is going to be overwhelmed by Yin energies, and thus retreat inward, feel withdrawn and melancholic, experience inertia and apathy, and reside too much within his or her own mind and thoughts without striking a balance with the physical body. Too much Yang is also harmful, as such individuals will lack self-awareness, empathy for others, and tact.
Heaven, Earth, and Man
The trinity of lucks, also referred to as Heaven Luck (Tian Tsai), Earth Luck (Di Tsai), and Man Luck (Ren Tsai) is another important philosophy in feng shui. Heaven Luck embodies that which is innate and the circumstances beyond one’s control. Talents that seem to come from nowhere, the family you were born into, or the geography, the date, and the time of your birth are considered components of Heaven in the philosophical trinity. Earth Luck is where feng shui is relevant. Earth Luck represents the ways the universal Qi can be harnessed to enhance or improve your personal Qi. Earth Luck embodies the components from your environment that augment your Heaven Luck and neutralize your negatives. Earth Luck is having access to the resource needed to accomplish your particular goals. Man Luck embodies your education, your experiences, your perseverance and attitude, and your actions. It is knowledge, willpower, and intuition. Man Luck represents what you do toward self-improvement.
The purpose of feng shui is to supplement your personal trinity of lucks. It is believed that those who are lacking in Heaven Luck can use feng shui to enhance their Earth Luck. Also, what your Heaven Luck consists of as an individual will bear directly on how you should apply feng shui to balance and support your Earth Luck. How you apply feng shui to enhance your Earth Luck will help put you in a better position and temperament for improving your Man Luck. The three lucks are interconnected and the trinity is part of the cosmological foundation of feng shui philosophy.
Another dimension to how the trinity is applied in feng shui is as follows: Heaven represents how the sun, moon, and stars affect a particular living space and the occupants in that living space; Earth represents the balance and support of mountains, valleys, and plains; and Man represents the positioning of beds, tables, chairs, and furniture so that the occupants of a living space, in particular the harmony of the Father, Mother, and Child energies in a residential home and the Executives, the Nurturers, and the Work Product energies in a business setting. Cognizance of the interrelationships of the trinity and the three sub-trines is fundamental in feng shui practice.
Heaven, Earth, and Man also expresses the three primary components to feng shui analysis. Heaven represents nature, fate, destiny. It also represents how weather and climate might affect a particular location. While the geographic region we live in is certainly within our control and autonomy, to a greater extent it is left up to circumstances greater than us: the family we are born into, the schools we attend, who we marry, or who extends job offers to us.
Earth is the understanding of how geopathic stress might affect the ebb and flow of Qi in that location. Dowsing, which is the use of natural tools, such as wood or metal rods, was the traditional method of feng shui masters to locate geopathic stress and electromagnetic fields. Dowsing was considered a critical component to a feng shui consultation because of the substantial impact geopathic stress can have. They disrupt balance and support, or positive Qi. Geopathic stresses include fault lines, liquefaction or unstable soil types, unstable flow of underground water, or unrest in the Earth’s energy fields. The Earth component of feng shui is also about understanding the neighborhood and context of a home. Does the neighborhood balance and support you? Is there harmony or dissonance between your living space and your neighbors?
Man is the building, the floor plan, and the interior layout of the living space. It also covers the energetic deposits we leave behind in the home, and even predecessor energy, or what energies others have left.
The Three States of Qi
To cultivate Qi for feng shui, you should understand the three general states of Qi: Sheng Qi, Si Qi, and Sha Qi. By understanding the three states, you can then work with them to create a living space that is balanced and supportive. If Chinese is not your native tongue, then labels like Sheng Qi, Si Qi, and Sha Qi may get confusing. Thus, I’ll refer to them as positive energy, atrophic energy, and poison arrows respectively.
Sheng Qi or positive energy is what feng shui strives to cultivate, and that positive energy can manifest in either yin or yang form, each with particular characteristics and distinct effects.
The yang of sunlight and well-lit rooms is positive. The yin of soft curvatures is also positive. Way old school Chinese building structures will often have arched entranceways for positive yin, or sheng Qi. Well-cared for plants bring sheng Qi, but tradition says that plants in a bedroom should be discouraged because its yang essence is not conducive for restful sleep. And if you don’t get your beauty sleep, your health can suffer.
Si Qi or atrophic energy is the energy that causes decay, that rots, and that stifles. It is a slow, passive negative energy that harms from outside in. Some characterize it as a transitional state between Sheng Qi and Sha Qi.
Heavy yin energy in a space without a harmonious of yang added there is going to create atrophic energy. Clutter and mess creates atrophic energy. Dead plants emit atrophic energy. When you’re examining a space for its feng shui, if you see lots of dead bugs on the windowsills, that can be cause for concern about the Qi in that area. (But there can also be very practical reasons, too, like the place just got fumigated, so don’t let your rationalism check out. Be intuitive, but don’t be stupid.)
Sha Qi, on the other hand, is quick, active, and penetrating negative energy. It often pierces, then settles deep down, and causes harms from inside out. Many Western feng shui texts translate Sha Qi as poison arrows.
Poison arrows result when there’s–to oversimplify–corners and pointy, sharp objects. Think of that corner or pointy, sharp object as directing out a laser beam of concentrated energy. Whatever is in that laser beam’s path will be affected by that poison arrow. Poison arrows aren’t just formed by corners and pointy stuff. Lots of different types of things can result in poison arrows. Intuitively, you’ll know what’s a poison arrow.
The traditional feng shui cure for poison arrows is a Ba Gua mirror. Concave Ba Gua mirrors absorb the poison arrows and block them from affecting you, but then the concave mirror needs to be consecrated and cleansed from time to time. Convex Ba Gua mirrors redirect the poison arrows back out. They block you, but send the poison arrow off in another direction. This might make you impervious to that poison arrow, but if you’re the one who put up the mirror and you believe in traditional Chinese accounting of karma, then if that poison arrow hits someone innocent, the resulting harm could also bring you bad karma.
Wu Xing: The Five Elements *
The Wu Xing has been described as the five phases of life, the five physical manifestations of Qi, the five forms of consciousness of Qi, or the five elements of matter. It is not interpreted literally, but rather the five elements represent five character fundamentals, the five innate traits governing the development, the cycle, the personality, the generation and the regeneration of life. Each element possesses both a Yin supporting and a Yang activating attribute, and when harnessed in set combinations, these elements can cultivate strong positive energy, rejuvenate atrophic energy, and neutralize poison arrows. Nearly all feng shui practice is grounded on the interplay of these five elements. Each element has strengthening and weakening properties. Those properties are used to create balance and support in a living space. Understanding how elements strengthen or weaken one another also helps to identify and thus resolve areas of imbalance or tension.
The five elements are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water, with Water cycling back to Wood. Water is said to come first in philosophy because Water generates Wood, but in the cosmological order of the Wu Xing, Wood is stated first.
There are two cycles to Wu Xing: the cycle of creation and the cycle of destruction. The cycle of creation represents birth and rebirth. Creative energy is advocacy, love, and support. It is illustrated with the circle. The cycle of destruction represents dominance and subservience. Destructive energy is adversarial, modeling war and conflict. It is illustrated with the pentagram. It is important to understand that they do not represent distinct forces of good or evil, and that good and evil should not be the framework upon which creation and destruction are to be expressed. Creation and destruction are equal and necessary forms of energetic transformation.
Feng shui study is based on how the elements interact, a form of metaphysical chemistry. When elements fortify, together they strengthen particular positive energies. When they subdue one another or conflict, the tensions can emit negative energies.
* Note. The Wu Xing aren’t elements exactly, not the way the Aristotelian construction of Fire, Water, Air, and Earth are elements. Wu Xing express changing phases. The idea behind Wu Xing is that all of life and existence are in constant change. That constant change can be characterized in five different ways, and that’s the Wu Xing. In contrast, Western elemental theory is about fixed states, what things look like prior to or after change.
The Ba Gua: Eight Trigrams of the I Ching
The Ba Gua, or eight trigrams are the resulting reconciliation of Yin and Yang. Yin and Yang in particular permutations form the eight trigrams, each representing a physical manifestation, such as mountains, wind, thunder, lakes, and so forth, and also a mental or human manifestation, such as family, wealth, knowledge, or human creations. These manifestations can be amplified or subdued by harnessing the energies and vibrations of the five elements. Understanding such formulations is instrumental to feng shui practice.
The directionality in the Ba Gua is based on correspondences with the Four Celestial Guardians, which are derived from the constellations. It was said that during the spring equinox, the constellations formed the Blue Dragon in the east. In the autumnal equinox, the White Tiger appeared in the west. During the summer solstice, the Red Phoenix appeared in the south and during the winter solstice, the Dark Tortoise in the north. Note, however, the different interpretations of directionality between the Early Heaven and the Later Heaven Ba Gua.
Generally feng shui practitioners invoke the Later Heaven King Wen Ba Gua. The Ba Gua is superimposed over the layout of a living space, either a building or particular room or office, and certain areas of that living space then correspond with a particular trigram of the Ba Gua. There is disagreement among the main factions of feng shui practice as to whether the Ba Gua directionality is in reference to the entranceway of the living space or in reference to directionality, i.e., north, south, east, and west.
The He Tu and the Lo Shu Magic Squares
Here’s where we get into serious feng shui. Most schools or traditions of feng shui are based on either the He Tu or the Lo Shu magic square as it is superimposed over the directions and then how each sector of the square corresponds with the Wu Xing and the Ba Gua. I talk about the He Tu and the Lo Shu in The Tao of Craft, Chapter 1.