Why Western Feng Shui?
The original version of this article (it has been revised and expanded several times) was written 10 years ago in response to an email query about which form of feng shui is the best choice. It explains my perspective and feng shui philosophy and provides a helpful overview of the kind of advice you will find in my books and on this website.
Why I Practice Contemporary Western Feng Shui
Feng shui (say “fung shway”) is an ancient practice that originated in China thousands of years ago. A number of different styles and methods of feng shui have evolved over the millenia. Some very ancient methods are still practiced today, and modern approaches have evolved to meet the needs and expectations of a contemporary audience. This can be a source of confusion to beginners, as the differences between the methods often outnumber their similarities. Here’s an overview of the main styles of feng shui practiced today, their pros and cons, and why I’m a fan of the modern, western approach.
Feng shui professionals who say they practice “Traditional Chinese Feng Shui” are usually referring to the Flying Stars method. This practice uses an elaborate chart of numbers (“stars”) calculated for a building based on the structure’s compass orientation and year of construction. Some number patterns or combinations are thought to be especially auspicious. Others imply possible health, financial, marital, legal or other problems for the occupant. What distinguishes this method from other popular forms of feng shui is that both space and time are included in the analysis. Various remedies are recommended for unfortunate star combinations to control or reduce their influence for whatever period of time that influence is active.
The Flyings Stars method does provide unique information that you won’t get from other systems, which may or may not be helpful to you depending on your circumstances. If you are building a new house to spec, for example, it makes sense to fine-tune facing direction and room location according to the compass. It can be less helpful if you want to improve your situation in an existing residence. Flying Star charts require a precise and accurate compass reading, as well as discernment that in some cases the “facing direction” for the home is not the same as the direction the front door faces. If you don’t know when your home was built, whether or not major renovations were ever done, or can’t get an accurate compass reading (very common in city apartments), you will not be able to use the Flying Stars method.
Even if you do have the necessary data for accurate Flying Star calculations, what do you do if you live in an apartment and discover that the prescribed remedy for an inauspicious star combinations is to “construct a hill in the back and place a water feature at the front of the property”? That’s difficult to do when you live in a 14th floor apartment, or if you are a tenant in a rental property. And good luck figuring out what actions to take if you live in the Southern Hemisphere: there’s ongoing (and unresolvable) debate about whether to follow the classical arrangement of the stars or flip everything around backwards if you’re “down under.”
The Eight Mansions method defines auspicious and unfortunate sectors of a home according to which direction the main entry faces ( N, NE, E, SE, S, SW, W, or NW). Certain homes are thought to be more suitable than others for a particular occupant, based on that person’s gender and year of birth. Each individual also has personal lucky and unlucky directions. This method of feng shui advises sleeping, sitting, working, cooking, and eating in a lucky sector of the home and/or facing a lucky direction.
In theory this is helpful stuff — I do try to take lucky directions into account for key locations such as desk placement in my home office — but in reality it can be difficult to follow these recommendations while also meeting other requirements of good feng shui. Often, following the “good” directions just isn’t possible within the layout of a particular space. Placing your desk in a “lucky” location, for example, may mean placing it in your kitchen or bedroom (both inappropriate workspaces, according to other feng shui guidelines). And facing a lucky direction while you sit at that desk might expose to you to some form of “sha chi” (harmful energy) depending on the layout of that room. If you consult a book that teaches this method, you may encounter advice such as “the Six Devils sector is a good location for the kitchen, because the stove will burn up the evil influence.” Unless you are building a custom-designed house or are prepared to engage in extensive renovations, this kind of recommendation is unlikely to be helpful.
The bottom line is that creating good feng shui in any space usually requires making compromises and choices among the various options available, and in my experience the “lucky direction” options are often the first to go.
The real problem with both of these traditional methods—Flying Stars and Eight Mansions—is that they evolved to help you choose or build an auspiciously located and oriented home. Put the house data into the formula, and you get back a thumbs-up or thumbs-down verdict. It is assumed that if the verdict is unfavorable you will choose to live somewhere else.
But these days most of us apply feng shui retroactively. We hear something about feng shui, are curious about it, and decide to learn more. Our hope is to improve the space we are already living in: a space that was neither constructed nor chosen with feng shui guidelines in mind. The Traditional methods of feng shui can be very helpful in some situations. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee they’ll provide useful advice if you’ve just signed a 30-year mortgage on a house and want to know what you can do to make the best of it, warts and all.
Fortunately, just as cultures and societies have evolved over the centuries, feng shui has evolved as well. The contemporary style of feng shui which is the cornerstone of my practice provides principles and guidelines that are firmly grounded in the original, landscape-based methods (often referred to as “form school”) but which are uniquely suited to contemporary use.
Contemporary Western feng shui focuses on creating a healthy flow of chi (vitality or life force energy) through a space. It addresses the need for a method that can be used where the compass-based rules of placement are difficult or impossible to follow. These modern practices are based on a map of “Life Aspirations,” called the ba gua, that associates specific areas of the home with specific aspects of your life. Challenging layout issues and various forms of negative energy (sha chi) are identified and removed or neutralized. Remedies such as faceted crystal balls and wind chimes are placed to help welcome opportunities and encourage progress.Imagery such as paintings, photographs, and art objects is chosen and placed to enhance and reinforce your intention.
Another key feature of contemporary feng shui is its strong emphasis on the power of your intention to shift the energy of your home and initiate significant changes in your life. Non-traditional “cures” are welcomed, so you can choose feng shui accessories that suit your taste and decorating style, rather than using oriental objects and symbols (tortoises, bamboo flutes, etc.) that may have no cultural significance for you.
This self-directed aspect of contemporary feng shui is a key ingredient in its popularity with modern users. Our culture has trained us to question authority and value self-determination, and these values are not always a good fit with the more traditional feng shui teachings, which tend toward dogmatic and inflexible “do” and “don’t” rules.
Some traditionalists balk at this evolution, and insist that the Flying Stars method is “the only true feng shui.” Others believe that the Eight Mansions method is the correct way to go. If you happen to agree with either of those opinions, this is not the site for you—but I hope you are more open-minded than that. I count myself among the practitioners who recognize that all methods of feng shui, both ancient and modern, contribute valuable aspects to the practice.
In spite of my deep respect for the traditional practice, I do have a strong personal preference for the flexibility and client-focused approach of contemporary western feng shui, which allows for a greater degree of collaboration and personalization. At its best, contemporary western feng shui becomes a path for personal growth and self-transformation. It is a valuable tool in the quest for self-actualization and a deeper connection to Spirit. Yes, it is a different practice in many ways from the classical Chinese compass-oriented feng shui. Times have changed, and feng shui is changing, too. I, for one, see nothing wrong with that.
Fast Feng Shui is my approach to teaching Contemporary Western feng shui. It is based on the BTB* and form school teachings, and emphasizes the power of your intention to accelerate change. Fast Feng Shui grew out of requests from my clients, many of whom were frustrated by feng shui books filled with information that didn’t apply to their home or situation. I hope you will find some new ideas and information here that will help you get better results from feng shui, faster, without a lot of wasted time and mis-directed energy.
* BTB refers to the “Black Tibetan Buddhist” (also known as “Black Hat”) approach of feng shui introduced to the West by Master Lin Yun.