It says ‘writer, traveller, broadcaster’ in my by-line (and after the past few weeks I’m thinking of adding ‘expert hand-washer’). Some of you might know me as a feng shui practitioner, too. I stopped doing consultations a few years back but it seems like a good time to share a few simple things that I found to be very important in creating a supportive home. And support is something we all need these days.
Feng shui is all about the flow of energy – chi or qi – through the landscape and its effect on us. There are loads of feng shui methods but all start with the same thing: FORM, or what things look like. Much of it seems like common sense – something ugly will have a negative impact, that kind of thing. But there are other things you might not have thought about.
Imagine you’re sitting in a comfortable armchair – a high back to nestle into, arms to hold you secure, and room in front to put your feet up or rise from it with no problem. That’s the basic configuration we look for in feng shui. The back of the armchair represents the solid, quiet energy of a mountain, and the open area in front of the chair is more open and active, like water. If you apply this to cities, you find that prosperous places are those supported by mountains (or rising land, at least) with flowing water in front, like Sydney, Hong Kong, even London. How we place ourselves in the home is the same.
We want the energy in our homes to flow through each room like a lovely lazy river. When it flows too fast then we can feel unsettled and argumentative, too slow and it’s like life’s a constant struggle and we feel exhausted. How do you assess that? A long hallway funnels energy along it. A window draws energy through it, with bigger windows and dominant views sucking the energy out more quickly. Many homes today are open-plan, with little sense of containment, and that can make us feel scattered. A windowless room, like an internal bathroom, has no energy in it.
Look around your home – does it feel alive with energy or dead, all shut-in? If you have long views or large areas then slow things down with things that catch your eye like artwork or interesting objects, and define areas using rugs, lighting and pops of colour. You know how Chinese restaurants often have screens just inside the entrance door? That’s to slow down the busy chi of the street, making it (and you) change direction by walking around the screen so that the restaurant feels quieter and a better place to linger for an hour or two. Use the same principle in your home.
Good sleep is always important but it’s absolutely vital in stressful times, keeping us healthy and helping us deal with whatever the day throws at us. It’s essential that your bed is in the optimum position so that you sleep as well as you can. As chi flows quickest from door to window, it’s best to sleep out of this busy stream of energy. Try to place your bed so that it’s not between the door and the window (but don’t stress if that’s not possible). If the bedhead is under a window then it’s likely the quality of your sleep won’t be good. A bed needs a mountain behind it – a solid wall, in other words. I always recommend having nothing hanging on that wall – no picture, nothing. Keep it as calm and solid as possible. And just like the armchair, a lamp table at each side of the bed gives additional support.
A desk under a window means you’ll find it hard to focus and waste time looking out of it. Sitting with your back to the door will mean you’ll jump out of your skin every time someone walks in (especially if you live alone, ha). Like a bed, it’s best to have your back to a wall if you can, which might mean the desk sticks out into the room, but give it a go and see how it feels. Make sure you can see the door, even if it’s to the side. If you’re working from home temporarily, at the dining table, say, then this will help you chose the best side to sit on.
When you’re stressed, almost always there will be a problem with water or electricity – the washing machine breaks down, a tap starts dripping, lights stop working. These are all symbols of flow, and it shows how your stress is interrupting the flow of your life. Everything, as Carl Jung said, that’s going on inside you will ALWAYS manifest itself in your environment. He was totally right. The best you can do is get them fixed as quickly as possible. Think of it as an act of self-care.
What do you surround yourself with? I remember a client of mine was feeling adrift, unsure of where life was heading. Every day she worked opposite a huge painting she loved of a single woman gazing out to the wide horizon of a wild sea. She thought it was a romantic image but I thought it was all about loneliness and uncertainty. When she removed it, her life and her attitude took a much more positive turn. Look at the pictures on your walls and ask what they’re saying to you. Are they about growth, resilience, positivity, or are they full of angst and abstraction? Try removing a piece and see if it makes a difference.
Clutter clearer Marie Kondo has been super-successful with her call for everything we possess to ‘spark joy’. It’s like William Morris’s dictum to ‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful’. Take a look at everything around you and question what it says. Is it broken or wonky? Does it bore you? Does it make you feel sad? A bowl filled with fresh fruit says something more positive than a forgotten bowl with a single wrinkled apple in it. Doesn’t a vase with something in it, even grasses or leaves, look better than an empty one? (Although, sorry, not the plastic or dusty dried stuff – that’s carrying the message of fakery and death.) If you take the view that the home is a symbol of the self then what is your home saying to and about you? A few tweaks might make it (and you) feel more positive.
Being in lockdown isolation can also make us feel truly isolated. You might put out a few more images or objects that make you think of your friends and family. It’s a small gesture but it can be meaningful.
Most people are feeling overloaded at the moment and it’s easy to fly off into all kinds of worst-case scenarios and fearful thoughts so it’s important to feel anchored. In Taoism, the Mountain is the energy of quiet reflection – sitting still, doing nothing. That might not be too much of a problem if you can’t leave the house. Transforming the stillness into something helpful is worth a go. Some people find meditation useful but everyone should give themselves some quiet time. Put down the phone, switch off the media, and sit down for five minutes. Do nothing. I’ve got a heavy stone that I like to hold. It might sound silly but I think of it as a piece of mountain, helping me connect to the strong energy of nature. Works for me – I always feel calmer and more centred afterwards.
And lastly, much of feng shui comes from the Taoist tradition, understanding the ebb and flow of life. Nothing stays the same, everything rises and falls in a never-ending cycle. So one thing is certain, this awful time will pass.
And even in its awfulness, there is positivity and brightness. For me, the upside of staying inside and hopefully staying healthy is that I’m reading more. I’ve even started writing another novel. My partner is reconnecting with our garden, planting things we can eat and enjoying what drew us here in the first place.
What’s the upside in all this for you?
What a brilliant post for these testing times. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.
I didn’t know about the armchair and the mountain and the water. That’s lovely. I have a tatty old armchair in my studio which was left behind in a house we bought and it has moved with us every time because I love it. And I do feel very supported sitting in it. I use it to think in, to assess paintings from and to generally stare into space from.
I always think of your bed advice when I watch American films/tv where they ALWAYS have their bed in front of a window.
I look forward to more of these testing times tips!
I love the idea of this armchair finding its way into your affections, like a tatty old mutt one grows to love. A good armchair is a much misunderstood domestic icon, pushed aside by bullying sofas… I’m glad you enjoyed this. We both know how important it is to have a supportive living space.
Yes we do!
Bullying sofas eh?
A wonderful and inspiring read Colin. It clarifies things I know instinctively and has made me realise that my family shrine exemplifies your suggestions. It has become cluttered with things that speak of family sorrow, duty and obligation to such an extent that it has an over bearing quality. And that is how I feel when I look at it- burdened. I have sent you a photo. I am about to clear and clean it and carefully redesign so that it celebrates all that brings me joy. Thank you. I will send an “ after” photo. Loving and joyous thoughts to you and Anthony.
Thanks, Ollie. I love that this sparked a change. We become so familiar with the things around us that we forget to really see them, and hear what they might be saying. Can be so powerful, and therefore so powerful when we adjust them. Joyous thoughts back at you!
Such a perfect post for these times. Thank you Colin, for dipping back into Feng Shui for the greater good.
Coming from one who knows the joy of a supportive home, that means a lot – thank you!
Thanks Colin, that’s a very good article. I think I need to do a bit of decluttering while keeping my grandmother’s armchairs. I often sit in one of these to meditate or phone friends and family. They feel safe.
The feel of the house is more important than mere appearances.
That’s exactly right, Ray. It’s why I left the superficial world of interior design and became interested in Feng shui in the first place – atmosphere, ambiance, feeling, all make so much difference. Glad I haven’t inspired you to chuck out your heritage, though!😉
Thank you for that beautiful reminder Colin. We sometimes get carried away and forget to take the time to consider where, and if new
/old pieces should go in our home. Some should stay for a life time and others for only a moment.
You have inspired me to do a ‘head count’ and clear out some of the clutter during this lockdown!
Thank you, Julie. You’re right, it’s good to take stock and connect with our homes – especially when we don’t have much choice at the moment. Good luck with your head count!
I cannot begin to tell you how much this post resonates with me. All my life I’ve been hyper-sensitive to these ‘forces’, which were never identified as Feng Shui or anything other than an overly picky way of being. But the placement of objects is so important. And yes, if something inspires you neither by its beauty nor its utility, why keep it? (Other than sentimental reasons, which I would argue against in many cases…). It took me years of constantly rearranging the furniture in this house, the one with far too many windows, to understand that blocking the flow between doors and windows is just not a good thing. Now we are looking for a new home and I find that no matter how good it looks in pictures or floorplans, you have to physically be in the space to appreciate that intangible energy. Thanks for summing up so well all of the key points of this art — I will bookmark this post and keep it on hand as a reference. Brilliant! x
Thank you, dear Mel! I totally agree that you need to walk through a place to get the feeling of it. It’s what drew me to Feng shui in the first place, trying to understand why some homes looked great but felt awful, while others, while looking perfectly ordinary, could feel terrific. It was heaven to discover a systematic method of assessment, even if there’s still lots of contrariness, and it takes a lifetime to udnerstand a lot of it. I’m also reminded of a client of mine who had a most amazing apartment in Sydney which was virtually all glass, with incredible views over the harbour, the Opera House, the Bridge. You couldn’t walk anywhere without getting a stonking view. My client had bought it as a kind of city pied a terre (as you do) but found they hated staying there, it felt so draining. Those stonking views were simply sucking the life out of it and it needed a lot of work to try to get any sense of containment. It was an energy colander, frankly. So big windows and views have to be balanced by quieter, contained areas… Looking forward to hearing about your adventures to come with the new house!
This is such a great post and so useful. My house, I realise now, has pretty good feng shui. I wonder whether Michael Dysart took that into account when he designed it. All the houses in my row have a view of the mountains.
What a great thing that is. I think a good architect and feng shui are very compatible, creating great architecture. Every architect I have ever spoken to has mentioned the importance of place – it’s precisely what those generic Kath & Kim spec-built estates lack…
Really enjoyed reading this – a positive and useful insight into the world of feng shui, and what better time to begin looking more closely at these aspects of the home?
Thanks, Fran. This crisis is making many of us evaluate the small things in life, and see that they are, in fact, huge things, like the importance of a supportive living space. Hope you’re enjoying yours! x
As I was reading this a huge tanker drew up outside the block next door and began sucking water/sewage out of it, so it made me laugh. Our washing machine went ping on the first day of self isolation and having at first ordered another one I then cancelled it because we live in a small flat with a small kitchen and it would have been impossible to keep any kind of distance from the two men bringing it in so it’s hand washing for the next ? weeks.
Stressful neighbours, obviously… Oh lordy, I can only imagine the joy of having to handwash. Although I suppose it could be quite meditative, and might in fact be excellent research for any wartime novel you may be planning. Something I learnt from my last holiday (remember those?) was that pure wool doesn’t need washing nearly so much as cotton or manmade…