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?