The ancient Chinese philosophy of feng shui makes it possible for anyone to live in a home where life energy can flow freely. Even if you start with small changes to your environment, you’ll notice the effects right away.
Did you ever stop to think that your house says something about who you are? It displays our dreams and our individuality, but also our frustrations and our shortcomings. Even if your house has plenty of charming touches, the arrangement of the furniture may be a mess, because you’ve lost sight of the big picture. Or maybe you bought a trendy sofa because everybody has one these days, even though you knew deep in your heart it wasn’t for you. The truth is, when you look at your interior, you’re looking at yourself. Sometimes you don’t even notice how your home reflects your own essence until you realize that first. Once you see that, you can set in motion a process that brings you closer to the essentials. Ask yourself who you really are when you let go of things that no longer fit, keeping only what makes you happy and inspires you. We shape our surroundings, and they shape us. That back-and-forth is a source of inspiration.
Nina Elshof is a feng shui master, an author and a teacher. She helps people with the process of finding inspiration,
which is not about making a comfortable or charming home. Nina explains, “That image of feng shui is a misunderstanding.
The basic question is more practical: What’s the function of a room or an object, what is it for? The first step is to have a greater awareness. We often don’t think deeply about the place where we are. We don’t give ourselves the time to pause and pay attention. If we don’t, we underestimate the influence of our surroundings on our well-being and energy level.” Hundreds of years ago, Chinese emperors used feng shui to pursue wealth and power. People sometimes think that this is the art’s main purpose, but it’s not. Nina says, “Feng shui began as a process of discovery, asking what the relationship is between people and their surroundings. The philosophy grew out of a need to explain the world.”
Feng shui has many facets, but it’s as simple or complicated as we make it. You can look at it as a one-two-five system. The one is life energy, known as qi, which forms the basis for everything that comes into existence. The first time the life energy came into motion, it turned into male energy, yang. When that energy came to rest, it became yin, female energy. Yin and yang are the two. When they’re in balance, life energy flows freely, and the qi stays fresh. The five are the elements that make up everything in the cosmos: wood, fire, earth, metal and water. They are connected, each in its own way, to yin and yang. Just as nature is kept in balance by the interplay of the elements, they can also create balance in the home or workplace. Each element is linked to a variety of materials, colors and forms, which offer the freedom to play. The element of metal, for instance, can take the form of an iron chair, but also the round shape of a bowl.
Qi is everywhere: in nature, your home, your office and your car. Mother Nature knows how to make life energy flow, and feng shui applies that knowledge to our surroundings. Would you like a hidden nook for resting in one place? Then give the flow of energy plenty of space somewhere else. It all goes back to the balance between yin and yang. You can sleep most peacefully if your bedroom is full of calm yin energy. Active yang energy belongs in your car or your workplace. Energy can flow more freely if you tidy up — yes, it’s the latest Marie Kondo craze, but it’s also an ancient and important aspect of feng shui. Only items that have a function can stay. But we can define “function” broadly. An object may have a practical purpose, or it may serve to make you happy. Feng shui is a spiritual philosophy, but there’s a logic to how it’s used. Of course a heap of laundry blocks the flow of energy — you can sense that much. And it’s obvious that an old photo of an unhappy love affair no longer serves any purpose.
What makes our surroundings feel right? When does an object belong there? When it supports the essential functions of
human life. That principle is always the same, whether we’re resting or active, at work or at play, nourishing our souls and
bodies or using stored energy to do things that have, or create, meaning. A place is at its best when it perfectly matches its purpose. And this is where feng shui can be so helpful. Our modern age has brought both good and bad. Multitasking is popular; you may eat at your desk or watch TV in your bedroom. But we’re rediscovering what the masters of feng shui have always known. Single-tasking is healthier and more effective. Order is another forgotten pillar of feng shui. These days, everyone seems to want to fill every moment to prove, oh, yes, life’s good, I’m keeping busy, busy, busy. But it’s more effective to restore order and calm in yourself and your surroundings. If you adopt that mindset, you may find it comes as a big relief.
A feng shui expert, often called a master, can help you to create the optimal living environment. You could take on everything
at once, from the attic to the shed, but starting with smaller projects has its advantages. Without much effort, you can make a change that matters. You’ll feel lighter, more cheerful. Things will be easier to find and easier to do. Then the bigger steps
that follow will come naturally, because the energy is flowing. “Improving the life energy in the place where you are will immediately energize your mind and body,” Nina says.
Every change begins with a close look at the starting point. “Open up and observe. Notice shapes, colors and materials. Imagine the place or object is trying to tell you a story about events, ideas and emotions. Look without judging. Accept what is here and now. What do you see and sense? Where is the junk, and what does it mean to you? Maybe it’s something mental or spiritual you haven’t cleared up yet. Are you experiencing inner clutter, a lack of clarity? After careful observation, you can decide what action to take. Get rid of anything that has lost significance to you, its life energy or its function.” If you don’t live alone,
you may have to compromise, but the most important thing is clarity about the function of a place or thing. Then you can add elements that make you happy, bring energy or reinforce that function. Feel free to use your intuition and play with the five elements as you choose your shapes, colors and materials.
So knowing this at the back of your mind, where are you gonna start? The bathroom? The kitchen or your workspace?
Text:Astrid Maria Boshuisen
This article is part of our issue 20 – Take Your Time
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