From a wholistic perspective, everything in life is important. Ancient Chinese culture was particularly sensitive to this realization, and great care was taken to embody wholistic and spiritual understanding in every aspect of life, from agriculture to healing, even to warfare.
A primary example of this sophisticated approach is the art of feng shui, which is the practice of adjusting one’s immediate environment in order to harmonize the inner self as well as outward activities. Everything in our immediate surroundings has a physical and psychological effect on us – for good or bad – and the goal of feng shui is to achieve maximum health and well-being by enhancing the beneficial aspects.
As with many traditional practices, some of the prescriptions of feng shui – like painting doorways red to ward off “negative energies” – may, at first, sound ridiculous. But, upon closer reflection, these strange-sounding directives can be seen to embody deep psychological insights and a profound understanding of the natural world. There is much for modern people to learn from this ancient art.
For this issue we have interviewed R.D. Chin, a licensed architect and interior designer, who earned his civil engineering degree from Tufts University and his master of architecture degree from the University of Pennsylvania. A third-generation Chinese-American, Mr. Chin integrates his training in modern architecture with a knowledge of feng shui as practiced in China. He is now a professional feng shui consultant and architect in the New York area.
Spectrum: Feng shui is largely unknown to Westerners. Could you tell us about its background?
R.D. Chin: Feng Shui means “wind and water” in Chinese, and its goal is to harness and balance the chi energy in your living space. Chi is defined as the universal, life-force energy. Feng shui has been around for at least three or four thousand years. It originated as an agricultural tradition that recognized the importance of the surrounding environment.
Farmers always liked to have land that would expose their crops to the beneficial south winds. In addition, it would be even better to have mountains on the North, too, protecting from the north winds and any intruders. Best yet, would be to have mountains also on either side. So the thing was, with well-situated land, the crops grow well, the food is good, then the family has very good energy. With good energy, they will be healthy, wealthy and wise.
Feng shui is very powerful because it is the acknowledgment of man within the universal, natural forces. If you are in tune with the natural cycles and forces, then you’re going to be in harmony and balance. If you know that there is a big storm coming, you can be prepared. Or, if you know the cycles of the seasons, and when it is the best time to plant and harvest. On an energetic level, feng shui acknowledges all the natural forces and allows you to be in tune with them.
In Hong Kong, they use feng shui on a majority of the buildings. You may have heard how the new Bank of China has caused a great stir among the people because the building is a pyramidal shape with sharp corners. This type of structure creates a lot of anxiety because of the sharp energy that is being projected toward the people, and they are becoming upset.
In mainland China, the government has banned the use of feng shui. My feeling is that they’re afraid of the average person using these powers because that will usurp their authority. The government doesn’t like to acknowledge the use of feng shui, but I am sure that they use it behind closed doors because they want to be sure they are in the right place.
It’s easy to see how a farmer would be concerned about the winds, and take that into consideration in choosing a field location, but how would that translate to an urban situation?
To answer that, let me tell you about my approach to feng shui. What I have done is to integrate feng shui as part of my work as an architect and interior designer. I feel that feng shui is a very spiritual and wholistic way of looking at one’s living or working space. Combining it with my professional background and experience, I believe, pulls this traditional practice into the present.
The first principle I teach people is to position the major piece of furniture so you will be facing the room entrance when using it. By doing that, you feel much more comfortable sitting in that position, whether at a desk or sitting in your favorite easy chair. While you are sitting there, you can see all the energies, or activities, coming toward you, and are very aware of everything going on around you. You feel much more in control. Ironically, this ability to see everything will make you less distracted.
If you were sitting at your desk with your back to the door, then over a long period of time, you accumulate stress from the continued, unconscious fear that somebody could be coming up behind you. This distraction will affect your focus and concentration on a day-to-day basis. So you may walk out of your apartment and forget your keys, or trip on the sidewalk, because you’re not completely aligned with yourself. And, that could stem back to something as simple as the location of your desk.
That makes sense, because we evolved over millions of years in a much more dangerous and threatening environment. So we have this instinctual, unconscious need to be safe, and use all our senses to be alert for any unsuspected dangers.
In interior design school we were always taught to locate the desk for an executive or president facing the door. That’s why people are so intimidated to see the boss, because he’s in the power position.
Have you noticed other ways in which modern design jibes with feng shui?
Let’s take another example – bed location. It’s always good to have the bed situation in the room so you’re looking toward the door. To enhance a relationship between a couple, it is helpful to make sure that there is equal space on each side of the bed. That connotes equal agreement for the partners. If one side of the bed is against the wall, that could create a one-sided relationship, or, if you’re a single person, you may not open up to a relationship. Modern design also suggests space on both sides of the bed.
In feng shui, peoples’ ages – the cycle of growth – must also be considered. If you’re an infant, it would be good to have the crib against the wall, because that will create more support. As one gets older and more independent, it would be good to have the bed position reflect that person’s growing maturity.
Let’s talk about the use of yin and yang in feng shui, and how it relates to the balance of the room, its shape, and the way the furniture is arranged. Yin and yang, of course, is the concept of balance – light and dark, heavy and light. For example, it’s good to have a very yang space around your desk or kitchen, which have a lot of activity. But you want to create a very yin space for your bedroom, a very enveloping closed and nurturing feeling.
In a lot of my consultations in New York, I find that many people have their workspaces in their bedrooms. To me, that’s too much of an imbalance of energy. I always try to find ways to create a separate place for work, if not physically, then, at least, visually. When you go to bed at night and always see a desk full of work left undone, that’s going to affect your sleep. If your needed rest is insufficient, then that will produce lowered energy in the rest of your life.
When the Chinese are looking at chi, they’re talking about the psychological as well as physical implications. Not just the cold and the wind, but the effects of our surroundings on the mind.
That’s right. This is another principle that I present in feng shui. I say that feng shui is about clear intentions. If people are very clear as to the reasons why they are placing the furniture or artwork in their space, then people are going to feel much more comfortable in that space. That’s the bottom line, creating harmony and balance in one’s life. In a way, this is the intangible aspect of feng shui.
Why does some particular arrangement feel very comfortable? Because the people were mindful and conscious of why they placed the furniture in certain positions, or placed the artwork on the walls in a certain position. Their energies, attention, care and love in placing these things radiates from the room. Anyone work walks in the room will feel that something seems right there. What they’re really feeling is that the people who live or work in this space are being very clear as to the reasons why they placed things where they did.
People feel the energy, although they might not be able to put their finger on it exactly. For example, say you went into a bedroom after a major argument with a couple. Even though the couple had finished their argument and walked out already, the minute you walk in you can tell there’s something not right. It’s comparable on that level.
You’re saying it’s not necessary understandable by analytical reasoning, but it resonates with peoples’ intuitions and feelings.
Yes. The type of feng shui that I use, that of the Black Hat Sect School, is very powerful because it acknowledges feelings instead of only looking at the external factors.
So it’s really an art involving the whole person, and the healthier and more balanced the person designing the space, the better it will be. You’re dealing with intangibles.
That’s correct. Now, feng shui can be very hard work. It is the concept of change, and people don’t necessarily like change. This approach acknowledges change in a person’s life, but it is done in a very balanced way, putting “change” in perspective. It’s very much involved with emotions and feelings. If you can get a balance of emotions and feelings, then you can go through some of the difficult and major changes in our life. When one makes a change, it can sometimes be uncomfortable. But when you integrate that feeling, it moves you to the next level, whatever that may be.
Like taking your medicine; unpleasant, but sometimes needed.
Yes. One needs to be grounded to be a consultant in this school of feng shui, and a lot of meditations and exercises, such as chi gong, are used to accomplish that. It’s important to be very spiritual in helping people, but we also need to be grounded in the work we’re doing.
Whenever anyone has a feng shui consultant come to their space, when they compensate the consultant, they need to put the money in a red envelope, or a multiple of nine red envelopes. The reason for this is that the work of the consultant is considered sacred and powerful, because we are affecting peoples’ lives. Money is a very powerful medium, and red is a high-power color. So by using the red envelopes, we are acknowledging the power and the integrity of the work that’s being shared.
If there is a special request for something especially effective or strong in dealing with a situation, then they will have to get nine red envelopes to further acknowledge the power of the suggestions that are being recommended.
I think that if the average person in Western society heard that they were required to pay somebody with a red envelope, they would think it was ridiculous. But such things may have effects even though we don’t know the causes.
For example, I heard that in feng shui it is recommended to put a mirror at the home entrance way, which will supposedly keep out “evil” chi. So, I thought about what that really might mean. I know that when I enter a house with a mirror there, I usually check to see how I look. So having the mirror there would give any guest entering a chance to self-reflect – to see themselves as others see them, and think about their appearance and mood. Then, they can make themselves more presentable on many levels. If they looked in the mirror and saw themselves looking angry or worried, they could attempt to calm down before entering. Thus, the “negative” chi that they might be bringing into the house would be lessened.
That’s a very good way of putting it.
In modern sense, if you put a mirror in the hallway, from the living room you could see who was entering. In a way, it would create a security device.
Mirrors can mean different things. Another power of mirrors is that they help reduce stress, which may relate to what you said earlier.
When you’re working in your office or space for a long time, you need to take a break. And, when you take a break, you either look out the window or take a walk. What you’re really doing is relaxing your eye muscles by looking at much further horizon line. So physiologically, if you’re relaxing the eye muscles, then you’re reducing stress. By having mirrors in an appropriate position in the space, you can create a much further horizon line for the eye to focus on, and stress is lessened.
Mirrors also are thought to open up opportunities. When you think about it, if you reduce internal stress and tension, then you’ll feel much more relaxed, and this will create opportunities. For example, you think of more ways to deal with problems.
On a symbolic level, I feel that mirrors are reflective of the truth of the situation. A mirror could be used in a symbolic way to acknowledge truth in one’s life. How far do you really want to look at yourself to see what needs to be changed in order to come back in balance?
Another Chinese feng shui prescription is to put mirror on the wall behind the kitchen stove burners to create wealth. The idea is that when you double the number of burners by doubling the image, you’re doubling your money.
My interpretation is that when you double the amount of burners, you double the amount of food. When you have lots of food, then you have very good energy, and can be very productive.
So it’s a symbolic thing. You’re not really doubling the burners, but you’re somehow laying a psycho-energetic path for that to happen.
Also, there is another possible effect. Usually stoves are positioned in the kitchen so the cook’s back is always to the door. If you distract the cook, and he doesn’t see who’s coming from behind him, he’s going to burn the food, which will affect the family’s health, which will then affect the family’s finances.
Another thing is that mirrors behind a stove would get dirty very easily. The more careful the cook was while stirring the pots, making sure they didn’t boil over, etc., the cleaner the mirrors would stay. It would give incentive to use extra care and orderliness in the kitchen, which would translate into healthier food and healthier people, who could then earn more money.
Yes, that is correct.
When we incorporate ancient traditions in our life, it would seem very important to go into the mechanisms behind why they work, because these were set down by people living under very different conditions. For example, houses in ancient China did not have central heating or electric lights, so the room placements probably had a lot to do with maximizing heat and light from the sun at certain times of the day, and when people were doing certain tasks. This might not be as important today.
Are feng shui people writing books and sharing their discoveries about how to practice the art in modern times, or are adjustments happening more on an individual level?
Actually, there are a lot of feng shui books coming out now. I’m in the process of writing a book, and have just signed a contract. It will be case studies showing how feng shui principles will apply in the home.
Going back to what you were saying about how things have changed from the conditions in ancient China, there are still certain core things that affect us. For example, beams. Beams are not good elements. If there is a beam over your bed, that could cause headaches for you. Or say the beam is going lengthwise over the bed, that could be a divisive factor for a couple. There is one story of a couple who could not conceive, but when they shifted the bed away from a beam, they did.
How might that work?
I think this stems from the long-standing human experience with earthquakes. The first thing to come down are the beams. Even though there may not be an earthquake potential in a particular situation, something within us as human beings, when we look above and see that there is something above and see that there is something above that could fall, we are uneasy.
It’s like a horse that will jump back from a snake, even though it has had no direct experience in its life that snakes are dangerous things.
It’s a primal response.
If the beam is over the foot of your bed, you might suffer foot problems, which, in turn, indicates that you may have trouble moving forward in life. The feet help you travel through life.
So, the beam is creating unconscious stress?
That’s correct. What you need to do is acknowledge that situation and say, “This will not affect me.” There is one solution proposed by feng shui, to hang a crystal on nine inches of red string on that beam.
Planting a counter-psychological force?
Yes. A multifaceted crystal ball crystallizes all the negative energies, transforming them into a healing rainbow of colors. By using the nine inches of red string – nine is the most powerful, yang number – and the color red, which is a high energy color, you are truly acknowledging that this situation will not bother you.
Another solution would be to hang a bamboo flute on the beam, symbolizing that the chi going through the bamboo flute will help disperse the negative energy of the beam above you.
Now, I am going to throw out a modern example.
I did the NBA Alive and Wellness Show, and they had me look at their offices very briefly. It was a general office environment, and they had these modular desk units in clusters. Being in a cluster means that some people will face the door, but some will have their backs toward the door-not a good position. So, the question arises, how do you deal with a situation without breaking the budget by buying new furniture? My solution to help correct the situation was to propose hanging a multifaceted, mirrored crystal at the center of the cluster, suspended on nine, or eighteen or twenty-seven inches of red ribbon or string.
Symbolically, the idea is that they could look in the mirror and see who’s coming from behind them, But, on another level, just the act of putting that little ball up lets the people in the cluster know they are being acknowledged by the owners of the company that this is not a good situation. Just by knowing that their boss is concerned about their welfare, they are going to feel much more productive, because they know their boss is caring for them as best as he could.
What are some general things people can do to improve their environment?
One thing I suggest is to put something very beautiful on the wall opposite a door, or at the end of an axis of a hallway. Say, for example, you walk in your front door, and you’re looking at a blank wall. The thinking is that this blocks your opportunities. So, if you put a mirror or a beautiful piece of artwork there, that will enhance your outlook on life.
Another suggestion is to look at the artwork in one’s home or workspace. It’s good to have the artwork at the eye-height of the people using the space. Some people just flop the artwork onto the wall, with no consciousness as to the height of it. But, if they are mindful of where they place it, and they can see it very easily, they’ll feel much more comfortable.
I’ll give an example of this. I did a consultation for an executive at Metropolitan Life. He was very tall. When I did his office, all the artwork was placed according to his eye height. When people come to visit his office, they feel very comfortable, even thought their eye height is usually lower than his. Since he feels more comfortable, other people sense his comfortable energy, and they feel very welcomed in his office.
At this point, let me mention something about my particular school of feng shui and a very interesting design tool called a ba gua that we use.
There are different schools of feng shui, and the type I practice is the Tibetan Buddhist Black Hat Sect. I want to acknowledge my teacher here, Professor Lin Yun, who is considered the master and spiritual leader of this approach.
Black Hat Sect feng shui can be very powerful if people are open to changes in their space. To me, that indicates they are open to changes in their life. Part of the power of this approach is that we work with a person’s heart instead of their mind. So rather than analyzing the situation, this approach enhances one’s intuition and gut feelings about the reasons why certain furniture needs to be built in a certain location.
There are two other schools of feng shui – the form school and the compass school. The compass school, a more traditional approach, uses a Chinese compass, which is called a luo pan. But a Chinese compass to me is more of analytical, external approach of looking at the space. It’s a valid way of looking at space in terms of putting one in the right place, but I favor the less analytical Tibetan school.
We use a design tool called the ba gua, an octagon-shaped symbol, with eight I Ching trigrams around the perimeter. The I Ching is the Chinese way of looking at change in one’s life, and this ba gua is a tool to help you make or acknowledge changes.
There are eight different sides of the ba gua, and they represent different aspects of your life within your space. The different aspects are: wealth and power, fame, marriage/relationship/mother, children/future, travel/helpful-people/father, career, knowledge/self-cultivation, and health/family. For example, in looking at your apartment, one area represents wealth, so how you have that area set up an influence your income. Is the space empty, or does it contain a flourishing plant, some beautiful artwork, or a trash can? The energy you have created there will affect the energy in the wealth area of your life.
Concerning these various areas, you need to be very interpretive as to what they may mean to you. When I talk about wealth and power, of course, that’s enhancing one’s wealth and finances, but that could also mean your wealth of friends and family. Fame, what you’re noted for – that’s your reputation. It may not necessarily be connected with your career. You may not be a computer operator in your career, but you may be known particularly for your compassion and spirituality. That’s your fame. Marriage/relationship is a very special relationship between two people, but maybe in your case that connotes your commitment and your relationship to your work.
This ba gua is a very dynamic design tool. You can use it over an entire piece of property, if you are looking at real estate, for example. You can use it over your entire home. You can use it in each room of your apartment. And, you can even use it at the level of the desk at which you are sitting.
Say you’re standing at the door of your room, always on the far left corner is your wealth and power. On the far right corner is marriage/relationship. Fame is always straight ahead, children/future is on the right, travel/helpful-people is on the right near corner, career is along the wall of the entry door, knowledge is in the near left corner, and your family/health is on the left side (see diagram).
There really isn’t any line of demarcation between these areas. This is where you’re going to be using your intuition. Beginning feng shui practitioners might divide each wall in thirds. You can use that as a guide, but it’s not the be-all-end-all. The ba gua is really a tool to help you balance all parts of your life, and you’re using your space as a visualization tool to help you balance.
For example, suppose you want to put your desk in the wealth and power corner. That will enhance your wealth and power – help you make more money, improve your focus, concentration and creativity. But if you’re making a lot of money, it doesn’t help if you’re not having a good relationship with someone, or your health is not good. So you want to try to put things in balance, using a perspective that encompasses all facets of life.
Getting back to the subject of artwork, I also ask people what their artwork means to them. Where did it come from? Why do they like it? Why are they placing it over on a particular wall? I use the ba gua as a design tool and ask them why they would be placing that particular piece of artwork in their marriage corner. What does that mean to them? And, you would be very surprised at some of the answers. They might say, “Oh, that was from a past marriage.” So, I ask them what they want to do with their current relationship? Enhance it, or have it stuck in the past? Maybe it’s time to let go.
Let’s say someone wants to enhance their future. Perhaps they could put a piece of artwork in the future area that connotes their desired future. Maybe they want to live on a farm, so they could hang a picture of a beautiful farm there.
At one time, I would imagine that the ba gua originated from actual house design principles in ancient China, but now it sounds like it primarily has a psychological effect.
Here’s my interpretation. In Chinese culture, they really don’t like to acknowledge their feelings too much, so they’re really not attuned to the psychological aspects. Western people, on the other hand, try more to connect with their feelings. In China they use the ba gua, but they don’t interpret it in psychological ways. They want to get more wealthy, or improve their marriage, so they use it, but they don’t want to talk about their feelings.
So, it’s a subtle way of making changes on the psychological, feeling level without being overt about it.
That is correct. Whereas the Western people, many of them like to be direct about it.
What about pollution and electromagnetic fields? Those are thing that surely did not enter into the ancient practice of feng shui, but are important in modern times. Do you consider these things in your consultations?
Definitely. Feng shui is about being very observant of all the conditions around you – the physical, the psychological and the spiritual conditions. So, you need to acknowledge if there is too much electromagnetic activity in a space. Some people are very sensitive to it, while others are perfectly fine with it.
This is where I talk about the yin and yang of each person. Everyone is unique. In certain feng shui books you’ll see guidelines, such as a recommendation that you only have three windows. But it depends n the person living in that space. If I go to some buildings in Manhattan, people live in these apartments that are a pure expanse of glass. Some people love it, but others feel vulnerable there because they feel open and exposed. So it depends on one’s personal energy.
If they felt exposed, I would try to create a much more yin space by moving the heavy furniture over to the window, and putting lots of plants to help create a kind of shield. Or, I would use some kind of drapery to create a balance of closure with the exterior.
For me, I really need to talk to the people, and see what their energy is- their chi level in respect to their space.
It’s like Chinese medicine. For a headache, you might give a different remedy for each person, because the outward manifestation could be caused by different conditions on the inside.
That’s right. Feng shui is very much like acupuncture. In acupuncture, needles are placed in the body to help move the energy more smoothly within the body. Feng shui is like acupuncture to your space. We use the furniture and the furnishing – the artwork, plants, etc – to help you enhance the flow of energy within your space.
Now I would like to talk about sacred space. We want to create an environment that is a healing or sacred space for your soul. If you feel very nurtured and comfortable within your home space, then you can be very productive in helping others in the world. So, sometimes I suggest that people create little altars in their space.
The altar consists of four elements: earth, wind, fire and water. On a spiritual level, if you light a candle, that pulls in positive energy. For earth, you can use plants or rocks for grounding. Wind can be represented by incense, which attracts spiritual energy. If people are allergic to incense, they can use a mobile, bell or feather to connote wind, the spiritual essence of the space.
Water is the cleansing energy. There’s a ritual: Take the glass of water with the hand you use least, go to the bathroom, empty the water into the toilet, rinse the glass three times, then refill it. The intention is that you are flushing away all the negative energies down the toilet, and you are going to overcome your weakness. That’s why you always use your weaker hand.
An altar in your space is not necessarily a religious type of thing, but an acknowledgment of the balance of the natural forces on a microcosmic level. Hopefully, you will create your entire space to be balanced with all the natural forces.
I suggest to people to use a lot of plants, preferably live plants. Plants are another way of creating attention. Say you want to bring more wealth into your life, put some plants in your wealth and power corner. The thinking is, if you’re taking good care of the plants, you’re taking good care of your wealth and power. If you want to enhance your relationship or marriage, use two plants in that area. That way you are enhancing the relationship of the two people. If you’re not taking care of the plants, you’re not taking care of your relationship, or that aspect of your life.
Many people will complain that feng shui is a lot of work, and they don’t have time for it. My response is that feng shui is very hard work. What you need to do is find time to create a balance in your life. You need to make time for a relationship, for your career, for health, for making money, to nurture yourself, to be with your family. If there is an imbalance in one of these areas, then you’re going to be imbalanced, and that’s going to affect your harmony and peace within yourself.
Do you recommend that people try to do feng shui themselves? Is there time when a consultant is particularly important?
It varies with people’s financial resources, but people can easily pick up a book. I can recommend two books on the type of feng shui that I practice: Interior Design with Feng Shui and Living Color, both by Sarah Rossbach. The latter is in collaboration with our teacher, Professor Lin Yun. For other, more traditional schools of feng shui, noted authors are Derek Walters and Evelyn Lip.
In terms of people doing feng shui on their own, I recommend they do it that way until they come to a certain point where they feel they need to study under someone or go to a synchronicity that will indicate to them that they need to look at it in a more focused approach.
In addition to being a pragmatic architect and designer, as a service, I also do blessing ceremonies for peoples’ spaces. So, once they’ve made the changes, they can call upon me – if they’re open to it – to do a blessing ceremony that acknowledges the reasons why they made those changes. It’s a very wonderful experience.
Thank you for taking the time to share your wisdom. May your journey be filled with much blessings.
Thank you for calling on me. I am very honored.