There's more to the real estate mantra of 'location, location, location' than we in the West could possibly guess. Margaret Evans learns some of the wisdom of Classical Feng Shui.
Still confused about which way your Feng Shui frog with its little gold coin should face at your front door? Are you quietly devastated to find out your South West corner with its promise of deeply nurturing relationships is actually the toilet? And just how many of those cute little fish can you risk in your goldfish bowl before they all start to float at the surface?
Relax, and to quote Malaysian-based Feng Shui consultant Joey Yap, simply "practise the secret art of common sense - something not many people know". In Australia last month to convey his refreshingly pragmatic and balloon-pricking approach - one that is drawn directly from the classical traditions of Feng Shui - Yap has the gift of sparking interest even among the sceptical by dispensing with the frippery and getting to the heart of the matter.
While frogs and their like can be fun, and can certainly do no harm (unless you happen to trip over one), objects of any kind are not central to the practice of authentic traditional Feng Shui, he maintains. Yap's years spent in Australia as a student (I'm delighted to find out that he first advertised his now international consulting business in NOVA Magazine when he was studying at Curtin University in the mid 1990s) are obvious in his appealing laconic delivery: "It will not change your life just because you have a duck in front of your desk." Or later: "If someone comes to measure your toilet, it's not Feng Shui - you've hired a plumber."
The near-capacity audience in the Perth Sheraton Hotel's Golden Ballroom is attentive and receptive as Joey Yap takes pains to explain to us exactly what Feng Shui is - and why we should always seek to make the best of our situation, at home or at work, rather than give in to superstition or paranoia. Feng Shui, he says, is all about aligning ourselves to the positive Qi (or Chi) energy in our environment to harness it for our benefit - in health, in happiness, in wealth and every other manifestation of harmonious living. "Not only do we want to harness it, we also want to use it to help (achieve) specific goals in our everyday lives." As any manmade object can't emit Qi vibration, its limitations are obvious. Yet, says Yap, our interaction with a favourite object can activate that positive healing Qi - and he gives an example of a beautiful pot placed in a specific area of a room. If the pot is placed in harmony with its location so that you are drawn to it to appreciate its beauty, that's Feng Shui because your movement activates the Qi. In contrast, a pot placed according to some prescribed formula is simply decoration. It's easy to understand his suggestion that the very best Feng Shui is so subtle as to be unnoticeable and that a house can be "very Zen in its simplicity" and have perfect Feng Shui.
Going back to my introductory examples, given all that we've heard about the SW corner being our love sector, that idea is never mentioned in the traditional texts, according to this, one suspects impressively well read, practitioner and the same goes for the NW corner and career prospects. So the toilet can stay where it is. And there's absolutely no need to whip ourselves into a lather about the number and sort of fish in our goldfish bowl. In ancient China and many other cultures, fish simply fulfilled the purpose of eating mosquito larvae in stagnant water to ensure a healthy ambience. Says Yap, "You just need fresh fish - the number doesn't matter and they don't have to be special Feng Shui fish". A sigh of relief all round. The frog direction didn't rank a mention though, and I'm still in the dark - yet still fondly attached to our small red amphibians as they stand guard, ankle height, at our office doors. We'd all miss them if they suddenly leapt back into some metaphysical pond!
So let's get to the heart of Feng Shui and begin to understand the time-honoured wisdom that we can bring into our lives.
The environment, says Yap, governs 70 per cent of our Feng Shui, the reason being that Qi vibration is created by the interaction of Heaven and Earth, and the eternal interplay between Yin and Yang always seeking a harmonious balance. Mountains are the source of Yin energy while water, surprisingly to those of us who associate water with the softer feminine Yin emotions, is Yang energy. And the bigger the body of water, the stronger the Yang! The three other essential features of Feng Shui are the Building (how it is designed to receive the Qi, the Residents and, finally, the Time period which factors in fluctuations and cycles of the dynamic universe. For instance, says Yap, the current period up until 2023 is, in the Luo Shu system of numbers, the Period of Eight with the key number eight falling in the NE corner. To counteract its powerful Yang energy, ideally we should see mountains, the cradle of Yin energy, looking out from our home or office in that direction. Failing a mountain in our largely mountainless landscape, a hill or even a tall building or two will do, says Yap. A mobile phone tower or a high tension electricity pylon, though, is a different thing altogether. And don't we already know that intuitively?
Similarly, with the SW being the most Yin of sectors (because it directly opposes the NE), we should be looking for natural water in that direction. And if we find it, it's "macro Feng Shui". Rivers, lakes, ponds, in fact any peaceful body of water, will serve the purpose very well - and Joey Yap is a great believer in introducing water elements to counteract inauspicious Feng Shui wherever it falls: " A swimming pool counts as water - it's better than nothing!." Generally, the larger the house, the deeper the pool of water needed to create the right Yang vibes. Water being Yang is just one surprise; another is that a house on the seafront runs the risk of all of its good Qi being blown away in a stiff breeze - so even if they do block the million dollar view, tall trees at least calm the turbulent environment. And while nearby road junctions or roundabouts might not be at the top of your home wish list, roads are "virtual carriers of water" with all the properties real water conveys.
Essentially, says Joey Yap, we can't really go wrong in choosing a house, an apartment or an office where the environment seems conducive to our contentment. "Find a house that's already good and then Feng Shui will make it better." He is at pains to repeat that the whole essence of Feng Shui, as it was designed by Classical Masters, is to support us in what we seek to do. Giving the example of wealth, he tells us that Feng Shui exists to support our wealth capacity, not to create wealth in its own right. And like so much else, "long-term is better than short-term - anything quick like instant noodles isn't so good."
Just as external forms determine the flow of Qi - now I can really begin to understand why we all find mountain landscapes so breathtakingly beautiful - and location is the most important factor, our internal Feng Shui also needs to be aligned with the flow of positive Qi energy.
Here, he maintains that when it comes to choosing the most auspicious home or office, the internal forms take precedence over the specific location of rooms in your house (for example a bedroom where you'd ideally like your money-making quarter to be), with the direction of furniture like bed or desk a lesser consideration. As he says in his book Feng Shui for Homebuyers: Interior, "It is always better to be in a good location but not necessarily facing your personal favourable direction, than to be in a bad location facing your personal favourable direction. This is because it is better to be in a room that already has good energy, and then enhance or fine-tune it with your own personal favourable direction than be in a room with negative energy."
In the Eight Mansions system which measures Life and House Gua (or energy maps) and is widely used by practitioners, the overriding idea is to match the person to the house, the closer the match the greater the chance of harmony, health and happiness.
So it just makes sense that House Gua should be more important than an individual's personal or Life Gua because, ideally, everyone has to get on together under the one roof without couples having to resort to sleeping in separate bedrooms or even separate beds because their personal directions don't match! Ever the pragmatist, says Joey Yap: "Most of all Feng Shui is a science of common sense. Sleeping in different directions on the same bed, facing your spouse's feet, does not make sense."
So what are some of those ever-important internal forms we should really look out for before investing in a new house or apartment?
The Kitchen is also crucial because of its association with our health. It should never be in the centre of your home, says Yap, because its energy will be too fiery for this passive sector leading to a fractious household. The stove and the sink shouldn't be directly opposite each other, as it's a case of Fire and Water clashing (oh dear!). But just put a console in the middle and the problem's overcome (will a kitchen table do?). But loads of negative Qi can be overcome if your stove is facing in a fortuitous direction. (So it at least can stay where it is!)
The Bedroom(s) is the third of the key internal forms, because so much that happens here determines our happiness and harmony. A square is the best shape for stability, while rooms with sharp corners like a triangle should be avoided, along with overhanging beams or sloping rooflines. So that cute idea of sleeping in the attic is something best left to French films! As sleep is a Yin activity, our bedhead should be against a wall, a Yin feature, not a window with its powerful Yang energy from sunshine. And, while the so-called "coffin position" of sleeping with your feet pointing towards the door is bad Feng Shui, it's not going to kill you, says Yap. But it does make sense to move your bed so that Qi doesn't bang into the foot of it and disrupt your sleep! How common sense is that!
A few pointers for great Feng Shui for the rest of 2006As according to the Luo Shu Numbers that depict the flow of Qi in the dynamic universe, we're currently in the Period of Eight (until 2023) followed by the Period of Nine (2024-2043) So the Number 8 is the most positive Qi for 2006 and it governs the NE sector of your property. Feel good if you see mountains, hills, little hillocks even, looking outward in this direction. As it's powerful support for making money if that's your goal, says Yap, use the NE area for work and not for sleeping because the Qi will be too active for restful sleep. Again, that cautioning advice of "keeping everything in balance."
If you're looking for long-term gains, the SW is a better bet as that will be the Nine sector in the next 20 year cycle.
If romance is your goal this year, check out the options in your NW corner. It's also good for education!
Know where the negative Qi is also located, Joey Yap advises. And in 2006, it's definitely in the West. "If you can't use the positive, at least avoid the negative!" If your Main Door, for instance, faces West (as you look outward), avoid disturbing the Qi with anything like renovations or even wind chimes. And if you simply can't close off this door (and realistically who can!), you can make subtle changes like introducing a screen or consulting table to deflect the Qi to the SW, "a very prosperous corner".
While we're on the negatives, the SE corner is the second most dangerous place in 2006, for illness in particular, so Yap advises keeping older members of your family out of that area.
When the odds seemed stacked against you and major renovation or selling up quickly seem the only options, remember the healing power of water: "If your house is already favourably located, you don't need extra water." But if you do, its Yang properties seem to be endlessly versatile, from activating fresh Qi in a stale area to deflecting damaging Qi away from your home or particular rooms. In the process, you gain something beautiful (a pond or an aquarium) or some more expensive fun (a swimming pool) to add to your enjoyment of life.