You've probably heard about the Chinese art of feng shui (also spelled fung shui). In the west, feng shui has become somehow mashed into aesthetics / interior design as a practice. But feng shui is much more than aesthetics or interior design: it's the art of arranging your living space so that it maximizes the smooth flow of energy in a way that is beneficial to you personally.
When I first started learning about feng shui as part of my tai chi training, I thought it sounded just bizarre. What do you mean, the direction I face when I write has an impact on my ability to concentrate, or on my success? It sounded like magical thinking at its worst.
One of my tai chi buddies took some training with a feng shui master. At one point, he invited me out for coffee and offered me a chance to pick his brains about what he'd learned. I brought a drawing of the layout of my apartment. Ahead of time, I'd given him my birthdate. It was all in good fun, as far as I was concerned.
At the time, I was working on my PhD. He asked me about my work habits. "How about your desk?" he said, pointing to the rectangle I'd drawn on my apartment diagram. "Does it work for you there?"
I shrugged. "Sure. There's nothing wrong with it." It held my computer and a few stacks of paper well enough.
"Do you use it?" he said.
Hm. I had to confess that I did most of my research on the couch and most of my writing at the kitchen table. I only worked at my desk to use the computer - for the final phases of editing, and to check email and the like. It never occurred to me that not using my desk was a sign that maybe it wasn't in the best place for me.
Using a formula based on my birthdate and gender, my friend calculated something called my kua number. The kua number tells you your best and worst compass directions. There are eight directions in the feng shui system: one for each of the major compass points (N, S, E, W); one for each of the four directions between them (NE, SE, NW, SW). (There's also a ninth direction, the "centre," but that doesn't really concern us right now.) Once you know your kua number and a few other handy pieces of info, you can arrange your writing desk so that you face a direction that's good for you.
I've encountered a few pseudo-scientific theories about why feng shui works. Energy or chi is basically equivalent to electromagnetic fields. These fields move and circulate in ways that resonate with your personal energy field (or clash with it). Feng shui is the science of understanding the interaction of these fields. However, it doesn't really matter if you accept electromagnetism, chi, or any other of the trappings of feng shui: it will work regardless. Physically altering the space where you live and work will change the way it makes you feel. There is no Tinkerbell factor involved in feng shui: you don't need to believe in it to make it work for you.
For me, it all came down to the question: why not? I took notes based on my friend's advice, rearranged my furniture, and waited to see what would happen.
I found that feng shui helped me love my desk again and made my work space feel more like home for my writing. I've spent the last several years studying feng shui basics so I can understand more about this complex art.
So, when Caroline wrote on her blog, Untitlement, that she was having trouble writing while sitting at her shiny new desk, I put together a few feng shui tips for her. I wanted to share them with you, too.
If you want to arrange your workspace according to feng shui, here's how you do it:
1. Determine your kua number. Historically, you would have to do this by hand, but you can use the online kua number calculator here. Specify your gender as well as the day, month and year of your birth. The calculator will give you two pieces of info: your kua number and your house. These are divided into two types: east house and west house. With that info alone, you will be well on your way to figuring out your best and worst directions.
In the system I use, if your kua number is 5 and you're male, you should use the kua number 2 (they are equivalent). If your kua number comes out 5 and you're female, use the kua number 8.
2. Figure out your best and worst directions. If you are an East House person, your best directions are East, Southeast, North and South. If you are a West House person, your best directions are West, Southwest, Northwest, and Northeast.
3. Buy a compass to make sure you're aware of where the directions sit relative to your home. Sit as close to the middle of your home as you can get and align the compass needle with the "N" on the compass. This will allow you to map your home against the compass directions. You should be able to point to a specific corner and know "this is Southeast," or "that's North." I suggest using a compass because directions can be tricky. What we call "East" and "West" in my town aligns with the two main roads, but in reality these roads run Southeast to Northwest.
4. Map your house or apartment against the directions.
5. Generally speaking, you want to sit facing a direction that's good for you. If you're an East House person like me, you want to point your desk so that you are looking to the North, South, East or Southeast when you work.
6. Bonus considerations: for the best sleep possible for you, imagine that you're wearing a hat with an arrow on top of it that points straight up. When you lie down in your bed, ensure that the arrow points in a direction that's good for you. The benevolent energies of that direction will pour down on your head while you sleep.
If you go no further with feng shui, then that's pretty good. If you really want to refine your work space, there are some other considerations you might want to take into account.
7. Each kua number has a direction that's super, ultra good for it - a "best direction." This will be one of the four directions that's good for you. It's not a bad idea to face your best direction. There is also a prosperity direction for each kua number. Diana at Blue Pearl Feng Shui has a good post that lists the best directions for each kua number. If you can, use the Fu Wei (personal development / advancement) direction or the Sheng Chi (success and wealth) direction for your writing desk.
8. Learn about the elements associated with your kua number. There are five elements in Chinese philosophy: wood, fire, earth, metal and water. Each element has a colour associated with it. Placing an object that corresponds to your kua number's element on your desk can help make it more your own.
Kua number 1: Kan: Element: Water (bowl of water, the colour blue, the colour black)
Kua number 2: Kun: Element: Earth (a stone, the colour yellow)
Kua number 3: Chen: Element: Wood (houseplant, the colour green)
Kua number 4: Sun: Element: Wood (houseplant, the colour brown, the colour green)
Kua number 6: Chien: Element: Metal (metal object, the colour white, the colours grey or silver)
Kua number 7: Tui: Element: Metal (metal object, the colour white, the colours grey or silver)
Kua number 8: Ken: Element: Earth (a stone, the colour yellow)
Kua number 9: Li: Element: Fire (a candle, the colour red)
Diana Garber at Intuitive Concepts has a more detailed list describing the qualities of each kua, along with pictures of the trigrams (three line diagrams) that go with each kua, as well as the Chinese characters for the element that belongs to each kua. It's a nice idea to hand draw a picture of the trigram that goes with your kua on a piece of coloured paper that matches your element and place it on or near your desk.
8. Take the flying stars into account. This is a whole new level of feng shui. Each year, there are a rotating series of energetic influences that change direction, but that can create good or bad luck. These are part of what's called "flying star" feng shui. It's not ideal to point your desk toward some of these influences, so if you have the choice of more than one of your good directions, choose one that isn't facing one of these negative influences.
Where are they in 2011?
The big one is is called Tai Sui, or the Grand Duke. This energy is in the East this year. You want to avoid facing East, even if it's a good direction for you. There's another negative energy in the East, called the Five Yellow Star. Try not to do any home renovations or disturb the eastern part of your home.
A good, simple solution for the Grand Duke is to get a laughing Buddha statue - one of the jolly fat Hotei dudes. Place him so that he faces East. This isn't an official feng shui cure for Tai Sui, but it will do the trick.
Three Killings is in the West - this is an energy you do want to face head on if you can. So if you're a West House person, go ahead and face the West if you can. My tai chi teacher, who is a Taoist monk, advises placing a second Hotei laughing Buddha facing West.
There's some nasty crap going on in the South also, and a little something something in the North. Okay, basically, we East House people are kind of pooched as far as 2011 goes. If you can manage to point your desk facing Southeast, you should be okay. That's what I'm doing. That, and fastening my seatbelt.
If you want to read more, I recommend getting one of Lillian Too's books. My teacher tells me these contain the fewest errors. And if you have any questions or you want to run your scenario by me, I would be happy to help out.