Design for Life: What's Feng Shui Got to Do With It?

Feng shui—the heart of which is about caring for the life energy within and around us—is also a set of principles for good design, based on the laws of nature.

| May/June 2004

The phrase feng shui is increasingly familiar to Westerners, but do we really know what it means? On the surface, feng shui can seem like an esoteric bag of tricks: Hang a wind chime here or a crystal there, and watch the love or money flow in. But if you scratch the surface…well, it gets confusing. Some feng shui “cures” are incomprehensible to Westerners or difficult to apply, and recommendations from different feng shui schools often conflict. Is it worth trying to sort it out? Can an ancient foreign practice be relevant to us here and now?

I’ve come to believe that, at its heart, feng shui offers something central to the natural home. If this isn’t intuitively obvious, maybe it’s because feng shui is rooted in perceptions that have been expunged from Western culture. Then again, that might be why it’s so popular.

The core of feng shui—what we’re missing and longing for—is awareness that all things are interrelated and everything has life energy. Virtually every culture but ours has a respected word for this life energy; the Chinese call it chi, the Japanese ki, and the East Indians prana.

Feng shui basics

The heart of feng shui is about caring for that life energy within and around us. “It’s basically an ecological consciousness,” says feng shui practitioner and teacher Richard Feather Anderson. “Feng shui is a set of principles for good design, based on the laws of nature.”

Feng shui has its roots in agrarian China. It represents thousands of years of accumulated wisdom about how to site homes and activities in relation to landforms, circulation, and climate. It also addresses the design of buildings in relation to sun, wind, water, and vegetation.

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