It's Certainly Popular, But is it Eco-Friendly?
Feng shui is popping up all over popular culture, but is it environmentally friendly? At its core, experts say, feng shui (literally "wind and water") is a way of life that helps us live in harmony with the environment. With roots in ancient Chinese philosophy that saw human beings as part of the natural order, feng shui has evolved into a method for living respectfully in the natural world. Architect and feng shui consultant R.D. Chin points out, "The first fundamental principle of feng shui is integration with nature."
Chin's book Feng Shui Revealed illustrates ways to implement feng shui in existing homes. When designing a new structure based on feng shui methodology, he says, there is an emphasis on maintaining or enhancing the surrounding ecosystem. "In the history of feng shui there is a strong idea that you don't want to "cut the veins of the dragon," or do anything to damage the environment, because that will bring bad fortune," he explains. "Harmony with the environment is a very important aspect of feng shui."
The Quick Fix?
The principles of feng shui would seem to be in line with such environmentally sound ideals as the use of organic produce, the development of sustainable energy systems or the choice of natural materials for our clothing and homes.
However, now that feng shui is all the rage, a certain amount of misinformation has seeped into the culture. With a proliferation of articles, television shows and books offering "feng shui quick fixes" to help you increase your wealth or sell your home fast, it's easy to see how a little knowledge can result in some bad choices for the environment.
Plus, moving your desk a few feet is not necessarily an environmental act. As Robert Todd Carroll's Skeptical Dictionary points out, feng shui in its traditional form "relates to the very sensible notion that living with rather than against nature benefits both humans and our environment." But, he adds, this principle isn't always applied today. "Feng shui has become a kind of architectural acupuncture: wizards and magi insert themselves into buildings or landscapes and use their metaphysical sensors to detect the flow of good and bad "energy."
Alleged masters of feng shui now hire themselves out for hefty sums to tell people like Donald Trump which way his doors and other things should hang."
A popular feng shui belief is that planting bamboo is a sure-fire way to "cure" a negative flow of energy. In many ecosystems, however, non-native bamboo is incredibly invasive and difficult to eradicate. Indiscriminate siting of a plant that can travel 25 feet in three years, throwing out new shoots as it goes, has proven so disastrous that some local governments (such as Smyrna, Delaware) have outlawed planting it.
But feng shui traditionalists survive. In his book The Feng Shui Garden, Gill Hale points out that feng shui's aim is "to take care of the Earth and create as natural an environment as possible in our gardens, and in the surrounding environment." To that end, Hale points to the use of organic gardening to maintain a healthy ecosystem.
According to Janet Stevane, a Connecticut-based feng shui practicioner, feng shui is inherently friendly to the environment. "It's concerned with energy efficiency and the use of natural materials, such as non-toxic paints and natural dyes," she explains. Stevane's business, Every Day Feng Shui, provides advice on everything from interior and exterior design to home remodeling. "We're called in to bring balance and order, not just for the immediate area, but for the whole environment."
Apply Common Sense
Stephanie Roberts, author of the popular Fast Feng Shui books, points out that making environmentally sound feng shui choices requires some thought. "It's not feng shui "cures" that present problems, it's a lack of due care and common sense on the part of the people who apply them," she says. For instance, "Candles are popular in feng shui, but if your house burns down because you left an open flame unattended the fault lies with your inattentiveness, not with feng shui," says Roberts.
"A little knowledge can be a bad thing," agrees Stevane. To avoid making choices that can negatively affect the environment, she suggests novices go the extra step of consulting with a pro. "A good practitioner can recommend a plethora of possibilities using colors, products and symbolic items that will enhance, rather than harm, your existing environment," she says.
Roberts adds, "In a very general way, you could say that the more environmentally sound something is, the better its innate feng shui." Another underlying principle of feng shui is that change is inevitable and that practicing feng shui requires that one, as Chin says, "maintain a watchful eye. It's not a magic pill. To attain a truly dynamic balance, you have to forget "one-day solutions."" CONTACT: Feng Shui Ultimate Resource Page, www.qi-whiz.com; R.D. Chin, (212) 695-2147, www.rdchinfengshuiarchitect.com Book: Architect's Guide to Feng Shui by Cate Bramble, Architecture Press, $24.99.
ELIZABETH HILTS is trying to align her new home in Connecticut.