So many times these past eighteen years I have tried going into the mind of ancient feng shui masters – visualizing them sitting in contemplation amidst mountain and water observing the skies, the hills and rivers, feeling the impact of seasons and the way of the winds on the colours, the shape and ambience of the scenery laid out as in a visual feast. I use my imagination to explore how the Winds and Waters of an ancient time must have shaped their theories on feng shui… and here we are 2000 years later, seeing the same skies, mountains and rivers.
Look at the painting of sarn sui laid out before you on this page as I share some imagined thoughts; you too can contemplate on the relevance of feng shui’s ancient observations to today’s modern world even as my thoughts interact with the silent contemplation of the ancients.
I take an imaginary walk on the mountain and observe Spring in fullest glory. The scenery is one of marvelous profusion and my heart is flushed with a joyousness as I breathe in the fresh morning air and take in the image of the mountain sides awash with the colour of leaves dazzling in their full glory. Their colours mesmerize me.
From the lightness of green in the younger trees to the full flush of pinks and lavender and white as the blossoms of the cherry trees cover parts of the hill sides, these gentle hues soothe my soul. I even catch sight of shades of blue dotted amongst the craggy rocks and below, the river waters move in a gentle meandering flow.
It brings my mind to the change of seasons, for surely each change brings with it a dominant colour to the surrounding scenery. Living in the mountains, I am so aware of change that takes place every few months, reminding me that there is a time essence to the way the winds blow and the waters flow.
The seasons thus must surely have a symbolic meaning in the same way that colours have profound symbolic meanings. When I see the colour white, I am reminded of the purity of white lilies and white cherry blossoms. But white is also the colour associated with stillness and death, and to brave warriors, white always connotes the idea of surrender as in the waving of a white flag. Indeed, when an army is in full fighting spirit, their banners are colourful; flags of victory are never white, they are always in blazing color.
Red is universally the colour of celebration, it is the colour of life. It connotes happy events. Death is associated with the loss of red blood and young babies with red cheeks are regarded as healthy, while dead faces look white and bloodless. Is it surprising that white is the colour of winter when life is huddled indoors, inactive and still, while red is the colour of summer, bright and joyous?
From a feng shui viewpoint then, is it not to be expected that during the New Year and when we are in celebration of anything, it is to the colour red we turn to, and when we bid our final farewells to a loved one, we do so wearing white?
Observing the rocks on the riverbank, I realize how vulnerable they are to the continuous flow of water; it is water that creates their ever changing shapes and contours, and when the winds blow faster, I observe the formation of mist and fog which clings to the surface of the boulders and walkways of the mountains.
Misty scenes can seem romantic. Mist transforms even the most mundane of humble dwellings to appear like the abode of some heavenly being, especially when the sun’s hazy glow paints the scene extra magical. Such scenery can cause some form of devotion to arise in the mind as it gets almost seduced into believing in the existence of supernatural celestial creatures.
Yet fog can also become some terrible monster blinding in its intensity when it gets thick and forbidding. That is when a beautiful heavenly maiden can seem to suddenly transform into some terrible demon, bringing danger rather than blessings, generating terror in the mind rather than devotion in the heart.
I realize these reflections are symbolic projections of my imaginative mind.
But these thoughts elicit some profound insights.
Mist and fog and even smoke may be inconsequential phenomena – they are merely water in a different form and they evaporate and merge with the air around us; they can be thought of as insubstantial, yet they definitely elicit various kinds of reactions within the human psyche. Smoke especially has significant influence over the way the environment affects our lives.
Ancient war strategists have devised so many creative uses for the different types of smoke in their fighting campaigns. Mountain folk add on the essence of aromas by burning fragrant leaves, creating powerful incense that fills the whole mountain with an aroma that is quite distinct, and these somehow influence the way the winds blow, the frequency of the rainfalls, and the way the sun brings the vital essence of life-giving light.
Incense it seems is a powerful dimension to the wind and water of living!
It makes me wonder about the smell of the mountains, and the man made mist that is actually fragrant smoke made by burning the leaves and barks of trees. It seems like an offering to the spirits of the mountains and it makes me wonder if indeed we may not do the same in our own backyards.
There is much to be said about the fine art of being subtle and insubstantial when practising feng shui, using rituals such as incense burning that enables us to blend soundlessly and mysteriously with the air around us and somehow affecting its essence without being obvious.
Aromatic incense somehow always soothes the environment.
As a feng shui strategist, I feel like a celestial artist attempting to capture depths of feeling evoked by my surroundings; the distant mountains across the horizon, the presence of pine trees, the shapes of hill formations, the colours of trees and the comfort of my rock seat. The flow of river water, the ducks in the gentle waters and the butterflies smelling the flowers nearby. I try to capture the essence of the environment, its energies that incorporate the auspicious sheng chi as it flows invisible yet benevolent all around me.
How am I to draw a line on the ground and mark it as the perfect site for the positioning of the heart of any abode?
How am I able to mark out the placement of the door to allow good chi to flow into the home?
How do I arrange the rooms, design the courtyard and arrange the way the chi should meander within?
How do I design the flow of water into and around the abode, exiting it in a way that leaves much wealth and prosperity behind?
All these thoughts are inside my head even as I contemplate the scene before me. There is no magic in my feng shui skills. I do not possess divine powers. What seems so magical in the way I practise my skills is simply the result of my devotion to mastering the art of wind and water.
Anyone studying feng shui diligently and go about their work with a genuine motivation to understand the ways of winds and waters will surely improve, although I have to admit that some seem more talented in practice than others. Yet I have to say that the skills of the feng shui master do get sharpened with practice. It is nevertheless necessary to think deeply about these things. It simply will not do to rush rashly into creating wind and water abodes.
In any case, thinking is always good therapy. I hope my reflections have the same power as the paintings you see in the high class mansions of the rich and in the palaces of Imperial households. These paintings of sarn sui – mountain and water are the work of Master artists. They capture so well the transcendental and subtle changes of mountain light.
So I leave you with this thought that, as still as the mountains and skies seem to be, do not be fooled; to the keen observer, it is constantly changing, but ever so subtly, the way life is constantly changing.
Feng shui is never a static practice. It must take note of the ever changing phenomena of the environment, and just as these changes are subtle, so too can be our feng shui alterations from year to year. Just as a few brushstrokes can change the ambience of a painting, so too can every subtle feng shui change we make in our abodes, as we adjust to stay in tune with our surrounding environment.