As we work to solve the seemingly intractable ecological problems caused by our modern lifestyle, we might want to look to the age old tradition of feng shui. Originating in China thousands of years ago, feng shui is a holistic philosophy of environmental design that takes its cues from nature. This time tested design philosophy can teach twenty-first century earthlings a lesson or two about living green (or three, as I will cover below).
First and foremost, feng shui recognizes the power of nature and seeks to place humans in harmonious relation to nature. For example, the ideal location of a home or business, according to feng shui, is determined by the proximity of mountains, bodies of water, roads, and even the movement of stars. Today’s developers and builders, who construct new buildings on land prone to floods, mudslides, fires, and other recurring natural catastrophes, would do well to set aside their hubris and become more attuned to the effect of natural surroundings on its inhabitants, human and animal alike. Feng shui is sensitive to how the force of flowing water or wind gust, nearby flora and fauna, all affect the health of households and businesses. Recent natural calamities in Florida, California, and Texas have shown us the enormous gambles we take when we choose to disregard or underestimate nature’s power.
Secondly, at the core of feng shui are the five natural elements – metal, water, wood, fire, and earth—and the belief in the potency of their natural properties in their interactions with one another. To address deficiencies in a home, feng shui experts often play with these properties in order to intensify or minimize some quality of the environment. Underlying specific feng shui prescriptions is the basic tenet that objects (especially in their natural elemental state) give off energy that affects people who are in constant contact with them.
Finally, for this energy to flow with vitality in beneficial ways, our homes should be free of clutter and obstructions. One of the first things most feng shui practitioners ask of their clients is to clear much of the clutter that fills so many homes today. It takes discipline in this click-and-buy era to resist the easy seductive pull of rampant consumerism. But it pays off big. Such discipline is rewarded with freedom from the incessant cycle of desire and short-lived satiety followed by greater desire and so forth, to be replaced, instead, with a positive flow of authentic abundance, vitality, and love. This clutter free lifestyle has obvious green implications as well.
Underlying these three principles of feng shui is the philosophy that humans live in harmony with nature, not in dominance over nature. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, we grew cocky with our belief in unstoppable growth and power. We see now where that belief has gotten us, and rather than continue down that destructive path, we should turn to our ancients—Chinese and others—to remember what we used to understand intuitively about our natural surroundings. Nature is powerful and we diminish its power at a great cost to ourselves.