Erica Ostlander details the joys and benefits of organizing the physical properties of life
My mom was never the type of person to collect books while I was growing up. I now recognise her as a true library enthusiast; fully embracing the temporary state of a book’s place in our home. However, I will always remember one book which remained as a permanent fixture on our family’s bookshelf. Even before I could read, I would absent-mindedly flip through the pages, admiring the pictures and the bright red cover of the book. Eventually, when I was able to comprehend the book’s message of advocating for peace and harmony, I allowed myself to relish in its pleasant language and philosophy of mindfulness. This small red book was called Feng Shui: The Art of Living by Rosalind Simmons, which introduced the basics of the ancient Chinese art known as Feng Shui, teaching the proper ways of arranging objects and manipulating space to create a peaceful environment. This art form has roots in the school of thought known as Taoism and focuses on the belief that a life force known as Chi needs to be balanced between its yin and yang elements. This philosophy was first used for determining the layout of burial sites in China, later branching out to the realm of city planning. The layouts of buildings were stylistically designed to maximise the levels of Chi, with the intention of easing the minds of the city’s citizens. The book owned by my family, however, focused on Feng Shui in the home, which is how the art that has been popularised in the West and is used now in daily life. I am in no way an expert on Taoism or the cultural nuances behind Feng Shui, but I will always appreciate how this book from my childhood allowed me to recognise that our environment is connected to our mental state at an early age. This has led me to understand the magnitude of our ability to integrate mindfulness into every detail of our existence.
The first concept one learns, when exploring the fundamentals of Feng Shui, is known as Bagua. Bagua is an energy map where you as the individual stand in the centre, connecting each facet of life to one’s soul. This map contains eight areas or guas which correlate with an area of life that helps support the individual’s well-being including wealth, fame, love, health, creativity, knowledge, career and helping people. Furthermore, these areas can benefit from introducing specific design characteristics such as colours, numbers, and one of the five elements of nature into a room. For example, health is a gua associated with the element of earth and objects with flat square shapes. During a global pandemic, this may be the time to invest in more potted plants, a wooden framed mirror, or take some time to paint a scenic landscape (preferably on a square canvas) to decorate a wall. Practising Feng Shui, one has an excuse to have a constant rotation of fresh flowers in their room to maintain a balance of one’s earthly elements, something I have always appreciated. Unfortunately, student budgets make the decision of decorating your living space with tulips, sweet pea blossoms, and orchids one that is closely tied with self-indulgence; however, Feng Shui helps remind us how important it is for mental health to have something that brings you happiness in your room.
Working from home has caused everyone to lose a space that was exclusively made for unwinding, as many of us now sleep in the same room we attend lectures and zoom meetings in. This loss should not be underestimated, as it has confined the majority of our lives to one singular area. This undermines a basic principle of Feng Shui, as according to the Bagua map each area of our lives requires specific treatments to flourish to its full potential. However, one solution could be a regular routine of rearranging furniture, where on occasion one could choose to move their chair or bedside table to the other side of their room. By simply changing the position of your furniture, a room can be transformed into something slightly more unfamiliar and become more exciting to wake up to. While working at my desk, I find it beneficial to bring water elements into my space, as water is associated with the North Bagua area for a thriving career. A stream of water represents a flow of income and prosperity, similar to how in ancient China rivers connected communities for easy trade relations, indicating a prosperous economy. My choice water element is a diffuser, which I place on my desk with an infusion of peppermint oil, helping me create a perfect harmony between tranquillity and focus. This is a small action for me, but the goal is for every small action I take to snowball together and slowly transform my environment for the better. This allows me to be in control of the atmosphere in my room, and despite there being no science behind this, I believe it has helped in my struggle against the psychological burden of online learning.
Mirrors are said to be associated with the element of water, acting as a steady reflection of energy that travels across a room. They can direct the flow of Chi in a space and according to the rules of Feng Shui, each one must be placed with clear intention. I remember reading how important it was to never have a mirror facing your bed, as it will reflect your stress back to you through nightmares and an overwhelming feeling of dread. Reading this as a child, I understandably became intensely aware of the position of the mirror in my room, which happened to stand directly across from my twin-size bed. Moving it slightly to left granted me a serene moment of complete peace of mind and gave me confidence that I will only be met with sweet dreams the following night, marking the moment where I fell in love with Feng Shui. I most poignantly remember the comforting feeling of having a solution for something causing me distress and learning something I can use for the rest of my life. Sometimes I still find myself chasing this feeling, especially amidst a global pandemic, where everything is out of our control and solutions seem to be beyond our reach. However, this unique situation gives us time to focus on minor details in our living space, finding new ways to ground ourselves when everything seems to be uprooted around us. Feng Shui is the art of living, and we all have a chance to live out a masterpiece even if it has to be in the confines of a bedroom.