Day 33: Feng Shui and bovine waste

Day 33

Yes, I said, Isn’t it pretty to think so?

My wife always has always insisted that the foot end of the bed should be positioned towards the door. Our feet, not our heads, should point towards the door, and the bed itself should be in the far end of the room. I never understood why, but I didn’t discuss it, I’ve always slept that way myself. I didn’t mind. Today, though, I suddenly realised why it should be so: Feng Shui.

In Feng Shui, there are several principles when it comes to where your bed should be placed.  One, the position of the bed relative to the door is more important than the compass direction it faces. Two, the bed should be as far as possible from the door. Three, the bed position should allow the sleeper the widest possible scope of the room. Four, you should clearly see the bedroom door from the bed. Five, the bed should not sit in the direct line of the path of the doorway.

Without knowing it, my wife followed principle four and two: it’s much easier to see the door when you can just lift your head than if you have to turn around as well.

Now, this is fascinating. My wife has never read anything about Feng Shui, she didn’t know any of the principles before I read them to her yesterday. (From this book.) And yet she agreed completely. Does that mean that there might be something to it? That Feng shui-practitioners might be right? Or at least that they and my wife agree on some basic underlying principle and that I could find more of these principles by learning more about Feng Shui?

My wife laughed when I suggested as much, her counter suggestion was that I should tell everyone I am reading about Feng Shui, they wouldn’t believe it — but why shouldn’t I? I am a skeptic, but I don’t automatically dismiss everything just because it seems vaguely New Agey. As a teenager, I had a few months when I was convinced graphology was true. Before that, I had a few months where I believed there must be some truth in alien abductions, the Loch Ness monster and the Bermuda triangle. And before that, I believed I could train myself to move objects without touching them, just like Matilda.

No, I am open-minded and curious, and if there might be some truth in Feng Shui principles, I don’t see why I should adhere to them or at least try them out. There’s no harm in trying, right?

I read on in Too’s book : Men and women should live in harmony with the environment. The best place for a home is next to some water, close to trees and gentle hills. A varied environment: a flat desert is too much yin, too rugged mountains are too much yang. Harmony and balance, that’s the key.

Sounds plausible. But it’s also easy to explain in other ways: throughout history, this has been the environment best suited for us as a species: mountainous enough to get protection and fresh water, but not so mountainous that you can’t get over them. Trees have ben good for food and shelter, and the feeling of harmony is the feeling of not being at odds with the environment, of living with nature rather than fighting it.

Principles as these are the same everywhere and won’t help us understand the unique aspects of Feng Shui. And they could also explain why we prefer sleeping the way we do: away from the door to see if someone barges in, with your feet towards the door to protect your head against that person who just barged in. No, in order to justify giving any more credit to Feng Shiui than any other way of placing your bed or building your house, you must see how it differs from other ways of thinking about the environment — and how its philosophy is explained.

And that’s when everything collapses into New Age-gibberish.

There are two groups of people, Too writes in her book: east and west, each divided into four classes — east into chien, kun, ken, tui and west into li, kan, chen, sun. One is placed in a class based on one’s gender and year of birth. A man born in 1977 is a kun. A woman born in 1977 is a kan. A man born in 1987 is a sun, whereas a woman born that year is a kun.  And so on. These classes are in turn also classes for houses. A sun-house, for instance, has the backdoor towards southeast, its area for health in the south and its area for death in the northeastern part of the house. The thinking is that your house should match your class: as a kun, I need a kun-house to be happy and prosper.

The year I was born decides what way my backdoor should be. I am sorry, but this is nonsense.

Another example of nonsense: In a case study, Too talks about “James” and “Maryanne”. They had a great marriage, although they stayed at her parents’ house, until James got a promotion and they moved to London. In their new apartment, Maryanne redecorated without worrying about Feng Shui. The result? Their marriage went almost down the drain — literally. According to Too, there were two problems with the apartment: they had a big mirror in the bed room, and they had the toilet in the southwestern corner, the part of the apartment which symbolises marriage. Too’s advice was to remove the mirror and stop using that particular toilet (apparently, they had other toilets), and lo and behold, ten years later James and Maryanne have never been happier. 

A southwestern shit too many will get you divorced?

In a separate chapter, Too talks about how scientific Feng Shui is. It is definitely not a religion, she says, but although it is not quite a science either, it is based on the same principles as Western science. Feng Shui is based on the invisible and (scientifically) undetectable energy called Qi, which Too defends by saying that science too talks about invisible forces, like magnetic fields and electricity. Scientists use the compass, and so did the old Feng Shiui-masters, hence Qi is true, hence Feng Shui is true.

“You can’t see your atoms, I can’t see my ether/force field/fairies/God, so both of us are right.”

Yeah right.

If Feng Shui is taken as an ancient wisdom for the interior decorator, no problem. I’m sure my wife is not alone in wanting to sleep with her feet towards the door, and far away from it. But once you have to pay £375 for properties with 2 or 3 bedrooms for 3-4 hours of quasi-scientific, New Agey nonsense, once you start attacking all scientific principles to retain your personal belief in this hodgepodge of Western and Eastern superstitions, then I’m afraid I can’t follow you.

You see, I’ve read this book by Lillian Too, apparently one of the leading figures in the field. I have seen that kind of New Age-scam before. I am not a fan.

No, I’m with James Randi on this one: “There is nothing scientific about feng shui at all. It’s just a very old Asian superstition,” says James Randi, former magician and demystifier of paranormal and pseudoscientific claims. “It’s never been established to work — and, in fact, it was proven to be (bovine waste) by Penn and Teller on their (Showtime) television program.”.

James Randi is a hero. Feng Shui, on the other hand, is not worth adhering to.

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