Dear Kiki: How can I respectfully incorporate feng shui into my daily life?

Dear Kiki,

I’ve heard a lot about this thing called feng shui. I know it’s culturally significant given my Chinese heritage, and I want to respect it, but at times, it can feel like old superstition. How do I respectfully incorporate it into modern day life?

Curious about feng shui

Feng shui: An ancient Chinese Tradition

I think it’s great that you are curious about feng shui as part of your Chinese heritage. I don’t know much about feng shui myself, so let’s learn together!

Feng shui, which translates to “wind and water”, is an ancient Chinese practice. It uses flow of energy to achieve balance and harmony between individuals and the environment. Records show that the tradition has been in existence for more than 3000 years.

These ancient practices will definitely look different in modern society, as well as within the North American cultural context. In the North American contemporary world, feng shui is usually incorporated in interior design and architecture. It is considered as a way to arrange the living space to bring good energy, wealth, and prosperity into the home.

Feng shui bagua with colors, elements, shapes, directions, lucky rat. Printable. Created in Illustrator by Shandi Greve Penrod.
Feng shui bagua with colors, elements, shapes, directions, lucky rat. Photo credit: Shandi Greve Penrod, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

However, feng shui is more than just arranging furniture. It embodies a rich history of wisdom and philosophy. Like many other traditions, there are multiple ways to interpret and celebrate them. Therefore, it is important to maintain an open mind as you explore how you can honour these practices in a meaningful and personal way.

Read more: From personal to popular: the Westernization of traditional Chinese medicine

How feng shui shapes culture

There are many articles, resources and online courses on feng shui. I encourage you to research and educate yourself about the different aspects of this ancient practice. A quick internet search tells us that there is much to learn, from its fascinating history and the different schools of thought to how it is applied to contemporary residential design. Look for a variety of sources — not just those from the western perspective.

Personally, I find its origins to be most interesting. Feng shui stems from Taoist principles of chi in order to balance yin and yang energy. These terminologies may sound familiar.

It’s no surprise that the tradition shares roots with acupuncture and Chinese medicine. The system of Tao includes a total of eight branches, including I Ching (book of readings), acupuncture, herbal medicine, qigong (a type of martial art), nei dan, feng shui, astrology, and Taoist yoga.

Unravelling the foundational concepts of feng shui provides insight into the ancient Chinese way of life and how it has shaped the culture. For example, the Taoist view is heavily influenced by a shamanistic perspective of souls and spirits, giving rise to common superstitions that have been passed down over generations. You may find that this helps to foster a deeper understanding of and connection to your heritage.

Yin and yang, elements of Taoist thought and feng shui.
Photo credit: hrustall on Unsplash.

By carefully considering our surroundings, feng shui acknowledges that we do not exist alone. Instead, we are connected to the natural environment around us. Even if you don’t feel the urge to give your home a makeover, these ancient Chinese philosophies can teach us how to approach our well-being and way of living in a holistic way.  

Keep an open mind

When it comes to honouring the tradition of feng shui, the best way is to stay open-minded as you learn more about feng shui. Some of these practices may not make any sense at first, but that is okay. We are here to observe and learn.

You mentioned that feng shui can feel like a superstition, which makes sense due to its shamanistic origins. However, I’d like to challenge the notion of a superstition.

Many use the term to describe something that is not based on science or reason, such as magic and spirits. However, historically, it has also been used to refer to beliefs which were outside of the dominant religion. After the Roman Empire converted to Christianity, its laws referred to non-Christian religions as superstitions.

Living in North America, we may become accustomed to a rational, analytical and science-based way of thinking. In the field of medicine, western science tends to focus on evidence-based diagnoses and treatment. Eastern medicine tends to treat the whole person, instead of just the symptoms.

Whether or not something is a superstition depends on the lens of the beholder. Superstitions are very much present in modern life. Research shows that superstition can provide potential psychological benefits to performance improvement and alleviate anxiety by giving people a sense of control.

While some of these ancient practices may seem to lack obvious logic and reason, feng shui comes from generations of wisdom. I believe there is room for both perspectives to coexist and complement one another, just as we navigate our dual cultural identities.

Incorporating feng shui into your life

After you have thoroughly researched the origins and purpose behind feng shui practices, you can consider how you’d like to incorporate them into your daily life.

Decluttering and tidying, part of the principles of feng shui.
Photo credit: Sarah Brown on Unsplash.

You could start simple. Declutter your room, or focus on a small area like your desk. The art of tidying, associated with the popular KonMari method, comes from the basic principles of feng shui. Decluttering is believed to provide space for a harmonious flow of chi. A study by Indiana University found that individuals with tidier homes were more physically active and healthier.

Perhaps you feel inspired to makeover your home. Anjie Cho, the co-founder of Mindful Design Feng Shui School, offers some great tips on how to use feng shui at home. You can also follow the bagua map to design and decorate your space. Feng shui practitioners use it to assess the space, from the entire property to a specific room or your garden. The elements and numbers associated with each square are a guide for how to decorate and set up that corner.

You can be as creative as you want. Make it fun! For example, to use the element of water, which symbolizes prosperity and abundance, feng shui practitioners recommend placing photos of running water, black objects or odd numbers.

Running water against a black backdrop, which symbolizes wealth in feng shui.
Photo credit: Viktor Talashuk on Unsplash.

If decorating is not your thing, there are other ways to honour these ancient practices. You can respect these traditions by continuing to learn and encourage others to cultivate an interest in the Chinese traditions of feng shui.

Honouring the tradition of feng shui

Just because you’re Chinese does not mean that you have to practice feng shui. To honour a tradition is to learn about its cultural significance and to preserve the history and knowledge. Be aware of the dynamic nature of tradition, as well. Traditions can evolve over generations, continuing to adapt to the ever changing landscape of people and nature.

Other than the practices of rearranging your space, there are many valuable lessons we can take away from the ancient art. This tradition recognizes the profound and symbiotic relationship that humans have with the natural environment. Integrating these beliefs in our individual context can alter our approach to the care and attention we place on maintaining and preserving the space we reside in.

As a Taiwanese Canadian, I appreciate being able to take the best from two worlds — the culture I live in and the culture of my family. While there are challenges with straddling between two different views and philosophies, we have the luxury of creating our own traditions while honouring what came before us.


Dear Kiki is Cold Tea Collective’s advice column and it is published in the last week of every month. To get advice from Kiki, submit your questions and comments here. Or, subscribe to our newsletter to get Kiki’s advice straight to your inbox on the last Sunday of every month.

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