Sarah was the middle sister of three. Last year her younger sister died. Following this she took a demanding job, commuted to a town she didn’t know and worked herself to exhaustion. I’ve been setting up her home for the fresh energy of this new year of the Earth Pig.
Before I catch my train home– a rare direct connection to Guildford from the double-glazed rat trap that is Birmingham New Street (where there security barriers keeping you back from the security barriers) we sit for a couple of minutes in her car. This last 12 months has been break-neck for her. Now she figures she needs to be still and feel the pain she has been running from.
“Girls Talk” by Dave Edmunds selects itself on her car radio.
It was the Queen who said that grief is the price we pay for love. Probably written for her, to be fair, but profound just the same. And it’s only respectful. I tell Sarah about my own sister who died, pregnant and beautiful aged 32, from whatever follows pre-eclampsia. Eclampsia, I guess.
“I don’t think I felt this depth of grief,” I say. “The grief you’re simultaneously feeling and not-feeling.”
“You’re the boss, this is your life,” I say, “But it may be about time to open up to it. We have two choices essentially with feelings: distraction or immersion. And since distraction always leads to immersion, it seems to makesense to go there first. Gin&tonic, heroin, nicotine and soap operas, they all just delay the moment.”
“I know,” she says. “I’ve been so busy. That was what I intended, anything rather than entering the grief. When I get home I don’t want to do anything. Sleep and work, that’s it.”
Her career’s going great.
“The human condition seems to consist of lessons tied up in feelings,” I say, “We call them negative emotions because we generally choose not to like them.”
She takes a deep breath; her eyes glisten and she purses her lips.
She feels her sister nearby, she tells me. I look within; it’s like a wisp of dizziness, a wave of vertigo and then gone. There’s such grief in her eyes now.
The most unusual detail of her house is an odd niche in an outside wall to the South East – the place of the Wind, the ultimate yin, “gentle and thorough but ultimately adamant”, as the Book of Changes has it. South East – the place of sisters. When I visit Sarah I’ve always been drawn there.
I’m not so literal, or as brutal, as to see a causal connection here. Feng shui’s not like that. Things do not, I think, occur because you get the feng shui wrong. Think of what unhelpful silliness that can lead to. I think the metaphors built into a house simply tell a story that we can sometimes decode and work with: a skid into which we may drive.There’s a small fountain here now, embellished with a sad little angel. It’s all a bit too damp and the pump has stopped. But then it’s January.
Bringing Sarah’s home up to date for the New Chinese Year, now pretty much with us, includes identifying the helpful 8 and 9 “Stars” and “activating” them. Bright light is an effective booster, but in some cases inappropriate because of the energy that’s already there. These are reckoned by many to be the abundance Stars btw. Of which I inform you with due caution.
Every part of our houses equates to a certain member of the family, a location within (and without) the building, particular types of activity, a Trigram from the Book of Changes and a thousand thousand other things. The numbers of the “Stars”are tags for a million metaphors.
Next priority is the 5 or Wu Huang “Five Yellow” Star which is reckoned to bring plagues of boils; generally this isn’t literal. The 5 is ambivalent, both Earth and Fire, and although it belongs in the centre of the house, it flies about. This year it’s in the South West. And it’s doubly tricky because the 5 alone of the integers 1 to 9 lacks a corresponding Trigram. It’s not, unlike say the North West which belongs to the Father and Authority, a member of the family. Feng shui enthusiasts who’ve only been taught Western dilutions of classical theory learn that the 5 Star is Bad with a capital Buh. The nonagenarian guys in Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan whose names you’ll never hear, know that the 5 is the power; harnessing it is the Holy Grail.
We agree to tame it with Metal and a t’ang lung charm.
Then I show her this year’s He Tu Journeys. He what Journeys? you might reasonably ask. These journeys make for opportunities to take charge of our space. Each year, each segment of the home houses different Stars (as you may already have worked out) and the ancient He Tu Map defines the connections between them. The 3 Star for instance whose home is in the East but this year has migrated to the South, has affinity with the 8 Star which lives North East but sits at the centre or tai chi this year.
I’m not making this stuff up, honest.
There are four or five daily He Tu Journeys each year. Journey number one for this Earth Pig Year is from the South to the tai chi, bringing light to the heart of things.
I encourage Sarah to take these walks every morning but nothing is lost if a few are missed. Find the beginning location, breathe deeply into it and take that breath to the end location. More powerful if yousay, take a tumblestone across the divide, but most powerful when the walker finds their own meaning within it. In that place that we all know to one extent or another, where visualisation meets alpha rhythms, such a recognition moves mountains. We might call it prayer. Prayer consisting of a desperate last minute request may or may not land, prayer that simply identifies and accepts the appropriate cannot miss its mark.
And then we set up a walk from the South to that sad little assembly in the South East, from the Middle Daughter to the Youngest.
She wants to talk awhile before we leave. She says she knows she has locked something away.
“It’ll happen when it’s supposed to happen,” she says.
Ah. Going with the flow. Careful with that. Living is a dynamic process and there’s no limit to the ability of human beings to turn liberating ideas into chains. “Going with the flow” can be one such chain. Sometimes the flow – that is the tao – leads through difficulty, sometimes through opposition. The appropriate path is not always simply a door that’s been left open.
“For myself,” I tell her, “That kind of pain – a broken heart however caused – hangs like a weight until it’s owned. Feeling and not feeling while the mind is constantly engaged trying to solve and explain and reassure. Hurts. And it’s not much help. The reassurance does not reassure.”
“Sometimes the flow, the Tao, what-have-you demands ingenuity, sometimes a lowering of barriers. Nothing I can do for you will save you from the need to make decisions.”
“I know,” she says.
“Time for a cry,”I say.
“I know that too.”
When I get on the train, the first track that comes on is “I don’t feel amazing” by the Guillemots: “Can’t stop those noises at the door.” She knows that and there’s nothing wrong with her door..
“Just be sure to make those journeys.”