A personal account of Jan Cisek*
Let’s journey back to the evening on Tuesday, November 9th, 1993, at Gina Lazenby’s cosy home in London. Gina, me, Mark Beakhouse, Graham Gun, and a cuppa or two, chatting about the charming wisdom and promise of feng shui. We discovered our mutual passion for feng shui, inspired by seminars led by William Spear, a renowned feng shui teacher from the US. It’s here that Gina (with her genius for marketing) threw in the idea of starting the Feng Shui Society (FSS) – an easy-going gang to spread the cool vibes of feng shui. And, just like that, the rest, as they say, is history!
Zooming 30 years forward (blimey, how time flies!), I find myself pondering about the grand old days of the society. This society has turned into a beacon of knowledge and wisdom, spreading the essence of feng shui far and wide.
The FSS has grown into a treasure trove of ancient know-how, connecting age-old wisdom with our bustling, modern lives, making sure that the magic of feng shui is a piece of cake for everyone to grasp. It’s brought a wave of harmony and spark to numerous homes, offices, and lovely little corners of the world, optimising the flow of energy and rejuvenating spaces with happy vibes.
“feng shui is a physical affirmation, a ritual and more…”
The FSS has been the heart of a vibrant community of feng shui enthusiasts and professionals, offering a mix of workshops, friendly chats, and reads to anyone eager to learn and grow personally and spiritually. We stood the test of time because, on average, small volunteer organisations may last between 5-10 years – and we are still here 30 years on. We’ve surpassed typical expectations, demonstrating our resilience and commitment over three decades. The FSS has woven a tapestry of people who are keen on living a balanced life filled with good vibes and prosperity.
The commitment of our society to uphold the real-deal principles of feng shui has made it a trusted brand name. It’s stood strong against the quick-fix trend in feng shui, ensuring that the profound teachings of feng shui are passed down with respect and true spirit to future generations.
Looking back at the whimsical and transformative journey of the FSS, it’s clear that its birth was a shared dream, a meeting of energies destined to light up and uplift many spirits. The enduring charm and the transformative stories of the society are a living testament to a legacy (just check our YouTube channel for over 150 videos with talks and conference recordings where I presented a few times as well) built on harmony, yin-yang balance, and a dash of ancient magic!
In the Beginning…
Those of us who were around in the early days of the FSS can’t help but reminisce about the buzzing excitement and the fascination that came with exploring the world of feng shui. London was our regular meetup spot, but we also had our little gatherings in various regions to chat about our experiences, discuss interesting case studies, and, of course, learn a thing or two new!
We were all about experimenting, keen to try everything on ourselves and always eager for a bit of help from our clients. It was a journey of discovery, a journey of understanding the subtle art, philosophy and a bit of science behind feng shui. The air was filled with enthusiasm, a sense of community, and a shared passion for uncovering the mysteries of harmonious living. We were mentoring each other on different aspects of feng shui professional development (which I personally still do and receive on a regular basis). It was a time of learning, sharing, and embracing the beautiful principles of balance and energy, and let’s not forget, it was a heck of a good time!
Deciphering Feng Shui
In those days, we had different teachers popping in, each one bringing their unique backgrounds to feng shui. So, there was this buzzing need to get all the feng shui jargon straight! Chinese can be a bit intricate with its elaborate, metaphoric, esoteric and poetic terms, as well as magic thinking, a real noodle-scratcher for us Western folks. We were on a mission to redefine what feng shui really means, translating it from its traditional, culturally rich roots to a more up-to-date language. We wanted to make feng shui a friendly, accessible chat topic, breaking it down from its profound, culture-specific, belief-based nuances to practical lingo that could be shared with the public.
The literal translation of feng shui into ‘wind-water’ didn’t mean much to the public and needed explanation (especially when it was quite often mistranslated into ‘wind AND water’, which completely misread the original concept behind it – I elaborate on this in my blog Feng shui means wind-water, NOT wind AND water. Here’s why.). My favourite definitions of feng shui that showed up then are: “feng shui is a physical affirmation” and “feng shui = intention + ritual” or just a ritual (‘ritual’ defined as an intentional, transformative behaviour, event or act – backed up by extensive research into priming, anchoring and placebo), and “feng shui is space conditioning” (based on William A. Tiller, Ph.D’s ideas) and, the old classic “We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.” by Winston Churchill, to name a few. At the core of all feng shui schools and approaches is the aim to create healthy, supportive and vibrant environments for working and living that work. And that can be done with various tools for mitigating negative environmental stressors and enhancing positive factors.
We were juggling different questions, pragmatic questions (e.g. which type of Bagua model, the classic compass one OR the Three Gate of Chi one, could work better for luck and prosperity) and deeper philosophical ones based on Chinese metaphysics (e.g. on the unmanifested/spiritual realm and its representation of Early Heaven Sequence, and the manifested one, Later Heaven Sequence). For novice feng shui enthusiasts: Chinese metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world, drawing mainly from ancient Chinese traditions. It often involves elements of cosmology, ontology (concerns the nature of existence and being), and epistemology (concerns the nature, scope, and limits of knowledge), seeking to understand the structure and transformation of the universe and its components. Core concepts include Qi, Yin and Yang, and the Five Elements (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water), which are foundational to various interconnected systems such as feng shui, Chinese medicine, astrology, and the I Ching. In a nutshell, Chinese metaphysics explores these concepts to understand the nature of reality, balance, and harmony, aiming for alignment with the natural order of the universe.
The other related topics touched upon were causality, cognitive distortions, and belief-based reasoning, dogma and false problems. While some aspects of feng shui seem to suggest a cause-and-effect relationship between spatial setups and life results, the absence of scientific backing places them more in the realm of magical or superstitious thought. However, this can offer its followers a sense of psychological comfort and a feeling of control. The confirmation bias can cause people to spot and recall events that affirm their superstitious views, overlooking those that challenge them. Nevertheless, the cultural significance of feng shui, combined with its focus on positive results (akin to the placebo effect), can genuinely influence how individuals perceive and engage with their surroundings and have meaningful impacts. Niels Bohr, a renowned Danish quantum physicist and Nobel Prize laureate, when questioned about his use of a feng shui-related custom (having a horseshoe above his door) despite being a scientist, remarked, “I understand that it works whether you believe in it or not.” This statement transcends the basic concepts of feng shui and the binary, dualistic nature of yin and yang. He further added, “There are trivial truths and profound truths. While the counter of a minor truth is simply untrue, the opposite of a profound truth is also factual.”
Sharing Feng Shui: Feng Shui Society’s Journal
We were bursting to share our discoveries with the world, so setting up a Feng Shui Society Journal just seemed like the thing to do! I had the lovely task of being the Editor, and we’ve rolled out four editions that sold them in London and other places. We dived deep into a myriad of feng shui topics, stuff we were absolutely eager to share with everyone out there – a range of diverse topics such as:
WindWater: Water – the most vital part of feng shui;
What is geomancy;
EMF How to cope with modern feng shui’s pet hate;
Chalet Tiara: Feng shui has inspired Julia Stephenson;
The Famous Acropolis: Did the Greeks invent feng shui?;
The Mysterious Underground Energies: Learn to dowse for geopathic stress;
Feng Shui Logos: Designing your identity with feng shui;
Planting By The Moon: Timing is everything;
Vastu: An overview of the Hindu version of feng shui;
The I-Ching Oracle: The mystery unfolds. Are we on the brink of decoding the most mysterious book in the world. The past is hidden, the future uncertain – can I-ching help?;
Bau-Biology: Introduction to the discipline;
Barcelona: Discover the feng shui of the city;
The Greek Gods and the Bagua: Find out about cross-cultural similarities of the bagua map and more…
Finding What Fits: Testing and Tailoring Feng Shui
We’ve received a wealth of claims from classical feng shui, and you bet we put them to the test to see what really does the trick! Some hit the mark, and some… well, not so much. We rolled up our sleeves and got really stuck in, keen to assess how feng shui can be applied in a practical, everyday sense, evidence-based fashion. My love for environmental psychology was my compass, guiding me to scrutinise many claims through a scientific lens. It was all about sifting through the wealth of knowledge to find the nuggets that really worked in real-world scenarios!
Uncovering Feng Shui and How Feng Shui Meets Environmental Psychology
In any field, there’s always that initial buzz when you’re experimenting with different ideas, and it was no different for us with feng shui. After playing around with various concepts, maps and models, we quickly realised that some things didn’t quite live up to the hype. Thus began my journey to dig out the evidence-based gems of feng shui, with my background in environmental psychology becoming a super handy tool and now doing my PhD research in feng shui as well, as part of my continuing professional development (CPD). It helped me sift through the claims and see which ones really held water.
In yin and yang of things, let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater, though! While some claims might be lacking in the scientific research department, they still hold loads of value and genuinely work. Take, for instance, the classic feng shui model of the five animals or the armchair landscape configuration—a concept with a thousands-year legacy!
Within feng shui, the prospect and refuge theory, developed by British geographer Jay Appleton in 1975, can be seen through the lens of the four or five celestial animals configuration:
the Green Dragon, symbolising growth;
the White Tiger, our protector;
the Black Tortoise, our steady support;
and the Red Phoenix, the beacon of vision and opportunity.
Sometimes, the Yellow Snake pops in, keeping everything grounded and balanced.
This setup represents a cosy, balanced environment, pretty much like an armchair landscape configuration, offering both a clear view (prospect) and a safe spot (refuge)—key ingredients in feng shui. It’s all about creating spaces where you can have a good look around while feeling safe and snug—a harmony that’s quite appealing, promoting positive chi and bringing prosperity and happiness to those around you.
So, in essence, feng shui, with its celestial animals or armchair landscape configurations, aims to create environments (be it a bedroom or workplace or positioning a new building) that hit the sweet spot between awareness and protection, maxing out on comfort, safety, and pleasant vibes. It’s all about aligning well with the principles of landscape topography and environmental psychology, seeking that human craving for balance while dishing out aesthetic pleasure and positive energies.
Other examples of evidence for some feng shui claims come from research on biophilia (natural affinity for living things), nature, plants, colour, epigenetics (gene expression influenced by environment), semiotics (study of signs and symbols), (cognitive) ergonomics, transpersonal psychology, electromagnetic radiation, geophatics (earth’s energies affecting wellness), priming and placebo/nocebo effect, and environmental stressors. Researchers on the placebo effect state, “Expectations, suggestions, and social cues can all influence the placebo effect.” (Botvinik-Nezer, et al., 2023)
Raising the Bar: Professionalism in Feng Shui
It quickly became crystal clear that we needed to establish some proper professional standards for both feng shui practitioners and schools. And that’s precisely what we’ve been developing and refining constantly, just as any discipline needs to do to stay professional. We were the first professional organisation in the world to develop standards and ethics. The values of the FSS don’t just stop at professionalism and ethics, though; they extend to education, innovation, wellness, harmony, and building a tight-knit community.
We’re all about upholding the highest standards and pushing the boundaries in feng shui, all while fostering a sense of togetherness and shared passion among us. It’s not just about bringing balance to spaces; it’s about creating a balanced, harmonious, and forward-thinking community, all committed to learning and growing together in the captivating world of feng shui.
Looking back, a few things stand out as insights and learnings
- Feng shui challenges the conceptual frames we use to define ourselves and our temporal place in the world. Although feng shui can influence our lives, it doesn’t control us, nor define us as human beings. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, “Do you shape your life or are you shaped by it?” We’re more than feng shui. “If your only tool is a hammer, you’ll tend to see every problem as a nail.”
- If there is just one thing that you need to check to improve feng shui, it is your bedroom. If you sleep well, which includes making sure that you get enough deep sleep, you will most likely wake up rejuvenated and ready to face the world.
- Going beyond feng shui (time-space) gives perspective and helps to understand how it works, and makes you think better. How? Read the next point 4 and point 1 again and the quote by C. S. Lewis below the painting. And a straightforward instruction from Lao Tzu, “Empty yourself of everything. Let the mind become still.” because “To the mind that is still. the whole universe surrenders.” These quotes embody the idea of releasing preconceived notions and identities to realise one’s true potential and nature. “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”
- There are many ways of doing feng shui. Keep studying broadly different aspects of feng shui (both classical, which is rooted in convergent thinking and singularity and modern, which is based on divergent thinking and multiplicity) and other related disciplines with a curious mind and then evaluate them using common sense and critical thinking. Embrace the diversity of feng shui and explore possibilities, leading you to greater creativity, freedom, problem-solving, and philosophical inquiry.
- … love your home… affirm life… let feng shui be one of many mirrors that enrich, reflect and awake your real, timeless Self… and play 🙂
Stepping into the Future: AI Meets Feng Shui
The future of feng shui? It’s all about AI! We’ve already got these nifty AI apps that can jazz up your home or workplace design in a jiffy, following your specific wishes or hints/prompts. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves – we’re social creatures who love human interaction, so there’s definitely still room for the human touch.
AI holds the promise of shaking up the world of feng shui. It opens up the doors to automating and exploring various aspects of feng shui in new ways, such as cataloguing and analysing patterns, removing personal bias from interpretations, boosting professionalism, scrutinising claims and much more. This fresh, novel approach to feng shui is pretty thrilling!
AI and large language models (LLM) such as ChatGPT or Bard are changing the game with their sophisticated capabilities. You could easily be fooled into thinking you’re chatting with another human! AI is already transforming healthcare delivery, and it can pen essays, sort out coding, and create amazing interiors in minutes (Midjourney, Stable Diffusion, Dall-E, etc. – see the photo of a bedroom, below – done in seconds! AI is a fabulous tool, much like feng shui, reminding us to weave feng shui into our lives rather than shaping our lives around it.
Many of us feng shui buffs, including myself, are already embracing remote consultations and are eagerly awaiting the day when VR headsets (cheaper and easier to use) will allow us to step into clients’ spaces virtually as part of our work. For all you feng shui enthusiasts out there, you can pop your questions to ChatGPT and get some pretty knowledgeable replies, depending on how well you frame your questions (in the world of AI, it’s all about ‘garbage in – garbage out’). I’ve had a go with ChatGPT and other LLMs and received responses that could easily match the insights of seasoned feng shui pros, and in minutes! So, if you’re involved in feng shui, teaching or training, keep a close eye on AI!
Looking ahead, I can’t wait to see what the next 30 years have in store for the FSS and feng shui. The society has been moving with the times, balancing between Heaven and Earth (wind-water), drawing from its rich past to shape a brighter, more informed and relevant future for all its members, feng shui consultants, public and feng shui enthusiasts. Here’s to evolving, innovating, researching and continuing our journey in the fascinating world of feng shui!
*Disclaimer: These reflections are Jan Cisek’s personal perspectives on his unique journey with feng shuu and the FSS and do not necessarily reflect the views of the FSS or its Members.