Living Large the Feng Shui Way

Chaos is the science of the global nature of systems that holds a fascination in the possibility that the beating of a butterfly’s wings in Tibet could a month later produce a typhoon in Oahu. The ancient Chinese art of Feng Shui involves a creative yet methodical approach to making the most ideal arrangement of one’s environment to expel negativity and admit good fortune. These two concepts, one scientific, the other mystical, play a role in Living Large. But both begin with starting small …

Chaos is everywhere about us from dripping faucets to waterfalls, from playground swings to freeway traffic, from cooling coffee to air turbulence experienced on a coast to coast flight. We can see it in animal populations, earthquakes, and the price of cotton. Although measurements can never be perfect, for years, scientists reposed in the certainty that an approximately accurate input would give an approximately accurate output. There might be some “noise” in the system, but that was random and could easily be disregarded. However, in attempting to create a computer model for weather prediction in the early ’60s, Edward N. Lorenz discovered that the noise in his calculations was a manifestation of something too complex to be ignored and that tiny differences in input could quickly create overwhelming differences in output. This phenomenon is referred to as “sensitive dependence on initial conditions.” If the weather repeated itself just one time, exactly reaching what is called a “steady state,” then it would thereafter repeat itself forever and forecasting would cease to be science.

Oscillations in chaotic systems can be graphed and understood as nonlinear functions. Pictures from such graphs show interesting designs where an infinite number of dots or an infinitely long line fits into a finite area. The Menger sponge is a three-dimensional box that has infinite surface area but zero volume. The Mandelbrot set is a mesmerizing paisley-sort of design full of seahorse tails and island molecules—microscopic views of which resemble the whole set. At the finest scales the Koch Snowflake reveals an immensely complex shape whose coastline is of infinite length contained in a finite area. The term “fractal” describes these fantastic graphic images—a way of viewing infinity.

Although the practice of Feng Shui (pronounced fung shway) has been around for several thousand years it has recently attained popularity with decorators as a “new” interior design concept. You may have seen the commercial where the family moves the bureau around the bedroom and the dying grandmother rises and falls depending on the bureau’s position in the room. That’s Feng Shui in its most obvious (and humorous) form. The Feng Shui handbooks do place serious significance in the position of the bed, the table, the desk, the stove and their physical relationship to the doorways, and, consequently, the flow of energy, which the Chinese call ch’i, through the home. Feng Shui has been called a superstition, a science, an art.

As a superstition, Feng Shui is full of folklore: keep the cover down on the toilet, don’t put the bed under a beam, the back door should not be visible from the front door, the path to the house should not be straight but curved. It’s for the earth what astrology is for the heavens. But with Feng Shui we can make changes to our immediate environment where we can’t do much with astrology to change the rotation of the stars. It’s kind of hard to consider Feng Shui a science, but there is a lot of mathematics and use of the compass in calculating the position of the lot, the home, the rooms, and their relationship to each other. This study is called the “science” of geomancy. It’s easiest to see Feng Shui as an art where design, color, shape, and placement are used to create an aesthetically pleasing environment. The pleasant feeling we receive from walking into a bright room that’s spacious and uncluttered, that calming effect—that’s the Feng Shui I can relate to.

My own experience with Feng Shui began by accident late one August. After 14 years of living without a window covering over the sliding glass door in the den, I decided that maybe I could afford to finally do something about it. When I heard my friend’s husband was putting up new vertical blinds over their sliding door, that clinched it. I asked if he would mind installing an identical set for me. I purchased the blinds for a modest sum on a Thursday morning and by Friday night they were up. I wasn’t expecting good fortune to roll in, I just thought it was about time I quit living like trailer trash. But good fortune did roll in, and roll and roll and roll.

On our regular walk the following Sunday, a friend’s husband handed me $50 to “go out and have a nice dinner.” On the following Thursday morning I was offered my fantasy job—the chance to step in and save a studio that had just lost its only teacher. Then at the office one of our clients gave me a $500 bonus just for being the secretary on a business deal that had recently gone through. The next Monday the choir director who I choreographed for back then offered me a free trip to Europe with the High School Choir the following spring. The next day my boss gave me a $20 gift certificate for feeding his dog while he was out of town, and someone else gave me a free ticket to the ballet. Are you getting the idea? Six months later, the good fortune continued: my son came home on a surprise visit from distant lands, the transmission place did a $400 job at no charge, another client gave me a $50 tip, my boss paid for my friend and me to go see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

I knew the vertical blinds had something to do with my increased good fortune but Mr. Living Large himself was the first to point out that it might be the Feng Shui “holding the dragons at bay.” Whatever can or cannot be proved about the practice of Feng Shui, it certainly rings true that everything in life is somehow interrelated. You change one little thing and it creates a rippling effect through the rest of your world. The same way that in chaos theory one small shift, through the butterfly effect, grows to become a complex and beautiful fractal.

By taking advantage of such opportunities, any small change we make can act as the catalyst to set the process in motion.

If you find yourself depressed or suffering from stagnation, make a small change in your surroundings. And remember chaos’s “sensitive dependence on initial conditions.” Your change doesn’t have to be a big one. Hang that picture that’s been sitting on the floor for three years; move the vase to a different position that feels good; put the ottoman in the way of the door, so you have to step around it when you come in. Part of living life to the fullest and grabbing the most from every moment starts with making small energy shifts. Do one nice thing for yourself every day, make one small intuitive change to better your life or surroundings and stand back. I have a feeling the result will be Large.