Cultural Relevance of Feng Shui

by Carol C. Wheelock

Dear Carol,

How important is the number 4 in feng shui? We've read and heard that an address with the number 4 in it is bad feng shui and bad luck.
Anne and Charlie

Dear Anne and Charlie,

There are many people who avoid the number 4 without knowing why. This includes the number 4 as it stands by itself or with other numbers (as in 423 Park Street), or the 4 arrived at by adding several numbers together (as in 22 Bridge Street).

This is an excellent example of a feng shui belief that is not culturally relevant to the majority of us. In the Chinese language, the word for four and the word for death sound the same. The word death is an emotionally charged word and this charge gets transferred to the word four.

Our language does not share this homophone. The word four is not an emotionally charged word. While it does share the same sound as the golf term fore, the word fore meaning to be situated near the front, and the preposition for, none of these is emotionally charged (unless, of course, you are the reason someone on the golf course is yelling, "Fore").

The significance of the four/death issue is that it prompts us to examine feng shui from the perspective of cultural relevance. Feng shui is an ancient art that has centuries of Chinese beliefs built into it. When looking at any feng shui cure, enhancer, rule, or teaching, it is important to determine whether or not it makes sense for us in the United States.

Another example of a feng shui belief that is culturally irrelevant to many of us is the practice of not putting mirrors in the bedroom. This is based on the Chinese belief that your spirit leaves your body while you are sleeping. The concern is that your spirit would scare itself in the mirror and not return to your body. If you don't believe that your spirit leaves your body at night, then mirrors are appropriate to have in a bedroom. I would caution you, however, that walls of mirrors are too much. They foster vanity, create confusion, and make a room feel less like a sanctuary.

There are other feng shui teachings that appear to be out of place in our country. The feng shui cure of hanging bamboo flutes on beams just doesn't work for the majority of houses around here. The flutes would look totally out of place, and actually call attention to what is trying to be minimized.

Color is frequently used in feng shui. Keep in mind that the Chinese psychological view of colors is different than ours. While I do pay attention to the traditional use of color in feng shui, I also look closely at the western view of color. In feng shui red is associated with prosperity, yet in our country, to be "in the red" is not a good thing. If you associate a specific belief with any color, that has to take precedence over what feng shui traditionally teaches.

There are many other so-called "cures" that are sold in the name of feng shui. I would advise you first of all, to never use anything in your home that you do not love. Secondly, look at what the particular item is supposed to accomplish. Maybe you already have something that is more to your liking that will work just as effectively. It will save you money in the process.

In the case of bamboo flutes, the underlying goal is to lift the energy of beams that appear to be oppressive. Instead of flutes, try feathers, quartz crystals, or light mobiles to lift the energy of the beams. Another solution would be to paint the beams the same color as the ceiling to minimize their impact. Furniture placement in rooms with normal ceiling height beams is also important. Try not to place furniture directly under the beams.

What is important is to look at the principles underlying these beliefs. In the case of the emotionally charged language, there is a lesson here. Our language is filled with homonyms and homophones, some of which have very different meanings. For example, a business that has the word con in it is not apt to instill much confidence in the integrity of the business. Would you go to a business entitled Con's Financial Services to discuss you financial affairs?

Our country has its own share of associations that can have an impact on you if you happen to believe whatever it is. There are many people who would not want to live in a house with the number 13 in the address because they associate 13 with bad luck. If you believe that black cats are bad luck, then you probably wouldn't want to live on Black Cat Lane.

These are all reminders to look at the symbolism of things in our surroundings. This includes language, numbers, colors, and objects themselves. Some of the symbolism is very obvious, while other examples are more subtle. It's all about developing our awareness.

Some symbolism is more universal and relevant regardless of a person's cultural background/belief system. A wall of weapons on the way to the master bedroom does not give anyone a feeling of peace and love. A door that doesn't close completely could lead to a feeling of insecurity, no matter where you live. A chair that hurts your back, hurts your back, no matter where you are from, and will not inspire you to sit down and work..

Feng shui can be a very powerful tool that can facilitate change in your life. It must, however, make sense and be culturally relevant to you. Intention plays a key role in getting feng shui results. There will be more clarity around your intentions if you understand why you are doing what you are doing.

Carol C. Wheelock, M.Ed. of Feng Shui Vermont is a certified feng shui practitioner who has studied in the United Sates and China. She practices Black Sect or western feng shui. Carol does private consultations for homes, schools, libraries, and businesses; clutter counseling and clearing; spaces clearings; phone consultations; presentations; and teaches workshops throughout the United States. She also does personal clearings.

Copyright 2000-2011 Feng Shui Vermont
Carol C. Wheelock