Wind and water

Or why we can find answers in feng shui

RUN, RABBIT, RUN An artwork that depicts The Year of the Water Rabbit, which begins today, Jan 22, 2023 and ends on Feb 9, 2024

I used to be a feng shui extremist.

I didn’t think of it as a science or as an art. I didn’t think of it as some ancient form of divination. To me, it had nothing in conflict with my religion or my practical education. It just made sense to me.

I was first introduced to feng shui in the mid-‘90s and I found it so much fun. Jullie Yap Daza, then editor in chief of the society glossy Lifestyle Asia, where I started as a staffwriter, was sort of queen bee of the growing population of feng shui followers in Manila and the late Hong Kong geomancer Paul Lau was high priest, though I shouldn’t use the word priest because, like I said, no god involved here, just wind-water, feng shui in Chinese.

Paul’s Chinese New Year’s Eve ceremonies were like child’s play. We would be asked to dress in certain colors. On the eve of the New Year, we had to wear new stuff—new slippers, new shoes (buy before, not after the turn of the year), new underwear… Once, in vehicles of a certain color, we were asked to follow the route of fortune all the way to a roundabout just outside the Coconut Palace at the CCP complex and to go around the circle three times. If we didn’t have a car in the prescribed color, the alternative was to carry a scarf of that color and wave it as we went around in circles. We were like kids on a merry-go-round. The whole parade of cars, windows open, scarves of a uniform color fluttering in the wind, everybody wishing each other luck, would then proceed to the Mandarin Oriental Manila in Makati City for more fanfare. A midnight buffet at the grand ballroom would follow, but not before a few minutes of fireworks, fire in the sky, health in our bodies, love in our hearts, money in our pockets, Happy New Year!

FINDING HARMONY The author's confidante and feng shui advisor, the late Princesse Lim Fernandez

At first, it was enough that I started the year with a hopeful spirit, in communion with the flow of energy, which from the get-go struck me as the nuts and bolts of feng shui, this whole 5,000-year-old philosophical, metaphysical system that has by now, in the East as well as in the West, in every corner of the earth, where the migrant Chinese have settled over the centuries, become as huge an industry as a blockbuster Hollywood movie with all the merchandise—amulets, trinkets, talismans, charms, and other objects, not to mention the mascots, the dancing dragons, the dancing lions, and the likenesses of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac.

Any feng shui advice, if you come down to the very essence of it, is all very practical, all just common sense.

Pretty soon, as I became so involved in propagating feng shui practices in Manila, editing the annual forecast that Paul Lau and his successor Joseph Chau, also from Hong Kong, published on Chinese New Year’s Day first in Manila Standard and now in Manila Bulletin, I found myself depending more and more on feng shui for every move I made. Should I stay or should I go? Would a new boss—or a new assistant—and I see eye to eye? Was my office desk facing the right direction?

In the early 2000s, when I decided I had had enough of working for my previous employer, I was told I couldn’t leave until three months later, so I waited, though I was itching to leave right there and then. The decision proved wise and I find it quite funny looking back at everything I did when I finally said goodbye. The advice was that my resignation letter must be received no earlier and no later than 11:50 a.m., so by 11 a.m., I had my driver waiting outside the office of the president, with my resignation letter and a bouquet of roses in the back of the car. By 11:45, the president’s secretary had received the flowers and the letter. At exactly 11:50, the letter was in the president’s hand. By 11:55, I got a text message from the president, who asked if I could see him in person.

Cover design by Jules Vivas

Such was my feng shui affair. But it came to a point I felt I was paralyzed by decision-making, unless there was a clear-cut feng shui recommendation to count on. Maybe I took it too seriously. Maybe I expected it to exempt me from pain, sorrow, hardship, bad luck… I realize now that even God cannot give me such an exemption and yet for a long while, for over two decades, I felt lucky and charmed, as if invisible forces were always around to pick me up should I fall (and I did fall countless times) and, if I must borrow a phrase from my daily prayer, now that I have banished hell from my personal belief system, “to deliver me from evil” (and I flirted a lot with bad things).

The last time I took feng shui religiously was when my confidante, adviser, friend, and feng shui guru Princesse Fernandez was alive. She knew everything about me, the placement of my bed in my bedroom, the animal signs of my family and friends, my hopes and dreams. She was with me all throughout when I built my own house. I do think it is an essential consideration in architecture and interior design. It works after all on the principle that there are forces, known as qi, “that bind the universe, earth, and humanity together” and that everyone must harmonize with their surrounding environment.

It’s been many years now, however, since I started to shy away from feng shui in my daily life.

Maybe I’m too lazy now to bother with colors and directions. Maybe I have begun simplifying my life and all the complications of feng shui, as we practice it here and now, are no longer in tune with my understanding of my life, as it unfolds moment after moment.

I suspect, though, and I hope that after all these decades working with the masters of feng shui, I’ve come to integrate the basic principles of harmonious living with my own personal set of do’s and don’ts. Working on the yearly forecast, it occurred to me on more occasions than I could count that any feng shui advice, if you come down to the very essence of it, is all very practical, all just common sense. Why build your house on unstable ground? Why have your windows where they open up to a garbage dump? Keep a low profile to avoid envy and jealousy. Save for a rainy day. Work as though you own the company. Do good, be good to attract good.

I believe we are in a constant state of anxiety because we have forgotten that a simple life is all we need to be happy. While our ancestors could sense an approaching storm by sniffing at the wind, we are now always caught by surprise, weather satellites and all, because all our skyscraping buildings have blocked the natural flow of air.  

There must be reason to think all feng shui has turned out to be in our age is commercial crap. But thanks to consumerism, the religion of our times, you can say the same thing of art or fashion or medicine or the worship of God.

All I know is I’ve been searching and, though I believe that life is a never-ending search, there have been countless times I did find some answers in wind and water.