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table-topI always say that Feng Shui was my “gateway drug” to spirituality. Raised Catholic but never able to connect to the traditional dogma, I decided when I was fifteen years old that I was an atheist. So my position remained until I was twenty-seven and discovered Feng Shui.

Oh, sure, I started meditating when I was eighteen. But I was always able to make rational arguments for the meditations I listened to, even when they said things like, “Open yourself to the light of the universe” or “feel your chakras cleansed.” I told myself those were metaphors, just things to imagine to make meditation easier.

Feng Shui was a different thing altogether. It’s a practice that began in China, and it embraces the idea that your physical surroundings have an invisible energy, and that wealth, happiness and love come to you based on how well the energy flows around you. Place a rose quartz in the far right corner of your bedroom and bring more love into your life. Place an image of a waterfall in the far left and help abundance flow. Feng Shui was all the rage at the time, with entire shelves of books dedicated to it at bookstores.

There is no logical justification for any of it.

Everyone I knew was talking about it, but I struggled with it. I like to guide myself by rational thought. I had rejected the rigid belief systems of my upbringing, so I didn’t want to jump into another one. But I was intrigued. So I looked for what was practical in what I read about Feng Shui. One of its main beliefs is that clutter is stuck energy. That I could get behind. Always a bit of a mess when it came to papers, I cleaned out enthusiastically. I wasn’t sure if the energy was flowing any better, but I sure liked how things looked better without piles of paper.

The next thing I heard in my exploration of Feng Shui was that you should only own objects you absolutely loved. That sounded utterly impossible to me. I was in my home by then, and it was a mishmosh of my single-girl furniture and my husband’s hideous bachelor stuff (velvet green mega-couch with built-in cup holders, anyone?), with the occasional piece he’d bring from Costco without first consulting me. None of it felt mine, let alone like something I loved. I had also been raised to believe that you held on to presents no matter how ugly, so I had a few of those too.

I focused on the “cures” Feng Shui recommends. Crystals in windows. Pictures of goldfish. I watched for results. They seemed to come, but it was hard to know if they were as a result of my crystals or my efforts.

But the ideas lingered. Slowly, I began to get rid of things I didn’t absolutely love. I added a crystal here or there. I couldn’t tell myself they were just metaphors. They were supposed to change things. The fact that I was using them meant I was buying into that concept. I had officially crossed over to the land beyond reason.

When my ex-husband moved out after our divorce, I remembered the by-then old adage of surrounding myself only with items I loved. My first newly-single purchase was a gorgeous old factory cart converted into a coffee table. I’d discovered the idea at a high-end retailer, but I couldn’t afford their four-figure version. So I found a guy in Maryland who sold them on Ebay. The table was too heavy for me to carry into the house alone, so it sat in the garage for months until it occurred to me to ask my kids (9 and 8 at the time) to help me carry it in. Once inside, it infused the whole room with a certain air of determination and originality. It was probably one of the first things that felt completely mine.

Little by little, I replaced everything in the house. I splurged on a beautiful, carved wooden bed. I picked out throws and things that sparkled (I am like a monkey that way. If it sparkles, I’m on board). I bought knickknacks. I purged things I didn’t use. I eschewed the old habit of buying cookware sets for buying only the pieces I would actually use. (I have two woks, for example, and three 5-quart pots, but very few frying pans). It took years, but now I can honestly say I adore absolutely everything in this house.

I feel the joy of that every time I take a moment to look around consciously. There is the lamp I bought for my room but which I was delighted to find looks better in the living room. There is the acrylic console that makes my TV look like it’s floating in midair. Does the energy flow better because of those things? Or did the exercise of picking everything in my space deliberately make me appreciate it and my life more, thereby opening me up to create a better reality for myself? Hard to know. But joy is joy no matter how it flows to you.

Discovering Feng Shui eventually led me to suspend disbelief in many other areas of spiritual inquiry. I’ve gone to Buddhist Zendos and chanted Sanskrit mantras, I’ve burned incense to “space clear” my house, I’ve read countless books on the old matriarchal magical disciplines of vestal virgins and women who lived in temples. I’ve believed none of them and all of them, grabbing a nugget here, a wisdom there, and finding my own path to peace and fulfillment. I’ve learned that I don’t need to buy into every facet of an idea to find benefit in it.

I was made to remember Feng Shui’s role in my spiritual development the other day when I went to the section where those books are normally kept in Barnes and Noble and found it much reduced. Feng Shui is not nearly as hot as it used to be. It burned through the public consciousness and then stopped being featured in morning shows and women’s magazines. I don’t think of it that often. But when I do, it is with gratitude for all the ways it made new energy flow into my life.


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