Feng Shui for Everyday: A Parsonage

I’ve been reading your column in Spirit of Change. My situation is somewhat unique, but applicable to many people who must live in rented space. I have lived in parsonages for the past 30 years. Our space is pre-determined in terms of the shape and location of rooms and entryways. Even the colors and flooring are selected by the trustees of the churches we serve. What can I bring to this? Where should I focus to apply principles of feng shui to a space I have almost no choice about? Thank you. — Irene

Dear Irene,

I’ve given your situation a lot of consideration. When I initially read your question I aligned my thinking with your implicit contraction of possibilities, sharing your belief that there wasn’t much you could do with these pre-determined environments. I felt a certain passivity and resigned acceptance — for heaven’s sake it’s been 30 years and obviously frustrating for you.

But, oh! — you DO have choice! You don’t have to be able to repaint or change room shapes structurally. Working with pre-existing conditions is usually required no matter how and where they show up, especially for those who rent — or in your case — occupy, but don’t own.

Oddly the balance and simplicity of both monastic and parsonage spaces can free you of the damage and drama many experience living in more complicated environments. Humility, simplicity, equality and intent of focus do not have to mean gray and drab. Were it so, nature wouldn’t be so spectacular.

There is great power in limits, both positive and negative. Certain spatial configurations are predictors of human behavior. For example, arches in cathedrals and temples cause us to stand up straighter, to improve our posture. Indeed, they activate higher qualities in us. If your domain is a parsonage, intentional ritual is part and parcel of your life. Sanctuary would be an ideal signature for your experience of your space. Accept that you are a guardian of the space designated to be yours. From that perspective meditate and dialogue with the energies present and their needs. Get a sense of the mutuality of your relationship and begin to see the limits as a gift.

What senses most inspire you — what you see, what you hear? What is beautiful to you, and how can you bring that into your personal space?

What is it that you can’t stand about your space? How could you alter it so that it’s at least neutralized? When you make changes that uplift you, the space is uplifted too. If you improve it, it will speak for itself. Personalize it. These life-affirming changes are powerful. They are beneficial down to our very cellular structure.

It is in the best interest of the church’s trustees that you be healthy and balanced. Everyone is affected by his or her environment and improvements to them can be made with little cost in most cases. If you could initiate a discussion of color, paint selection and so forth among your parsonage co-dwellers and caretakers, more interest might be piqued than you imagine. Approached gently, but enthusiastically, the trustees might feel they have the opportunity to be a little forward thinking in considering these matters. There is much momentum in the “go green” wave these days and it has created fresh focus on all manner of environmental considerations.

If a room seems cold, light it up with lamps and candles and perhaps strands of light adorning a plant or indoor tree, especially during the seasons with less light and warmth. Introduce texture — wall hangings, throw rugs, an afghan for your chair and/or a comfortable decorative pillow. These absorb metaphysical harshness.

Could you create a little garden on the grounds? Perhaps in a space seen frequently as you enter and exit, or a place visible from shared areas, or a place you can see from your very own window? If you could obtain approval for this (or just do it and expect no disapproval) it would be life affirming, grounded, and vital in many ways. If at all possible try to include something that stays green year round. If space is limited I suggest something that I recently discovered which truly dazzles me. It’s called a Dwarf Hinoki Cypress. Their limbs are alternately deep and bright emerald green. They are shaped like scallops in both branch shape and overall shape — beautiful and resilient as is the spiritual pilgrimage that scallop shells have come to signify.

Consider adorning one of your windows with those previously mentioned strands of light. If you are drawn to water you could buy a little fountain or perhaps an aquarium for your space. Both terrariums and aquariums hold special energy. They are very balanced in that they are an expression of all five elements. Treat your home as a microcosm of the universe and avail yourself of every view. In closing, Irene, every time I contemplate your situation the following phrase comes to mind: go outside! Perhaps it will have special meaning for you.

Hi Lynn,
I feel stuck in my life. I feel that I need some sort of help and I’m drawn to feng shui. Is that able to facilitate change in a stuck situation? — Alice R.

Dear Alice,
Being stuck is both very specific and very vague. I can think of no better boost than feng shui.

From a feng shui perspective both sources and manifestations of immobility will show up in the environment. Getting to roots — hopefully the deepest one — of this very influential/pervasive stagnation is a layered process.

Let’s start with the most obvious. Look at passageways throughout your home. Do a rudimentary inventory of the flow throughout your rooms; indeed begin with the possibility of flow into your space at all. Is the main entry and/or door you usually use unobstructed? Does it open fully and easily? Look at every junction between all your adjoining interior spaces — hallways, doors, transition areas of any sort. Think of them as valves. Are they blocked? Clear them out and affirm that newness, opportunity and openness can make their way to you. You don’t have to slug a ball and chain through a real or imagined morass to achieve flow and ease.

When you wake up in the morning do you have to fight your way through laundry to get out of the bedroom? I hope not. This should be an easy transition. It sets the tone of possibility and positive expectations.

Play Sherlock Holmes and investigate where your stuff has accumulated in an unsatisfactory manner. As you do, think of this very common situation of being stuck from a different angle. Where is your stuff stuck? Think about that word “stuff” as a verb.

Refer to the bagua, a diagram that correlates areas of any space with specific aspects of our lives. Imagine this diagram placed over the footprint of each room by aligning the bottom of the bagua with the room’s entrance, or your entire house overall. If the love/relationship area in a room, such as the bedroom, has an accumulation of unloved, unused, disorganized things, I would wager this is an area that is specifically stuck. I’d see it as clutter that signifies unexpressed frustration in a relationship, or no room for a relationship in the first place.

Next, examine another prominent room in your life to see if junk has accumulated in its wealth sector. If so, you probably experience financial challenges. Perhaps cash flow and money limitations restrict your ability to develop yourself in some way.

In terms of feng shui five-element theory, being stuck would indicate an excess of earth. In any flood or in any anticipated excess of flow, earth is used to slow things down. Sand bags for instance. Not necessarily in your circumstances of course, but a coagulation of accumulated stuff (most popularly called “clutter”) is an excess of earth and slows things down. Sometimes that’s beneficial. But it is absolutely not helpful if you are describing your current circumstances as stuck.

Where are things piling up that you just can’t deal with? You can refer to the bagua for a little hint or directive as to areas of your life that are clogged. You will know where things you can’t deal with are located and increasing. If this overwhelms you into further immobility, narrow your attention and pick just one small spot to disentangle and disperse. It will release energy and further assist you. If you obsess about it you’re just combusting it with the insidious, emotional clutter of self-judgment.

After you identify and open up blocked areas impeding flow, turn to introducing things that literally or symbolically promote it — water and fountains, for example. Always begin with eliminating the negative, then introduce the pro-active. The strongest action is in correcting or enhancing the form of the environment itself. But every environment is comprised of environments, and within them, more environments. Small things matter. Don’t keep a television in a prominent place; it promotes passivity. Avoid over-head lighting. Use lamps instead. They introduce fire to an area and can be stimulating. While these may be just small adjustments, those accrue. The energy of fire is upward, expansive, active — the opposite of stuck, indeed.

You also might try coming into your most stuck space with ringing bells and chimes. They are metal, and drain that too still earth. They create sound which changes things — everything really — in an instant. Metal is the element most associated and necessary for the completion of things. Get started.

The late Lynn Taylor was a senior feng shui practitioner, teaching and consulting in the United States and Mexico for both business and home environments.