Book projects – Beyond Feng Shui: 2B: Context and confusion

Content and context

Man-luck is about how we choose to work with what we’ve been ‘given’, in one sense or another. And a key part of that is about being aware of context. The detail of our heaven-luck and earth-luck may well define the content of our lives: but the impact of each item of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ luck depends more on context than on the nominal content of each event. Panicking about every possible cause of geomantic problems will not help to improve our lives: as the old joke puts it, we won’t necessarily have a longer life by doing so, but it will certainly feel like it…

For example, our heaven-luck and earth-luck may both indicate a fated financial loss – such as the transit of a ‘star 5’ through the west sector, in Flying Stars feng shui. But that doesn’t tell us what will actually happen: it’s context that ultimately defines what that will be. So yes, it’s true, that kind of luck might mean total ruin, bankruptcy, the loss of everything: but it’s much more likely to mean that we get short-changed when collecting the lunchtime chicken-and-chips – equally a real financial loss, but one we might not even notice. In the same way, the ‘death’ sector for a person in relation to a house, in Eight Mansions feng shui, might possibly indicate ‘death of the body’, and thus a bad place for that person to sleep; but it’s more likely to indicate the ‘death’ of an illusion, or some other kind of change, and thus could be a good place for that person to meditate – on change and the illusory nature of reality, perhaps? It’s all luck: but what we make of it – what it ‘really means’ – depends on choice, and on context.

To understand geomancy, in order to get it to work well, we do need to understand the rules by which it seems to work. And many people, throughout history, and throughout the world, have undertaken extensive research on this, striving to formulate rules about content, identifying ‘samenesses’ between one place and another, one person and another, and identifying what alterations to that content will seem to create the required change. For most of us, for most of the time, we need rules – or at least clear guidelines – in order to know what to do.

So for those who feel they need to know ‘the rules’ of geomancy, there are now all manner of ‘rule-books’ available, all of which purport to show us exactly what to do in every geomantic circumstance. The bookshops are full of them: shelf upon shelf of feng shui manuals and the like. But as we’ve seen, the first rule – ultimately the only rule – is that there are no rules: Murphy’s Law is The Only Law In Town. There are samenesses on which to base some kind of rule or guideline; but there are also differences, at every scale, between everything and anything else apparently like it. Every place, every person, every situation has its own context: it is itself, different and distinct from every other. And as the British charity Common Ground has demonstrated so well, it’s in those differences between places and between peoples that the true magic resides. So sometimes – quite often, in fact – those convenient and comfortingly certain rules in the rule-book (“this goes here and that goes there“) are just plain wrong. Far more than content, context determines what will work, and what won’t. This is what makes geomancy more than a little complicated…

Adding to the complexity is that – as illustrated by modern chaos theory – the weird rules-that-aren’t rules work at every level, every scale: and they all interact with each other. And people interact with each other, and with places, and in many senses carry places with them so that the places interact. The rule-books do help us in understanding this, but they only go part of the way: in real geomancy, we’re ultimately always on our own. Which isn’t easy…

What all this means is that in practice, it almost certainly doesn’t matter that the bathroom is in the ‘relationship sector’ of the house, or whatever. In fact, as we’ll see in the next chapter, it may only become a problem if we believe it matters. But on some occasions, or in some circumstances, it does indeed matter – or rather, that particular correlation between bathroom and ‘relationship sector’ can become useful as a way of selecting what we could choose to do about an overall set of circumstances. The rule-book describes a common pattern of circumstances: but it’s only context that will tell us what to apply in this circumstance, herenow.

For an analogy, consider allopathic – conventional – versus homeopathic medicine. Their treatments (or, to use the feng shui, term, ‘cures’) are both drug-based, in that specific substances are prescribed, and there are some interesting crossovers between the two approaches in terms of what they tend to prescribe – for example, they’re very similar in their use of digitalis (an extract from the foxglove flower) in treating heart-disease – but the overall styles are very different. Allopathic medicine resembles the rule-books: like Camillo the Hare, it interprets all illness in terms of single causes for single effects – in other words, the apparent content of the illness – and prescribes according to its expectations about what will counter those causes. If human bodies did conform to the expectations of the medical rule-books, this should work well: and it does indeed sort-of work, but nothing like as well as would be expected from its claims of ‘scientific’ certainty. The reason is that, as Ulbricht the Badger implies, and Murphy’s Law indicates beyond any possible doubt, we never can know enough about the body to be able to control its workings in this way. All too often, the only real result is ‘iatrogenic illness’, illness apparently caused by side-effects of the treatment itself – to be treated by further drugs which create further iatrogenic illness… a costly exercise, in far too many senses! As one bitter wag put it, “modern medicine may not be able to create health, but it has found many ways to cure people of wealth!” – and much the same has been said for much of modern ‘rule-based’ feng shui, unfortunately with exactly the same truth.

Contrast this with the homeopathic or, more generally, the holistic approach. Symptoms are regarded not as the results of single causes, but of an infinite number of interactions with everything, all and none of which are ‘the cause’. In this sense, symptoms become pointers to the direction being taken by the organism as a whole – hence ‘holistic’ – but since everything is ‘the cause’, in principle anything could be used, at any level, to help change the overall direction of the organism. Yet that leaves us with an odd kind of intellectual anarchy: if ‘anything goes’, and anything could work, where on earth would we start? Back come the rule-books and theories and models: but unlike in allopathy, we use a medical model, rather than being used by it. Homeopathic treatments are based on the idea that ‘like cures like’, prescribing a very small amount of something that in large doses would create the same symptoms, but that’s not especially relevant here: what is relevant is the idea of selecting a model as a way of working with the impossibility of ‘the whole’, ‘the everything’.

The rule-based allopathic model looks only at content – the symptoms – whereas holistic models aim to understand the whole by understanding the overall context in which that content appears. Because all we have to do is ‘follow the rule-book’, the allopathic approach is easier to understand: it just doesn’t work very well. The holistic approach is harder, but it’s the only one that works well – when we get it right! The hard part is that it depends much more on personal skill, to interpret the content and choose an appropriate model for the overall context: and that, in turn, depends on an increasing awareness, arising from personal observation and personal intuition.

Observation and intuition

Before we can do anything useful in geomancy – or anything else, for that matter – we need to learn to observe what’s going on around us. It should be obvious that if we don’t do that, we’re not likely to be able to make valid decisions about what to do. But there’s a circular problem here: if we’re told to expect something, or believe something, we’re more likely to observe things that match those expectations, and miss those things that don’t – which will seem to confirm the ‘truth’ of the expectations, but may not match reality very well at all. For example, in Eight Mansions feng shui it’s a common convention to draw the eight sectors as a kind of ‘pie chart’, with lines radiating out from the centre of the house. Many practitioners go to great lengths to identify where exactly the sector-boundaries go through the house. But as feng shui master Yap Cheng Hai pointed out, if we observe the behaviour of the ch’i, these supposed boundaries don’t exist: they’re just a convention, an artifact of the imagination rather than of the ‘real’ world. True, the sector model describes quite well the general distribution of energies, or flavours, or whatever we want to call them: but the actual distribution is much more blurred and diffuse than the sector model implies – especially in houses with large open spaces, or rooms that straddle several sectors.

So we need to observe what actually happens, rather than just what we expect to happen: which means that we need to observe ourselves observing, and the way in which we observe. If we’re to get Inverse Murphy to work for us, we also need to be careful to observe differences – things that don’t match our expectations – as well as the ‘samenesses’ that do. And if we’re to observe the whole – as we clearly need to do in geomancy – we need to observe not just the world ‘out there’, but our own inner ‘worlds’ as well: which is not as easy as it sounds!

In addition to forming a foundation for every other skill, observation and intuition are also fundamental skills in their own right – ones which we’ll keep returning to as we go through this book. As we expand our observation, we’ll find that we gain a wider awareness of what’s actually going on; and as we develop our intuition, we’ll find that we gain a wider ability to use that observation – even though we may not necessarily understand how, or why.

Intuition literally means ‘teaching from within’: and that’s often exactly what it feels like – a kind of ‘message’ from inside ourselves, one that’s easily drowned-out if we don’t create an inner quietness in which it can be sensed. It works entirely the opposite way to analysis: where analysis uses a chain of reasoning to work towards an answer, intuition picks out a single answer from amongst an infinity of possibilities, and then works backward towards the reason – if any!

The reliability of analysis depends on its premises, its initial assumptions. If the premises are correct, any answers derived from them will automatically be correct. But by definition, those premises cannot be proven by analysis alone – a problem in itself, and often a fatal flaw in much supposedly ‘scientific’ reasoning. By contrast, the reliability of intuition depends on an accurate awareness of the whole – something which develops only through experience. The catch here is that an intuition is effectively an ‘inspired guess’, under the aegis of Inverse Murphy: without a framework of experience to guide the guesswork, the answers will be almost random, but will still have the same clear feel of a ‘teaching from within’. This problem is particularly notorious in many ‘New Age’ environments: mistaking ‘Beginner’s Luck’ for mastery – a common mistake in skills-development, as we’ll see later – the discipline of experience is dismissed as outdated anathema, with results that are often dangerous and occasionally deadly… In geomancy, we need our intuition: but we also need to ensure that what it shows us is right! We can only check this through careful observation: which is why we need to develop both skills in parallel.

Yet there’s something else that careful observation will also show us: a peculiar kind of immunity, exactly as Ulbricht indicated. We’ll find ourselves in the right place at the right time – if only we can see that it is the right place at the right time, because often it won’t feel that way. We’ll find ourselves having avoided being in the wrong place at the wrong time – and this time, perhaps, recognise what it was that we’ve just managed to miss. With practice, with awareness, and with intuition, we find ourselves inventing immunity from the ravages of Reality Department – and, through geomancy, begin to help others to do the same.

At this point it’s probably worth reviewing Ulbricht’s advice. “We understand extremely well why people fall ill”, he said; “what we don’t understand is why they don’t. And we understand even less about how people fall well, especially when our theories say that they won’t.” Yet we could change the phrasing a bit, and make it a bit more useful: “If health can go wrong, it probably will – but what makes health go wrong will also usually go wrong, cancelling itself out. And health can resolve itself, if we let it – but if we only let health resolve itself in expected ways, we’re limiting our chances.” So it’s easy to see that Ulbricht’s immunology is essentially another aspect of Inverse Murphy – not that that explains anything, of course, but it does give us some clues as to how best to approach the issue.

In living organisms, the immune-system or its equivalent ensures that, for most circumstances, most of the time, the organism is largely ‘self-repairing’ – as long as we don’t prevent it from being so. So a key part of inventing immunity is simple not to meddle: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, to quote another old engineering adage. This is especially true because, like the crestfallen Camillo, we don’t, and can’t, ever know enough about how anything ‘really works’: all we ever see is a small part of whole picture, and it may not be the part that’s most relevant for resolving a perceived problem. In geomancy as in everything else, we need to be cautious about creating our own kind of ‘iatrogenic illness’…

To create constructive change through geomancy, we need to develop our observation and, especially, an intuitive awareness of the whole – the total context of each person, each place, each circumstance. And people – ourselves and our clients – are part of that overall context. The irony is that often what people most need is immunity from themselves, from their own choices and actions: “I can never get away from it all on vacation”, said one of James Thurber’s gloomier characters, “because wherever I go, I am always there…” So part of the context we need to observe is not just what people say they want to change, but people’s resistance to any kind of change (however constructive!), their emotional state, their emotional desires, their interactions with others, and so on. There’s also what we might call their spiritual context – the need for a sense of meaning and purpose, a sense of self and of that which is greater than self – which we’ll see expressed in terms of a need for change, or ‘growth’.

What makes it hard is that what people say they want, what they actually want, and what changes they’re actually willing to accept, are often entirely different – and somehow we’re magically meant to know the difference! Interestingly, one of the most useful ways we can resolve this is to look inward: by observing our own response in ‘normal’ conditions, and then observing our interweavings with others, we can see how our sense of ‘We’ changes when we’re with those others – and thus identify what they bring to the ‘We’ that we share with them.

Non-attachment, non-detachment

Along with careful observation, perhaps the most useful skill we can develop in relation to context is a sense of non-attachment. Sometimes things don’t work because we’re not trying hard enough; as we become more skilled, though, often things don’t work because we’re trying too hard, with someone who actually doesn’t want the changes they appear to ask for – whatever they may say. It’s a bleak fact that people really do re-create their own problems: time and again, as geomancers, we’ll see clients who appear to listen carefully to our advice, agree with everything we say, perhaps ask detailed questions – and then do nothing at all, or even do something slightly different which, according to the system we’re using, actually exacerbates the problem. (And I know I’ve done the same to myself: in fact, I don’t know any honest geomancer who hasn’t! An old proverb about ‘the cobbler’s children go unshod’ may apply… perhaps because it’s often easier to change others’ lives than to change our own…) It happens – a lot. An understanding of the nature of wyrd, as a path of choices and, of course, evasions of choices, can be helpful at this point…

Whatever we may want to believe, we do not know everything, and cannot know everything. We do not know the full complexity of each person’s wyrd: some issues they – we – do each have to face alone, and in such cases we should not attempt to interfere in their wyrd, geomantically or otherwise. This isn’t the New Age version of ‘karma’, though, which all too often is something on the lines of “you chose this problem in this lifetime, so it’s entirely your fault”: it’s more an acceptance that we can’t eat for someone else, or go to the bathroom for someone else. We do need to develop a sense of non-attachment, of acceptance that the results of our own and others’ actions are what they are, and nothing else; but that needs to be a non-attachment which is also a non-detachment – we don’t walk away and abandon people just because they haven’t done what we told them to do. The danger for us here is that if we try to ‘fix’ someone who’s trying to avoid some issue – trying to avoid facing a hidden twist within their wyrd – we’re likely not only fail to help them, or even cause them more harm than they’re already causing themselves, but we’re likely to damage ourselves as well.

There’s another reason we need to be cautious. Some clients have wild expectations about what can be achieved, and look to the geomancer to solve their problems ‘by magic’ so that they don’t have to face issues that are strictly theirs alone. One colleague was asked to resolve a supposedly poor ‘finance sector’ of a home: in quiet conversation, it became obvious that the real problem was that both partners were gambling addicts, and squandered every cent that came into the house – a problem that no amount of geomancy alone could fix… If we present ourselves as ‘the fixers’, we’re in effect presenting ourselves as taking responsibility for their actions: which means that we’re at real risk of being treated as the scapegoat if the geomancy ‘doesn’t work’ – which is almost inevitable in that kind of chaos!

This doesn’t just happen in geomancy, of course. I’ve worked for many years as a consultant in the computer trade, and exactly the same problem happens there: clients will sometimes blithely ignore the damage they’re doing to their business, or the delays they’re introducing into a schedule, constantly meddling and muddling and changing their minds. I used to get very angry about it, because in principle I was responsible to the client for ensuring that the work was done correctly and on time, and the clients themselves were making it impossible to do so. I wasn’t so much ‘responsible’ as over-responsible: taking on responsibilities that actually weren’t mine to take. Eventually I learnt to accept the “Contractor’s Creed”, which a colleague had once described me: “Ours not to reason why: ours but to do and charge…” When I’d first heard it, it had sounded immensely cynical: but in some contexts it really is the only thing we can do – and we need to allow our intuition to tell us when this is so.

By its nature, geomancy tends to turn up more than its fair share of weirdness! When faced with ethical, moral and practical dilemmas like these, the only safe course is to develop that sense of non-attachment and non-detachment: we assess and advise as appropriate, but then firmly rest on the client alone the final responsibility for action. We need to do the best we can, as respectfully as we can, with what knowledge we have – and be very careful to leave it at that.

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