The Divine at Play with Itself: Feng Shui with Feeling
Gail Thomas, Ph.D.
What are the forces at work when we play? Do the forces, whatever they are, “work” at play? Are they working to bring about play, or is it their nature to play and the ordering of this nature is called work? Might similar forces “play” at working? What is the play of forces that result in my work?
These questions entertain me. I love playing around with them. And in this playful entertainment of ideas, I realize I am actually doing my work. It’s fun. One of my mentors, Jim Hillman, says, ideas want to be playful. They want to have fun. They get tired of working so hard without a break. Like the improvisational break in jazz which releases the creative burst of new sounds. Ideas are like that. They want a break. So tonight is a break –If we’re lucky we’ll have a riff!
Many times I have found myself in the position I am in tonight–having said something and not being certain what I meant, yet confident that the statement meant something rather important. So, loving rituals as I do, (and remembering that rituals give shape to spirit) when this happens to me, I participate in a little ritual that seems to help me out. I take the simple statement–in this case, “Feng Shui with Feeling”– and I extend it out, far, farther, farther, until it is at the farthest reaches of my imagination, but connected to me by a thin thread. Then, I climb onto the thread and travel, quite quickly actually, to the length of the thread. From there, I look back.
Now, this small ritual does amazing things for me. Most immediately of course, it releases me from the prison of post-modern thinking, that is, of being too literal or too abstract. It allows me to perceive through the imagination. The thread is my story line, and the images at the end of the thread (all of us in this room) are acting out our own individual and unique stories.
Now, how do I know what I am looking for way out here? Since space and time exist in both literal and abstract thinking, I am freed from these encumbrance. Perhaps I am in the middle of what is called the AKASHIC RECORDS, (Blake would call it THE IMAGINATION) where every thought that has been thought and every word that has been spoken is active and alive, words still being uttered, fresh, newly created. (What an amazing place, no dead thought, no cliches!) I’ll take my queue from words Plato is speaking, and slip an image into my eye so that everything I see sees through this image. (Plato talks about love in this way, saying that if Love is the image in the eye that is seen through, then everything is seen through love.) But, in my case, in this instance, I slip into the lens of the eye that is looking from this far, far distance two words–WORK and PLAY.
Now, excuse the pun, but Let’s see. Work and Play. My goodness, what an amazing story is unfolding. It is the story of the divine at play with itself — at work making the universe. And, how extraordinary that there are so many stories, like waves of light, and yet, there is in this complexity such a profound order. How to tell this story. There are so many stories to tell and yet there is but one. The one and the many, all ending in tiny threads that lead to each one of you back in Dallas in that room at the Dallas Institute. What a celebration! What joy! It makes me want to sing! To sing creation. (Thank you, Caedmon).
So here I am, having extended myself as far as my imagination could travel, clinging to a thread led by the words, “Feng Shui with Feeling,” seeking their origin. And, as I turn and look back, I realize that in order to understand the right relationship between work and play, it is necessary to begin with creation at play, working to make a universe. As above, so below.
Listen to this brief story, told by Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry. They are calling it THE UNIVERSE STORY. As I read, imagine your own burst of initiatives and false starts as your desires seek a living form. Their words help us imagine the outermost forces at play in our individual work and play:
Fifteen billion years ago, in a great flash, the universe flared forth into being. In each drop of existence a primordial energy blazed with an intensity never to be equaled again. Thick with its power, the universe billowed out in every direction so that the elementary particles could stabilize, enabling the first atomic beings of hydrogen and helium to emerge. After a million turbulent years, the frenzied particles calmed themselves enough for the primeval fireball to dissolve into a great scattering, with all the atoms soaring away from each other into the dark cosmic skies opening up in the beginning time. A billion years of uninterrupted night enabled the universe to prepare itself for its next macrocosmic transfiguration. [“O dark, dark, dark/They all go into the dark/The vacant interstellar spaces.” T.S.Eliot, The Wasteland. (My insert)] In the depth of its silence the universe shuddered with the immense creativity necessary to fashion the galaxies—The Andromeda galaxy, the Virgo cluster of galaxies, Pegasus, Fornax, the Magellanic Clouds, M33, the Coma cluster, Sculptor, the Hercules cluster, as well as our own Milky Way galaxy—one hundred billion galaxies in all.”
I can see from this perspective that the human story is not separate from the story of our beloved Earth. Every rock, river, and star tells the story of the bones, vessels and cells of my body. I want to honor the profound relationship between work and play by looking with this cosmic gaze. Can we see that in the forces that created the earth–rivers, trees, stars, seas, cities, football stadiums–there is a relationship involved in the making of the phenomena of the universe and the earth that parallels our own bodies, homes, cars, soccer fields, and bridge tournaments. The relationship is one of work and play. So that we realize that our work and our play work in tandem. How is this so?
The first law in the expanding universe that allows the universe to take a shape is the law of gravitation. The word simply means a particular attraction things have for each other. In Newton’s theory this is called FORCE. In Einstein theory it is called the “Curvature of the space-time manifold. Basically, the story this relationship tells is of the bond that exists between Earth and all of its materials. Cosmologists say now that the gravitational bond holding each thing in the universe to everything else is simply the universe acting. ( working? Playing?)
And, it is clearly an act of love. Does the rock fall to the earth, or does the earth pull the rock to itself? Is this what the poet Rilke refers to when he asks in the 9th of the Duino Elegies: “Is this not why we are here, to draw this earth passionately within our embrace so that it rises up, invisible in us? Earth is this not what you want, to become invisible in us?”
And, this erotic story of human being and place resonates in me. I feel the gravitational pull of the things that I love so much–house, face, tree, flower, hearth, word, city, friend, food, wine, work–they pull me as I say them, back on my thin thread, back, back, back, into earth’s orbit and the delicious reaching out of the earth gathering me back into her arms, back, back and here now, always, back into this room and in this time playing with, yes, with that which is my work.
Amazingly, this is the art of Feng Shui. I don’t know how many of your are familiar with Feng Shui. It is the art of sacred place making. Feng Shui means wind and water. The way the wind blows; the way the water flows. Both guide our attention to the flow of forces within any given place, forces that animate the land itself and the people who inhabit this land. For over two million years, what we now call energies were called spirits by the nomadic tribes who followed the flow of waters and the earth’s meridians to primal springs.
This spirit in the earth many times was recorded on cave and vase paintings as the serpent because of its winding and coiling nature, like the eddies that form in streams and give it its vitality. The serpent has been present in almost all creation myths, appearing usually with Mother Gaia as soon as Gaia begins to stir and want companionship. When the two are conjoined we have what we call today “energy” or “life-force.” When it is seen in visible form it appears as spiraling waves. We see it, of course, in the pattern of the double helix in the DNA, the Kundalini-like structure of our marrow which is the very essence of life. We see it in the waves of blowing sand across the beach or desert, in the entrails of birds, and, indeed, as the basic pattern of every form of life.
In myth, this spirit is seen as the trickster, as Hermes/Mercurius, and his important work of healing. The trickster heals in a mysterious way. The “trick” is to allow spirit to take shape, to assume various forms in the cosmos, and to keep those forms alive with spirit without forgetting what it is, without losing itself in matter. That means, spirit must be allowed to remain spirit when it enters into matter. So the work of manifesting is actually the rather magical work of the “spiritualization of matter.” It is this work, spirit at play in matter, that brings a sense of the sacred in the world.
So where do we look to recover a sense of the sacred? How do we apprehend spirit at work in our work and play? We find the study of the spirit of the earth in the ancient science of geomancy, or what we are calling tonight, Feng Shui.
Feng Shui is a theory of Chinese geomancy (geo-mancy means the divining of ge or Gaia, Earth; just as geo-metry means the measuring of Earth’s body). This theory holds that every place and every thing has its own indwelling life-spirit, which is called “chi”. The “chi” gives the place or the thing or the person its vitality, making it magnetic so that it draws people and forms (forms as in architecture, dwellings, businesses, downtown arenas) to it. Forces of chi run through the universe, through the earth itself and through the human body as meridians. The earth meridians lead to water domes which are almost always designated as sacred springs. John Michell tells us that all sacred places have an association with water, that the most ancient of all cities, Jericho, was founded over an ancient spring. When cities decay and disappear, the springs will still be there as the living, vital spirit of the land itself.
Can we imagine these forces of chi at work within the meridians of our individual bodies? This is the wisdom behind Acupuncture, to stimulate the chi forces within certain meridians of the body so that the chi initiates healing at the source of the problem whether the liver, the kidneys, the lymph, the heart and what is mysteriously called “triple-heater.”
Or, imagine the chi forces at work within our psychic landscape. Just as the chi forces might become blocked in the earth or in our own physical bodies, these same forces become impaired in their flow through the spirit meridians of our soul body–our spiritual, etheric, emotional, mental, and spiritual bodies.
Imagining spirit at work in our everyday lives through the art of Feng Shui is a holistic, integrated way of seeing which includes all the natural sciences–geometry, geology, architecture, ecology, economics, astrology, astronomy–plus music, dance, ritual life, and ceremony. It is based on the notion that matter is composed of spirit. By spirit, I mean that which we know to be working invisibly to bring to form that which is a reality at another level, at say, a higher frequency level–the “As above, so below” at work in the world. Regardless what we call this showing of the invisible, we see life manifesting itself in Forms. Spirit manifests as Life through FORMS–cities, office buildings, homes, baseball fields, music halls, pubs, institutes.
Ch’i is the vital force that breathes life through human beings, animals, plants, and minerals. A motivating force, it inflates the earth to form mountains and carries water through the earth’s ducts. Ch’i determines earth’s formations, the quality of flower blossoms, the luster of the cat’s fur. While all things–hills, streams, trees, humans, stones–inhale ch’i, they also exhale it, thus becoming a part of each other’s soul.
Now, my understanding of ch’i is that it is the vital force which links spirit and substance and becomes the condition present when soul and spirit come together. We can imagine spirit–Mercurius Spiritus–coming from the outside in, and soul–the healing forces within the aura of the body–coming from the inside outand meeting there. What actually happens when spirit and soul come together? I imagine it to be a moment of Chaos, like when you are stirring liquid in a clock-wise pattern creating a vortex and suddenly reverse the motion to counter-clockwise. There is a moment of Chaos created in this instant. An implosion occurs, an inner eruption. A “Break”? I imagine a vitality and Life Force emanating from this moment of the coming together of Soul and Spirit that creates an envelope of what we might call “ch’i”. I can imagine that trees and flowers would LOVE it in such a place, and animals and humans would thrive here! Business ventures would be successful; playing fields propitious. The Feng Shui master, Lin Yun, describes ch’i this way:
Ch’i spirals around and around in the earth, ever-changing; sometimes “exhaling” towards the crust, sometimes “inhaling” towards its depths, always pulsating and manifesting itself in different ways–a high mountain, a deep river, a flat desert.
How do we see the forces of this chi energy today? My sense is that we intuit, most of the time unknowingly, where the chi forces are leading us. How many of us, when looking for a job, have left a place saying, “It just doesn’t feel right?”; “I had a gut reaction against that place” or “I felt wonderful just being there!” The chi forces are at work, guiding and directing.
The Feng Shui master, Lin Yun, to whom I have been referring, lives in San Francisco now and teaches there. He says we have many more senses than five, in fact, we have hundreds. We can open these senses to gain information that we are not ordinarily privy to. It is this action that we participate any time we create. When we open the doors to the imagination. We know it as Power Golf, Power Tennis, Power Baseball, when we “see” the ball into the racket, when we, as batter, direct the ball into the bat. Derk Loeks in Santa Fe once gave me a lesson on how to use the chi force from trees when hiking in the mountains. Focus on an uphill tree and ask its force field to pull you up, like using a wench, inching you up to the tree itself. Always remember to say thank you when you get to the tree, Derk said, and then focus on the next tree higher up. He claims he was taught this technique by native mountain men in Canada who ran 70 or 80 miles in the mountains to reach their homes on the week-ends. They never stop running until they reach their destination (and many of them run in flip-flop sandals). They have not isolated themselves from the nature which produced them. Their chi and the chi of the land itself is one. They simply tune into it and go.
Is this not a lesson for our work? We are asked to find the nature of the work and to align the nature within our selves–the feng shui, the flow of natural forces–with the nature of the work. (One scholar describes Feng Shui as being in the right place facing the right direction doing the right thing at the right time.) In my profession, archetypal psychology, we ask if we are dreaming the dream or is the dream dreaming us.
I’ll illustrate how this works by telling the story my brother Ike told me this morning of an Englishman living in South Africa, who, after failures in business, in two marriages, and in his attempt to conquer alcohol, began working with a prison program in Capetown. One night he had a dream about returning to his hometown in England and he was given three names–Verne, Portland, and John. The next day he was unable to resist the overwhelming desire to spend what little money he had to purchase a travel ticket to London. He visited his hometown, remembering Verne as a bicycle shop–the shop was closed. He could make no other connections to the names in the dream. Then hearing of his volunteer work with prisons, a family friend told him of a prison ministry workshop being held in the south of England, led by an American (my brother). The Englishman phoned the prison and learned that a new unit was being formed. It was to be called Verne. He rented a car and drove toward Weymouth. As he crossed a bridge to go out to the island where the workshop was being held, he read the sign–“Portland”–and he walked into the workshop just as my brother was calling on the local bishop for an invocation: “Would you pray for us, John?” My brother told me this morning that he had just returned from Capetown where this remarkable man initiated the first Kairos program for prisons in South Africa. Did he dream the dream, or is the dream dreaming him?
Let us look at the way this works in our lives. When the flow of desire of our inner spirit impregnates the matter of our job. (I want to speak of the difference between work and a job. We have a job in order to make money. We have a “work” because it is the divine working through us in the world. This later definition borders on play. At this point, the two–work and play–merge. And, it is at this point that we find we are doing our soul-work…Feng Shui with Feeling.)
A lawyer loves to solve problems, to discover new moves, like a game of chess. Similarly, a pathologist loves to diagnose and an oncologist loves to cure. A sculptor loves to see what forms will emerge from the marble, and the chef which flavors awaken all the senses and bring the vegetable or fish to its highest level. Are they at work or at play? As Plato says, it has to do with love and love is a spirit that mediates, according to Plato, between Heaven and Earth. I would suggest, creating a vesica and, always, a vortex.
Is there pure play, seemingly without work? Is it not when we lose our ego identity and, we might say, tumble back into the black hole? When we enter the realm of not knowing? And this is the place, according to the cosmologists, that living particles submit themselves to in order to emerge (eons later) into new forms?
[“The dark, dark, dark,– they all go into the dark.” Eliot] Passionate Love-making is like this–when it is with total abandon.
Feng Shui as an art form, as a form of urban planning or interior design, speaks to our modern sense of well-being at work and at play. It is practiced today in China, especially Hong Kong, and has been making its way to the United States during the past twenty years. In the cityscape, high buildings replace mountains, roads are scrutinized as rivers once were. A Feng Shui practitioner pays attention to the size, shape, and even color of skyscrapers, the direction and turns of overpasses and roads, and the angle of a building’s corner. One manual says:
If an apartment building has towers that give it the shape of a meat cleaver, the occupant may be eating, sleeping, and working on the edge. Living in the tower, the handle of the knife, on the other hand, can improve the residents’ chi, giving them a sense of control.
I was told by a Feng Shui master visiting in Dallas of a business park built over Indian burial grounds that failed again and again under continually new ownership. He said a sacrifice needed to be made to the spirits of the Indians buried there before a propitious future could be hoped for.
How are the principles of Feng Shui working for you in your work or in your play? Does your office have a window? Does it open? Water enters the office space through the imagination, a moistening or even dissolving of rigid thought or routine. Play many times takes us outside where the powers of wind and water play with the rigidity of our structured lives. Perhaps we could begin to pay attention to the forms of our work–not only desks, chairs, windows, floor coverings, but work habits that need loosening, freeing up to allow a gentle breeze to blow through.
So, What is this force which is always at work on us, shaping us, directing us through our desires, our yearnings, our longings, compelling us into work, breaking us away from routine and moving us into play? Is it not the Divine at play in the creation of the universe?
Feng shui is an ancient art form that, thankfully, has not been totally lost showing the divine at play with itself, within the ch’i of the earth and within each one of us. So that when we are moving in harmony; when the force is with us; when we’re in the groove; when the centerboard of the sailboat is humming; when we’re on a roll (is that a surfing term?); when we’re in the flow; when we’re following our bliss; “as a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow bend”[Hopkins]; “when the end is our beginning”[Eliot]; when as above is as below; when what is without is within; when spirit and soul have merged; when work and play conjoin–that is Feng Shui with Feeling.
1 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry. The Universe Story. Harper San Francisco, 1992. p 7.
2 Ibid. p. 24
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