FENG SHUI EYES
Terah Kathryn Collins looks at design from a holistic perspective
by Kris Kegg
Terah Kathryn Collins is an internationally known consultant, speaker, and teacher of Feng Shui. With a background in communications and holistic health, she effectively bridges the gap between mysterious Eastern practices and pragmatic Western thinking. As a novice on the subject, I can easily say that the jacket of her book, The Western Guide to Feng Shui, describes Terah Kathryn Collins succinctly and accurately. I shared an hour with Ms. Collins on the phone discussing one of her loves — Feng Shui — and it happened, appropriately enough, on Valentine's Day! As a result of that conversation, I grew to love the person and applaud her journey of educating and assisting westerners in their embrace of this basic, essential study of chi (life force) called Feng Shui.
Kris: In your book, I saw Feng Shui defined as "the Chinese art of placement," and as a term meaning "wind and water." Why only wind and water?
Terah: Feng Shui goes back over three thousand years in China, where it started as an inner spiritual practice. The original practitioners were absolutely not invited to become practitioners until they mastered their own inner beings. Once they were in the position of creating a harmonious environment within, then they acted as "tuning rods" who would resonate with the environment outside. Feng Shui was termed "the breath of life," and literally means, "wind (breath) and water (life).. " It's interesting because we can look through several facets of the crystal here. You see, wind and water can represent extremes and the human "comfort zone" basically exists between extremes — not too hot, not too cold, etc. The original practitioners were always seeking out land that would be comfortable for people. Not just for the moment, but for years to come! The original practitioners were actually very good at "sniffing out" these unusual weather patterns (along with the usual) so they could keep people out of the flood zones and out of the heavy winter winds, etc. Feng Shui literally symbolizes the extremes between which we live most comfortably. It is also the study of how the inner and outer environments reflect each other.
Kris: Could you talk about your experiences in holistic health and the "pull of Feng Shui"?
Terah: Well, I studied massage therapy and Neuro-Linguistic Programming in my twenties, and then moved on to a three-year program in polarity therapy. I co-founded the Polarity Center in northern Virginia, and had a full-time practice while teaching at the Center. That was my life for about 12 years. Then, I had a very strong insight that it was time to move to California. I felt complete about being a holistic health practitioner on human bodies. I knew there was something else coming, yet I had no idea what it was. When I got to California, I got involved with landscape and plantscape design, because I knew I was feeling very drawn to the environment.. At some point, I was invited to a lecture on Feng Shui and it was like the light went on. That night, I really crossed over from working with the human body on a holistic level to working with the environmental body on a holistic level. My approach to Feng Shui is obviously flavored by my background. Translating all the Eastern thought about the body (sometimes very obtuse information) over to Western minds was what I used to do with polarity therapy. My life was orchestrated in such a way that I actually transferred that training to the environmental body. Incredible crossovers exist that anyone who is in the holistic health field will see immediately.
Kris: When you talked about pathways through our homes paralleling the meridians in our bodies, it really helped me come to a clearer vision of this mysterious Eastern practice. Your vision of "creating a personal paradise" seems a simple and direct way to help folks understand the concept; I also love the idea of the "dance between you and your environment — ever changing...
"Terah: I think it's helpful for people to make the connection between our bodies and our homes. Our homes are buildings, our buildings are bodies, and they have a life force. They are alive — as alive as we are. I like to say, "Environment displays consciousness."
Kris: How might we be able to help ourselves overcome the built-in challenges we find ourselves moving into and/or surrounded by?
Terah: It is often not an easy task. We were just out taking slides for a presentation we're creating, and there were these huge bulldozers in an area that's being developed, and I had to really work at centering because I felt like crying. It really hurt to be there. The land had been so violated! Again, in the times of the early practitioners, when a building site was being developed, as little as possible was disturbed. It was as if they were working on the back of a living being. They would hand carry any earth, digging in a meditative space so as not to disturb the vital chi of the area. Story has it that to kill a tree, even accidentally, was so unthinkable that the worker that did was "given" to the tree!
Kris: Basically, he blew it and had to pay the price, eh?
Terah: Yes. And this is really why I have put my attention on a training program with the development of the Western School of Feng Shui here in San Diego. I realize that, as a country, we really need to transfer this knowledge to all people. It's about arresting some of the developmental choices that are being made in our cities. We have some serious work to do to balance the chi in these places that are developed without thought for the natural environment.
Kris: You know, it seems that intuition is in everything we read these days — from medicine to art — could we say that it is at the root of Feng Shui?
Terah: It totally is. It has to be, actually, because every single building is different, and when combined with the human beings that are in it, the usage and the interplay of building with human will obviously be unique. Even if we have a suburb of identical homes, the families inside are not identical! Practitioners must be intuitive, keying in on the nuances of the human beings coupled with their own knowledge of Feng Shui. You must be able to flow and integrate the left-brain knowledge with the right- brain spontaneity and intuition.. For instance, at The Western School, in my practitioner training, I teach the "language of the elements.. "Practicing that language is no different than practicing any foreign language. The more fluent they become, the more proficient they are at knowing where to "tap.". As a result, they will be able to walk into an environment and "diagnose" any environmental imbalance and, know what to suggest to remedy it
Kris: How do your students practice that new language? Are there exercises like the ones in your book?
Terah: Yes. I give them a worksheet and I tell them, no reaching out. You know how our eyes want to reach out and grab. As we learn this new language, a kind of desperation can happen, a seeking to see. I ask students to allow the environment to come to them, to relax and see. When that happens, they can easily list the elements they see and work with them. This is different than how we were taught to learn before. As little children we allowed things to come to us, yet we learned in school that it was necessary to grab information — from the blackboard or the bulletin board, etc. In this work, we return again to truly "receiving" with all of our senses.
Kris: Do you work with your students on any particular practice for quieting the mind?
Terah: We talk about cultivating chi. For some people it may be a bath, and for others it may be running ten miles. Everyone learns from each other. Yes, sitting quietly at least once a day makes sense for almost anybody. Perhaps a walking meditation works for someone else. In my classes, I request that people cultivate their chi in whatever way works best for them: tai chi, yoga, any exercise, rest, sleep, breathing, journaling, etc.
Kris: So chi can be equated to "life force"?
Terah: Yes, and as practitioners, they will be working with lots of stressed out people who have no clue about chi cultivation. This information and wisdom can be part of helping to balance personal lifestyle as much as homes
Kris: You write about standing in a hallway and "feeling the chi.. " You must be very sensitive yourself; was that a skill you honed, or innate sensing?
Terah: It started as an innate sensing. Actually, I often start off a lecture in my classes saying, "You will recognize yourself as I speak, because you are already doing some, if not a lot, of what you will hear in this lecture.. "And, what Feng Shui did for me, more than anything, is give me a language to speak about what I was feeling!
Kris: Funny, because it all seems pretty complex; yet you break it down into elements, then into nourishing vs. controlling cycles of the elements, and suddenly I actually believe I understand what's going on here: simply understanding a bigger picture of life force.
Terah: Yes! And that means putting on my "Feng Shui eyes" because it is a different way of looking. You "have the feeling" and now you can describe in language something that other people can "tag.. "So, now that you have the feeling, what should you do about it?. That becomes your Feng Shui homework!
Kris: Exactly! In fact, our editor wanted me to find out what any of us could do, right now, to prove to ourselves that this works? I think he's asking for homework, eh?
Terah: Great! There is a Chinese saying: "If you want a change in your life, move 27 things in your environment.. "More precisely, if you want to experience a positive change in your life, try this: Choose a room in your home and look at what is there now — the furnishings, the art, etc. As you look at each item, decide whether you really like it. Does it make you feel comfortable? What is it "saying" to you? Remove or replace any item that you sincerely don't like, isn't comfortable, or has negative memories or associations attached to it. Replace these items with things that you truly love, are comfortable with, and that act as positive environmental "affirmations" for you on a daily basis. Once this is done, watch your life change for the better! This idea is explained in much more detail in The Western Guide to Feng Shui.. Let me give you something to try at work, too; one important thing is to have all the primary seating facing the door, so turn desks around to face the doors. Then, using those "elemental eyes" we talked about, see what you have surrounded yourself with! Look to see: are you loving all the things around you? Then, of course, there's the clutter issue. Ask where in your life there is "less than excellence" — a place where you might want a little more energy, where energy is not flowing, etc. Clutter can stop the flow
Kris: After reading your book, I did make several changes in my home office and it simply feels better! Taking stuff off the back of doors was so simple, and, indeed, helped make the energy flow more smoothly throughout our home! However, I have a tendency to "collect," and I still have one pile — is that okay?
Terah: Well, I think that piles are like security blankets. There's just enough chaos to make us feel grounded and "in life"! There is a big difference between active chaos and passive chaos. People who are really involved and engaged in their lives will almost always have a little bit of active chaos around them. The point is to keep it going, rather than it collecting and becoming unconscious and "still.. "It's something I had to learn because when I first got into this I was a "clutterbug" too! What I have found is that the more I give away, and the more I let go, the more magnificence flows into my life. It's something that people have to trust at first, because they may not have had that experience, yet it is profound what a difference this made in my life. I simply wasn't a clogged system anymore — the nourishment was flowing beautifully in my life. It's great!
Kris: I noticed your acknowledgment to Louise Hay; what's the connection?
Terah: She attended an evening presentation I was giving four or five years ago, and she simply fell in love with Feng Shui. We "Feng Shuied" her home and, because of my plantscape background, we also filled a huge area inside her home with interior plants. As we worked, we realized we were both avid gardeners, so we would pile into her truck in our gardening clothes and go off to get worm castings and do serious "down and dirty" work! We struck up a great friendship; one day I was telling her about these amazing experiences I was having in my work and she said, "I hope you're writing those things down.. "About a week later, she called and said, "Hay House [her publishing company] has decided to publish a book on Feng Shui, and you have first crack at it," so my publisher came before the book. That was the unfolding.. See, I believe that when people are doing what they love to do, that's how life is. Since I've been doing Feng Shui, life just presents one thing after another to share.
Kris: There are so many books and teachers out there on this subject; are there any guidelines for purchasing books or hiring masters, or any dangers to avoid?
Terah: I do hear stories of people sitting on the floor in the bookstore surrounded by all the books that are available. Spend ten minutes with the book and see if it's going to serve you. There are basically two types of Feng Shui: compass Feng Shui and chi flow Feng Shui. They are very different, and I prefer to work with the holistic approach of chi flow Feng Shui. In terms of hiring someone to work with you, I would always ask a practitioner for two or three references. Feng Shui appointments can be expensive — $200 up to $2000 (or more in a corporate situation!); I would want to make certain that the practitioner(s) "worked" for me!
Kris: Can you see a future where Feng Shui will be commonplace all over these United States?
Terah: Definitely! We have a lot of environmental healing to do. We have a lot of homes built now which are Feng Shui nightmares; a nicer way to say it would be, "Feng Shui challenges.. "People living in those homes would, ideally, like to have their lives flowing in the most excellent manner. They'll need someone to come in to help them make decisions on how to balance and enhance the positive life force in their surroundings. I often see suburbs where, throughout the entire suburb, the houses are missing the "wealth" area or the "marriage and love" area.
Kris: When you say it's missing, what does that mean?. Terah: Well, they're all L-shaped houses. In Feng Shui, that's considered an incomplete shape, so it's like a body without an arm or a leg, to get back to our original analogy. That person has a life, yet it is changed as a result of not having a limb. The same is true for a home. The more we can balance the body or the home, the more likely the occupants can have a full and wonderful life. Day by day, the absence of a wealth or of a love and marriage area wears away at the essential chi of their lives, like water on a stone.
Kris: Originally on hearing that kind of description, I thought that meant you had to add on a room or something. Not so, right?
Terah: Actually, many people can do their own Feng Shui, if they want. Simply take The Western Guide and say, "Okay... L-shaped house...I have a yard...I could put in a beautiful water fountain, some rocks and flowers, a tree, a bench ... I can make that feel like it is part of the house!" That's what we want. We want to draw the chi in, make it feel like it's part of the overall design of the house. That's all we have to do a lot of times! Feng Shui makes people feel powerful, and they don't have to go out and put a $30,000 recreation room on the back of the house!
Terah Kathryn Collins is currently training Feng Shui practitioners through the Western School of Feng Shui; call (619) 793-0945 for details. She will be presenting her workshop, entitled "Dancing Ch'i to Ch'i," on Saturday, April 5, from 10 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Bellevue Inn in Bellevue, WA, and again, at the same times, on Sunday, April 6, at The Red Lion Jantzen Beach in Portland. Tickets for the Seattle workshop are available by phone or in person from East West Bookshop, (206) 523-3726, and Stonehouse Bookstore (Redmond), (206) 883-7825. For the Portland event, tickets are available in person from Centergee's Books and Gifts or New Renaissance Bookshop, or by phone from Fastixx's, (800) 992-8499. These seminars are co-sponsored by The New Times.
Kris Kegg is an artist and educator living in Bellevue, WA
A natural health advocator, she and her partner, Patrick Snetsinger, recently formed their own company, Healthy Steps, which can be reached by phone at (206) 646-1040, or by e-mail at <firstname.lastname@example.org>For more on Feng Shui, please see Nydia Fabian's article, "A Blueprint for the Future," on page 24 of this issue of The New Times