Published: June 30th 2010June 30th 2010
It is already the wrong journey; wrong in more ways than one.
Despite ‘5,000 years of history’, and despite my having paid for a whole university degree through its practice, my strong feeling is that Feng Shui, and everything that goes along with it, is a load of old baloney. My intuition is that the Ba Gua is a nonsensical symbol with a certain amount of seductive mathematical grace about it.
Obviously certain mystical practices have uses, but most of them don’t. Doubtless it is a jolly good thing for people to gather in temples and sing together. No doubt some songs do them more good than others. There is no uncertainty that for a great many people, sitting in a room with friends and neighbours, being assailed about sin by a supposedly celibate pedophile or terrorist recruitment advisor does them no end of good. That does not mean the life after death will be more pleasing than life before it, nor that Jesus wants you for a sunbeam. Doubtless, twenty minutes in the lotus position recanting “AUM” makes you feel better than ten minutes in front of the telly eating Doritos, especially in the long term. And I am sure “AUM” is a much better syllable than “VARK” or “schmig”. If you talk to your plants, you probably pay them more attention than if you talk to your phone. It’s the wrong journey, because the Ba Gua is bullshit.
We are humans. We are not especially interested in truth. We like fiction. Drama. Mystery. When offered the myth of God or the fact of the Abyss, almost everyone in the whole of human history has chosen the myth. So, the Feng Shui map is bullshit, but it is engaging bullshit, and it’s the only map I have.
Crucial to the Ba Gua are eight directions and eight seasons. This is the second way the journey is wrong. If I am going to explore China, using the Ba Gua as my map, then I will be spending the winter solstice in the town of Eiin Qi, Inner Mongolia, at forty below zero. It is hard for me to see that as the right thing to do, but I suppose many other people will be doing it and for almost all of them, it will be neither the first nor the last time.
Unlike almost every country you care to mention, China has a ‘centre’. And like almost everything in China, it is official. And like most official things in China, no one seems very keen to explain to me how it was arrived at. Defining the centre of irregular shapes is no easy matter. My guess is that it was defined in one of three possible ways.
1. Mao stuck a pin in the map
2. Deng stuck a pin in the map
3. A team of scientists, statisticians and military strategists worked on the project for a number of years before cutting out a map of China and folding it in half twice.
Whatever the methodology, a Ba Gua must have a centre and who am I to argue?
One of the primary rules of Feng Shui is not to be too fussy. Do your best. Feng Shui is a tool. The craftsman is not the slave of his tools.
From the official centre I plotted courses to the four cardinal points and the four secondary points. I stopped when the line ran off the edge of China and into the sea, into Russia, into Mongolia, into a vague undefined area of darkness around the top of India and into Vietnam. I then looked around for a settlement of some reasonable size, as near to the point of exit as possible. No Great Walls; no Forbidden Cities; no terracotta armies; no panda farms; no air burials, not yet at least.
And there I shall go, to spend an 8th of a year, looking for white tigers in the Taklamakan, seeking love in Tibet, and getting grip on family life amongst the solar panels of Rizhao. At noon on midsummer’s day, staring into a fire I have built on the banks of the Red River, it is posited that I may find even myself.
This journey is a timeless cycle and I can start anytime, though not anywhere. Anytime I can get a little cash together. And there is the third way the journey is wrong. To really use the Ba Gua as my map, I should start at in the North - number 1 - in midwinter and then find my way to the South East (2) for summer-into-autumn, then to the East (3) for spring. I should walk. But that journey would take several years, and probably kill me, which would not be such a bad thing, I suppose, but no one is going to sump up an advance for a little book if the writer will die in the writing of it, before he even finishes.
But this Ba Gua thing is my tool and my map, not my master. The only master here is me.