Form Energy:Ancient Wisdom in Modern Application
We live in a world of manifestation: we are surrounded by things, both living and non-living. And we, too, are one of these manifestations. We are also surrounded by forms, shapes, colors and substances; our senses respond to these surroundings and we are affected by them.
Everyone agrees that we are affected by our environment. On a very simple level, this is why we pick a certain table in restaurants or find certain rooms in our home more congenial than others. Most environmental factors can be quantified. One very influential factor, important but not quantifiable, is that of the physiological and psychological effect of the forms that surround us. By this I mean such things as the shape of the room, building or space, the configuration of the furniture, and so on. To demonstrate this point, consider the images of a circle and a square. Can you sense a difference in the feeling you get from these two images? We usually do have different responses to these different shapes. If a flat image can have an effect on you, what then of three-dimensional forms? And what of the more complex forms that surround us?
In Chinese metaphysics, a force know as “Chi” is the very essence that composes the whole Universe. All forms, all manifestations come from chi. Every physical manifestation, then, is the product of chi, and the chi that manifests as form can be sensed from that form. For our purposes here, we will simply use the term “form energy” to refer to chi.
In ancient times, through observations of natural phenomena like the change of seasons, the cycle of day and night and the changes in society, scholars and sages concluded that everything in nature contains the polarized dual forces of Yin and Yang. These two forces or principles are mutually inter-dependent: they enhance, construct, constrain and transform into each other.
Everything is constantly in the process of transformation, from chi to form and form to chi. How can we understand the ways in which these changes take place? Again, through observation. The ancients noticed that there were five different energy mechanisms or modes of change, and they used the words Fire, Wood, Water, Earth and Metal to represent them. These are known as the Five Element principles and they encompass all varieties of change: growth (Wood); radiation and dynamic expansion (Fire); spreading and penetration (Water); consolidation and coagulation (Earth); and condensation and concentration of force (Metal). They too have mutually enhancing and constraining inter-relationships. Yin-Yang and Five Elements – these are the natural principles. Once they are really understood, everything becomes much clearer as one sees them manifesting through forms.
Form energy affects us at all scales. The largest scale we can observe is that of landscapes. Generally, landscapes include tall mountains, smaller hills, flat regions and bodies of water. To go from tall mountains to low water is to go from one extreme to another. One of these extremes is yang and the other extreme is yin. Everything in the universe contains this duality of yin and yang, and where yin and yang are balanced, abundant energy manifests. Where land meets ocean or river there is likely to be flat ground, which is why most cities begin in such places.
Mountains are very stable and strong (yin) so they become metaphors for stability, control and support. Water is dynamic and flowing (yang) and is often associated with trade and business so it becomes a metaphor for commerce and economics. In a simple formula, we might say that mountains are linked with power and bodies of water are linked with money.
Let’s take these metaphors and do some quick map studies to see how landscape and environment affect the energy of a country. Take the United States, which is between two big bodies of water – the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans – and has the five Great Lakes in the north. The abundance of water is linked to an abundance of money. The two powerful mountain ranges in the east and west signify political and military power. The vast open spaces of the great prairie provide for an openness of mind that leads Americans to be more imaginative, creative and generous. (This also means that they can be more naïve.)
Let’s also look at Japan. Again there is an abundance of water, reflected in fortune and wealth. There is also Mount Fuji, an internationally recognized symbol of Japan. This clear, strong symbol provides a strong national identity. However, because of the limited flat space, squeezed between the mountain and the water, there is only a limited amount of space to act as a buffer. The means that the people tend to be less secure and more protective. The US government has complained for decades that the Japanese are too protective of their markets. But how can they avoid it? The necessity is clear in the landscape.
Flat space is very limited in Japan as the landscape moves quickly between water and mountain, between one extreme and another. This fact expresses itself in the Japanese personality, which is highly polarized and tends to swing quickly from one extreme to another: most tranquil and most violent, most ugly and most beautiful. Japan’s economy may be manifesting some difficulties now, but this already manifested in the land some years back when the snow pack of Mount Fuji started to disappear.
These examples indicate how landscape does affect a country’s political, economic and military power, as well as the characteristics of the people who live there. This is also true on smaller scales: regions, cities, neighborhoods, houses and even individual rooms within a house.
In ancient times, when people studied form energy, they carefully studied the quality and quantity of these four features – mountains, hills, flat regions and water – and how they coordinate, because different coordination produces different forms, which in turn emanate different energies and different impacts. It is easier to understand the quality and quantity of the features individually, but what is the ideal coordination and arrangement of these four features?
Chinese always look to nature for guidance. For human dwellings, the best model is the human body. The spine supports the back, protection comes from the arms and legs, there is open space in front (in the face) and energy in the center (chest and abdomen). In this model, we see the analogies of the spine to the mountains, arms and legs to the smaller hills, open space in front (face) to the bodies of water, and energy center to the flat regions where mountains and water meet. Naturally, then, an ideal house becomes our energy center and it would follow the same pattern: support behind, compatible neighbors to left and right, the open ground in front.
Just as landscape affects the whole country, the surroundings of the house naturally affect the health and quality of life of the people who live there. But people seldom realize the actual impact that form energy has on us. When people move to a new house and get sick or experience a decrease in energy or an increase in quarrels, they always tend to connect this change with something visible rather than with the invisible energy force. (Of course, to a Feng Shui master’s trained eye, form energy is also visible.)
This is why it is important to see beyond the visible form to the presence of ch’i. If anything goes wrong, we need to trace the problem to its source in ch’i, instead of just through surface phenomena. In this way, we can find the solutions that will restore balance to problems with health, relationships and finances.
Nowadays, when people talk about nature, they are more likely to talk about it from an ecological point of view, focused on that which is visible. Much of the energy we have been discussing – natural patterns, natural orders and principles – is not visible, since it lies behind and within what is visible. This is why form energy is the basis of all Feng Shui studies: in order to understand and live in harmony with nature, to become healthy individuals and create a harmonious society, we must base our understanding and our actions on the level of chi.