On Interior Design, Biophilic Design, and the Five Elements of Feng Shui
Ancient and global modern design come together in this down-to-earth workbook and guide for home interiors.
Fun with feng shui. The Five Elements of feng shui refer to an ancient Chinese system that brings the cycles and benefits of nature to your home interior. Part spiritual growth workbook and part treatise on the power of nature, Creating Luminous Spaces brings an energy boost to home interior design.
Nature’s elements (of style). Discover which of nature’s elements represents your energy. Should you enhance your home with natural light or a fish bowl? New organizational habits or tall, vertical lines? Featuring practical exercises, meditations, and real stories about clients and students, as you embark on this mind-body-spirit connection with your home, you’ll find out how:
- Indoor lighting and lighting design can strengthen the fire element
- Organizational behavior is influenced by the metal element
- Space planning with plants nourishes the wood element
If you have read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Feng Shui that Makes Sense, or The Holistic Home, and are ready to create a home-life balance and incorporate feng shui into your life, then you’ll love Creating Luminous Spaces.
About the Author
Maureen K. Calamia is a thought leader, educator, and practitioner in transforming homes through biophilic design and feng shui. Since 2008, she has served on the International Feng Shui Guild board. She is author of Creating Luminous Spaces and has written for The Huffington Post, Elephant Journal, MindBodyGreen, and OMTimes Magazine.
Maureen has spoken at and consulted with architects and interior designers, environmental science educators, and corporate staff in corporate, healthcare, and realty fields. She currently lives in St. James, NY with her husband and two children.
Visit Maureen at her website, www.luminous-spaces.com.
Read an Excerpt
Where Do We Start?
Don't you know yet? It's your light that lights the worlds.
An undisturbed natural habitat is in harmony. It has great luminosity. The trees in such a place have created a strong web of connection among their own as well as the other trees in the land. They communicate and have a complicated system of teamwork that we are only starting to understand.
The wildlife is in harmony with the land and each other. The land provides just enough food to support the wildlife and the food chain that has developed over millennia. The ecosystem constantly strives for this balance, course-correcting itself as needed.
When humans entered this habitat millions of years ago, we were part of this balance and part of the ecosystem's ability to course-correct. But as we developed agricultural practices, we outgrew our dependence on the habitat for survival. We were, for the first time, making significant impacts on the land, which allowed us to increase our population. We inevitably upset the inherent balance. Our activities to develop our infrastructure and protect our "ownership" have disturbed the ecosystem and have led to fragmentation and lowered the natural energy of the land.
Although some indigenous tribes and cultures still use ancient ways to determine best placement of structures and ritual and ceremony to honor and respect the land, the only care in modern building practice is toward efficiency and profit. The majority of our homes were built post-WWII, long after industrialization and the development of artificial building materials. These materials have increased efficiency, convenience, and lowered cost, but they do little to enhance the luminosity of our homes.
Many of the conditions of our homes are set: Our homes are on the land it is on — whether it was honored or not. The design and materials it was built with — whether beautiful or used for efficiency's sake, whether handcrafted or machine made — may not be things we can change. So what can we do to make our home a more luminous space?
There are two significant aspects completely within our control:
1. What we put inside our homes physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
2. What we hold inside of us.
OUR HOMES HAVE A POWERFUL IMPACT ON OUR LIVES
Research proves that we are connected to our built environment in unseen ways. Environmental psychology, a branch of psychology established in the mid-twentieth century, studies this connection and the impact of our environments on our cognitive functioning, behavior, and physiology.
Color has a dramatic impact on our emotions and behavior. The color red energizes and even sometimes increases aggression, whereas the color green is calming to most. Blue flooring can sometimes disorient people on a subconscious level as unstable because of its association to water. And dark ceilings make the room feel more closed in, like a cave. Lighting, decor, and many other interior design details can have a huge effect on how we feel in those spaces. Not only do they influence how we feel, act, and behave in the moment, but when we spend time in them longer term, they will have a great impact on our lives.
The fact that we are so intimately engaged with the spaces in our homes makes the psychology of home even more profound.
THE IMPORTANCE OF NATURE
Since natural environments emit the highest quality of light, incorporating nature into our spaces will increase their luminosity. That is, we should actually bring the outdoors in.
In the 1970s, the psychologist Erich Fromm coined the term "biophilia" to describe humanity's inherent need to connect with all things living. E. O. Wilson, biologist, and Stephen Kellert, professor emeritus at Yale University, coauthored several books on biophilia more recently that have brought this subject to prominence among environmentalists, educators, the health care sector, and even the architectural design industry. The design movement that emerged from this research, biophilic design, is in many ways akin to feng shui. The goal of each discipline is to create a space that will enhance well-being for its inhabitants through a greater connection to nature.
However, how each discipline approaches the end goal couldn't be more different. Biophilic design incorporates a series of well-documented and research-based guidelines for architects and designers. Feng shui provides a philosophy of life that was created from observing the natural world thousands of years ago. One is tangible and finite, and the other is often intangible and intuitive. I like to say biophilic design is the yang, and feng shui is the yin.
For instance, with biophilic design we would use natural materials like wood and brick, the colors of nature, and aspects of nature such as natural light and fresh air. But feng shui speaks to a deeper layer of nature that is communicated through an esoteric language of yin and yang and the five transformations of energy, also known as the Five Elements of Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water.
Feng shui is rooted in Taoist principles, the ideology that gave rise to the religion of Taoism, and was developed perhaps three to four thousand years ago. One of the two main religions of China, Taoism embodies the belief in the wisdom of nature and its cyclic influences on human affairs. The natural powers of the Cosmic Trinity — the realms of Heaven, Humanity, and Earth — have a corresponding influence on our reality. Their forces interconnect and influence each other and are essential to understanding the movement of energy and patterns of the universe. The fundamental forces of nature include the flow of chi, the theory of yin and yang, and the five natural elements.
In our explorations together, I will incorporate aspects of both feng shui and biophilic design and actually present a merged, synergistic view: Since yin is nothing without its counterpart yang, the two together — the ancient and the modern, the feminine and the masculine — have an important role in creating more beauty, harmony, and balance in our daily lives.
WHAT ARE ENERGY AND CONSCIOUSNESS?
The term energy can mean many things. I am referring to it as chi or life force energy in Eastern cultures. Energy is invisible, yet can be more powerful than physical matter. Energy encompasses all matter and what we call empty space.
The term consciousness is just as broad and vague. It relates to being awake and aware of our surroundings. But from a traditional viewpoint, this awareness is confined to physical surroundings. In a more profound way, consciousness is being awake and aware to the invisible, spiritual side of existence, as well.
Consciousness is actually the "data" being transmitted by energy. It is easily picked up and felt by intuitive people, yet we all are affected by consciousness, whether we realize it or not.
We tap into the energy and consciousness of an environment all the time. We do it when we notice an office is stuffy or a restaurant feels inviting. We do it with people as well. We can sense that someone is helpful or when someone feels threatening. We developed this intuition over millennia to make snap decisions about a situation, a person, or an environment because it might mean life or death.
Even though a great deal of research has been conducted to understand consciousness, we still know so little. The presence of consciousness now is believed to be with animals, trees, plants, and even water. These "beings" interact with the consciousness in the energy fields around them, and react to events and experiences, just like us. In some fringes of science, consciousness itself is extended to inanimate objects.
You may already recognize a level of consciousness in your home. You may have felt it, as I did, when I first saw my house. There is a subtle welcoming I sense when I come home from a long day away. I have great affection for my home and show my appreciation when I touch the doors and when I hold the wooden rail as I climb the stairs. I will guide you to feel that connection if you don't already have one.
THE DARK AND LIGHT PRINCIPLE
The dark and light principle, also known as yin and yang, deals with complementary opposites. Yin represents the feminine, yielding, quiet, and soft, whereas yang depicts the masculine, active, loud, and hard. These opposites are nothing on their own. They only have meaning relative to one another. For instance, you cannot understand quiet without having loud. You cannot understand light without having experienced darkness.
The yin and yang principle is an amazingly simple yet complex tool that we use every day in our lives. It is in constant play in our homes: When we turn up the light in a room, we look for the balance between pitch dark and blinding light. We adjust the thermostat to get a balance between frigid cold and suffocating heat. When we decorate a room, many of us intuitively strike a balance between yin and yang in the furnishings, window treatments, lighting, flooring, colors. The hardness of wood floors (yang) is wonderfully paired with area rugs (yin). A round dining table complements the hard angles of the dining room. Brightly colored accent pillows work well with a beige sofa.
Striking a comfortable balance between yin and yang is an important part of feeling more connected to nature. Balance is inherent in nature. The ancient sages created a language to explain and mimic nature for our own comfort, security, and well-being.
FIVE NATURAL ELEMENTS
There are fiery sparks of the world soul, of the light of nature, dispersed or sprinkled in and throughout the structure of the great world into all the fruits of the elements everywhere.
— alchemical text
In the Eastern perspective, everything in creation is possible through the interaction of the Five Elements of Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. These Elements are more than material. They each embody a different type of energy that together make up a catalyst for change and transformation. Water is descending, Wood is uprising, Fire is ascending, Earth is stable, and Metal is contracting.
The Eastern Elements differ in number from the Western Elements of fire, water, air, and earth. The Western system uses tangible, material, stable categories, while the Eastern system looks at the changes or energy "transforming" from one state to the next. They are more appropriately called the Five Phases or Transformations of Chi, as the material itself is of lesser importance.
Through observation, we learn the wisdom of how nature works and how those Elements support, nourish, drain, control, or dominate to create change. For example, we can see the wonder of a long-awaited rainstorm (Water) on parched land (Fire). Plant life (Wood) springs into life; leaves green and shiny, healthy and strong. Their color and scent are most vibrant. Or how a lava flow (Fire) consumes everything in its path, including buildings and vegetation (Wood).
It is the chi emanating from each of these five stages that feeds the universe. Everything that exists in the cosmos can be classified by these Elements, and each has inherent qualities that can be used to describe it.
Wood is the vegetation covering the Earth, providing nourishment to most creatures and beings on the planet. Wood provides shade and oxygen. It provides a sense of vitality of the land. It is springtime and the morning sunrise.
Fire brings us light and the warmth of the sun as well as the hearth. It is the magma rising up through the Earth, breaking the surface, and spilling over onto the Earth. Fire sweeps through the forest, feeding on the undergrowth and freeing up necessary nutrients for a thriving ecosystem. Fire consumes what is in its path, but it is also the seed process for new creation. The mastery of Fire distinguishes us from all other living creatures. It is excitement and connection. It is summer and noontime.
Earth is the soil and sand we walk upon and the abundant rocks in the Earth created from millions of years of compression, heat, and erosion. Earth is the horizontal surface, the ground beneath our feet. Earth gives us stability and groundedness. It is early fall and late afternoon.
Metal is the precious minerals found deep within the Earth. These minerals nourish our water, providing us with necessary nutrients. The ultimate and most coveted of metals is gold, which represents the alchemical process of turning soil into something pure and precious. Metal is also connected to the heavens, stars, and sky. Metal is stardust. It is said to represent the spiritual path from awareness to enlightenment. It is refined and noble. It is late fall and early evening.
Water quenches thirst, allows for reflection. It can be deep and still like a lake or wild and flowing like a waterfall. It connects the rhythm of our bodies to the ocean. Blood flowing through our veins is like the water flowing on the planet. Where there is water, there is life. The moon is also water energy. It is winter and midnight.
In the following chapters, we explore the concepts of chi, yin and yang, and the Five Elements more deeply.
Every Space Has Energy and Consciousness
For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes.
— Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back
In my workshops, I ask for a volunteer to come up to the front of the room and stand about ten feet away from me. With copper dowsing rods in hand, I approach them slowly until the rods open up. I explain that the rods are an ancient tool used to find underground water and they are also used to measure energy. The rods open when they touch the edge of the volunteer's energy field. You can see the childlike wonder in their eyes, as children are open and curious to the inner, hidden workings of the world.
I then ask the volunteer to think about something really marvelous — something that makes them very happy. I repeat the procedure, but this time, the rods open up sooner — usually a foot or two farther away than they did before. The expansion of energy is palpable. This simple exercise demonstrates more than words ever could how people's thoughts have an impact on their energy.
What the dowsing rods are actually reacting to is the openness of the heart chakra. There are seven main chakras, or energy wheels, within the human body from the base of the spine to the crown of the head. When we think positively, we are actually opening our hearts and embracing the world at large. When we feel fear, anxiety, anger, or depression, our heart chakra closes to the world, and we project these negative emotions. Negative energy weakens our immune system and our physical bodies. Consistent negative thoughts and behavior will lead to illness.
This energy is also known as chi or life force energy in Eastern cultures. Energy is invisible and subtle yet is often more powerful than any physical matter. Energy encompasses all matter, nonmatter, and what we call empty space.
Acknowledging that energy pervades the entire universe is essential to the understanding of feng shui, the opposing forces of yin and yang, and the prevalence of the Five Elements. Each living being, rock, building, and piece of artwork contains an energy field, and its energy is in constant interaction with everything else in its surroundings. It isn't simply through our five senses that we engage with our environments. We certainly are impacted by our vision, smells, textures, warmth (or lack of it), as well as sounds and even tastes. However, it is the invisible energy that is often the most powerful and impactful to our experience; mostly because, counter-intuitively, since energy is invisible it is easy to dismiss. Christopher Day, architect and author of Places of the Soul said, "Most of the time we do not notice our surroundings and then they can work on us with no conscious resistance on our part."
How can we consciously resist what we do not notice? Because we become so used to our surroundings, we are often not consciously engaging with them. They become a backdrop in our lives. Think about this for a moment. Have you ever had someone point something out in your home that you truly didn't notice? Perhaps it was a pile of boxes that have been in the corner of your family room for months that you forgot about, creating stagnant and blocked energy in the room. Or, perhaps the front door is broken, which contributes to poor energy at this vital point connecting us to life force and opportunities. At times, we become numb to our surroundings. It's perfectly human. But that doesn't mean that their influence in our lives decreases.
Energy has the potential to make us feel the full range of emotions. Heavy energy can make us feel sick or depressed. Sometimes we can sense the energy of a room after someone had an argument. The first time I felt the energy in a room was a profound experience for me.
Excerpted from "Creating Luminous Spaces"
Copyright © 2018 Maureen K. Calamia.
Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
How to Use This Book xiii
Part 1 The Secret of Luminous Spaces
Chapter 1 Where Do We Start? 3
Chapter 2 Every Space Has Energy and Consciousness 11
Chapter 3 Our Homes Mirror Our Lives 29
Chapter 4 Bringing the Light In 51
Part 2 The Path of the Five Natural Elements
Chapter 5 The Wood Element 73
Chapter 6 The Fire Element 93
Chapter 7 The Earth Element 113
Chapter 8 The Metal Element 139
Chapter 9 The Water Element 161
Part 3 Creating Luminous Spaces
Chapter 10 What Is Your True Nature? 183
Chapter 11 Creating Your Luminous Spaces 199
Luminous Spaces Community 219