All practitioners of feng shui, regardless of the school they trained with or the philosophies they follow, adhere to a few common principles that we all acknowledge are crucial elements of feng shui. In fact, if you’ve ever read a feng shui book or tried to apply feng shui principles to your own space, you’ve most likely been exposed to these theories because they are so ubiquitous to the practice. These core concepts are Tao, Yin/Yang, Chi, and the Five Elements, and all practitioners rely heavily on these four philosophical underpinnings to guide us when reviewing a space. In this upcoming series, I’ll explore the basics of each concept so you'll have a deeper understanding of how feng shui can bring about a new awareness of our environments and help us create spaces that truly support us.
To start, let's explore the concept of Tao, which means connectedness.
What is Tao?
Tao (pronounced “Dow”) refers to the way that things are in the natural order and the way in which the universe works. Tao helps us understand that all things in our world are connected and dependent upon each other. We live within a huge, global system, with each part of that system being reliant on the others. In order for each part to thrive, Tao teaches that we as humans need to acknowledge a dependence on and connection to the whole. Tao encourages us not to go against the laws of nature but, instead, to try and live in harmony with them.
Although most people equate Tao with a connection to nature and the natural world, in feng shui, Tao also refers to our interconnectedness with our families, friends, communities, professional networks, cultures, beliefs, or any positive human-made element. It is our connection to the surrounding world, whatever that may mean for each one of us. Tao encourages us to maintain and foster our connections instead of detaching and living in isolation (which isn't natural for us as humans, anyway). The concept of Tao is so important because without a feeling of connection to other people, our communities, our principles, nature, or (yes) our homes, we lose our sense of center. We can feel like we’re struggling to fulfill our purpose in life, our mental health may take a dive, or our best efforts to succeed might feel thwarted. In short, we need to stay connected to life-giving forces in order to have any sense of balance and harmony in our lives, and (as you’ve probably guessed by now) achieving balance and harmony are the ultimate feng shui goals.
Speaking of Feng Shui…
Because feng shui holds the person at the center of all experiences (this may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s about how YOU feel in a space, not the space by itself without anyone experiencing it), Tao has to be evaluated for a specific person in a specific place. The center of a room (it’s “heart”) and the gravity of that room (how that room is perceived and used), make up the “spirit” or Tao of a place, and the Tao of a place is really about uncovering how a room connects a person to what is being experienced emotionally. A good question to ask yourself to help understand Tao in feng shui is, how does this space make me feel? Or, how am I affected by what's going on in this space?
As you can probably imagine, then, the Tao of a space is influenced by all the things that make up a room: the placement of furniture, the view from the windows, the choices of art and knick knacks, the lighting, the selection of furniture styles, colors, patterns, and how many of our senses are engaged. The essence of Tao in feng shui is the way a space is experienced by people in a setting.
And it’s important to keep in mind that Tao influences are everywhere. Tao encompasses what is seen and what is unseen, and in every environment, Tao works through the observed reality of what is in a space as well as what is absent from that space (and how this makes us feel). The chart below will help clarify this idea:
The very essence of feng shui is Tao adjustment: simply by changing our spaces (and without forcing anything to happen or trying to control the outcome), we can influence the course of events in our lives.
How Can We Bring Tao into Our Lives and Homes?
Remember, Tao is about maintaining a feeling of connectedness, so it can be anything from opening your window and breathing in fresh air to displaying your diploma on the wall in your office or listening to your parent’s favorite song while you cook dinner. Opening your window reconnects you to nature (one of the best ways to elevate our moods, relax, and recharge), displaying your diploma will remind you of what you have accomplished (raising self-esteem and confidence), and listening to your parent’s favorite song reminds you of them, keeps you connected to your familial roots, and creates a sense of warmth and community.
Tao teaches us about living in sync with nature and being aware of what we feel (or don’t feel) connected to. Making sure our spaces have rich Tao connections is fundamental to bringing anything else in our lives into balance. Check out the next post about another core feng shui concept, Yin/Yang!