Saturday, February 2, 2013

Ariel Joseph Towne, the Feng Shui Guy, talks about Serene Makeover: Inner Edition, making yourself over from the inside out, and so much more

I have friends who have Feng Shui'd their homes and claim amazing results. In fact, this book, Serene Makeover: Inner Edition,  was put in my hands by the brilliant novelist Gina Sorell, who was sure I'd love it, and she was right. The book offers practical and easy ways to make your world better. But don't just listen to me. The Huffington post calls it "a delightful guide to the inner and outer workings of energy." Thanks so much, Ariel for being here.

How did you get involved with Feng Shui? 
I’ve always been sensitive to energy. As a kid, I could sense the feelings of a room. The tension in a room. Or the happiness. And those feelings weren’t always connected to the people that were in there. Sometimes it was as if I was feeling the history of a room. Sometimes it felt good and sometimes it didn’t feel so good to me.

As a teenager I would move my furniture around every few months. Or change all the artwork. Things might be messy when I would get busy and then all of a sudden I would feel the strong need to do a sudden purge, or clean everything from top to bottom. It was like an itch that I needed to scratch. But at the time I had no idea why.

It wasn’t until after I moved to California that I had ever heard the term feng shui. It was recommended to me after I moved into an apartment that I couldn’t afford. It was my first time ever living on my own and I was nervous. How would I pay for it all? Would I get lonely? How do I set up a whole space and not just a single room?

My feng shui master is Hawaiian. He came to my empty home and sat on my floor with me. I had no furniture. We spoke for almost five hours that day and it ended with a blessing. When it was finished, I told him that the chant he had been doing was something that my mom had taught me growing up. It was a Sanskrit blessing: Om Mani Padme Hum. It made me feel comforted. This was almost two years after my mom passed away and I felt like this feng shui was connecting me to her somehow. And it made me happy.

How and why did you decide to bring it to the people in such a playful and fun way? 
My feng shui master, Nate Batoon has an incredible sense of humor. He is always cracking jokes. I think that it makes it easier to learn when you are having fun. His most successful student to date (my friend and mentor) Karen Rauch Carter has an incredible sense of humor. Her book: Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life was the first book I ever read about feng shui. It is simple, profound and funny. I always recommend it to my clients. And when people started asking for my advice…I tried to read people. When did they tune out? When was the information overwhelming? I would get them to laugh and we would be back on track. As a result, these three qualities have always been part of my workshops and my consultations. Sometimes this work can bring up a lot of “stuff” for people. Laughter helps people make space to take in something new. 

When I first picked up the book, I thought it was going to be about rearranging my home, but it's much deeper--about rearranging myself!
Can you talk about that, please?
There are lots of books in the marketplace on how to arrange your home or business. Some of them are incredibly complicated and some of them are easier to follow, but they all address our outer environments.  If they made any reference to inside, it was in passing. Most of these books are “how to” set up our external environments.

After working with people for ten years I noticed certain patterns. Firstly, I noticed that people’s spaces are a reflection of what was going on inside of them. When they made changes in their homes it was because some part of their space wasn’t any longer being reflected on the outside. But then when we made these changes outside, it would affect the way they felt inside (more peaceful, more energized, happier, excited, passionate, etc)

Over time, people would get addicted to the positive results that followed our actions together. Sometimes they would think…if a few simple changes affected my life this profoundly, they surely more is better! So they would buy some bamboo flutes and money frogs and strings with coins on them and pretty soon their homes were filled with chachkis. And sometimes they would have further results, but sometimes they would just end up with a lot of clutter. There is always a change that follows feng shui actions, but clutter is never our friend. It is always the enemy of life force energy (or Chi.)

I also have a background as a life coach. This means that sometimes I work with people who want to set goals. These can be business goals, personal goals, group goals or individual goals. Sometimes I work with people who are undergoing a crisis of some kind (a relationship crisis, family crisis, healing crisis or even a crisis of faith.) I started to notice with my feng shui clients that at a certain point there were no more external changes that needed to be made. It was an internal journey. They had to dream bigger, let go of some inner noise or inner clutter. For back of a better term they had to learn to rewrite their stories. To focus on where they are going instead of where they have been.

All of this work tends to start with intention. This is the basis of feng shui, for me. It isn’t cookie cutter, not one size fits all. It is a deeply personal thing to each and every person I work with. And so I thought, if I were to write a book, what could it be about?

My first thought was that in the feng shui realm, there is much to be done before people even begin to “feng shui” their space. Before painting, before moving things around, before buying new items and putting them up, they need to make space. They need to figure out what about their space is working and what isn’t working. Sometimes people need to address their space on multiple layers before they even get to hanging a “feng shui cure.”

I went away on a trip to the Pacific Northwest on a writers journey with a buddy of mine for our birthdays. On that trip I wrote an e-book called: “Everything you need to know about feng shui before you buy any other feng shui book.” And there in my notes I wrote down that I wanted to write a two part book series, an outside in and inside out approach to feng shui. And as I was still developing a new take on how to explore our external space in a way that is different than any process in the marketplace…I wanted to start with the book about feng shui for your inner house. It was really clear to me that all great change starts within.

What's the biggest mistake most people make with their homes? Mindlessness. Placing things without any thought or reason as to why. We put something in the corner because we don’t know where else it goes. Or we put it there in boxes, hoping to get to it someday. Over time we start to become numb to parts of our space. We walk by things and ignore them. We promise to get to certain areas, but life takes over and before you know it: weeks, months or even years have passed.  And if we don’t use consciousness about our space, our space cannot support us. It cannot support our intentions, it cannot support our well-being. It won’t be as functional as it could be. Things will take longer to find. Eventually our space becomes a drain. It sucks our time, it ends up costing us money. Things get lost. We may not even be aware of how our space is making up feel anymore. Feng shui gives you permission to look at your space through new eyes and to shine the light of your consciousness onto your entire space. And then it gives you simple, step by step tools to create an empowered, balanced home that supports you on all levels.

What's one or two simple Feng Shui things anyone can do to improve their lives?
Make space. You can’t pick up something new in your life unless you put down what you are holding onto. It’s not always sexy to make time to declutter or organize…but it is sometimes more important to make space than anything else in feng shui. Because the space you are surrounded by relates to the potential energy you have at your disposal to manifest your wishes hopes and dreams. It’s not just your “stuff”, it’s your space, too.

Next, place everything in your home on purpose and with purpose. Even if you don’t know what a bagua is, or where your money corner is located…you can create mindfulness about your placement, your intention and your relationship with your stuff. Use your intuition. Everyone is already doing feng shui and they don’t even know it. They know if a space feels good to them or not. And they may not know exactly why, but if you pay attention to how a space feels you can use that inner compass to guide your actions.

I love your statement that "doubt is the gateway." Can you talk about that?
Sure.  I’m an East coaster. I’m from long island. New Yorkers are inherently skeptical at best and cynical at worst. I am, by nature, an optimist, but I have developed a pretty strong BS meter. I am open and willing to try something and if it works for me, I will do more of it. It took me seeing results from feng shui to put stock into it. It took me seeing the cause and effect of it working in my life and in the lives of everyone else who did it to trust that feng shui works. It is like gravity. It works whether people believe in it or not. In that same sense, our spaces have an impact on us, whether we believe in them or not. But belief is powerful. It adds mojo to our intentions. Without doubt there could be no faith…so healthy doubt is the gateway to eventually finding faith.

It reminds me of a story I heard about how some doctors at Johns Hopkins set out to disprove the power of prayer. They set up two groups of women who wanted to get pregnant. One group had some people praying for them and the other group was the control group. The people who were being prayed for had a significantly higher rate of getting pregnant than the control group. The doctors ended up being surprised and published their results. Their doubt ended up proving that faith in the unknown (prayer) actually has positive effects in our lives.

So, do you do long distance Feng Shui for people? 
Absolutely! I work with people all over the world. That’s the beauty of phones, laptops with cameras and all the technology we have at our disposal. I can use photos, a blueprint or a video to look at someone’s space. And they can walk me through their spaces with their iphones, Skype or Google Hangout. It’s amazing how small the world has become.

What's obsessing you now and why?
I am obsessed with noise pollution and what to do about it. For those of us living in cities, we are often subject to the dulcet tones of traffic, neighbors having sex or the sounds of apartment building living. Stomping, slamming doors and people doing Wii fit.

We can build soundproof spaces, and we can add white noise machines…but we have to find ways to co-exist so that it doesn’t affect our peace of mind, our well-being and ultimately our sleep.

I think this goes to the principle of making space. Where is the space in our lives for silence? We are always doing doing, going going and multitasking whenever possible. I think that if we want to stay productive, connect to our creativity, we need space, and silence. This also goes for inside as well as outside ;)

What question didn't I ask that I should have?
You didn’t ask what feng shui is 
Some people would say it is an ancient Chinese philosophy.
Some people would say that it means wind/water.
Feng shui is an evolving art and science. It means something different to us now in 2013 than it would have several thousand years ago. We are still focused on energy, but rather than worry about maurauders on horseback and Siberian winds, we might be concerned about EMF’s (electromagnetic frequencies) and our inability to let go of “stuff.” We have a multi trillion dollar storage industry. People as a society are more obese. We can’t seem to let go of anything, inside and out. And there is a connection.

Feng shui is an art because it is deeply personal to each person. It’s not one size fits all.
And it’s a science because we are learning that neuroscience and biology are able to make sense of some of these ancient feng shui principles. The shape of spaces affect the way our brains work. Color can affect our mood. And if we sit with our backs to the door, it can have long term health consequences. And now we know why.

Feng shui is also universal. Some of it’s principles are found in every culture on the planet. It isn’t a religion and some of the cultural superstitions that are talked about in books and feng shui circles may not apply to you personally, or life in 2013. It is always evolving. As are we. Our homes are alive and evolve over time. And if we think of our spaces as containers of life force energy it reminds me of the Force in star wars. 

So I wish you good luck and May The Force Be With You,  Always.


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