Richard Ashworth Feng Shui Diary: Inconstant Moon

Inconstant Moon.
“They tell you happiness is an achievable ambition.” Granola Suicide, Consumerist Healthcare” from “Skipping Breakfast”.

Early March; Water Snake Day, (still) Tiger Month, Dog Year, Full Moon.

Everyone knows that the Chinese New Year falls on February 4th. Everyone that is except the Chinese. As it happens, sometimes they down tools and party half-way through January and it can be as late as mid-February. This awkward irregularity is because their New Year is calculated not from the gan zhi cycle of Chinese Animals but like Easter – around a month from now as I write – by a combination of lunar and solar calendars. That is to say it is like Easter, an astrological computation.

The only constant is change which means that everything there is is either growing or decaying. That which is, in Bob Dylan’s words, not busy being born is busy dying; people, beasts, plants, rocks, planets, digestive biscuits, everything. Every minute, every hour brings change and so the Dragon dance has to fall on the right day if it is to bring in what the New Year offers. Many Chinese Masters publish extensive lists of which rituals to perform over the following few days. Getting it right matters. Some would say the timing makes or breaks the year. It’s pretty much literally life and death.

Last night the Arran wind was wild and in the light of a Full Moon blurred by clouds, the breakers were like white spears as they crested and fell. I love a gale but truth to tell, once or twice I was almost bowled over. Walking along the Brodick seafront was like pushing an icy wall and the gust is still sharp against my cheeks this morning as I take the Fisherman’s Path by the water’s edge. My feet slosh and slurp where the Water has settled on the causeway.

I’m listening to Indigo Faelan Azidahaka a.k.a Granola Suicide’s Skipping Breakfast, aching music about the experience of the young, homeless and gender-free. It’s not expert and it’s lo-fi, so you can hear breathing and the squeak of fingers moving on frets. But it’s so real. There’s no pretence here. And one more thing – there’s something I can only call faith in these songs. And I’m not sure that’s what was intended. Which makes the unpolished harmony of the double-tracked voice all the more touching.

The waves aren’t so turbulent this morning but I have to stop short and turn around after a while because great rafts of the causeway have submerged overnight. This exceptionally deep water is the “spring” tide of the Full Moon. My DMs will withstand a couple of inches but the planks are twice that deep. I look across the bay at the dock. It’s empty. There’ll be no ferries today.

Both lunar and solar calendars mark time that is distinct from the Gregorian calendar. The central purpose of that notional ordering of things in which January and October have thirty-one days and November thirty which is employed from London to Ulan Bator, is simply to make sure we all agree what day it is. If you and I set up a meeting for say Tuesday March 21st we want to be sure I don’t arrive on Wednesday 22nd and you on Monday 20th.  Which could be disappointing. But those numbers, 21st 22nd 20th are lifeless; the Gregorian calendar is no use in identifying real time, a real moment. There is nothing absolute about September, April, June and November having thirty days or February twenty eight. The lunar and solar calendars however take us away from such strictly notional timing into more natural rhythms, the gan zhi cycle takes us even further.

This search for real time by way of Sun and Moon and planets has some history of course. And not just in Asia; here in the Western Isles, there’s a longer tradition than most and it’s tied up with the meaning of resurrection and the promises of Christ. To Columba and the Celtic Saints who preached here, correct ritual and timing were more than life or death, they were what ensured redemption and the forgiveness of sin. These missionaries to the Scots, the Britons and the Anglo-Saxons believed that a soul could only be made safe by the grace of Jesus Christ and that it was their duty to let all those in possession of a soul know of this special arrangement. Resurrection of the body is a pretty big deal and like the Chinese New Year it entailed celebration in the right way at the right time.

I’ve been studying the “mysterious doors” of Qi Men Dun Jia. These doors can locate an individual advantageously in space and time or to all intents and purposes disappear them altogether. Qi men starts with the gan zhi cycle, factors in Sun and Moon and the directional implications of feng shui and more that I have not yet mastered.

Before leaving for Arran to begin my research for her I looked at my client Barbara squarely and told her:

“If this works I want all the credit and if it doesn’t, it had nothing to do with me.”
She looked back equally squarely and laughed.
“How are you going to do it?”
“I don’t know yet. Method is only a platform.”

Gavin who runs the little boarding house next to my cottage, is out walking his Lhasa Apsos across the beach. He trained as a ballet dancer, he tells me. And he is banned from two of the six pubs in Brodick. Those are facts that don’t obviously gel. He’s a gentle man who does a mean service wash btw. Lent is no time to get thrown out of pubs, I tell him.

I’m deep into a phone conversation with my youngest son Joey. His band itoldyouiwouldeatyou have a new single out, it’s about the rights of the defenceless to defend themselves. His concerts are intended to be a safe place for the gender-neutral like Indigo. He tells me gender is over and he’s curious as to my take on Jordan Peterson who’s become notorious for resisting non-binary pronouns.

“I can’t argue with his reasoning,” I say, “But I’m not sure he’s wise or kind.”

Joey’s concern is that wisdom and kindness are not priorities to the half-baked alt-righters who quote Peterson to justify all sorts of nastiness. We agree that we can’t blame Peterson for this any more than we can blame Nietszche for Hitler. But Peterson’s card is now marked.

Thwarted by the Water I walk back to the main road via the smaller of Brodick’s two Co-ops where I buy a still-fresh-but-best-before sandwich.

At first I did not sleep well here in my cottage overlooking the bay. On that first night, after eight hours of travel I rushed to bed without consideration of time and space. As you do. And awoke sluggish.
The next morning my luo p’an (or Chinese compass) showed that my head had been pointing West all night, a poor orientation for me at any time. I realised also that there was a broadband router plugged into the wall next to the bed. If we are paying attention, we feel these things. Although I’ll need the internet from time to time, I have disconnected it pro tem and moved the room around. The wall-mounted reading lamps look eccentric now, marooned opposite the bed like hunting trophies.

And I can feel a cat in the cottage somewhere. Not that that’s a problem, I’m fond of cats. Richard Bach wrote once that we always have the same cats and dogs. They follow us from incarnation to incarnation, he reckoned. This one appears to come and go through closed doors, sometimes it rubs against my leg, at other times I simply smell musk. My own cat Lyra died suddenly last year; I like Bach’s idea but I know this cat is not her.

Last night I was invited to dinner with Gavin’s parents who own my cottage. We shared some Arran malt whisky and an excellent vegetable curry with perfect fluffy rice. You can tell a lot about a man by how he cooks rice.

I know Don and June from pioneering spiritual work we did together a quarter century ago. Once bonded, such a connection fades very slowly, it’s as if I last saw them yesterday. They are admirable people, good-hearted, generous and rooted in community and family. We talked mostly politics and children; they have three compared to my six and there was plenty to talk about.

Don asked me about the feng shui of the cottage and I told them how I have moved the bedroom around. He explained that when they came to Arran there was an ancient chalet where the cottage now stands.

“Leaking and falling down,” he says. “We demolished it and started all over again.”

Barbara wants the means to change the world for the better and she has very specific plans. My feng shui has already sold for her houses that had refused to budge. And more. That’s why she’s commissioned me.

“Just tell me what to do,” she asked.
“I can only do that up to a point,” I said, “The only constant is change. Beyond that there are no rules.”
“That sounds like a Chinese fortune cookie.”
“Surprise, surprise.”

The faith of the Celtic Saints was powerful enough to draw them across the stormy Irish Sea first to Iona and Arran and Eigg, Uist and Skye and then to the Scottish mainland and thence to England where they could expect to be greeted by murderous heathen Picts and Anglo-Saxons and lapsed post-Roman Britons, all of whom were at each other’s throats with a savagery unmitigated by respect for the immortal soul. This was the 6th century, the darkest of the Dark Ages. These were brave men.

“Skipping Breakfast” is still playing on my phone and I’m considering whether the coastal path is deliberately positioned to be swamped from time to time, when the music is paused by a call from David. Despite my headphones it’s quite hard to hear him against the roar of the wind.
David has been through a decade of hell, domestic, financial, professional and other. Before I left I positioned him very carefully facing due South.
“Sit there, do whatever comes up. Do nothing important anywhere else.”

This is the second time I’ve given him this kind of advice; last time he wrote a book, his first which was snapped up by an agent, then by a publisher and now he tells me, by Hollywood. He’s called to thank me. He asks what I’m doing in the Hebrides. I explain that I am in pursuit of real time. He knows better than to question me as to what that means.

David’s home is in rural Herefordshire where the A-roads are B-roads and a “neighbour” may actually live ten miles away. That’s just how he likes it and it helps him understand why I’ve chosen the emptiness of Arran to take stock.

Those ten years of upset culminated in a separation. In the South West of his garden a lifesized statue of  Hestia stands. The Roman Goddess representing all the qualities David’s unhappy wife could not finally be at ease with, was placed there to relieve her misery. I don’t think she ever really got his brilliance and now I hear in his voice a man freed of that weight. A Rabbit and therefore traditionally a networker, David has over the years recommended me to many of his friends and associates.

Feng shui, you might say concerns the Cycles of Space where ba zi concerns those of Time. As well as the gan zhi cycle and the wu xing or “Five Elements” (Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal) feng shui is of course itself rooted in the cycles of Sun and Moon. One of David’s friends – also with relationship problems – asked me once how a relatively sane, relatively educated person like myself could believe in astrology. Surely such a belief is irrational?

“I don’t believe in astrology, any more than I believe in nuclear fission or capillary action,” I replied. “These are simply things I need to respect in order to navigate my way through life. If I don’t for instance, respect gravity, I’m liable to fall over a lot.”

Furthermore, if the Moon’s phases are coincident with the way plants and animals behave and with a woman’s menstrual cycle, quite apart from tides, it is rash to write off the possibility that larger heavenly bodies, however far away have other effects.

“Astrology,” I suggested,” Is not disproven but unproven. And it’s actually unscientific to discount it.”

And so if real time is a discoverable thing whether we seek the perfect moment or the imitation of Christ, it must take account of the influences of the physical universe. St Columba, for his part was pretty sure that sharing the passion of Christ was the only way to be saved.

Like most of his friends, David is a churchgoer but his book is not in any sense devotional nor is it history. It’s semi-autobiographical, essentially advice for his kids, wise throughout, often screamingly funny. It’s what came out of him when I pointed him in the right direction from the right location at the right time. Manifesting by tapping into creative energy with precise timing and placing is something I do all the time. This is feng shui. But it can be hit or miss and what Barbara wants is more than that.

Since the causeway is flooded, I’m walking the perimeter of the bay now. The road is narrow as I leave the built-up area and the pavement runs out. The road begins to wind and becomes narrower again, so I need to be aware of the traffic; there’s a near-miss with a camper van. I come to a small cemetery from which there’s a startling view across the sound to Merkland Point where the land runs into the sea. And I sit on a mossy wall and eat my slightly soggy sandwich. The tombstones have names like Currie, Mackinnon and Bannatyne. The dates go back into the 18th century but there’s not a single Hamilton. Those’ll be buried on the higher ground by the castle, I guess.

“Skipping,” I have learned is the practice of raiding skips outside supermarkets for wasted food; the cover of Skipping Breakfast shows Indigo aboard just such a skip. I guess that’s where my Co-Op sandwich would have gone had I not intervened. Many supermarkets apparently put bleach on leftover food to discourage the homeless and the hungry.

From the time the Roman legions left in 410 AD, Christian worship was pretty much extinguished throughout Britannia . But somehow by way of St Patrick, a British nobleman taken by Irish slavers from the Northern Cornish coast a few years later, Christianity got to Ireland. And by 563 the Irish prince Colm Cille known to us as Saint Columba, was ready to return the favour, landing on the tiny island of Iona, from whence he proceeded to spread the gospel all over the Inner Hebrides which of course included Holy Isle off Lamlash Bay just a couple of miles South of me here.

A generation after his own landfall Columba sent his kinsman Aidan across country to found a similar mission at Lindisfarne which lay just off the coast of the kingdom of Northumbria, in the extreme North East of England. The King of Northumbria at that time was Oswald, known as Shining Arm or White Arm for his dazzling skill as a warrior.

Lindisfarne was just a beginning. It’s a fact that over the next couple of centuries Celtic missionaries founded churches as far away as Turin and Kiev. It’s also a fact that the bloodthirsty habits of their patrons didn’t necessarily change along with a change of worship. That white arm of Oswald’s would need rinsing of blood many times after his conversion.

It’s also a fact that Columba’s Ionan style of Christianity was in its turn pretty much extinguished throughout the British Isles within a couple of generations as well. Because meanwhile back in Rome, Pope Gregory I was sending St Augustine to convert the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Kent in the South East of England to the Roman way. Once this task had been accomplished in 597, further representatives of Roman orthodoxy were to be despatched to the West and North of Britannia with the same objective. In time they collided with the Irish proceeding South and East.

Here’s the thing: the beliefs of each group were equally rigid but their ideas of orthodoxy and correct ritual were very different. Both considered themselves the preservers of the true message and there was not room for two of these.

I’m walking back towards Brodick now, past the castle with its Victorian ice-house and sculpted gardens set on the commanding heights. Except for the conifers blocking the open space between castle and sound, this is excellent feng shui. I’m cold so I stop for a cup of tea at the Douglas where Gavin is seated at a table with his Lhasa Apsos enjoying a pint of Joker. He offers me one. Feeling a bit of a tightarse, I stick with my tea.

Oswald died in battle not long after his conversion. The trunk of his corpse was separated from his famous white arms – the bones became holy relics – and his head impaled on a stake outside the village in North Wales which in time became Oswestry or “Oswald’s Tree”. Grisly, but nothing he wouldn’t himself have done had he won that last battle. His skull became a relic too.

The Wood Rat AD 664 was the year the two groups of saints met for adjudication at what is known to history as the Synod of Whitby. This is one of a trio of facts generally known about this otherwise relatively obscure Northern seaside town, the others being that it was Dracula’s landing place as well as ground zero for a vast number of fish.

The representatives of Rome were outraged by what was called the “Devil’s Tonsure”; the forehead area of the Irish monks was shaved and the rest of the hair gathered into a ponytail, making them look more like death metallers than like Friar Tuck. There are reasons to suppose that druids had been coiffed in exactly this manner. And there were question marks around the rapidity of the Irish conversion; an entire land had been redeemed inside a century. Perhaps Christianity grafted a little too easily onto pagan practices. It’s certainly true that new churches had been established on existing holy sites in Ireland, something the Pope had expressly forbidden. And there are those who see in the Celtic tradition of the Three Daughters of Dagda the antecedents of a holy trinity that has entered Christianity by some route other than the New Testament. They were all called Bridget by the way. Which if not suspicious is at least not imaginative. And how did Patrick get rid of all those snakes? And then there was the timing of Easter.

The mediator Oswiu, Oswald’s brother as well as successor, later achieved the remarkable feat for a Dark Ages monarch of dying of natural causes. Which may be why on the other er…hand, his arms and head never gained the cachet of his brother’s.

The true er…bone of contention at Whitby was that the two factions calculated Easter differently and no missionary of either persuasion could tolerate the possibility that they were sharing the final passion of Christ on the wrong day. Over time ritual can become empty but both factions believed that getting it right would duplicate the taste, the feel, the nature of that passion. That’s quite a thing.

The Chinese word is qi.

Which is where these notions begin to tie up; the ba zi or “Four Pillars” are a snapshot of the prevailing qi at any given moment. This is the same word as the “qi” in Qi Men Dun Jia which takes the Four Pillars of ba zi as its base and then attempts to account for wider influences starting with Sun and Moon. Qi is generally translated “energy” but makes more sense as “taste” “feel” or “nature”.

I would not have taken up Barbara’s challenge had her own ba zi not been an extraordinary one, speaking of an unusual ability to pounce upon opportunity. I’ve seen this pattern before – I’ve drafted thousands of these things – but never one quite as emphatic. And a strong ba zi gives birth to a strong Qi Men chart. David’s is not unlike hers but it’s more encumbered. Which would come as no surprise to him.

Time has passed and the world has become a different place since David’s first book, so where I have placed him this time is not quite the same: not simply facing South but also glued to his dining room in the Southern part of his home. Out of this window he can pick up on the Fire energy of the South. He can also not help seeing Hestia in the South West.

He’s located here now because the Fire is favourable to him and South being the direction of the Sun, is its source. He is literally in his Element. Cautionary note: Fire does not mean wealth or success for everybody.

But it does mean those things for David and apart from selling the film rights on the first book, he has now written several thousand words of a new one. And overseen by Hestia he’s pulled off a deal that will fund him meanwhile.

At Whitby the Irish were represented by Aidan’s successor, Colman, a simple devout priest; Rome by the wily Wilfrid, twenty or so years younger, ambitious, hungry and a more flexible debater. Rome owned both the history and the future of course. And the Pope. It was always a long shot for the Irish.

First of all, Colman couldn’t speak Anglo-Saxon. Second, Oswy’s wife was a Kentish princess who was probably fed up with fasting when her husband was feasting and vice-versa because they had been calculating the days of Lent that lead up to Easter differently. And thirdly, any trailing edges to the dispute were likely to be settled at sword point.

So Oswy found for Rome. Which may have contributed to his peaceful exit.

I sit with Gavin for a while by the bar at the Douglas and he tells me about his lost love.

“Czech,” he says. He lived with her in a village outside Prague for a while. “We could argue,” he says, sounding like argument is a competitive team game. Like a verbal three-legged race.

The little dogs snuggle against his legs in turn as he opens up. He’s a sweet man and his heart is broken.

I suggest he returns to the Czech Republic maybe.

“Maybe,” he says, stroking an Apso and lifting his glass in salute. As I rise, three pairs of eyes look up at me with the same gently pleading look.

The Moon is still almost full as I walk back up the steps of the snicket to my cottage, the cloud thinner and the Moon brighter but the wind still harsh. I notice that in a garden next to the narrow path there appears to be an avocado tree. Is this a miracle of the Gulf Stream? More likely a rhododendron I guess.

As I climb I’m thinking of Colm Cille on his knees in his tiny cell on windswept Iona and wondering if the saint who put shrines and chapels on so many of these islands, was aware of what would happen when his teachings hit the Roman buffer. And I’m thinking of David tapping into the Sun while he tries to keep his gaze off Hestia and I’m thinking of Gavin in his cups. I don’t know about prayer practice but I do know that Indigo dreams of simply waking up one morning with “two parents a brother and a dog.” And perhaps a sandwich before its sell-by date.

If you subscribe to these things, Christ is reckoned to have risen on the 16th day of Nisan, the Sunday following the Jewish feast of the Passover; that is to say the first Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Like the Chinese New Year, the date is a combination of solar and lunar timing; actually what we might call an astrological formula.

The Chinese are very practical people for the most part and the meticulous timing of the Dragon Dance of the New Year is to equip them to profit from the newborn qi of the year. But Jesus’ mission as I understand it was a much bigger one, to heal the hurt, the heartbroken, the hungry, the hapless and the homeless, the scrapers and the skippers. He would take on the sins of the world, apparently. Being 100% innocent he could say: “Lay the burden on me, there’s no need to blame or suffer any more. Your souls are saved.” Everyone could take a deep breath and start again. And he was apparently just a bloke; he had no free ticket. That’s a hell of a job description. To truly share that experience is a bit of a mind-blower. And of course the world was off the rails again by Monday morning.

Columba and Gregory’s quest was almost as ambitious: to redeem souls in His name. And it was not only early missionaries who were prepared to kill each other over timing: Greek and Russian churches dispute the dating of Easter to this day. To shorten a long story, real time mattered because it was how the experience was re-created. And to many of the faithful who may have forgotten or never knew about these disputes, it remains crucial.

It turns out that Don and June let a homeless woman live in the delapidated chalet for a short while. Abandoned by her husband, she had been camping with her school age daughter in a tent in the woods above Brodick Castle. The two of them moved into the chalet briefly one Christmas in the late 90’s. Along with their cat.

“It ended in tears of course.”

So mortified was Colman that after his defeat, he took himself and several hundred English converts off to an island off the West coast of Ireland. That too ended in tears as it turns out.

“Do you understand your children” Don had asked me over Arran single malt aged 14 years.

“That would be a rash claim.”.

The wind is loud but I love that sound and as I enter the cottage I open the window to let the roar follow me in. I look out across the bay to Brodick Castle and the almost-Full Moon and something soft brushes against me.

“Hello Lyra,” I say but it’s only the malt talking. I touch my shin briefly, make sure the router is disconnected and sleep the sleep of the saints.

Richard Ashworth© 2018

Altruism Corner:  https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/uncowed#/ You have of course received this Feng Shui Diary free. In return would you be prepared to assist my friends Chris and Jan Attkins? They are first-class human beings as well as long-term media professionals and they’re making a short film.

The film is about bullying which may be an issue that has affected you or someone close to you. Certainly it has raised its ugly head in our own children’s lives. Chris and Jan are risking £15,000 of their own money on this and they’re crowdfunding the rest.

Would you be prepared to help them out? The link above will allow you to contribute relatively modest sums in return for all sorts of related goodies. Do support them please if you can.

Also do download on Spotify, Granoola Suicide’s album, perhaps one less breakfast skipped:  https://open.spotify.com/album/5lYcLjIXaYjlSg7NF1stLl

Thanks. R&S
Richard Ashworth© 2018
www.imperialfengshui.info

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