What is chi?

Child on beach

Feng shui books frequently talk about balancing, harmonizing and enhancing chi. But what exactly is chi? Can you see it, hear it, touch it, taste it, smell it? Is there good chi, bad chi, neutral chi? Does it come in different strengths and flavours?

While western science still disputes the existence of anything that can’t be physically measured, Chinese medical practitioners, for thousands of years, have had a healthcare system that aims to treat medical disorders before they even show in the physical body (hence the traditional Chinese practice of paying your physician only when you are well). Their system works at the level of chi.

Understanding chi

The starting point for understanding chi is therefore to appreciate that the world consists of very much more than just the physical things we can see. Physicality is just the tip of the iceberg. Beyond this there are worlds upon worlds of more rarefied and non-dimensional realities, that are just as tangible as the physical realms if you are able to discern them. They can’t be felt with our ordinary physical senses but it is possible to develop other organs of perception in our subtle bodies. Over a period of time, the level of functionality that can be built up is quite extraordinary.

Imagine, for example, that you lived in a culture where for some reason it was taboo to use your arms. As you grew up, they just withered and hung uselessly from your shoulders.

Then supposing one day you meet someone who says, “Hey, do you know you can use those?”

“For what?” you ask, incredulously.

“For so many things!”

And then the person teaches you how to begin to move your arms. It would be nothing more than a few jerky spasms at first but gradually, if you worked at it, you’d build muscle and be able to move your fingers, turn your wrist, bend your elbow, move your arm, and pick up weights. One miraculous day you’d be able to use your previously pathetic appendages to drink a cup of tea! And that’s just the beginning. You could go on to learn how to write, create handicrafts, paint masterpieces… the list is endless.

Human possibilities

There are parts of human subtle body structures that have fallen into just such disuse in modern times, to the extent that most people don’t even know they exist, never mind how to use them. The focus these days is on breaking the latest speed record, accomplishing physical feats that will go in the Guinness Book of Records, and anything that will push the physical body to new limits.

But this all amounts to very little when compared to the vast unexplored worlds of human consciousness and subtle bodies of energy. It was this quest that led me many years ago to the discovery of chi, and it was working with chi that led me to the discovery of the principles of space clearing, feng shui, and an in-depth exploration of high spiritual realms.

In my book, Creating Sacred Space with Feng Shui, I describe how it is possible to go around the inside perimeter of a home, sensing the energies and reading the entire history of what has happened in a space. Every event leaves an imprint in the walls that can be read through the hands just as clearly as reading a book with your eyes. And – as with the analogy of the arms – this is just the beginning. There’s a vast kaleidoscope of possibilities that opens up once a person starts to develop their etheric awareness.

Awareness of chi

Anyone can develop the ability to sense energies if they’re prepared to work at it. The problem is that western civilization is characterized by etheric numbness. Many people don’t even know what their etheric feels like.

Here’s something you can do next time you visit the ocean: Observe what part of you likes to be there. The sound of the waves breaking on the shore is good to listen to, yes, but there’s something more. The ocean is wonderful to look at, yes, but there’s more. The part of you that really resonates with the ocean is not the physical you at all. It’s your etheric, which is made of chi and resonates with chi.

The etheric is a subtle body of energy that permeates the physical structures of all humans, animals and plants. It’s what makes things grow and gives vitality. It’s life force energy. Young children, of course, have oodles of energy and are primarily based in their etheric. No wonder they love to visit the sea!

Here’s something else you can try: When you have a massage, don’t just lie there passively as the practitioner moves energies around your body. Actively realign your energies from the inside as the therapist works on you from the outside. With a capable practitioner who has etheric awareness, superb results can be obtained by this method of teamwork.

As your etheric awareness increases, by the way, you’ll become more selective about who you allow to work on your body in this way. A massage therapist who has not developed etheric awareness will not know how to cleanse their own energies after working on clients and will pass toxins from one person they work on to another.

Feng shui and chi

Feng Shui mastery begins by cultivating awareness of chi in the environment, which must begin with cultivating etheric awareness and awakening in yourself. To learn feng shui intellectually without being able to feel the energies on which it is based can only give you second-hand knowledge, which won’t take you very far at all. So here are some things you can check to see how etherically based you are…

Do you wear shoes or slippers at home, or walk barefoot? Do you wear lots of jewellery or very little? Is your home cluttered or clutter-free? Do you enjoy being in Nature? Do you sleep with the windows closed at night, or do you always open a window to allow chi to circulate in the space? Do you eat junk food or mostly fresh, healthy food?

The frequently barefooted, lesser-jewelled, clutter-free, Nature-loving person with a well-ventilated bedroom and healthy diet is far more in tune with their etheric than the opposite case. If you are able to feel your etheric, living this way feels natural and right.

I’m sure that the great Feng Shui masters of old had profound levels of etheric mastery, and it was upon this that their expertise rested. To awaken your etheric is no easy task these days but it can be done and is very worthwhile.

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Copyright © Karen Kingston 2009, updated 2017

About Karen Kingston

Karen Kingston is a leading expert in clutter clearing, space clearing, feng shui and healthy homes. Her two international bestselling books have combined sales of over three million copies in 26 languages and have established themselves as "must read" classics in their fields. Her best-known title, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, is now in its fourth edition. She is best known for her perspective-changing insights and practical solutions that enable more conscious navigation of 21st-century living.
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4 Responses to What is chi?

  1. Aideen says:

    Can you recommend any books that would explain this further? I can see that my notion of chi is very simplistic.

  2. D. Ikeda says:

    I confess to a chuckle here. I am often barefoot, at least at home in Japan where that is the custom, definitely barely jeweled – just one beloved silver bracelet on occasion, healthy diet but……still quite a lot of clutter ………..and definitely nature loving and so blessed to live near a lovely forested park with big old trees and lush, lush green. Not exactly the best post for a site aiming at less clutter but certainly why I pop in for inspiration at times,

    I do wonder about experiencing the etheric in large cities. I imagine those of us packed on subways must instinctively pull all awareness in or we would go on permanent overwhelm! On the other hand I once spent 10 days as a kid with my family in the wilderness of the western U.S. Without bumping into another person. That was an expansive experience .

    Thank you for all that you write. I learn so much.

  3. Robin says:

    Thank you – nice article – I like the metaphor about learning to use one’s arms.


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