As fresh twenty-somethings out of college having studied overseas, my friends and I went for fortune telling sessions. We’d ask: how is the job, how’s the love life, health, family – the usual.
Despite being a cosmopolitan, financial centre, fortune telling and feng shui practice is entrenched in the fabric of Hong Kong. Even Pritzker Prize-winning architect IM Pei designed Hong Kong’s iconic Bank of China tower with Feng Shui principles in mind. Its triangular forms make swords that cut through and deflect any bad energies directed from surrounding neighbors.
It is not uncommon for business magnates as well as office workers to turn to feng shui and fortune telling to get some bearing on their life.
My friends and I used to frequent a legally blind man who would tell our fortunes. He had a sense of humor and would share a life lesson or two here and there during our chat.
I’ve also been to ones who had a whole joss stick-burning ritual before sitting down to flip through a book and nerve-wreckingly try find an answer to my questions. And also ones where the teller sits with a full regalia of statues of divinities ‘backing him up’ and could write you “your book of life” for some hefty $um.
However, over years of going to the tellers and thinking back to how it’s served, I’ve observed the following.
The Messenger and the Message
Be it Chinese fortune tellers or Western readers, how the information is relayed and interpreted can make a huge difference.
With the Chinese tellers, the way the fortune is told often sounds fixed. Maybe that’s because the term ‘Fortune Telling’ is either (算命) = ‘calculating out your life’ or (批命) = ‘giving you your life “sentence”‘
That explains why some who go seek the teller’s advice go with a mindset of seeking an edict/sentence – something finite. The teller might describe a person: this person is greedy/ trust-worthy/ trouble-some / loving; healthwise, this person might have this issue. People take it as definitive, the Word.
A common practice after the teller informs the seeker of a potential outcome is to offer a ‘fix’. The teller might offer a crystal pagoda for sale with accompanying instructions on where to place it to mitigate certain problems. Others might be handed some scribbles on paper to burn as offerings so whatever challenge can be released.
Quick Fixes and Personal growth
Practices like consulting the I-Ching (Book of Change), the Book of Three Lives (三世書), and the the Lunar Calendar based on moon cycles are not obscure tools or practices. Historically, the Chinese have used these divination tools effectively and respectfully. Emperors, as the son of the Heavens, asked the Heaven for guidance on the energies for the year ahead. The information helps him devise corresponding measures to rule his kingdom.
But in the modernisation/commercialisation of things, the rich science and art of Chinese divination have taken on a different spin. In some cases, tellers have built billion-dollar businesses empires selling ‘fixes’. Some tellers feed on the fear or lack of security of those who come to them, and sells them more knick-knacks, more ceremonies, more offerings to burn. It’s disconcerting to observe when someone becomes utterly reliant on paying for ceremonies to get their challenges removed.
Beliefs and Mindframes
For some Chinese, any unpleasant event that happens to a person or a group is interpreted as a punishment. “A deceased ancestor or a someone they’ve crossed paths some lifetime ago is angry and is giving them flack.”
I subscribe to the idea that there is a lot more than meets the eye – the invisible, the phenomenons that we as people do not comprehend.
However, I can’t subscribe to the view that challenges are punishments. Rather, I view challenges as opportunities. Opportunities to dig deeper, to uncover the underlying patterns that are ready to be addressed and resolved. As the Chinese say, when there is danger, there is also opportunity. （有危亦有機）
Ready to be Resolved
By chance, a secret that was unknown to the rest of the family other than the person himself was revealed. The problem that person was facing has come to the surface. Rather than using the aforementioned ‘quick fixes’, I feel it was an opportunity on many fronts. For other members to support this person in resolving the problem where the support is asked for, and to be more supportive and accepting of this person in general. Once resolved, this person’s quality of life could take a 180 degree turn for the better.
Readings, Not Fortune Tellings
My experience with Western readings have in general focused on understanding a person’s character: make-up, gifts and challenges. Unpleasant situations serve a lessons from which to grow from. In contrast to some Chinese readings, there is not so much the feeling of a “sentence” given of one’s life. Western readings can be like deciphering one’s DNA, and knowing that the qualities can be nurtured, and triggers resolved through some self-development work.
An astrologer can highlight the propensities in a person’s life and view them as ‘lessons to learn from’ or ‘challenges that serve as opportunities to grow.’
With human design, another method in deciphering a person’s make-up, a friend gained a new understanding of herself. She came to understand what pushes her buttons, why she has a propensity to respond/react in certain ways. Armed with the newfound awareness, she is able to observe when the habitual reaction creeps up and choose to act differently.
It All Comes Back to Self
As I think back, the blind Chinese fortune teller also gave me a ‘groundwork’ DNA-like reading to help me better understand myself. But after that, I needed to look for ways to further nourish the elements I’d like to develop, and to resolve emotionally triggers and stumbling blocks. You need to walk for the path to open. （運是要行出來的）
Chinese and Western arts of reading the stars and decoding the unexplained has its merits. The key is: the way to changing one’s fortune, and one’s life lies in the person themself. Quick-fixes or band-aid solutions may not get to the root of the issue so buyers beware.
Disclaimer: I am using the term fortune-telling loosely here lumping divination with Feng Shui practices. And the point is not to dis one approach and praise another. Rather, to iterate that these are all tools, backed by a wealth of wisdom. When the message is delivered with integrity and no one is taken advantage of, it can give us a peek into a world unknown. The awesome thing is – there is a solution. There is a key to a positive, supportive outcome. And that key lies in YOU.
Food for thought
- How has getting your fortune told changed or affected your decisions if any? Do you use them as tools or a crutch?