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Spiritual Pilgrimages and Sacred Places: applying Feng Shui to trails and greenways

Presented at the National Trails Symposium, November 16, 1998.

By Zen Roshi Johndennis Govert

Feng Shui means "wind and water" and is the ancient Chinese art of assessing and controlling how places affect the behavior of many kinds of beings, especially human. Feng shui can be applied to houses, businesses, building complexes, campsites, temples, urban planning, highways, parks or trails. Feng shui analyzes building and landform composition and shape; astronomical and astrological correspondences; symbols and rituals; and, the life energies (called Chi) of the earth and the beings that live above, on, and in it. The feng shui of trails explores the connecting filament of a series of experiences. The art of trail-making feng shui involves tuning the effects of a series of places to a string of positive place influences.

As in the human body, on earth there are energy nodes or places where many energies can converge. The greater the nexus of energies, the more the place is thought to be sacred. There are also meridians of energy that run along the surface of the earth, sometimes exactly on the surface or somewhat below or above. Above the earth plane are converging magnetic, electrical and other energies that sometimes also connect to a surface or sub-surface place. When trails pass through and connect a group of places of varying energies, a new system and energetic web is created. How this new energy web affects all the beings around it seems like an ecological question. It is also a feng shui question: how does it elevate, degrade or minimally impact the behavior of beings?

There is a ritual aspect of travelling the path that changes what we experience along the way and how we act. The act of walking is a ritual, that with each step, allows a discrete amount of energy to enter the sole of the foot from the path. Collecting enough stepfuls of energy leads to a quantum change. Walking in a pattern of circle, symbol, or labyrinth connect energies feelings and ideas. Other rituals can be performed while traveling to enhance the positive experience or overcome potentially negative forces. There are purification practices (e.g. baths in hot springs, fasting, chanting, praying, singing), dream practices (camping, sleeping and dreaming at energy nodes or sacred places), and fulfillment practices at a sacred site (e.g. sharing meals, eating special herbs or foods, shamanistic entrancement, or meditative and yogic practices).

Before we undertake a trek to sacred sites we have expectations. These expectations color what we are able to experience. Reasons for going on a pilgrimage are many. One is to cure the body, heart or mind (e.g. a visit to Lourdes). Another reason is to fufill a religious obligation (e.g. the Hajj in Islam). A third is to end a negative cycle of our lives and begin a better phase. A fourth is to share companionship with fellow wayfarers. A fifth is to undertake rites of passage. A sixth is to conduct an heroic feat to win a prize, overcome negativity, prove one's worth, or fulfill a duty. A seventh is to make a discovery of a secret, or locate a treasure of body, mind or spirit. Finally, a reason to undertake a journey is to purify and transform the self to a higher level of personal ability, freedom, compassion or wisdom.

The simplest way to evaluate the energy of sites is to determine if the energy of the place is stable, rises or sinks. Sinking energy is usually experienced in a swamp, in broad river valleys or along natural descents. Rising energy is usually experienced in the mountains, and at sites considered sacred by a number of succeeding cultures. Stable energy produces little change in a person's emotions or thoughts. Sinking energy is usually experienced as depressive feelings; rising energy is accompanied by feelings of happiness and inspiration. Because of the tai chi principle, the inseparable unity of yin and yang, within any predominant energy field, there is a smaller, usually more intense opposite energy field. Examples: in the mountains or in redwood forests, there are places where a person can experience great negativity; or in a desert there is an oasis.

Part of the feng shui of trail making is to map the energies of an area, then to select a path through the energy zones aimed at producing the most positive states of mind in those who travel through. This is not trail blazing. It requires a slower pace to learn about the full extent of the energies present. The earth has much greater scale energies than humans have. Because there is holographic correspondance, however, anyone can learn about the earth's energies with patience. Enduring vast stretches of time are a quality of earth. So patience and the quality of experimentation (another quality of Gaia) are important virtues in order to be able to create exceptional trails. In ancient cultures, those who connected sacred places in a cycle were sages. The role of trail planners and trail makers is a sagely pursuit.

Johndennis Govert is the author of FENG SHUI: ART AND HARMONY OF PLACE.

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