Beliefnet
Why should sophisticated post-moderns take an interest in an esoteric system of placement 3,000 years old? A wind-and-water (feng shui literally translates as "wind" and "water") theory so complex, it disappears in a vaporous trail of mystery? Because feng shui works with astonishing ease and surprising results. It's an elegant antidote to lives abuzz with computers, cell phones, beepers, chattering faxes, and hectic schedules, which intervene between us and the natural world.

Chinese philosophers believe five things determine a good life: fate, luck, accumulated good deeds, education, and feng shui. We may not be able to control external circumstances, but we can control our immediate environment by reaching out to opportunity and fortune.

If your heart doesn't lift when you return home each night, you need feng shui. If you don't leave home in the morning refreshed, comforted, and confirmed in your innate worth, you need feng shui. Wherever you live, an efficiency apartment, house, a manse on the hill, home should be a sanctuary for repairing hurts and celebrating joys.

Feng shui uses practical means to alter the physics of space and infuse rooms with harmony. Thus, our lives improve because energies in the home are focused. Life opens up in remarkable ways. For example, a client resumed her social life after a five-year hiatus when we placed a four-foot statue of Kwan Yin, goddess of compassion, on the crest of a low hill overlooking her garden. I lit the figure with nine--the most auspicious of numbers in feng shui--votive lights. Illumined, Kwan Yin smiled down on guests gathered on the moon-lit terrace. The effect was magical. You can replicate this effect on a balcony, in an alcove, wherever sufficient space sets off a symbol of affirmative emotions.

In feng shui, everything in the universe is linked by ch'i, a universal energy, which, when flowing smoothly, that is, neither too fast nor too slow, conducts vital forces to work on our behalf. If you doubt this, consider where you thrived, did your best work, met people who greatly interested you. You felt energized in a particular way--this is ch'i par excellence. On the other hand, consider where you felt drained and lacking in vital energies. This is because you, your environment--home or office--were disconnected from the energy at the center of the feng shui system. When ch'i does not flow smoothly in life, difficulties grow, and one can suffer inexplicable reverses in professional, financial, and relationship spheres.

A psychotherapist moved into her new office, a large room with two over-size windows and three doors (one too many). Key pieces of furniture--sofa for the clients, chair for the therapist, and a desk chair--had their backs to the room's entrance. This is a no-no in feng shui because you should have an unimpeded view of the door so you can see who comes into the room.

What I suggested was for the furniture to be re-positioned for unobstructed views of the entry. Two tapestries in natural colors were hung from large brass rods over doors that were not in use (the ratio of one door to three windows in a room is considered auspicious in feng shui). A large leafy fern was placed on a pedestal table in a corner behind the diagonally placed sofa. The room was transformed.

On entering the room now, a healing serenity welcomed therapist and client. Sheer linen curtains were hung to diffuse the strong window light. (Excess ch'i from harsh light rushes out the windows, carrying money and opportunities.) Nine green plants were placed under the windows to strengthen the healing atmosphere. The therapist smiled and said, "I feel so energized--this is wonderful!"

Along with correct placement of key furniture to control ch'i is the use of feng shui's natural color palette, sensual textures, sound, even fragrance. For example, Chinese feng shui masters believe every room should have a touch of true Chinese red, because red is considered the color of luck, power, and energy. But remember, less is generally more.

Emperor yellow, the second most auspicious color in feng shui, is excellent for a narrow wall with a gentle glaze of raw umber and a flick of Venetian red. A dreary dining alcove can be transformed with a sunny Provencal yellow print tablecloth, tempered with a border of red, blue, and green; spirits are lifted instantly. If you like blue, be advised indigo is preferred in classical feng shui, coming as it does from the seven colors of the rainbow and the refractions from cut crystal.

Symbolism is potent in its effect on emotions and states of mind, so be attentive to what is on your walls. Two different art-collecting families had dismal images facing people entering their homes--one was a painting of a dead fish; the other, an exhausted woman hanging laundry. Both were by well-known artists, but this hardly altered the negative energies projected. Happily, the paintings were replaced by others with positive ch'i.

Interior doorways are dramatized in Asian and European houses to control the flow of ch'i. In a London apartment, moving from one space to another is marked by floor-length door curtains of heavy bronze velvet tied back with tasseled ropes (tassels are considered lucky and suggest ch'i energy). Japanese indigo-dye cotton curtains veil the upper third of doorways to control over-strong ch'i movement; their designs of flowing water and fish are reflections of nature. Carved wood panels mounted on lintels subtly suggest the character of the room beyond.

In many cultures, there is the belief that empty corners harbor spirit mischief. Thus, flower arrangements, sculpture, screens, corner cabinets, and ferns are placed to great effect in corners, adding a gentle softness to a room. Curiously, appropriate treatment of corners, especially the placement of ferns and flowers, subtly raises the energy of a room.

For those considering a move, be aware that in feng shui, residential moves are believed to affect us up to 15 years. The rigors of displacement of objects and people, and the mixed energies of the property itself, collectively impact us. We can all remember friends who date a string of lucky--or unlucky--events in their life from a move. For these reasons, feng shui advises the following: Do not buy or rent a property without researching its history and previous occupants. Be wary of bargains; they may well conceal something very disagreeable. If you discover a history of break-ins, violence, bankruptcy, long illness, death, and divorce, look elsewhere, preferably to an address with an "8" in it for extra luck.

Once you've moved in, you can use these instant "remedies" to cultivate good ch'i. At the office, place your desk facing the door so you have an unimpeded view and are not surprised by someone coming up behind as you work; keep a green plant and a crystal paper weight on your desk to attract positive energies as you work; hang wind chimes at either end of a long corridor with too many doors to control the flow of too-fast-moving ch'i; suspend an Austrian-facetted crystal ball on a red thread (nine or 18 inches long for luck) inside an entrance if it leads abruptly to stairs going up or down. There are not always 21st-century answers as to why these "remedies" work--but they do. Lastly, burn a stick of fine orange incense to cleanse your space.

And may you have good ch'i.

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