Physics is finally catching up with spirituality. Since
scientists announced that there really is no such thing as solid
matter and everything material is actually made up of energy,
practices like water-witching and feng shui have gained credibility
for even the most skeptical of us.
Feng shui (pronounced fung schway) translates literally as “wind
water.” It is an art that originated in China more than 3,500 years
ago and is used to orient buildings and arrange interiors for
optimum flow of energy, or ch’i (chee). According to its
proponents, applying feng shui principles to a space is beneficial
for health, wealth, relationships and other aspects of life.
The key feng shui tool, the bagua, is a diagram of an octagon
divided into nine parts. It has eight side sections and a central
section, called guas, each representing an area of life: career,
health, fame, love, prosperity, family, wisdom, creativity and
helpful people (which is combined with travel in one gua).
In Eastern-style feng shui, the alignment of the bagua is
determined by a compass and the direction the front door is facing.
In Western-style feng shui, the bottom of the bagua is simply
aligned with the entry to the space.
Although Eastern-style feng shui purists might never agree, in
my experience the Western-style, without-a-compass feng shui works
wonders, and you don’t have to rebuild your house to orient your
front door to your most auspicious direction. In other words, you
don’t have to drain your savings account to pump up your prosperity
Clutter clearing is step one in Western-style feng shui. Mirrors
are often used as feng shui “cures” for a problematic space, but if
you hang a mirror before you clear the clutter, you are just
“doubling” your clutter problem in the mirror’s reflection.
Clutter — from the word “to clot”, is a perfect image for stuck
energy. But on the other hand, an all-white minimalist home feels
sterile and uninviting. According to feng shui, balance must be
struck between stagnate ch’i and ch’i in hyperdrive.
Think about retail stores. Have you ever walked into one of
those monochromatic, airy boutiques that have a few precious items
for sale and no price tags (if you have to ask, you can’t afford
it)? The ch’i runs right through these places and so do most of the
In contrast, there’s variety stores like Wal-Mart, where the
ch’i gets stuck trying to decide if it wants to sit down for a
snack, rent a video, buy a lawnmower or try on a bikini. Blurred
vision and shortness of breath are common side-effects.
Like Goldilock’s porridge and the Buddha’s Middle Way, some
stores get it just right, and that’s where the customer and her
credit card make it all the way to the counter, which is any
well-designed store’s goal.
In a private home, the goal would be to create a stress-free
environment that is aesthetically pleasing but also comfortable.
You want your guests to feel welcome and have fun, but you also
want them to go home when you start yawning. There’s a feng shui
app for that.
Although I’ve read quite a bit on the subject and feel
comfortable offering general advice to my clients, feng shui is
complex and can be intimidating. I called on expert Seann Xenja to
give me some backup for this article. Xenja resides in Marin but
has dozens of clients in the Napa Valley. He became a feng shui
professional in the late 1980s after only six months of book study.
“At that time there were no classes you could take or any kind of
training in the Bay Area,” he said.
Xenja’s first client was a friend who owned a hair salon in San
Francisco. She had been having numerous problems with staff and
“I had her move around the work stations and we added plants in
strategic places,” he said. In a few weeks, the friend called him
with the news that she’d hired five great stylists and was in the
black financially for the first time.
“It’s miraculous, it’s a transformation,” she told him. In
addition to a haircut he received a fat check for his
Just a few weeks later, the book “Interior Design with Feng
Shui,” by Sarah Rossbach, led Xenja to Lin Yun, a Chinese grand
master. As luck would have it, Lin Yun had left China and its
restrictive approach to feng shui to settle in Berkeley. Xenja
signed up for study with the master in 1990.
Xenja said, “I had the benefit of a lot of one-on-one time with
Lin Yun because feng shui was not yet the craze it has become.”
According to Xenja, “A lot of feng shui is based on what is
healthy and natural to us. The position of the bed or a desk is
very basic. You want a solid wall behind you and a wide view of the
room and a view of the door. When you seat most men in restaurants,
they want a view of the door. It’s a power position and an old
survival instinct. You want to see who’s coming at you.”
In the two decades he has been practicing feng shui, Xenja has a
deep reservoir of client success stories to illustrate how feng
“If you want to hear about clutter,“ he offered, “my worst case
was a client whose husband was a collector and went to yard sales a
couple times a week. The house was cluttered top-to-bottom,
back-to-front, and had outbuildings stuffed full and a Jaguar
broken down in the driveway. Even the stove in the kitchen was
piled with stuff.”
Xenja continued, “In a case like that, you have to be strategic.
I had them clear three key areas: the entry, the stove and the bed.
The entry is important because that is where energy enters the
home. The stove is a symbol of prosperity no matter where it is
located in the house. It is where you nourish your family. And the
bed needs to be clear for restful sleep.
“We also did a purification ceremony with fresh orange peel —
the smell permeates the space and gives a sense of well-being.”
Xenja ran into the couple a few years later in Nevada City. They
were excited to update him on their activities. Since his
consultation they had continued to clear their clutter. All the
collectibles had been sold, as was the Jaguar, which had been
repaired. They moved house, and made a completely fresh start, he
Another client called Xenja wanting to pump up the marriage gua
in her home. Her intention was for clarity in communication with
her husband and an improved romantic life. A day after the
adjustments were made, her husband came clean about a three-year
affair he’d been having and they soon divorced. She then met the
love of her life and remarried. The client got what she asked for,
but in a different form than she had envisioned.
During the drop in housing prices over the last few years, Xenja
has been called upon many times to offer “cures” for a house that
is not selling.
“Often the problem is the entry,” he said. “If the landscaping
leading to the entry is overgrown or if you have to duck under a
tree limb to get to the front door, it is problematic. The owner
may use a side door for convenience, but in the case of an
expensive home, a potential buyer wants a grand, spacious entry,
not a little side hallway.”
A few weeks ago I was organizing the desk and files of a stock
broker who was worried that the company might close his local
branch office. The staff and other brokers were not connecting well
and the feeling in the office was somewhat depressed.
When I went into the staff break room, I couldn’t help but
notice two large, dark posters. One was of James Dean in a winter
coat, hands jammed in his pocket, walking alone down a road. I
think of James Dean and I think “crash.” Not a good word to
associate with the stock market, even subconsciously.
The other poster was Edward Hopper’s lonely diner scene
“Nighthawks,” the famously gloomy painting that Hopper created
after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Neither the name of the
painting nor the subject evoke a bullish, vibrant feeling.
Not having been hired to offer feng shui consultation, I didn’t
say anything about the posters. But I had such a strong gut feeling
about them that I ended up e-mailing the broker a few days later.
Not only did the office agree to take down the posters, but they
ended up doing a mini-makeover of the break room, which happens to
be in the building’s fame and reputation energy gua.
Will the office be closed? Will the brokers bring in new
clients? Will the staff feel united as part of a successful team?
It may take months to find out, but in the way of these
intention-setting practices, taking an active role in your
surroundings and adjusting them to symbolically represent what you
want can’t help but create positive change.