Publication=Fairfax_Journal; Date=10.06.2001; Section=GARDEN_AND_HOME; Page=1; Book=D;
By LYNN L. REMLY Special to The Journal
After an hour's commute, you arrive at a gray office with modular furniture. You're tired before the day even starts.
At home, it's the same thing: Rather than enjoying a feeling of comfort and repose, you see your house or apartment as a giant storage bin or an empty warehouse. It may be time to redo your surroundings so they can increase your energy and improve your mood - and your life.
It's no secret that your surroundings affect your life, but it's surprising how many people don't understand that, said Jeannie Marie Tower, certified feng shui consultant in Alexandria, Va.
"People won't give themselves the liberty to create the home they want," she said. "They buy a monster house because all their friends have one and then wonder why they don't feel at home in their home."
Feng shui (pronounced fung schway), means "wind and water" and has its roots in ancient China - possibly as early as 6,000 years ago, said Sara Schroerlucke, certified feng shui practitioner and owner of Wind8Water in Alexandria (the "8" represents power in Chinese thinking). It is the art of placement, or situating objects to direct or redirect a flow of energy through one's surroundings.
Originally, feng shui grew out of the farmers' common-sense understanding that wind and water, as well as other natural forces, governed their success.
"These people understood how the environment affected them," Schroerlucke said, "and they tried to live in harmony with their environment."
The two most powerful elements in their surroundings were wind and water, both for benefit and for destruction.
Crops planted where winds scoured them, or where no water flowed by, were doomed as soon as they were planted in the ground. Similarly, anyone who built a house with an opening facing north was cursed with the harshest winds and deprived of the warm rays of the sun. Therefore, south always has been considered the direction that draws the greatest benefits from nature.
Central to all schools of feng shui, in the East and West, is energy, or "chi," Tower said. That energy circulates everywhere and is "essential and ubiquitous," she said, preferring to move around curves and bestowing its blessings as it moves.
In contrast, sharp angles, square furniture or long corridors speed up the movement of chi, creating negative effects, or sha chi (bad chi), also known as poison arrows. Even piles of paper can inhibit the free flow of energy, causing it to stagnate.
Adding light and movement can promote the circulation of chi, such as the moving water in a fountain or fish tank, a pet, plants or ceiling fans. Even bright colors and mirrors that reflect light can keep chi circulating, Tower said.
The art of feng shui works everywhere - an office, garden, recreational vehicle or boat. In fact, feng shui is part of Chinese medicine, Tower said, including acupuncture - the redirection of energy through the human body.
"I explain the concept to clients by asking them to think of a pleasant May day, where they're sitting in a nice breeze by a meandering stream," said Carol Olmstead, certified feng shui practitioner in Bethesda, Md. "They should try to make their indoor environment the same. It's like acupuncture for the home, but without needles."
Clients contact Tower when planning an addition or redecorating, or when they want a reading.
"People tell me that they just don't feel that it's `their' home," she said.
Tower meets with clients at their residence and listens to what they say about it.
"They might say, `I feel as if I'm stuck,' or `I keep banging my elbows on things.' I look for patterns in what they tell me," she said.
Based on her reading of the current arrangement, Tower then recommends alterations. In Chinese societies, an entire building must be planned with the help of feng shui masters, also known as geomancers. But Tower works as much as possible with what the clients already have.
"Most people don't want to tear down walls, but there are ways of creating the right effect without being drastic," she said.
Clients might complain that their great room isn't livable, for example, and Tower might suggest giving the impression of less height by using borders.
Changing art, use of mirrors or adding color can help redirect energy, as will plants, wind chimes and crystals, which are "activators." Mirrors are especially powerful, Tower said, because they multiply the elements they reflect.
"You have to be careful what you're reflecting," she said.
A mirror should be hung in such a way as to give a true, undistorted image of what it reflects, especially if it's a person, she said.
The goal is to create an environment in harmony and balance with nature so that someone in that environment can take part in the energy of universal forces.
"Feng shui is a practice," Schroerlucke said, "not a philosophy or a religion, and certainly not a superstition."
Schroerlucke said she became interested in feng shui as a result of a career crisis.
"I was stuck. I had all the right degrees and the right credentials, but I wasn't getting anywhere," she said.
She sought a consultation with a feng shui practitioner, who visited her home and pointed out a Lladro statue of Hamlet, holding Yorick's skull, in a prominent place in her living room.
The practitioner recommended that Schroerlucke get rid of that symbol of death, but the piece was expensive and Schroerlucke was fond of it. She merely wrapped the statue and put it in the basement.
"Less than two months later, I got a call from an employer who had talked to my former employer. I got a new job and a promotion, and everything started to move forward."
Schroerlucke eventually sold the statue.
We place symbols around us, Schroerlucke said, thereby setting ourselves up for failure. Although it's not clear whether the mindset leads to the symbols or the symbols create a mindset, people should surround themselves with positive images that give pleasure, she said.
"People want to move forward - in their jobs, in their relationships. But they bury themselves in clutter, which is dead energy," she said.
As an "energy specialist," she looks at clients' surroundings with fresh eyes and makes recommendations for replacing or rearranging significant items in their environment.
"I offer ideas for their consideration and tell them to sleep on what I've said," she said. "They need to prioritize and do the things they feel most strongly about."
Occasionally, Schroerlucke also is called in at the beginning, such as when a client is planning a house. She currently is working with a woman and her architect in Cape May, N.J., where the woman is building a house. She makes recommendations to the architect, who incorporates them into his plans in a way that is acceptable to the client.
Olmstead practices what she calls "contemporary feng shui."
"It's all well and good to hang crystals and bamboo flutes around, but I see feng shui as a design system: We arrange objects to create balance and harmony, and good things follow," Olmstead said. "There's no smoke and mirrors."
A desire for harmony is the cry Olmstead hears most often when people call.
"Many people have relationship issues, many are looking to make their business grow, others are looking for harmony in a blended family from two second marriages," she said.
Most people also know deep down what they should be doing, but they need direction and encouragement, she said.
"They might know that the furniture doesn't feel right, but they need to be ready psychologically to make changes. I can help point things out," she said.
Olmstead defines clutter as the overwhelming problem people face, citing the example of women who have closets full of clothes they cannot or do not wear, or the computer lover who has hard drives, software and electronic gadgets all over the place.
"Clutter is nothing more than postponed decisions," she said. "Nothing good can flow into your life until you make room for it."
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