Zen in the den

Is a closed toilet the path to spiritual harmony? Dallasí feng shui followers think so.

About a dozen people took the course with Cohen in Dallas. "About one-third were like me, who had an art or design background," says Cohen. "Another third were building homes and seeking advice. And the other third were your flakes of the year: They were into aromatherapy last year."

Shortly after she received her certification, Cohen decided to leave her job at the Edith Baker Gallery and strike out on her own--as both an art consultant and a feng shui practitioner. So far, she's had about 50 clients, whom she charges $50 an hour. To a one, she has gotten a call about a month later that something wonderful has happened in their lives.

"I would hate to come across as a feng shui witch doctor," Cohen demurs. "It's not a quick fix. But it can definitely help. I think a lot of it has to do with when you feel good about where you are, you feel good about who you are, and in turn that brings good things to you. I also think that when you invite someone like me into your home or office, you're looking for a change in your life. Feng shui allows you, empowers you, to think in a way that invites change."

Success through feng shui may be in the eye of the beholder. Jeanette Faurot, professor of Chinese studies at the University of Texas in Austin, can't begin to explain why people move from one superstition to another. Not that she thinks feng shui is just a superstition.

"It depends on who's doing it," she says. "There are fundamental aspects of feng shui that balance the landscape and lead to architectural beauty. Beauty is one thing. But when it gets into luck and evil spirits--that's where it loses me."

Faurot does believe in ch'i, however, and people's attempts to maximize it through feng shui. "I do think there is something to the flow of energy, to creating open spaces in homes and temples for the wind to blow, to not have stuffy rooms. But that it brings wealth and health--that's where I draw the line."

Patrick Greene lived and worked in a 1,400-square-foot loft just north of downtown, and it was a mess. The 32-year-old owner of a consulting company for manufacturing systems invited Cohen to make order out of chaos. "There was no sense of harmony," Greene says. "It was cluttered and unpleasant--for living or working."

Cohen recommended numerous adjustments and additions to Greene's loft, including adding a vase of eucalyptus branches--for its color and its pleasant odor--removing clutter, and moving the bed so it wasn't facing the living area.

"She tried to make things flow better, not from a mystical standpoint, but from an ergonomic standpoint," says Greene.

But the change that Greene believes had the most profound impact on his life was Cohen's admonishment to remove his collection of World War II fighter plane photos from his marriage corner--the southwest corner of his apartment. Within weeks, Greene met the woman he eventually married.

"That was pretty scary," Greene says. "I'm not a believer in the occult or numerology. But there is something to be said for making a place more harmonious and flow correctly. Maybe it changes your attitude in a way you hadn't anticipated."

While stories abound about people having to move out of their houses because feng shui consultants believed they were just too unlucky to be fixed, there is an arsenal of low-cost feng shui cures for most design problems.

Though it is a definite feng shui faux pas to situate your desk so that your back faces your office door, sometimes you just can't help it. For problems like this one, Cohen would recommend placing a small mirror in front of you, so you can see who is walking in your door. While columns are a prevalent architectural feature in home and office design, they are bad feng shui, because they block the flow of ch'i. A simpler, and less costly, solution than tearing them down is to place a plant with rounded leaves in front of them, which neutralizes the situation. The roundness of the leaves invites harmony.

All in all, Cohen says there are nine mystical cures in her feng shui bag of tricks. Besides mirrors and plants, they are crystals, sound (often wind chimes), color, texture, lighting, art, and water.

When Shel Kasmir, a local art consultant, hired Cohen to bring feng shui into her life a year ago, Kasmir told her she wanted to focus on three areas of her life--her business, her health, and relationships. In the year since Kasmir reorganized her home and home office, she has seen incredible changes in two out of three areas.

Among Cohen's recommendations was for Kasmir to move her couch, the back of which was facing the front door, to make the den more welcoming. Then Cohen had Kasmir move the television to another corner of her den, so she couldn't see it when she was working at her table. In its place, Kasmir hung art objects, to give her inspiration while she works. At Cohen's suggestion, Kasmir added a small fountain--to symbolize flowing prosperity--on her desk, which happens to be in her wealth corner. And she moved the exercise equipment out of her bedroom, which now feels more peaceful.

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