Thursday, October 31, 2013


My pals, Yoshi and José, and I were lucky enough to visit Xu Bing’s “Phoenix Project” last week during its final days at MassMoCA in North Adams.  I had seen pictures of the installation on the museum’s website; but the small images cannot really prepare you for stepping into a space the size of a football field to experience these immensely powerful, yet strangely elegant, beings.

Xu Bing, one of the most influential and prolific Chinese artists working today, was originally commissioned in 2007 to create a piece for the World Financial Tower, a luxury highrise construction in Beijing.  In contemplating the project, Xu Bing was struck by the squalid living conditions of the migrant workers whose incredible skills were being used to erect the sumptuous buildings changing the face of Beijing.  His decision to utilize scrap from constructions sites – demolition debris, steel beams, tools, conduit, empty fire extinguishers, even the workers’ hard hats – to create a pair of 10-ton mythical birds was later met with disapproval from the original funding source.

The artist persisted, however.  He found a new benefactor, continued to gather materials, put together a team of assistants, and over the next two years labored to bring his vision to life.  The male, “Feng”, is 90 feet from head to tail; and the female, “Huang”, is 100 feet long.  Their combined weight is over 20 tons.  Suspended from the rafters of MassMoCA’s huge gallery space, the pair evokes wonder and a sense of the extraordinary.  Like all good art (and like the practice of Feng Shui) these pieces have the power to surprise the viewer, to refresh – to reawaken a childlike curiosity.

Phoenix” is moving on to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City for an opening later this year.  On our holiday wish list is another viewing of these remarkable creatures – this time after dark.  Embedded within the intricate and imaginative structure of construction debris flotsam and jetsam, are tiny LED lights which, after nightfall, create the sense of constellations in the heavens.  Like the viewing of a favorite landscape within nature which changes with the seasons, I wonder if this mythical pair will reveal another aspect of their remarkable rise from the ashes of modern day society.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Almost 12 years ago, during the weekend following September 11, I began my study of Feng Shui in earnest. I was part of the second class of The New England School of Feng Shui, and most of us were a bit dazed as we stood in the hallway outside a Worcester hotel meeting room waiting to get checked in. Many of us had wondered if the class would start as scheduled after the events of the week; but, as we moved forward in line sniffing the pleasantly uplifting aroma of nag champa incense, we began to feel that this was movement in the right direction.

Our guest teacher that weekend was William Spear, the author Feng Shui Made Easy: Designing Your Life with the Ancient Art of Placement. Mr. Spear told us that he had been in New York City during the towers collapse, although he had been unaware of what was happening. He had been working with a client in a soundproof room all morning, and only after he completed the session did he realize that the city was in chaos. With the events of the week as a compelling backdrop, Mr. Spear encouraged us to cultivate the “beginner’s mind”, that is, a mind that is present within each moment – and not defined by thoughts of past or future.

One of the greatest skills a Feng Shui practitioner can develop is to acknowledge the reality that exists -- to not turn away from a difficult, problematic, complex world; and at the same time, to be able to visualize what can be. To do this, we have to constantly bring ourselves back to a receptive state, something characterized by the image of an empty vessel. Mr. Spear underscored the fact that as human beings, we are “meaning making machines”. We are always trying to explain things both to ourselves and each other -- when most people are really in a state of “don’t know”. Although it goes against the grain of our western culture, Mr. Spear suggested that if we could pull back and accept this sense of not knowing, it would galvanize us.

The first chapter of Feng Shui Made Easy is entitled, “A New Way of Being”. It starts with a proverb that continues to inspire me a dozen years after hearing it for the first time, “Empty vessels make the most noise”. When we are empty we’re full of possibility – it is the state of being empty that makes the vessel useful. Thank you, William Spear.

Thursday, August 1, 2013


Betrayal, hurt, disappointment, denial, injustice, sloppiness, pettiness, ineptitude, hostility, glumness, lying – anger, frustration, grief.  These are not the makings of a good vacation, but, as my dear mother used to say, “Into every life a little rain must fall.”  My sister and I recently returned from a used-to-be favorite faraway place having experienced all of these things due to a double-booking disaster that was not handled well by the parties responsible for the mix-up.

Everyone has been in situations like this one, and they are not easy to get through or get over.  In one of my "Clear Your Clutter the Feng Shui Way!" classes I shared the following anonymous Internet fable:

A psychologist walked around a room while teaching stress management to an audience. As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they would be asked the “half empty or half full” question.  Instead, with a smile on her face, she inquired, “How heavy is this glass of water?”

Answers called out ranged from 8 ounces to 20 ounces.

She replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter.  It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem.  If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm.  If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed.  In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.” She continued, “The stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water.  Think about them for a while and nothing happens.  Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt.  And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed – incapable of doing anything.”

It’s important to remember to let go of your stresses.  As early in the evening as you can, put all your burdens down.  Don’t carry them through the evening and into the night.  Remember to put the glass down!

When putting the glass down is difficult it is important to remember to patient and kind – with ourselves.  When we’ve been hurt it is OK to ask for a little help from our friends.  If we can stay open, and intent upon regaining balance, there will eventually be a moment when all that negativity can be neutralized and directed to more wholesome pursuits – freedom, truth, respect, integrity, clarity, common sense, humor, vitality, gratitude.  Paradise may not be lost, after all.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013


In a class on spiritual development several years ago, I remember claiming that I had almost no clutter left.  I’ve had to laugh at myself many times since then, because, except in the world of politics, a less accurate statement could not have been made.  In fact, it has been only lately that I have gotten to some tightly held, hard-to-let-go-of stuff that has been stagnating in the back of my closet since the hippie days of youthful adventures. 

It really isn’t surprising that over the years the bulk of shopping mistakes, office apparel no longer needed, styles outgrown, items less than inspiring, has found its way to the Hospice Shop or Survival Center.  These things carefully encased in plastic, however, are a different category altogether: long-dormant items representing a time of life that is gone but not forgotten – a time close to the heart.

How fortunate that a light-bulb went off over my head not too long ago, and I realized that my very dear friend, Carolyn, might provide a solution and a reason to let go.  Carolyn has found many new sources of creativity since her retirement, among them building twig furniture, crocheting and, most recently, weaving.  Some of her projects involve taking old clothing, removing the seams, cutting up the material into strips that are then crocheted into rugs; or woven into runners, mug rugs, placemats, and so forth.  What better use for my beloved old wardrobe than to be reborn as something that I can actually use -- and enjoy!

So, the first set of clothing went off to Carolyn’s studio in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont and has returned as a table runner with a moon-rising-over-the-mountain theme.  I was so inspired by the colors, texture, and shapes of the completely new design before me that I sent Carolyn another set of outlived apparel, this time from my dancing phase of the mid-nineties.  The theme for the current project is water.  Without planning it, I am amazed to discover that we are working our way through the Feng Shui elements. Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal are all finding expression through the combination of my re-purposed fabrics and Carolyn’s loom.

As a Feng Shui practitioner I have to take my own advice on clutter-clearing.  It’s important to go slow and be kind to yourself, because when you’re working with your “stuff” you are working not only with the physical item, but with the energy behind that item.  If you are not ready to deal with an item – don’t.  There will come a moment when it will be just right to let it go.  In that letting go is freedom and rebirth, and a promise of something new that more truly reflects – and nourishes -- who you are now.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


We’re at the beginning of a new nine-year cycle, according to an ancient form of astrology called 9 Star Ki, which is based on the I Ching, or Book of Changes.  Each person’s star sign is determined by their year of birth beginning on February 4, the start of the Chinese Solar New Year.  Every year the signs rotate through a series of houses in a configuration known as the Bagua, or magic square, which may be pictured as a tic-tac-toe board with nine equal areas.  Each of these houses, or guas, has a particular energy and purpose.

Every nine years we all get to return to our home gua – the energy that was predominating in the year of our birth; and that is what is happening this year and through the beginning of 2014.  The presiding influence this year – the energy at the middle of the magic square – is 5 Tai Chi, the number of beginnings and endings.  This is a good year to take stock of our lives, and to make choices based upon our deepest desires for life and growth, for the seeds planted this year will have long-reaching effects.  It’s a good year to resolve old issues, and to get back up on the bike if we’ve fallen off in the past.

The teacher who shared his wisdom and insights on this wonderful guide to human character, tendencies, preferences, health, and foibles, Jon Sandifer, passed away on September 15, 2012 in the U.K.  Jon made several visits to The New England School of Feng Shui in the early 2000’s, and I was privileged to be part of the classes that he taught.  I remember him saying that you can get along with anyone if you understand where they are coming from.  He gave us a rich tool with which to find that bigger picture, and it is from this perspective that I start each one of my Feng Shui visits.  Thank you, Jon.

Thursday, January 31, 2013


In a recent column for the Wall Street Journal, Carolyn T. Geer relates a story about a conversation between novelists Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.  The two were guests at a lavish party on Shelter Island, New York.  Vonnegut joked to Heller that their host probably made more money in a day than all the earnings Heller had made from his best-selling novel, Catch-22.  Mr. Heller’s reply was something along the lines of, “Yes, but I’ve got something he can never have…enough.”

In a world of aggressive commercialism and rampant fear-based speculations about the future, it has become more and more difficult to determine just what is “enough”.  There is always something newer, better, faster on the horizon (that is, if there is a horizon at all, and we don’t just fall over another fiscal cliff.)

Eastern religions contain a concept called preta, or “hungry ghosts”.  Pretas are spirits that were jealous or greedy people in previous lives, and are pictured as beings with tiny mouths, long, skinny necks, and big, bloated, distended stomachs.  Their fate is to always be hungry and thirsty; but because of their limited ability to take in nourishment, they can never be satisfied.  These beings represent a grasping piggish energy and a sense of poverty that never quits.  In some cultures, they are shown compassion with offerings of food and drink, and serve as a reminder of how not to be.

One of the goals of Feng Shui is to find a balance between “too much” and “not enough” -- that good, healthy, nourishing place of “just right”.

Practitioners are encouraged to cultivate a wider view of life, to appreciate all the flavors of daily living, to live in the moment -- and to trust that life is a process that will not fail, despite all its ups and downs. Without this bigger picture, life devolves into a continuous state of “Catch-22” – always striving and hoping for “more”, and yet never satisfied when it gets here. With it, “enough” is just a shift of focus away.