FENG SHUI

How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love My Red Underwear

Office Time Killers 2011 Desk Calendar
Office Time Killers 2011 Desk Calendar

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I've been shuied.

The ancient Asian philosophy of feng shui (pronounce it the proper way, fung shway, and you're guaranteed big laughs at parties) predates Confucianism, Taoism, even Strom Thurmond. Literally translated, it means "wind and water." Like many Asian principles, it is based on the concept of "ch'i" (pronounced "chee"), the natural energy that flows through all living things (except Strom Thurmond) and should not be confused with Chia Pet, an ancient Chinese term meaning "desperately cheesy holiday gift."

Billionaires like Donald Trump and Mike Ovitz have bolstered their business dealings by applying the principles of feng shui at their corporate headquarters. Even the Oval Office was recently given a feng shui evaluation by a Chinese master. However, one needs neither the financial resources of a tycoon nor the political clout of a president to benefit. Whether your office is a 1,400-square-foot Park Avenue penthouse or a turnpike tollbooth, you too can get shuied. Just ask my boss.

It all began in ancient China, where early feng shui practitioners perfected the art of creating the ideal living environment. They journeyed for months, seeking precisely the right landscape for their homes. They carefully avoided bad omens, such as dead trees and rocky outcroppings. They conscripted the choicest building materials, monitoring every step of construction. They even tasted the soil to ensure its suitability for gardening. Then tigers leaped out of the trees and ate them.

And yet this ancient Eastern art has survived to become the hottest trend in late 20th-century Western home and building design. Not since Martha Stewart showed us how to make festive toilet doilies from composted avocado rinds has there been this much excitement in the field of home decor. Modern feng shui practitioners believe that the proper shape, color, composition, and placement of the structures and objects surrounding us can positively or adversely affect our mood, health, stamina, spirituality, personality, prosperity, even fertility. When the configuration of our home and work environments negatively affects our ch'i, they say, we subject ourselves to discomfort, apprehension, and unhappiness.

As experts will tell you if you pay them, all living and working spaces have certain areas that influence particular emotional aspects of our lives. These spaces are mapped out in a "bagua," an octagonal diagram that indicates the ideal area for each facet of life. For instance, if the wealth and prosperity area of your home is mistakenly located in the kitchen, your family may suffer complete financial ruin but your cappuccinos will be amazingly rich and creamy. If your bedroom contains a desk and office equipment, which should be in your career area, you may enjoy a thoroughly prolific sex life, and yet produce offspring that resemble massively irradiated farm animals.

Feng shui practitioners say that these notions can be extended right down to our wardrobes. For instance, one well known designer claims that wearing green at a job interview or evaluation will attract money. So I hope my boss understands why, at my next year-end evaluation, I am dressed like a St. Patrick's Day Parade float dedicated to the Lucky Charms leprechaun. When attempting to attract a mate, the designer notes, one should wear red underwear because red is a color of passion and power. (Wearing nothing but one's underwear when trying to attract a mate, however, makes the color irrelevant.)

As I researched this article, I confess that I found all this somewhat amusing. Then one day at my office, a memo was circulated notifying employees that the building would be "shuied," as we came to call it. As would anyone who was facing a situation that would influence the welfare of a great number of people, I immediately asked, "How does this affect me?" A co-worker, who was coordinating the shui-a-thon, assured me that it would not severely disrupt my work environment, and that I might actually find myself more comfortable and more productive on the job. I consented by saying, "Well, okay, but I'm not tasting any soil."
The first problem we discovered was the main staircase in our lobby. While it was coyly masquerading as a conduit for the ingress and egress of employees and visitors, our feng shui consultant informed us that, in reality, it was actually behaving as a kind of massive toilet, whereby our ch'i flow (read: cash flow) was swirling down the stairs and out the front door. My suggestion that we affix a giant lid over the staircase was immediately ignored. Instead, the consultant recommended that we suspend a small round crystal above the door. Apparently, ch'i is really, really afraid of small round crystals and upon the mere sight of one will run screaming in the other direction. The consultant said nothing about the effect on our company's prosperity should this tiny, yet all-powerful crystal fall from its perch and crack a visitor on the head. Apparently the ancient Chinese were wholly unfamiliar with the concept of personal-injury litigation.

We were also informed that the company's accounting records were not in our "finance sector" and that this would have to be corrected immediately. This meant moving dozens of 300-pound filing cabinets upstairs. Although the workers who suffered herniated disks while hauling these files into the finance sector seemed less than overflowing with newfound ch'i, our financial records are now comfortably ensconced in their rightful place. There are even little Oriental chimes hanging from the doorknob to this room to encourage friendly spirits to boost our general prosperity so that we can all receive raises.

It was then discovered, much to everyone's horror, that many employees had offices facing their bosses. This is incredibly bad, as feng shui teaches us that the boss should be located behind the employee, so as to offer support and guidance. In our case, however, this was problematic because moving all the offices to positions in front of the bosses would have involved adding an extra wing to the building. The solution was to place small mirrors in appropriate locations, thus enabling employees to "see" their bosses behind them, supporting them, guiding them, and writing memos stating that there will be no raises this year due to unanticipated chime failure.

In another area of the building, the consultant panicked at the sight of a large support column jutting through the floor. Seems such garish protrusions are obstacles for ch'i, which is constantly banging its head on them in a frantic attempt to escape the little round crystals. The solution was to mirror the column, which is just slightly better than the only other option, removing it, which would have caused the building to collapse. Extracting mangled employees from twisted, smoldering wreckage is really, really bad feng shui.

Soon, the consulting team was headed toward my office. I suddenly pictured myself being forced to wear red underwear and sit on top of a filing cabinet with chimes dangling from one hand and small round crystals dangling from the other. As it turned out, however, all I had to do was angle my desk so that it faces the entrance. This way, I am prepared on an unconscious level for any man-eating tigers, falling crystals, or hysterically terrified ch'i that might go caroming around my work space.

And they made me get rid of the Chia Pet.


Originally published in Boca Raton magazine, Sept/Oct 1997.

2011 Steven Ricci

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