Feng Shui & Birds — Part 1: Wild Birds

This leiothrix (Peking or Chinese nightingale) is rather plain-looking but will light up your day when it starts singing.

In feng shui, birds have a heavenly connection. They are links between Heaven and Earth. Good feng shui consultants learn to become acutely aware of wild birds. My colleague, Susan Levitt, taught me that they can be used as an impromptu oracle. When discussing something, if you see a bird flying to your right it’s an affirmation, and if it’s flying to the left, it’s a negation.

Susan is also the person who informed me about the great feng shui master Baolin Wu. In his brilliant book, Lighting the Eye of the Dragon, he repeatedly refers to wild birds, considering them to be a barometer of the chi energy of the property: “Check for birds at dawn. If a lot of birds are out singing vigorously at dawn, it’s a good sign.” I consider Lighting the Eye of the Dragon to be the greatest feng shui book available in English. I had goose bumps by the end of the first paragraph!

In Feng Shui for Love & Money I tell this story:

I consulted for Hawai‘i Island artist Ira Ono, whose Fame Area was in his laundry room. I said, “Nobody will notice if this room is red.” He agreed, and made it red. A few weeks later he called early in the morning, “Have you seen today’s paper?” I said, “No, not yet.” He said, “I’m on the cover in color!” One of his ornaments was going to appear on the White House Christmas tree.

Artist Ira Ono’s stunning i‘iwi bird ornament.

The ornament featured the beautiful i‘iwi bird, one of Hawaii’s most beloved native birds. I don’t think it was a coincidence. The combination of red (fire) in Ira’s Fame Area and the good omen of the bird made for a very positive combination.

My strong suggestion to those who have a yard: Plant plenty of trees & shrubs—the birds need them! The lives of apartment dwellers, too, can often be enriched with wild birds by adding a bird feeder out a window. In the last apartment that we lived in in San Francisco, we had a finch feeder and a hummingbird feeder, and they were visited frequently, much to our delight.

My next post will be about pet birds—a topic suggested to me by Karen Anderson when she was visiting our kitchen—see my previous post.


Feng Shui & Gift Giving (and Receiving)

These knickknacks were donated by my publisher’s staff for the purpose of this photo that appeared in “Feng Shui for Hawaii.” And, yes, they reported that MANY were “guilt gifts.”

It’s lovely to give & receive gifts, but you don’t want to give something that will just be clutter for the recipient. Food, money, and flowers are all gifts that don’t have to be dusted.

Don’t be guilty of giving someone a “guilt gift” which is an object that they are keeping only because you’ll see it when you come to visit. And likewise don’t keep a guilt gift, if that’s really what it is. The objects you have on display in your home should be there because you use them or love them—no other reason.

Clothing is often a welcome gift, if it’s truly apparel that will be worn and appreciated. However, never give clothing with bold stripes since stripes portend arguments.


I find these vintage pottery bowls (the green from Metlox Pottery, the white from Hull Pottery — the ONLY Hull item I like) quite charming. Other bowls might seem similar to someone less passionate about pottery, but would make poor additions to my collection. It’s always wise to ask a collector before buying something for them.

If you are giving a gift to a collector to add to their collection, make very sure that it will be a welcome addition. Remember, a gift does not have to be a surprise to be welcomed. I’m a passionate collector of vintage pottery—certain vintage pottery. Most vintage pottery is not to my taste—in fact I consider much of it quite tacky. Hull Pottery is a great example of this for me. I don’t care for any of it—it looks like saccharine Roseville to me. But there’s one exception—a sublime, matte glaze, white bowl in the shape of a large tropical leaf. Its charm is explained by the fact that Hull didn’t design it—they bought the mold from Metlox Pottery. It was part of Metlox’s “Leaves of Enchantment” series, which was made in glossy green. Hull changed the bottom slightly and that was all. Then after awhile they couldn’t resist making it tacky—really tacky. They put one bunch of purple grapes in the bottom and made it glossy—that version gags me. Oh, I have digressed—pottery does that to me.

If you need more motivation than this to be cautious about giving gifts that could become clutter, read Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui by Karen Kingston. Here is my review of the title. It’s a very powerful book!



New Wives Tales—Discovering an Excellent Feng Shui Book

Grace Ho, the Japanese wife of a Chinese businessman, is an author I’ve recently discovered. I just got her book One Minute Feng Shui for Prosperity and I’m now a big fan. It was published in 2010 by a small California publisher, so it slipped beneath my radar—until I saw it in the feng shui section at Big Island BookBuyers in Hilo. It’s primarily Compass School, but I’ve learned that those kinds of books usually have a ton of information that has nothing to do with a compass—and just so with this book. Ho suggests going to each corner of each room of your space and saying, “Thank you, I love you.” (She recommends doing that in hotel rooms also.) I’ve never before heard of doing that, but it instantly felt right.

An example of noren, above a bath house entryway in Japan. Photo by udono via Wikimedia.

An example of noren, above a bath house entryway in Japan. Photo by udono via Wikimedia.

So much of Ho’s book feels right. I often recommend noren (the short, slitted Japanese curtains) and this is the first feng shui book where I’ve seen them recommended—to hide items in lower cabinets that don’t have a cabinet door. She does not believe in what she calls “feng shui novelties”—such as three-legged frogs with coins in their mouths, etc., saying, “…it is not the consumer who bought these novelties [who] becomes rich, but it is the salesman who makes money from the consumers.”

One of the most likeable things about Grace Ho is her refreshingly gracious attitude toward other schools of feng shui. Some authors are very deprecating when discussing other schools, but Grace lives up to her name. It’s also refreshing to see the Japanese name included for things such as bagua mirror (Hakke-kyo) and Black Tortoise (Gen-Bu). She also shows a correct yin/yang symbol and explains how it differs from incorrect representations—very helpful!

Likewise helpful is her motto—“There is always a solution.” She demonstrates her practicality by listing the best Compass School directions for placing the head of your bed (referred to as pillow direction). She lists: First Best, Second Best, Third Best, and Fourth Best. It’s obvious that her advice is grounded in real-world experience where people have limited options. Another example of her practicality is the fabulous index. A good index should serve as an entry point into the book and hers does just that.


Feng Shui Book Review: Pure Feng Shui by Joey Yap

Both my parents were schoolteachers, and I’m a great believer in lifetime learning. I’m always looking for feng shui books I’ve never read. I recently got Joey Yap’s Pure Feng Shui which, although it is Compass School, still has some excellent information I haven’t seen elsewhere. In most cases the pictures don’t relate to the text, but if he doesn’t have a problem with that, I’m not going to either. I’m very used to feng shui books with meaningless color pictures. I’m just relieved to see that there are no crushed pillows (see my previous blog post) anywhere in the book.

Pair of mandarin ducks.jpg

Pair of Mandarin Ducks. Wikimedia Commons by © Francis C. Franklin / CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0

Yap doesn’t advocate “lucky objects” such as mandarin ducks, but he’s usually even-handed about it: “Most of the New Age feng shui love trinkets are probably drawn from Chinese culture, superstition, or artistic symbolism. Mandarin ducks for example culturally symbolize marital bliss because the ducks swim in pairs. If you buy into this idea, then, logically, you don’t have to use ducks. A pair of any monogamous animals will do—such as lizards, emperor penguins, or vultures, since all these animals mate for life. I have no problem with symbolism, not with the practice of psyching yourself up.”

The Entertainer

Photo by BARRETT STUDIO architects via Houzz


One important thing I learned from this book that I will carry on into my practice is not to have a stove on a kitchen island. If he just said “don’t do it,” I would take that with a grain of salt, but happily he gives reasons: “The stove should always be placed against a solid wall. When you have a stove on an island, it has no rear support, is unstable, and is exposed to sha qi. This is especially the case if the back of the stove faces the kitchen entrance.” Sha qi is the same as shar chi (cutting energy), and in this case I think he means the problematic chi that can circle around an island like a whirlwind.

He also says the kitchen should not be smack in the center of the home. The rationale is that the center should be “quiet, peaceful, and yin in nature. A kitchen is regarded as a very yang feature, and when it is located in the center of the home it causes the qi in the house to be disruptive, resulting in malingering health and frequent illness.” To this I will add that kitchens with windows simply feel right.

I very much like what he says about Landform feng shui, which is the kind of feng shui that I practice: “Landforms can be used to reference external landforms (real mountains, hills, or contours in the land and real water) or internal landforms, which relate to sharp corners, beams, or sloping features within the interior of a property.” Yap is a prolific writer and I will definitely check out more of his books.

Feng Shui and Comfortable Chairs

Two feng shui authors who have greatly influenced my practice are Carole Hyder and Terah Kathryn Collins. Both of them have written about the impracticality of having chairs that are interesting to look at but uncomfortable to sit in.

This American-made Victorian chair from the mid-1800s has a rounded back—representing the Turtle behind—and the two nicely padded arms represent the Tiger and Dragon. It originally had metal rollers, which made it look disconnected from the floor. We removed those, boxed, labeled and stored them away. If you can easily take an old chair (or couch) off its rollers, then do so. You’ll have a much more grounded piece of furniture.

This American-made Victorian chair from the mid-1800s has a rounded back—representing the Turtle behind—and the two nicely padded arms represent the Tiger and Dragon. It originally had metal rollers, which made it look disconnected from the floor. We removed those, boxed, labeled and stored them away. If you can easily take an old chair (or couch) off its rollers, then do so. You’ll have a much more grounded piece of furniture.

I’m very into chairs. Whenever I’m in a store that sells chairs, I go around and sit in every chair—just call me Goldilocks. This behavior used to make my husband very nervous because we don’t need any more chairs in our home. He thought I was considering buying more chairs—but I wasn’t. I just enjoy the experience of finding out what different chairs feel like. What I’ve discovered in many years of doing this is that precious few chairs are really comfortable. When I find a really comfortable chair I do consider buying it, but I always resist because we have plenty already.

The two chairs in the photos are the only “stand alone” chairs in our living room. They look graceful from any angle. They are also sturdy, well-made and inviting. And they’re quite comfortable and supportive. All good qualities for furniture and in feng shui terms.

A good chair should represent the three archetypal animals that are beside and behind a house: Turtle behind, Tiger (feminine) and Dragon (masculine) on the sides. In fact, a home that has a protective surrounding landform is said to be situated in an “armchair position.” (I discuss this in depth in Feng Shui for Hawai‘i Gardens.) There is never a need to represent the Red Bird in front when dealing with actual chairs. But if there is a stool in front of a chair, then that stool (no matter what color) represents the Red Bird.

This is a F. H. Conant’s Sons’ rocker from Camden, NJ, probably made in the 1920s. It’s a humdinger and everyone loves sitting in it. All the three necessary archetypal animals are well represented: Tiger, Dragon and Turtle.

This is a F. H. Conant’s Sons’ rocker from Camden, NJ, probably made in the 1920s. It’s a humdinger and everyone loves sitting in it. All the three necessary archetypal animals are well represented: Tiger, Dragon and Turtle.

The book that renewed my thinking about chairs and comfort was Home: A Short History of an Idea by Witold Rybczynski. It’s a very quotable book, so I’m going to indulge. He looks deeply at the evolution of chairs, which seem to have first appeared in Europe during the Middle Ages. “During the Middle Ages, chairs….were not intended to be comfortable; they were symbols of authority….As one historian put it, if you were entitled to a chair you sat up in it: nobody ever sat back.” During the 1700s, truly comfortable chairs began to be produced by such designers as Chippendale and Hepplewhite. “It had taken a long time for eighteenth-century furniture makes to find the correct seat and back angles and the appropriate curves, shapes, and materials for sitting comfort.” That comfort lasted through Art Deco, then the modern designers such as Mies van der Rohe began to disregard the conventions of the past. “This has led to a ‘cult of originality’…in which ‘What’s new?’ is more frequently asked than ‘What’s better?’…many of what are generally considered to be outstanding examples of modern chair design demonstrate little concern for human comfort.” The designers like the chairs in an intellectual way. One of them said, “They aren’t awfully comfortable to sit on, although of course you can sit in them for an hour or so without danger of collapse.” Rybczynski starts the next paragraph by saying, “There is something charmingly naïve about this belief in the power of art to overcome physical reality. It is, of course, wishful thinking.”

Nowadays people sit more than ever because of deskwork. In Feng Shui for Retail Stores I have an extensive section on offices. Here’s what I said about desk chairs:

Your desk chair should be comfortable and provide support for your back and elbows. The lumbar region of your spine should have a correct lordosis—curving forward toward your stomach. It should feel natural to be upright; slouching should feel wrong. I recommend Treat Your Own Back by Robin McKenzie. The exercises are well illustrated and will help you stand tall.

No matter how comfortable your desk chair is, it’s killing you if you use it too frequently. Sitting more than six hours a day makes people forty percent more likely to die within fifteen years, as compared to people who sit less than three. That’s even with exercise as part of a person’s routine, according to a study on sedentary time reported in Diabetologia (2012). If you can, do some of your office work while standing.

I recently consulted for a man in Hilo who had a treadmill desk. I was curious to check it for electromagnetic fields, and happily the gaussmeter read zero. I endorse it wholeheartedly—after all, walking is natural for humanity. Our ancestors spread to all the livable continents by walking there.