If regular listening to music in one's home occurs in the deeper service of harmony and well-being beyond the sheer entertainment or distraction value of it all, then the ancient art of Feng-Shui -- on how to place objects of living within a space and buildings within a landscape -- is the equivalent soundless occupation with environmental harmony. Its invisible flow of energies is based on a similar world view as the one that informs acupuncture and T'ai Chi.

And just as subjective audio reviewing has its fierce opponents who instead rely on measurements to gauge a component's emotional persuasiveness, so Feng-Shui will appear esoteric, beyond reason and perhaps even guilty of animist beliefs to those who don't view concrete visual reality as merely embedded in energetic realms beyond our ordinary senses or measurements.

Needless to say, the astrological forecast in your town paper bears little resemblance to a properly cast personal chart interpreted by an experienced practitioner. Likewise, there's Feng-Shui as practiced in Asia by highly regarded masters who are consulted by architects and major corporations; and then there are fanged shysters who apply at best a superficial grasp of the generalities to conduct paint-by-numbers consultations for ill-informed clients.

While certain aspects of object placement, space layout and traffic flow are common sense, much about Feng Shui is not. Even reading books by well-regarded Western practitioners is no guarantee for true insight though experimenting with personal takes on generalized advice is certainly harmless and fun.

The thing of it is, this stuff really works - even with and on people who aren't at all predisposed to believing in anything reeking of mysticism, certainly not Eastern. I'm very fortunate indeed to be married to a woman who grew up watching credentialed Feng-Shui masters diagnose and then rectify placement problems on site. Prior to ever reading up on these matters, Ivette as a child quite naturally acquired an instinctive sense for some of the underlying principles as the old Chinese masters would comment about them out loud for her benefit.

As a result, our homes have always reflected her native appreciation for the art of placement, which harmonizes a space and makes it feel cozy, nurturing, welcoming and alive well outside concerns over style or any particular aesthetic. If a place is truly served, anyone will notice even if personal preferences for lighting, color choices, furniture styles and materials might diverge wildly.

When you work from home, this becomes a doubly sensitive issue. Why work in a train station when you can work in a garden? Unfortunately, much Western-style architecture is at odds with the basic rectangular blueprint and its 9 subdivisions according to which Feng-Shui assigns specific optimized uses for specific areas or rooms. If your downtown apartment's health area overlays a hallway with 5 doorways and your prosperity area sits smack in your bathroom, money goes literally down the toilet and your health is as pockmarked with holes as your hallway.

You could of course write the whole subject off as nonsense and go about suffering the ill effects of suboptimal or downright counter-productive living spaces while blaming everything but the place you call home. You could continue frequenting an office whose overall vitality levels equals sub zero. You could continue to make love in a room that Feng-Shui defines as "Fame & Reputation". Your career sector could literally be out the window if it was a balcony while your "Love & Marriage" center by the trash bins gives new meaning to mysterious acts of stale encounters. If your "Wealth & Prosperity" area happened to coincide with the kitchen, well-stocked cupboards, healthy plants and art work denoting abundance might be more in sync than empty refrigerators because you eat out all of the time.

If all this sounds overly simplistic, it's because a solid introduction to the true art of Feng-Shui is well beyond the scope of today's piece. To illustrate how potent this stuff can be, let's take the factual example of my sister who visited us last fall. We'd stayed in her Stuttgart flat earlier that year and, silently and to ourselves, remarked how after having been lived in for a solid 6 years, it felt completely disincarnate, cold, temporary and ill-contained. Had Sigrun told us that she'd just moved in 3 months earlier, we'd believed her and still would have wondered.

Ivette did a Feng-Shui chart on her apartment at the end of her visit to America. Sigrun's irregular job as a contract editor for specialized short-run botanical books meant she was barely making it. Add long hours and little respect and feeling poor became even harder to swallow. The prospect of spending even very modest sums on redecorating her flat didn't at all appeal to my sister. Still, she received a long list of things she could do to close certain energy leaks and redirect the flow of chi in her place to become more contained and thus nurturing.

Our own place is small and modest and quite crammed with things but regardless of who visits, we always get unsolicited comments on how comfortable it feels. It's a true home, with
everything that word entails. When Sigrun returned to Stuttgart and re-entered her flat which she'd called home for 6 years, she couldn't stand it. The discrepancy with the warm and cozy feel of our space made the emotional emptiness of her own doubly harrowing. Instead of giving in to depression, she applied many of Ivette's suggestions right away which cost little or no money at all. When a friend of hers visited 10 days later and literally didn't recognize the place -- more for how it felt than looked -- Sigrun got ambitious and serious and implemented every single item her chart recommended.

In the course of less than 6 weeks, the changes she made in her flat paralleled her winning a new job that's regular, pays far better and allows for considerable creative freedom. Plus suddenly, three different men she found attractive began romancing her, a far cry from the lengthy dry spell that had preceded this change. She had teams of people staying over for joint work projects which meant welcome company which had previously eluded her.

This wasn't day dreaming or wishing things to be different but actively doing something about them by deliberately breaking up energetic holding patterns and leaks which form echoes in the psyche of those who live in them. We sometimes don't know how and what to change when we feel stuck or at an impasse in our lives - but we can certainly attend to seemingly unconnected items in our living space. How surprising it then must be for those who won't recognize the interconnectedness of everything. Very tangible improvements in personal health, business and romance might materialize as though out of the blue just because we reorganized how our space was used in accordance with certain ancient principles; made the most out of those areas whose usage we couldn't change; or minimized disturbances which Feng-Shui diagnosed.

Ivette recommends the above three books as a solid entry into the world of Feng-Shui from a Western perspective. As a beneficiary -- though otherwise ignoramus -- of this ancient art, I can highly recommend its very real influence both from personal experience and from folks who've taken Ivette's suggestions to heart and reported back with often surprisingly potent tales. She once did a phone consultation for a young woman whom we had met just once and who had moved back home to the East coast to finish selling her house so she could join her boyfriend in Taos.

Despite her best efforts, the house just wouldn't sell though the price was right for the market and the property itself and the structure very desirable. Feng-Shui analysis found problems related to money in the way the central staircase and front door operated. Instead of pooling and gathering, it moved outwards. Once this lady implemented the decorating changes, the house sold in 10 days. Coincidence? Naysayers are certainly welcome to think so. But when the evidence begins to pile up in your own life and those lives around you, coincidence is soon replaced with terms that point at synchronization, bringing things into accord and creating harmony.

And harmony is certainly an important aspect of the audiophile pursuit. If such harmony has eluded you in other areas of your life, you might want to look into Feng-Shui. If you're in the market to buy or rent a house, it's only sensible to investigate whether this place can conform to basic Feng Shui mandates or will remain in permanent opposition because of how layout enforces usage. If something in your present circumstance just doesn't sit right, consulting Feng-Shui could reveal energetic conflicts in your home or in one particular room. Fixes might be far easier and cheaper than visits to therapists or extravagant vacations which all end up back where they began - within your own four walls. If your home is indeed your castle, make sure it's conducive to the things you want not only out of it but from your life in general. It's all connected after all. And if it's the lady of the house who has the touch and intuition to make things cozy, homey and inviting, let her do her thing. You'll be the better for it, trust me - and you can always hog the expert's seat when it comes to matters of audiophile hardware (not that satisfaction in that male-dominated realm reigns supreme if the constant sales activities on AudiogoN are any indication)...