“Your house has an energy drain.”
Janis McNair sits on my couch, swinging a silver chain weighed by an amber glass. She’s checking to see how the yin and yang in the room are balancing.
“Ideally,” she says, glancing up from her pendulum, “a home should have balance of about 60 percent yang – active energy – and 40 percent yin – passive energy – but yours is 84 percent yin and only about 15 percent yang.”
Wow. I had no idea.
McNair, who has graciously agreed to come to my house for a mini-demonstration, is a “professional space clearer.” No, not a clutter buster or a housekeeper, but a person who works, as one Web site put it, “to restore positive energy” to a space. Many space clearers consider themselves specialists in feng shui, the ancient Chinese system of harmonizing energies in the environment. Whereas modern feng shui consultants often work with placement of architectural, decorative and natural elements to improve the home’s feeling, space clearers focus on the invisible energies of buildings.
Some space clearers come from different spiritual traditions, and many use instruments like dowsing rods, drums and incense to drive out the negative energy. All claim to be working in a field buttressed by burgeoning scientific evidence. Most of that “scientific” evidence, however, is authored by its practitioners.
“Spaces can harbor negative energy for many reasons,” McNair says. “It could be a ghost or a past trauma by a former occupant, it could be emotional imprints of the current occupants. It could be geopathic causes, too – an Earth imbalance like an earthquake fault line.”
Hmmm. Is this some newfangled way to separate homeowners from their hard-earned cash or an ancient practice with roots in many venerable religions? Your answer to this question probably depends on how deeply you identify with New Age culture. Either way you see it, there’s no doubt that space clearing, or consecration, has been around for centuries. (Think Native American sage rituals or Catholic incense swinging.)
But it’s only recently that it has morphed into a modern-day profession. Now space clearing is the bailiwick of not only shamans, priests and witch doctors but also a host of certified (by a multitude of New Age institutes such as Earth Transitions) practitioners who service insomniac homeowners, struggling businessmen and frustrated landlords.
Following the boom in feng shui consultation in the late 1990s, space clearing appeared on the scene not simply as one magic trick in the feng shui bag but as a field unto itself. Now there is a growing body of space-clearing literature written by gurus such as Karen Kingston, the Bali-based American feng shui expert, and Eric Dowsett, a U.K.-born, Seattle-based dowser unconnected to the Chinese tradition.
These gurus travel around the world, leading workshops, training and certifying new practitioners and charging hefty fees for their special brand of metaphysical expertise. Kingston, who boasts her own franchise of practitioners in more than a dozen countries, also owns a “feng shui hotel” in Bali. New Age companies have leaped on the budding trend with various product lines ranging from “sacred-space sprays” to aid in the ridding of those especially hard-to-get noxious energies to a panoply of sacred bells and harmony balls to quartz-crystal singing bowls for chanting away tenacious yin/yang imbalances.
And, according to McNair and a couple other practitioners I spoke to, the business of vanquishing evil, grief-stricken, off-kilter energy is positively brisk.
With her elegant features and white linen pants, McNair seems more suited to the country club or a sun-bathed design studio than to a New Age chanting circle. But for the last decade, she’s devoted herself to the study of space clearing and feng shui. She studied dowser-based space clearing with Dowsett and feng shui-style space clearing with Kingston and uses both methods in her work. “When I use flowers and bells to create rituals, I’m working more from a feng shui tradition,” she tells me. “When I use pendulum and dowsing rod, I’m using a different method, but they all work with the same principles.”
Jodi Frazier, a life coach who lives in Livermore, Calif., hired McNair after feeling as if she and her husband were a little stuck in their lives. Her first experience with feng shui-style space clearing a few years ago, when she decided to hire someone to “do” the townhouse she was renting, had convinced her of its potential power. “I never felt comfortable there,” she says. “I don’t know how to describe it, but it didn’t feel like home.”
After that first consultation, she says, her life changed dramatically. “I stopped seeing the man I was dating, which was a good thing, because it allowed me to meet the man I would eventually marry,” Frazier says. “I got a promotion at work. I got married and bought a home. All in the space of two months.”
And when Frazier hired McNair, she says, the woman’s presence seemed to bring immediate changes. “From the moment she stepped on the property, things began happening,” gushed Frazier, who explains she and her husband had been waiting for weeks for their neighbor to take a hot tub they’d wanted to get rid of. “During her visit, someone came over to see about moving it. By the end of her visit, it was scheduled to be picked up the next day.”
Frazier attributed other positive changes to McNair’s visit. “I’m sleeping like a dream,” she says. “I’m moving forward on my coaching business. I’m meditating and journaling every day.” She also sees her husband getting benefits as well. “He’s not the type to say so, but I see he’s gotten some really creative work opportunities in the past two weeks,” Frazier says.
Is this a true shifting of energy, or simply the placebo response writ large? For Frazier, it doesn’t seem to matter. “I think if you believe in it, it will work for you,” she says.
Although a slight majority of McNair’s clients are homeowners or tenants seeking to cleanse their living space, many of them are entrepreneurs struggling in their businesses or landlords having a difficult time renting their buildings. She claims one of Berkeley’s (California) largest commercial landlords has repeatedly hired her to clear spaces that just wouldn’t rent. She’s even snagged some major corporate hotels as clients. One of her biggest jobs was a 34,000-square-foot Marriott Hotel in Phoenix, whose management, she says, flew her out to do a space clearing before opening its doors.
In a National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” report on San Francisco’s post-dot-com office glut, a new entrepreneur confessed to hiring a space clearer to purge the bad dot-com memories from his building’s karma.
Indeed, McNair’s first work began in 1993 with her husband, Martin McNair, a developer and commercial landlord in California. “We had a building where the lower floor was a post office, and they wanted it remodeled, but we couldn’t get the U.S. Postal Service to sign off on any of the plans,” McNair says. “And upstairs, we had 10 small offices, but we couldn’t seem to keep more than one or two of them rented at the same time.” Having run out of brass-tack solutions, her husband agreed to allow McNair to hire a feng shui consultant. “We got some pretty interesting results,” she says. “Within 45 days, we had one tenant renting out all 10 offices, and the Postmaster General had personally signed off on the remodeling plans.”
“My husband then decided that spending money on my feng shui workshops – not exactly inexpensive – was a good idea and I should pursue it,” McNair adds with a smile.
Despite its dubious claim to efficacy, it’s especially apt that space clearing now should find a new clientele among the ruins of our current post-boom economy. During the turn-of-the-century housing and office boom, feng shui consultants were kept busy with young homeowners and entrepreneurs who wanted spaces that would keep the good times flowing. Now, space clearing can offer remedies to an economy pockmarked by financial trauma, where would-be billionaires have gone bankrupt, happily over-employed homeowners have become depressed slackers with massive mortgages and commercial spaces have stood empty for months.
After identifying my house’s sorry lack of yang, McNair goes about discovering the locus of its imbalance. Holding her dowsing rod, a metal instrument in the shape of an L – just the same kind of instrument, she explains, that people use to use to find wells – she lets it guide her through the rooms. She ends up in the dining room, next to the table: The dowsing rod has begun turning in circles. “This is the where the principal cause of disturbance is,” she says. “It’s predecessor energy. Something happened here – I’m getting that it came from three owners ago. Someone might have died here. Now, let me see if I can balance this energy.”
After a few quiet moments, she emerges from a momentary reverie and declares that she has balanced the energies, thereby “clearing the space.” She double-checks her success, using her pendulum, and, sure enough, my house’s yin-yang balance has returned to a healthy 40 percent/60 percent split.
That’s service for you, eh?
Although I’m an incorrigible curmudgeon when it comes to nouveau-ancient spiritual practices, I can’t help also experiencing a sense of relief upon seeing McNair discover that my house has been healed metaphysically. Whatever we say about our homes, they are never simply shelters or even collections of well-chosen, designerly materials – they hold our lives and, by extension, our imaginations. Any profession that taps into that invisible force field of emotion, memory and fantasy is sure to find fertile ground in the irrational land of home ownership.
Carol Lloyd’s Surreal Estate column appears every Tuesday on sfgate.com. She can be contacted at [email protected].
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