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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the September 11, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Getting Fung Shui-ed

My desk has been Feng Shuied — and found wanting

in some areas and just right in others. The analysis was performed

over the phone by Shelley Mengo and Mary Jane Kasliner,

partners in Productive Practice Inc., a Feng Shui and consulting business

with offices in Monmouth Junction and in Tinton Falls.

The business grew out of lunchtime conversations between the two principals

during the time that they worked together at a dental practice in

Westfield. Each had nearly two decades of experience in the dental

field, and, in 1998, decided to open a joint consulting business.

Then two years later they broadened their scope into Feng Shui consulting

for businesses of all kinds and for individuals. On Wednesday, September

18, at 7:30 p.m. they begin a three-part series of Feng Shui instruction

at the Princeton YWCA. Cost: $10. Call 609-497-2100, ext. 303.

Another Feng Shui course starts Wednesday, September 25, at 7 p.m.

at the South Brunswick Public Library. Jeanette Goettel-Schwartz

of Creative Concepts Unlimited teaches biweekly workshops through

December 18. Cost: $8. Call 732-329-4000, ext. 286.

Kasliner holds associate’s degrees in respiratory therapy and dental

hygiene, and a bachelor’s in health science from Skidmore (Class of

1988). Mengo started working in dental offices during her junior year

at Colonia High School. Like Kasliner, she started out on the hygienist

side, but soon gravitated to the business side.

Both women have an entrepreneurial streak. For years, Mengo

jumped between jobs in dental offices and work at her own business,

which was involved in the distribution of electrical equipment. Kasliner,

meanwhile, was doing some jumping of her own. "I saw I wasn’t

going to be one of those typical hygenists who sit in one office all

day," she says. "So I went from office to office." The

field is plagued by turnover and chronically short of workers, so

it was easy for her to work in one office on Mondays and another on

Tuesdays.

Neither woman held the title of "consultant" until they launched

their business, yet both say that was what they were doing. In her

many jobs, Kasliner educated the dentist for whom she worked on how

to increase revenue through getting the most out of his hygenists.

Better scheduling — mixing easy cases with difficult ones, for

example — prevented burnout. Better organization of instruments

improved productivity. Better education had hygenists selling more

services and supplies, things such as tooth whitening and electric

toothbrushes.

Mengo put in place systems to keep tabs on insurance reimbursement

— something, she says, that must be monitored every day if a practice’s

cash flow is to be optimized. She also promoted the use of computers

and of dental software to do everything from track patients’ records

to generate appointment reminders.

As they talked over lunch during breaks from their work in the Westfield

dental office, the pair discovered that a set of universal problems

limited income at most of the dental practices at which they had worked.

From that knowledge came the impetus to give themselves the consultant

title and go about building a business.

During their consulting assignments, Kasliner and Mengo were struck

anew by how stressful dentistry is, not only for the patients —

over 90 percent of whom they describe as anxious — but also for

the dentist and his employees. "Shelley had dabbled in Feng Shui

on her own," says Kasliner. "She had taken courses; she had

a library of books." Feng Shui, Kasliner explains, is about everything

in the environment that affects us. The discipline seeks to create

a harmonious, productive environment. If ever there was a profession

that could use Feng Shui, Kasliner and Mengo decided, it was dentistry.

They would include Feng Shui in their practice, but first they enrolled

in a one-year course at DeAmici’s School of Western Feng Shui in Philadelphia.

Now, nearly 90 percent of their business is in Feng Shui teaching

and consulting, and just 10 percent in consulting on the management

of dental offices. They got into consulting to individuals, Kasliner

says, when dentists asked them to apply Feng Shui principles to their

homes. From there, they began to consult to real estate agents, advising

them on how to move their listings quickly. They are working on their

first restaurant — in New York City — and see the hospitality

industry as another source of business.

Feng Shui, an ancient system of belief with roots in China, uses a

grid, comprised of 12 squares in western countries, four more than

in eastern countries. "Westerners like more detail," says

Kasliner of the disparity. This grid can be imposed on spaces of all

sizes, ranging from the topography and structures surrounding a building

to the top of a desk. The section represents an area of life such

as self, wealth, communication, relationships, or career.

Beyond the grid, there are considerations of color,

scent, material, sound, and more. In describing my desk, for example,

I first tell Mengo and Kasliner that it is made of fiber board. "Good,

good," they say in unison. "That’s much better than plastic."

Continuing to rack up points, I tell them that my computer is to the

left and my phone is to the left of the computer. The left-hand side

of a space is the creativity area, they say, so the computer and phone

are in just the right place. On a roll, I next tell them that my plastic

cup of Diet Coke is right in the center of my desk, and that when

it is not there, a can of Diet Sprite occupies that spot.

"No and no!" Mengo and Kasliner exclaim. The center of the

desk is the space for family. There should be photos of my loved ones

in the middle, not — definitely not — diet soda in a plastic

cup.

Asking for more detail about the desk itself, the partners learn that

it is supported by two file cabinets. That is fine, they assure me,

and ask what is in them. "Nothing," I say. I like to see all

of my papers and notebooks. I like them spread out on shelves, on

the desk, and on the floor near the desk — not out of sight. No

matter, I learn, the file cabinet on the left, the space for networking,

should contain some papers that will enhance my career. The file cabinet

on the right, the space for travel and helpful people, should be stuffed

with travel brochures and notes on contacts.

Going back to the top of the desk, I divulge that there is a tea cup

filled with paper clips in the far right corner. It was here when

I took the job. Keeping it, apparently, was a big mistake. "The

tea cup goes!" Kasliner says. "You don’t know who owned it.

You don’t know what energies were on it." Its owner, both caution,

could have been ill, or unhappy. Perhaps he or she was a deviant.

There is no knowing what type of energy is emanating from the tea

cup — an innocent-looking affair in grey and pink.

Caught up in the moment, I consider tossing the cup, which I had never

even looked at before. But the leaf next to it will never go, even

though Mengo and Kaslinger agree it must. It’s bright red, the leaf,

I tell them, and yes, I admit, it is quite dead. I picked it off the

top of the hedge just outside the entrance to my office on one of

the bright blue days that characterized last fall. It is a reminder

of a season marked by blazing beauty and unutterable sadness. It will

stay, right in the spot reserved for relationships. A far better choice,

counsel Mengo and Kaslinger, would be a photo of an amorous connection,

perhaps flanked by a pair of candles. Another good choice would be

a smiling photo of co-workers.

The photos are not a bad idea — I’ve been meaning to bring some

in. I also like the partners’ idea that I get rid of the pile of papers

on the floor to my right, a crucial area, they say, and one that needs

to be especially clear and clean. Made up of papers I am quite sure

I will never need, but keep just in case, I call it my discard pile.

Out it goes. I don’t think I’ll put a little saucer full of coins

next to my phone, though. The idea is to attract prosperity, and in

a workplace setting, say Mengo and Kasliner, the coins would speed

a promotion. Maybe so, but I do think I would feel a bit silly every

time I look at them.

The process Mengo and Kasliner walked me through in analyzing the

chi — flow of energy — on my desk is the same one they use

in analyzing professional offices and homes — or parts of offices

and homes. Feng Shui can be used in designing or decorating spaces,

and it also can be used in solving problems. Here are some examples:

The dental office. Now here is a place that can use all

the good chi it can get to soothe its nervous visitors. Common negative

elements, the partners say, include long halls and unappealing views.

Dental offices are frequently designed as a number of small rooms

opening off a long hall. Energy just flies down that hall, when, according

to Feng Shui principles, it ought to meander. Break up the hall, perhaps

by punctuating it with large plants and appealing prints. Then take

a seat in the chair and look at what patients see. If a dumpster is

the most prominent feature, fence it, or better yet, surround it with

bushes. A lawn is a better view, but even it can be improved. "Put

in bird feeders," suggests Mengo. The activity will soothe and

distract.

The reception area. Most every company has a reception

area, and many do little to welcome clients. Feng Shui principles

can change that. For starters, install a wind chime. Using one that

is powered by batteries is not cheating, insists Kasliner. The sound

soothes whether it gets its power from the wind or from a mechanical

device. In offices where a half-wall is the first thing visitors see,

decorate it with an inviting scene, perhaps a beach or a forest. The

half-wall entrance "is very stopping," says Mengo. A common

solution — a mirror — only makes it worse. "We startle

ourselves," she says. A mural, on the other hand, draws visitors

in.

Once inside, visitors should find curved chairs, which signify safely,

arranged in conversational groupings. There should be a focal point

in the reception area, maybe a sculpture, "so that eyes stop spinning

around," says Mengo. Once into the heart of the office, visitors

should find signs and pathways. It is so easy to get tangled up in

a strange office, she points out, saying, "you feel like an idiot"

when this happens.

The house for sale. There are any number of ways in which

Feng Shui can get a house sold fast, but one interesting one involves

packing boxes. Homeowners must detach, says Kasliner. If a home looks

too happy and whole — pictures still up on the walls, inviting

rooms full of personal objects, dinner on the stove — people will

feel guilty about uprooting the home’s family. "Detach," she

advises, and let it show. Place packing boxes in strategic places,

letting buyers know you are ready to move on.

The bedroom. Feng Shui teaches that electromagnetic fields

disturb peace. This means no television or computer in the bedroom.

If there is no other choice, at least close the machines up in cabinets.

Exercise equipment is a no-no too. Bedrooms are just so big these

days, says Kasliner, that homeowners are tempted to fill them up with

all manner of distracting gadgets, all of which create disturbed sleep.

The relationship issue. Sometimes clients come to Mengo

and Kasliner, who charge $150 an hour for their advice, for help in

designing an office or in making a home more inviting. And sometimes

clients come with a specific problem that they think Feng Shui can

solve.

Not long ago, Kasliner had such a problem herself. Divorced for eight

years, she had long since stopped looking for love. "There’s nobody

out there," she told herself. Then she took a look at the corners

of her home that Feng Shui designates as relationship areas. She found

them to be empty, and set about filling them with pairs of romantic

images. She also wrote "affirmations," essentially letters

to herself describing what she wanted in a man, and placed these affirmations

among the pairs of hearts and candles.

Suddenly, she says, "people were coming out of the woodwork."

Wherever she went, she ran into appealing men. Men who were eager

to date her. At her gym, where she had been working out for six years,

she met a man who had also been working out there for six years. They

began to date. One year later, they married.

So it is with Feng Shui, Mengo and Kasliner agree. On one hand

mystical, it also has much in common with any number of self improvement

theories. Buying an ivy plant — said to attract money, or putting

a saucer of coins on a desk, or filling nooks with hearts, places

goals right out where they can been seen every day. Writing affirmations

reinforces the images. The result can be a lucrative dental practice

where patients feel safe and cared for, or an openness to love, or

even a neat desk, radiating energy and propelling its owner to heretofore

undreamed of career heights.


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