The invitation by telephone had the cachet of a handwritten note on stationary with an engraved family crest. My wife and I were to be guests at the residence of Sam and Socorro ("Cory" to her friends) Buenaventura in the Caribbean Island of Santa Isabel. (Names of persons and locale are disguised to keep the real island's image of fun in the sun). The hosts, devout Catholics, belonged to the local elite. In this island, elite status symbols include old money from family land holdings going back to the late 1800s, a gene salad from African, European, and Taino Indian ancestors, professional education in the United States, and last, but not least, a villa on the hill.
While in Santa Isabel in February 1999, I first met Sam and Cory. Then in October the couple extended an invitation to stay at their villa on top of one of the highest hills in the island. Cory said that the suite on the second floor was for our exclusive use now that her vacationing grandchildren had already returned to their home in the States in early Fall. My wife and I accepted her invitation without hesitation.
On the downside, October is right in the middle of the hurricane season in the Caribbean. "Hurricane" is derived from the word "hurakan," which originated among the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Caribbean, the Taino Indians. They lived in round houses with conical raised roofs—auspiciously designed to withstand the violent cyclonic storms with wind speeds over seventy-two miles per hour. A little common sense probably tells you who will win in a match up between a hurricane and a modern house perched on top of a hill. The handicapper in you will probably pick, once a hurricane strikes, a mid-level house over a huge hilltop house. But these concerns fell by the wayside as my wife and I drove in our rental car filled with vacation luggage up the winding road to Sam and Cory’s villa.
As soon as we unloaded our luggage, we admired the magnificent view around us. Below us from afar stood a five-star luxury hotel, looking like a dollhouse set on artificial turf surrounded by massive plantings of fake palm trees. But the lush landscaping and the daily room rates at $350 and up were for real. Near the hotel, waves from the azure ocean raced languidly toward the white beach. Beyond the shoreline, we could see an islet to the west named Cayo de Palmas, another larger islet on the northwest horizon, and then due north a large neighboring island under the Union Jack. We felt good, standing there in front of a two-story villa with a commanding view. The structure was a long rectangular affair of reinforced concrete. The main door, on one end of the rectangle, faced east.
Then our host and hostess greeted us and showed us our suite. We didn’t go through the main door, but instead climbed up the private stairs to the second floor. Four black cats, lounging on the cool concrete steps, scampered away. Then they regrouped around Cory as she jingled up ahead with the house keys. On top of the stairs, we discovered a south-facing veranda almost the length of the villa. The veranda had a trapezoid shape. The door to our suite stood at one end of the trapezoid and, thus was slanted 130 degrees from the adjacent wall. It was a slanted door. Bad feng shui; in other words, bad luck. My wife and I kept this observation to ourselves as Cory opened the door to our suite. Of course, we didn’t dare tell this to our gracious hostess. Instead, we sang the praises of the suite’s interior with its kitchenette, living room, breakfast nook, four bedrooms, and two full baths. The panoramic view from the second floor was breathtaking.
In addition to the slanted door, our suite revealed the exposed beams and slanted pitched roof of the villa. The Chinese word for "slant" is "evil." An "evil door" tends to attract bad luck. It allows negative environmental forces to loiter inside the premises and possibly harm unsuspecting occupants. When you encounter a slanted door and feel threatened by it, you may be resigned to your fate, humming the que sera, sera refrain.
However, feng shui is an art that offers countermeasures (cures) against bad luck lurking around you. In our case, bad luck came from a slanted door and slanted pitched roof with exposed beams. Feng shui is the ancient Chinese art of balancing the chi energy in your body with that of the chi in your surroundings to achieve happiness and prosperity. Chi (pronounced “chee”) is the life force energy. If the room has negative chi, you get rid of it using a secret feng shui method. At the same time, you should also uplift your own bodily chi. That’s the philosophy in a nutshell.
Soon a challenging, albeit stressful, occasion arose in Santa Isabel. After a week had passed, the first hint of bad feng shui came when special mid-week church services drew a large turnout of islanders. Cory remarked that she and Sam had just returned from Mass that Wednesday morning to mark Santa Isabel's annual "Hurricane Thanksgiving Day." It sounded more like "Hurricane Appeasement Day," because weather stations throughout the Caribbean had sounded warning signals the previous day that a hurricane named "Jose" was fast approaching.
Islanders began to board up windows with plywood shutters—the first line of defense against the one hundred miles per hour winds packed by Hurricane Jose reported from the island of Antigua. (In September, Hurricane Floyd had maxed out at 155 miles per hour). Jose was expected to gather strength over the waters of the Lesser Antilles and move in a northwesterly direction toward Santa Isabel. Some storeowners were putting up such signs as "Go Away, Jose!" hoping to diminish its power of mischief.
Meanwhile, that afternoon light rain, driven by wind gusts, enveloped the villa and flooded the veranda. Cory’s black cats sought high ground—they perched on the ledges of our bedroom windows and their marble eyes peeked inside. From the outside, the slanted door of our suite opened into the living room. That was where I initiated a feng shui countermeasure—by the book. My objective was modest—to prevent the villa's roof from being blown away by Jose. I wanted to prevent the worst case scenario from happening: a roofless villa forcing us to seek refuge at the luxury five-star hotel below the hill at $350 a day.
I used several of the techniques I describe in Negotiate with Feng Shui. "Tracing the Nine Stars" is a secret feng shui method designed to purify a room of ill fortune and transform negative chi to positive energy. The procedure combines the Heart-Calming Mantra, the Blessing Mudra, and visualization using the bagua. First, recite—nine times—the Heart-Calming Mantra: Gatay, Gatay, Boro gatay, Boro sam gatay, Bodhi Svaha. Visualize that all is quiet around you, and that your heart is as calm as still water. At the same time, the regenerated sound currents of the mantra should raise your chi automatically. The seat of the chi is found in the tan den, about two inches below the navel. Then you connect the chi energy between your tan den and hands. Close your eyes and direct attention inward. Let go of any tension in your shoulders, neck, and face. Begin to focus on your breath. Visualize the breath as a stream of energy or white light flowing up your torso from the tan den, through your shoulders, down your arms, and out of your fingers.
Visualize the bagua in the room. Use Figure 1 below as your mental map.
Figure 1: The Bagua.
From Negotiate with Feng Shui by Jose Armilla, page 33.
The bagua is an octagon based on the ancient Chinese book of divination, I Ching, the Book of Change. The bagua is always oriented to the door of a room or house. The main door has three possible locations: career (No. 8), knowledge (No. 6), or helpful people and friends (No. 4). When superimposed on our suite, the slanted door happened to be, appropriately, at the "helpful people and friends sector."
First locate the family sector, standing by the door. Then project your chi and the room's chi from the family sector, to the wealth sector, to the health sector, to the helpful people sector, to the children sector, to the knowledge sector, to the fame sector, to the career sector, and finally to the marriage sector. Then walk the room with the Blessing Mudra (Fig. 2), touching bases with the nine sectors in proper sequence.
Figure 2: The Blessing Mudra.
From Negotiate with Feng Shui by Jose Armilla, page 89.
You are now in a spiritual chi state—making contact with sources of positive chi while experiencing the negative energy in the room, a painful event. Your job is to bring in positive chi and send blessings to all corners. You transform the pain by visualizing the nurturing presence of loved ones according to the sequence of the "nine stars"—the family first, through the helpful people star, to the marriage star last.
Did it work? Hurricane Jose mischievously zigzagged in a northwesterly direction along the Lesser Antilles. As it approached Santa Isabel, Jose was downgraded from hurricane to tropical storm strength. According to the National Hurricane Center, "the eye of the storm passed directly over Santa Isabel" (read: Sam and Cory’s villa on the hill), but "most of Jose's wind and rain were north and east of the eye." We experienced the typical eerie calm that signaled the passing of the eye of the storm—a moment of silence as the winds stopped and the rain subsided.
I could confirm that Jose's bark—howling winds at sixty-five miles per hour with lashing rain—was worse than its bite. It did scare everyone, including the black cats that vanished from the window ledge of our bedroom to dry out inside Cory's living quarters downstairs. My wife and I stood our ground with bath towels to soak up rainwater penetrating through the aluminum louvers in the windows, plus a mop and bucket to keep the floors dry. Then, as the power went out, so did cable TV on the island.
Sure, Jose made land fall in Santa Isabel. But why did the eye of the storm, with mini cyclones capable of uprooting anything on its path, spare our villa's roof? Some islanders thought that divine intervention was primarily responsible for diminishing Jose's fury, for didn't the faithful flock to the local churches during "Hurricane Thanksgiving Day" just the day before? Yes, their prayers were answered. Like the islanders, I didn't have to prove to anybody the power of prayer. All I can say now is that another invocation, the Heart-Calming Mantra of "Tracing the Nine Stars," probably resonated also with "higher authority."
Our materialist view of reality did take a day off as Hurricane Jose approached. Perhaps its fury was indeed kept in check by collective prayers and by the secret method of "Tracing the Nine Stars." Such feng shui countermeasures were designed to tame the turbulent energies that affect our lives. Its inspiration comes from the Chinese philosophy called Taoism (pronounced "Dowism"); it is a faith that sees the material as being subordinate to and ultimately controlled by the spiritual world. Taoist weather manuals from ancient times have indicated that chi, through the use of talismans, could ward off heavy rainfall and wind in a given location. In fact, one feng shui master, Chiang Ping-chien, in a manual published in 1744, revealed a secret method to prevent rain.
Looking back to the villa at Santa Isabel, we met Hurricane Jose head on through a combination of feng shui, prayers, bathroom towels, and a good mop. On our return to Virginia, we sent Cory a warm thank you note together with a set of new bath towels.