By Matt Martinez
Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service
This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Visit milwaukeenns.org.
What does peace of mind look like to you?
If the answer is a quiet room lined with yoga mats, Tibetan singing bowls and house plants, you may have had the same idea that Camille Mays and Greg Powell II had when they created the Zen Den.
The Zen Den provides a home for art therapy, sound therapy, meditation, among other things.
“It’s really about things to focus on to put yourself in a place of peace and balance,” Mays said. “You can focus on your breathing, you can focus on your art and expressing yourself that way, or just meditating . . . it’s just that moment of stillness.”
The Den is made possible by a partnership between of Peace Garden Project MKE, a wellness initiative focused on providing healing, coping and wellness tools, and Mental Health America of Wisconsin, a nonprofit focused on mental health advocacy.
The Zen Den, located at 3910 W. Lisbon Ave., is in one of Mental Health America’s outpatient locations thanks to a partnership with the organization. It is next to United Methodist Children’s Services.
People can spend time decompressing with a variety of activities, including tending to plants or meditating. Mays said one of the Den’s goals is to help people find activities that improve their mental health.
‘A safe place’
The Zen Den is for anyone who just needs a place to relax or to get away, Powell said.
“We just wanted it to be a safe space,” Powell said. “It’s quiet. Yet “it’s big enough that we can have sound baths and art and yoga mats all in the same place.”
Mays leads sessions for the sound healing baths. In a demonstration, the room is filled with tones and hums. Singing bowls are tapped and struck with a wooden mallet, causing a harmony between sounds in the room.
The vibrations reverberating off the bowls help to align water in the body, Mays said. The therapy can be used to soothe anxiety and depression.
Powell provides art training at the space across many mediums, including painting and drawing. An artist himself, Powell has been making sketches and expressions since he was a young boy. It’s made a difference in his life as he’s navigated challenges, he said.
“It’s been there through some ups and downs of life,” Powell said. “Art’s been a constant.”
Mays said the Zen Den exposes people to alternative healing methods. In particular, she wants to help those who have been overstressed by the pandemic.
“I hope to help the healers,” Mays said. “We encourage people who are suffering from burnout, people who are out in the community, community members who suffered a loss – people who are looking for ways to just have some type of self-healing or reset.”
Mays is no stranger to trauma. In November 2019, her son Darnell “Booka” Woodard was killed during a drug deal. NNS told her story last year as she shared how she has tried to heal after Booka’s death.
Mays, who arranged flower arrangements for the families of gunshot victims to have at vigils, turned to some of these same healing methods to process her own grief.
The Zen Den will be at its physical location until March, with the potential to be able to stay there long term. Whether she can stay in the space or not, Mays plans on continuing the mission. Ultimately, she said, she’d like to create a mobile Zen Den in a vehicle that can be driven around.
Martina Gollin-Graves, president and CEO at Mental Health America of Wisconsin, said the Zen Den brings alternative healing methods into a community that does not have much access to them.
“It gives families in the community a chance to seek and experience and discover,” Gollin-Graves said.
For more information
The space operates from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. Appointments are encouraged for those who want a full sound bath or art session. You can reach out to email@example.com or call 414-795-4645.
The space is also open to anyone who wants to walk in without participating in a session.