Answer this question: what makes you “you?”

Stephanie coordinates volunteers, marketing efforts and operations for The Healing Center in Walker's Point.

Every year of my life, I get older, I become wiser (hopefully) and I grow into the person I am supposed to be. Like everyone, I’ve had my ups and downs which I believe contribute to my outlook, my values and the way I approach certain situations.

As a teenager, I felt easily swayed by everyone’s opinions and changed my views on everything from fashion to religion almost daily. But, now that I’m almost (deep breath) 30, have I finally become true to my spiritual self, and, dare I say, authentic?

This is quite an important concept to me, because there are too many people in this world who I feel are not. In all honesty though, I don’t blame them. We are constantly bombarded by new fads for everything from diets to child rearing. Existing as a true, unique being can be tough!

If I choose to live an “environmentally friendly” life, am I allowed my once-a-week double soy latte from Starbucks, throw-away cup included, or to maintain my green persona, must I chase across town to the local, organic café, even though I’m in a rush and forgot my re-usable tumbler?

Psychology Today provides an interesting article on the concept of being unique that I think sheds light on some of my questions. The featured writer, Elliot D. Cohen, Ph.D., writes, “To be your own person clearly requires independence of thought, feeling, and action. This means that you can and do think, feel, and act without excessively relying on others to give you direction. However, as John Donne famously proclaimed, “no man is an island,” and human happiness cannot be attained in a social vacuum. So, being independent does not mean that you live outside cultural, social, and legal boundaries; or that your character is not shaped by a process of socialization; or that all social conformity is unhealthy. Still, there exists a…sphere of personal independent existence characterized by autonomous thinking and acting, which cannot be subtracted from a person without taking away the capacity for happiness.”

I want to explore this idea of “authenticity to one’s self” more deeply, so stay tuned for next week’s blog as I delve a bit deeper into what it means to be, well, you.

The Healing Center provides counseling, group therapy and other support services to adult survivors of sexual violence. All of our services are free, as we believe that everyone, regardless of inability to pay, has a right to heal from abuse. To learn more about our services, please visit our website


Strengthen your body, mind and spirit with yoga

As I continue to explore spiritual wellness, I’m constantly amazed at how diverse the word “spiritual” is to those around me. Some have written to me about religion, while others find fulfillment in a certain teaching or practice.

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting with Jillian, a volunteer at Aurora Sinai Medical Center and a yoga instructor who I met at Core/El Centro Natural Healing Center. She started practicing yoga during her senior year of college while volunteering at a wellness center for those living with HIV/AIDS in Chicago. The organization offered yoga classes and as a volunteer, she decided to check them out. These classes inspired her as she could see and personally feel how they brought about a profound level of healing to class participants.

In 2006, she decided to further her study of yoga in India. While abroad, she learned about yoga in a variety of different settings such as ashrams, yoga schools and while traveling throughout the country.

Jillian practices yoga for its effects on her spirit, but also shared that it helps on a physical level to keep the joints healthy, strengthen muscles, develop proper breathing habits, balance the nervous system and aid in digestion. In addition to teaching, Jillian has made yoga and meditation a part of her personal daily routine and she practices about half an hour to an hour every day.

As we spoke further, I learned that yoga is not about over-exerting my body, but actually a way to honor myself and bring connection and flow between my mind, body, breath and spirit. Yoga meets each individual exactly where they are in their body. One does not need to be flexible to begin.  She talked about how life often pushes us to work hard and accomplish tasks quickly. Yoga is a practice that helps us to slow down, enjoy a pause and move into deep relaxation and meditation.

It was truly inspiring to listen to Jillian as she talked about how yoga has become a spiritual practice for her and how much balance it brings to her life. Yoga helps her to feel oneness and connection with the divine. She explained, “Relaxation, breathing and centering help us to feel our most peaceful, our most joy, and to me, that’s God.”

Yoga is now offered at both CORE / El Centro and the Aurora Women’s Pavilion. Sign up today and begin your own journey to spiritual wellness!

Healing IS Possible

In keeping with the sweet feeling of Valentine’s Day, I wanted to write to you today about a place that is dear to my heart, an organization that provides so much for those who deserve a fresh start, a caring heart and space to heal. It’s a location I’m quite familiar with, as I’ve worked here for just over 3 years now. You may have heard of it? For those who are new, it’s called The Healing Center.

The Healing Center is a non-profit that provides counseling, advocacy and group therapy to survivors of sexual violence. In my mind it is more than just a place to receive services; it’s a sanctuary. Now granted, I may be a bit biased since I work here, but I honestly can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this from others: friends, donors and clients. One survivor, Shawn, started our services last April per the advice of his girlfriend. He called to complete a phone screen and while sharing his story, he felt that the counselor “made it easy, made it really comfortable.” From this initial contact, he agreed to meet for individual counseling and later joined Men’s Group.

Shawn explains, “It feels like you graduate, you move into a whole new level of being. The first 34 years of my life were junior varsity…it’s so different… it feels like my real life can start new. I am so happy they were there when I needed them.”

We believe that everyone, regardless of inability to pay, has the right to heal from sexual abuse. Because of this, all our services are free. We work hard to increase access for those who may need a little extra help walking through our doors by providing bus tickets and vouchers for holistic services such as massage, Reiki and acupuncture.

I think Shawn said it well when he shared, “I wish guys like me, and there’s a lot of them out there… I wish they knew this was here. The Healing Center was everything I needed and more.”

Meditation. Oh so mysterious and elusive. Or is it?

I’ve been hearing a lot about the health benefits of this peaceful practice lately, so I thought I’d read up on it to see what I could learn.

As I wrote about earlier in my “acceptance” post, finding time to sit still and do nothing isn’t all that popular in my life lately. How long could it possibly take? An hour or more? I had no idea.

I found an article in Psychology Today that I feel gives a great introduction to the practice of meditation for everyday living. Here is what it said:

In the highlands of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, people look at life differently. Upon entering the local Buddhist monastery, there is a spectacular sculpture the size of a large oak. The intricate carving of clouds and patterns are painted in powerful colors. But as soon as winter gives way, this magnificent work will melt to nothing. The sculpture, in fact, is made of butter, and it is one of the highland people’s symbols of the transient nature of life.

And life here is not easy. Villagers bicycle to work before dawn and return home long after sunset. Many live with nothing more than dirt floors and rickety outhouses. Upon entering these modest mud-brick homes, you’ll find no tables or chairs—just a long platform bed, which sleeps a family of eight. However, when the people invite you in for tea, their smiles are wide and welcoming. How do they possess such inner calm in conditions we would call less than ideal?

The article goes on to talk about how meditation plays a big role in these people’s lives. Whether cooking or working outside, they perform these tasks in a very serene way, almost like they are meditating in the day to day activities that most of us rush through. To me this means slowing down a bit and taking time to actually notice what I’m doing, seeing, tasting, creating. It seems like such a simple way to integrate meditation into life.

Stephanie coordinates volunteers, marketing efforts and operations for The Healing Center in Walker's Point.

Researchers found that sitting quietly for just 10 minutes a day in meditation can lower stress levels and over time, this actually reduces the amount of cortisol (stress hormone) the body produces.

So, the big question on my mind was, “how exactly DO I meditate?” Well, you can walk slowly or sit. Focus on your breathing or on a word or picture that is calming. Sometimes your mind may stray from that thought, so if/when this happens, gently bring your mind back to that initial peaceful place. I’ve heard this may not be easy at first, but over time, your mind learns to focus.

I’m going to try this out. Just 10 minutes a day. After all, I think I am the ideal candidate!

The Healing Center provides counseling, group therapy and other support services to adult survivors of sexual violence. All of our services are free, as we believe that everyone, regardless of inability to pay, has a right to heal from abuse. To learn more about our services, please visit our website

What lifted my spirit today?

There are certain places in Milwaukee that really lift my spirits. They appeal not only to my taste buds (the most important!), but also to my senses that crave color, beauty and warmth. One place in particular, The National, a groovy cafe that serves local and organic food and drinks, hit the spot for me and I really wanted to share my experience with you. This place embodies all that is fresh, spicy, comforting, sweet, chocolate-y goodness. Enjoy!

Acceptance can be your first step to spiritual growth

Where will your spiritual journey take you?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about the word “acceptance.”

In the past, I always negatively associated the term with being average or staying still. In my professional and student life, I continuously learn about how to live more “green,” shout louder about issues I believe in, eat healthier—gluten-free, low-carb, high-protein, and so on.

While striving for excellence and working hard for what I believe in is important and really quite essential if I want to get things done, I think there comes a point where you just have to pause. Find time to take a moment and figure out what is the most important.

When I did this with myself, I had to ask, “What do I have enough control over to actually change?” What was it that I really cared about and wanted to see through to the end? While there were a million things I felt that I should strive to make better, I had to figure out what it was that I truly wanted and felt I could put my energy towards.

In my mind today, acceptance means lessening the harsh judgments I place upon myself and learning to be patient. I must allow time to ask questions, make mistakes, learn new ways of doing things and grow spiritually. Sometimes, I may arrive at the next phase in life quickly, while other times it takes me awhile. I have learned to allow myself to take time in that “thinking” mode and not actually rush to a conclusion. I’ve found that it is okay to just be aware of what is going on and neither love it or hate it, accept or deny it.

I think it is fine to just be.

I believe the creators of put it well when they wrote, “All too often we find it difficult to accept what we’re feeling. A common pattern is to experience some initial unpleasant experience, and then to feel bad because of feeling bad, and then to feel bad about feeling bad about feeling bad, and so on. It’s a vicious cycle of feeling bad about feeling bad.”

By allowing ourselves to feel emotions, whether good or bad, we are accepting ourselves and nurturing that time in life before growth can occur.

The Healing Center provides counseling, group therapy and other support services to adult survivors of sexual violence. All of our services are free, as we believe that everyone, regardless of inability to pay, has a right to heal from abuse. To learn more about our services, please visit our website