Have you ever felt antsy and restless? You sit down for a meeting or to finish up a project at your computer and everything—I mean, everything!—distracts you (ambient noise, a new message on your phone, changes in lighting, mild sleepiness, munchies, itches, etc.). You have such a hard time sitting still, so you change your position a hundred times and even get up and walk around, but it only helps temporarily. You have a hard time concentrating, like your brain is having a million thoughts flying in a million directions.
I feel like that right now. I am sitting on my couch, computer on my lap, trying to write. This is hour two. And, I have only managed to write two paragraphs. I have gotten up about ten times—to get a drink, use the bathroom, find something to eat, check on dinner in the crock pot and write something on my grocery list. I even made peanut butter! While actually sitting down with my computer, I looked up a bunch of things on the internet, wrote several text messages, looked into registering for a class I want to take this summer and tried downloading a video to watch later. I just can’t focus any part of me on this post! I feel like all the pieces of me are floating around and can’t find their way back together.
I feel this physically and mentally today, but I have felt like this emotionally and spiritually for the last several months. There have been so many changes, so many upsets in my schedule and plans, so many dreams and ideas put on hold. Even big things about the future months, like where I’m going to live and what job I will have, are completely up in the air. I feel like I have been wandering in a general forward direction, but still rather aimlessly and without purpose. Floating, ungrounded, off-center.
Weighted Lap Pads
This week’s creative project was making weighted lap pads (see directions below). It seems like a huge jump in topic from feeling mentally and spiritually off-center to making weighted lap pads, but, I assure you, it’s not. God made the connection for me as I sewed Velcro onto denim fabric and filled little faux leather pouches with stainless steel pellets. So bear with me.
I am currently volunteering my therapy services at a small school for children with special needs. A few of the kids I work with regularly have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and accompanying sensory processing issues. In my experience of working with kids with ASD (and various other developmental disabilities), I have discovered that one of the most common issues is difficulty processing proprioceptive sensory input. “Proprio— what?!?” you say? Let me explain a bit. Proprioception is one of our body’s eight (yes, eight!) senses (not including the mysterious “sixth sense”). I am talking about real, tangible, biological senses. They are sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch, proprioception, vestibular and interoception. Explaining all of them is outside the scope of this blog (even though I love teaching about these and helping kids with sensory issues even more!), but I do want to tell you about proprioception because it is the reason for my creative project this week.
The sense organs of proprioception are joints, ligaments and muscles. Your joints, ligaments and muscles receive proprioceptive sensory input whenever they move or otherwise experience pressure (pushing something heavy, deep massage, jumping or other kinds of compression) or tension (pulling or lifting something heavy, hanging on a pull-up bar, etc.). Our brain works hard to process all of this incoming information and gives feedback to our muscles, letting them know how to move and coordinate for the current task. It’s this proprioceptive sense that tells you where your body is in space. It helps you climb stairs or get dressed in the dark, reach for a paper cup and bring it to your mouth without crushing or spilling it and copy the movements of your aerobics or yoga teacher.
Children (or adults, like me!) with proprioceptive sensory processing issues may experience a variety of symptoms (usually related to their brain thinking it isn’t getting enough input from the muscles and joints): difficulty sitting still, being in constant motion, poor posture (often leaning on something), difficulty imitating movement, poor coordination, delayed fine motor skills, difficulty paying attention and sleep issues. As a therapist, the way I help a child like this is to give extra proprioceptive input until their brain registers it as enough. It might be a massage, a little bit of jumping, a bear hug, wheelbarrow walking or a weighted lap pad. Then, because the child feels more physically centered, sitting still, focusing on a task or coordinating hand movements to cut or write becomes so much easier.
Proprioceptive input can be centering and calming. One person described that the weighted lap pad on her legs was pulling all of her floating thoughts and distracting body sensations back to the center where they belonged. She could pay better attention to my lecture even in that sleepy hour right after lunch!
Spiritual Proprioceptive Input
So, as I was sewing this week, turning pieces of fabric and Velcro and stainless steel pellets into something useful, I wondered….What if there is a spiritual parallel to the weighted lap pad?
Just like my body and mind can often feel like they are floating aimlessly, I often feel emotionally and spiritually unfocused and lost. I try a lot of things to get back to center (like those kids who are constantly running and jumping, pushing and squeezing), but they don’t really seem to have the effect I need. I pray more, attend extra worship times and surround myself with life-giving people. Maybe I read a book relevant to my problem or try to input extra truth into myself through reading my Bible or listening to sermons online. I feel more busy and more full, but not any more calm or centered.
If a weighted lap pad provides the proprioceptive input my muscles and joints need to feel calm and focused and centered, what is it that can do that for me spiritually? What can keep me from all of this unhelpful spiritual and emotional running and jumping and pushing and squeezing?
It is like my soul is crying out for something steady, unchanging, fixed, rooted that I can hold onto so I don’t have to float anymore.
…When God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, He guaranteed it with an oath, so that…we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf… Hebrews 6:17-20
It is hope that can anchor and center my soul.
This kind of anchoring hope is not just any hope. And, it’s not the kind of hope that I always assumed or was taught that it was. This hope is not just knowing that one day I am going to heaven. And it is not just trusting that God will eventually fulfill all His promises. Those things don’t seem to anchor my floating soul very well. They are too hard to hold onto, too far away, too abstract.
Hope is also (or maybe moreso)…
- certainty in the unchanging and good character of God (Heb 6.17)
- confidence to always be welcomed into God’s presence and find rest and intimacy and home there (Heb 6.20).
- the guarantee of the Holy Spirit, a seal on my heart (Eph 1.13-14).
- Christ dwelling in me, always there, never leaving (Col 1.27).
- joyful expectation that comes from knowing the living God, real and at work in my present life (1 Tim 4.8-10).
This soul-anchoring Hope is a Person, a relationship. It is my Father of Lights (Jam 1.17), my Immanuel (Matt 1.23) and my Helper-Counselor (John 14.16-17).
So, as I sit here feeling more physically and mentally centered, may I remember that my loving God has provided proprioceptive input for my soul—just as effective, just as calming as the weighted lap pad now laid across my hips. May the eyes of my heart be enlightened to know this kind of Hope (Eph 1.18), the only Hope that can calm and center my aimless, restless soul.
* * * * * * *
How I made a weighted lap pad:
- Cut at least 8 pieces of durable fabric (I used faux leather; something semi-waterproof is best), each 25cm x 12cm (10in x 4.5in).
- Fold in half, short sides together and sew along the two sides near the fold. It is probably best to reinforce the edge with a second row of straight or zigzag stitching.
- Turn inside out, so it looks like a pouch and fill with 200-300 grams of stainless steel pellets.
- Sew along the open edge, reinforcing with a second row of straight or zigzag stitching.
- Cut some durable, washable fabric (I used denim with a little bit of stretch) into 2 pieces, each 56cm (22in) long and 33cm (13in) wide. ** Adjust the sizes of the pouches and lap pad as needed.
- Iron a 1cm seam on the long side of each piece of fabric.
- Cut 4 pieces of Velcro (2 of each, hook and loop), 53cm long.
- Sew Velcro on top of the seams (on the underside) of both pieces of fabric, both hook Velcro strips on one piece and both loop Velcro strips on the other piece.
- Put the two pieces of fabric together, right sides in and sew along the short sides, being sure to sew over the ends of each strip of Velcro to secure them. Trim and edge the sides.
- Turn the fabric inside out, so the right side is showing and press the Velcro sides together, ironing the short edges if necessary. It should now look (mostly) like a lap pad.
- To make the pockets for the weighted bags: Fold the lap pad in half, long sides together, and place several pins vertically through the fold.
- Sew short end to short end down the middle of the lap pad, along the line made by the pins.
- Fold the lap pad in half, short sides together, and repeat the process of pinning along the fold and sewing.
- Fold each short side to the middle. Pin and sew as before, to make 8 pockets.
- Place the weighted bags into the pockets, according the need of the one using it (see photo above). It is recommended to use a weight equal to 10% of the person’s body weight.