Focus On

Lessons from Camino, 2020 | Joan Rataic-Lang

Thursday, December 24, 2020 @ 9:03 AM | By Joan Rataic-Lang


Joan Rataic-Lang %>
Joan Rataic-Lang
In 2013 I walked the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, beginning in France all across northern Spain. Pilgrims have been walking the Camino for 1,000 years. It’s 750 kilometres long, and it took my friend and me 35 days to walk it. It was not easy. Nonetheless, it was the most amazing experience of my life. I would like to share some lessons that experience.

1. Life is not a race.

There was a lady we met at the airport in Montreal, which means we spent some time with her even before we started walking. From Montreal we flew to  Bordeaux, took the train to Bayonne and then the bus to St. Jean Pied de Port. I liked her.  As my friend and I walked we would run into her. Her questions always started with, “where did you start walking today?”, “what time did you start?”, “how long have you been on the road?” It felt like a race, but I wasn’t there to compete, I was there for myself. Eventually we started avoiding her. She wasn’t  fun anymore.

In our everyday lives it’s easy to get caught up comparing ourselves to others. Facebook and Instagram are constantly reminding us how much better everyone else is, how wonderful the home renovations are, what a great vacation they had and how amazing their children are.

Don’t get caught up in it, especially now. Perhaps business isn’t the same as before, or you are looking for a job; that does not mean others are better than you. Decisions made in a crisis are not always logical, nor are they considerate of human emotions. The “facts” that they are based on sometimes don’t make sense either.

If you are working, now, more than ever, show your colleagues empathy and compassion. And if you are not working, don’t take it personally.

2. Tend to your wounds, don’t eat the pain.

On the Camino one of the biggest issues is blisters. There are ways of treating them that I was not aware of until I started to prep for the Camino. There is no need to endure them. There were those who were prepared, and those who did not have what they needed. But everyone was willing to help. Bandages, ointments and advice were frequently shared. 

During the first lockdown in Toronto I was getting depressed. It was hard to be at home all the time, cooped up in the house. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family and even after 34 years of marriage still enjoy my husband’s company. But that doesn’t mean that trying to figure out how to run the association while listening to the constant doom and gloom didn’t have an effect. I did what works for me. I started taking really long walks. I made them fit into my schedule and took care of me. What are you doing for you?

Now, more than ever, is the time to show yourself some compassion.

3. We are all different and that’s OK.

There are fast walkers, slow walkers, people who are solitary walkers, others who enjoy constant conversation. No one is better than the other, they are simply different, and that’s what makes life interesting. I love the fact that I met people from 25 countries and had short chats or in-depth conversations with all of them.

There was so little to judge people on. Clothes, cars, size of home, job — none of these was significant. We all looked the same, a little dishevelled with backpack and boots. People talked about why they were walking, what drew them to do this. From there conversations became interesting and you really got to know people.

I wish that we could live that way in North American society. We’d probably all feel better if we accepted each other for who we are.

4. We don’t need a lot of stuff to be happy.

I had two pairs of pants, one I was wearing and the other in my pack, a couple of tops, a polar fleece, a hat and a waterproof jacket. I was happy, I had what I needed, but not so much that my backpack weighed me down. After 35 days of very simple living I came home and said to my husband, let’s sell the house. It’s too big, we don’t need all this stuff. From here I could go on a rant about the commercialism of our society. I think you get the message. For the curious, I walked in 2013 and in spring of 2015 we did sell. 

5. Live in the now.

When you are walking you have to focus on where your feet are landing. Roman roads, farmers’ paths, trails through the woods and walking along the highway all require your attention. Add to that the rain, which falls quite a bit in northern Spain, and lack of attention could easily lead to a slip and fall. My mind was not planning what would happen three weeks from now, I was focused on today, where would we be eating lunch and what town was our destination for the end of the day.

I struggle with this piece of advice when I am back at home. Mindfulness is a concept that I try to apply, but it’s hard. 

The year 2020 was not easy and while we know a vaccine is coming, we still have some time before we get it. In the meantime take care of yourself.

Joan Rataic-Lang is executive director and library director of the Toronto Lawyers Association.

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