At New Latina, we celebrate and honor diversity among Latina women. The Spirituality Series showcases Latina women’s faith and spirituality, highlighting how they choose to live a centered and guided life.
Michelle Zapata is a 34 year old buddhist, born and raised New Yorker. She was born to immigrant parents from Puerto Rico (Father) and Ecuador (Mother). Michelle is a photo editor/photo shoot producer, specializing in Hispanic Media. She is also an artist and spends much of her time painting.
From Catholic to Buddhist
1. What religion/faith are you currently practicing? How did you come to know your religion? Have you always been a part of this faith background?
I’m a Buddhist. Originally baptized as a catholic before a year old and practiced faithfully until the age of 22. My family is predominantly catholic, but there are various faiths through out our extended family. I followed Catholicism unquestioned for most of my life. I became aware of other beliefs in high school and curiously questioned and researched religions. As the years would pass, I would begin to notice sexuality in my teens, of my own and others. And with my natural curiosity, I would seek spiritual guidance from clergy. Conflicted by words in the Bible, and feelings of common sense ideals for the collective equality. Unfortunately, I would grow to experience the answer to all my questions was answered with a simple response of, “faith”. But faith was not enough to answer the questions, of what is, what was, what then, what now, what later? So, I continued to search. I had touched on Buddhism while taking yoga classes in college and decided to explore more.
2. What was it like for you growing up with this or another religious background and how did that impact your perception of faith and family traditions as an adult?
Growing up Catholic was a beautiful thing. We enjoyed Christmas (and still do), Good Friday, Easter Sunday. And like traditional Latinos, La Santa de la Cruz, this week, La Virgin de Manta the next. The core of all religions, is good and kind with obvious acts of love and guidance. But having been raised a very strict catholic lead to having tons of catholic guilt. About everything. I felt guilty for taking a crayon, guilty for having food on the table, guilty for every thinkable act a teenager can even conceive (remember, even “thought” is considered a sin). The more guilt built, the more fear grew. Fear of what? Ultimate judgment.
3. Do you think that buddhist traditions and beliefs play a role in your personal or family identity? How so?
For the last few years, I’ve been a practicing Buddhist. I’ve had a difficult time understanding text as I feel some things are lost in translation. But I’m finding my path. Before becoming a Buddhist, I felt quite a bit of anger, entitlement, jealousy, impatience and guilt. Now, I understand that there is no judgment in Buddhism. Eliminating fear of judgment – I have learned to become calm, grateful, patient and compassionate towards myself and to all others, we are the same. It has opened my eyes to different perspectives. It has taught me the idea of balance and the proper ways to reach it. One of the best things I ever read, was something to the effect of, “you must walk down different paths to understand which is the middle path”. Everyone has a different meter of what feels right and what feels wrong. Its learning to understand the difference and find the balance between them all.
4. What are some common misconceptions about your buddism and buddhists that you would like to explain to others?
One of the big misconceptions about Buddhism is the idea of Nirvana being a state of discontinuance. Nirvana, as best I can feel and describe, is the complete fullness of all good things never being subjected to suffering through the human experience. This is NOT a morbid concept. The idea is to live in your reality, appreciate the beauty of life in its entirety, here and now. Yes, there is suffering, through this our spiritual self can grow. Even suffering is appreciated. We know in history, that if mistakes or acts go unrealized and left unjust, we repeat the cycles. That is what we consider the rotation of Karma. If we take time to “smell the flowers”, our spiritual self will retain that sweet moment like the memory of your first boyfriend’s cologne. There will be no actual need to revisit something you know so well. Ultimately, you would be pure loving-kindness energy, free of physical constraints.
5. What do you think are the most comforting things about being buddhist? Why do you feel it’s the best fit for you?
I think Buddhism is the perfect fit for me because it focuses on balance and peace of the mind, heart and soul. I like that Buddhism does not negate any other religions or claim superiority to any ideal. In fact, we are all equal and each faith has its purpose to each individual. I love that this is not a fear based religion. I enjoy that it doesn’t discount science or creation. But most of all, it teaches compassion for all of life beyond good or bad, right or wrong.
6. What are some things about your faith that might be difficult for individuals to adjust to? Have you found certain aspects challenging?
One of the most difficult things I have encountered in Buddhism is what Buddhists call “monkey mind”. When in meditation, it sometimes becomes so difficult to focus on the meditation that you continually bounce around with your thoughts, like a monkey in the wild. But through certain meditations, I can sometimes get beyond that stage. The other difficulty I have experienced is reading the text. I feel that the translations may not carry the same effect/affect as the actual words in its originality. In order to better grasp Buddhism, I decided to start like I did in Catholicism, with the Bible. So, I picked up a Buddhist Bible and began to read. There is quite a bit to remember and the original words and pronunciations are beyond my grasp but I understand the teaching.
7. How do you practice spirituality in your daily life? What is your daily or weekly routine like?
Every morning I awake to 10-15 minute meditation of appreciation. Appreciation for another day, light, sun, food, a home, family, health etc. At night, I have a daily 30-60 min meditation, that is part reflection of my day and part well-wishing. By well-wishing I mean, prayers and sending good pure loving-kindness energy to those I know need it, be it familiar or stranger. At least once a week, I sit in “silence” the entire day. The purpose is to stop talking and begin listening. The goal is to hear everything around you and understand its nature. This is a big help in reflection and growth. I feel completely unbalanced if I do not have at least ONE day of silence weekly. (That means: no emails, no calls, no texts, no verbal communication on my part).