In a café full of laughter and jazz, a quiet man in an orange robe reflects upon his spiritual journey. Since 2005, Adrienne Palacios has been on a path to self-enlightenment through Buddhism.
Originally from Saipan, Palacios moved to Thailand, his mother’s home country, where he learned to make peace with his pain and became the first Chamoru monk. “Pre-monk life, my heart was in pain from different experiences throughout my youth,” he said. “Only a person in pain can cause pain in another. When you know yourself, there will be less projecting. There will be less misunderstanding. Now all of my relationships are clear. When I communicate, all there is clarity. I have no hidden agenda.”
While learning Thai and adjusting to Thai courtesy were obvious struggles, for Palacios the biggest lesson was learning to meditate. Palacios believes there is no wrong meditation, just efficient and non-efficient. “Be very compassionate toward yourself when meditating. It’s not about force, but calming the mind and teaching it to be still and compassionately pulling it back when it wanders, which it will because it’s used to wandering,” Palacios said.
“Our thoughts have been allowed to run free for as long as we know. That’s the habit of our minds. When we are training to be one-pointed, when we are giving our mind a task like staying still, it won’t do so cooperatively because it’s used to running amuck. We must have compassion, or else our mind will find ways to retaliate. If you can sit for 30 seconds and your mind can be still, that’s good. It’s like going to work; you work every day but you don’t get a paycheck every day. Meditation is like that. If you can do a little meditation every day, then you’ll later see the benefits.”
Meditation isn’t a religion, Palacios said. “It was around before Buddhism; and looking at religions as a whole, they haven’t done much good anyway,” he said. “To judge something because it’s a part of a religion or to choose not to accept it because it’s different from your awareness isn’t good. All meditation is learning to know yourself and give your mind a break, give your heart a break. Meditation can help the body become healthier. It’s not the cure—like if you have AIDS meditation can just take it away, no. Whatever happens in your disease, meditation can bring you peace. So, whenever you go you will have peace in your heart and mind.”
After attending a teacher training in Myanmar, he felt inspired to help fundraise for Shan State National School. Palacios believes the Burmese children can create a harmonious future for their country. “People are people. The whole mess with the Muslim community in Rohingya is interesting,” he said. “If we want to create a relationship with any community, we don’t need to call them what they are, we don’t need to name their religion, because that creates separation. They’re just a community. As long as they want to come together in peace, compassion and understanding, it doesn’t matter religion, color, gender, or abilities they have.”
While he is now living a modest existence, Palacios does not forget Saipan. He still loves Spam. He still speaks Chamoru. Most important, Palacios has faith in his Chamoru people. As someone who had once felt lost and aimless, Palacios knows that all young Chamorus have the ability to create fulfilling lives. “You can’t find peace externally. Peace isn’t something you search for—peace is something you become,” he said. “If parents spend time with their children, these children won’t be on all these distractions. My parents never forced me to do anything. They’ve always lovingly guided me. We had a very open, honest communication with each other.”
Although he now has a deeper appreciation for the world, the Chamoru monk still keeps his heart open for life’s lessons. He said, “I will be on this journey until I’m dead, but I’m not searching for anything.”