Dr. Anouk Aimée Shambrook gets personal with the Lion’s Roar readership.
I’m a Black Buddhist teacher in a troubled America.
I was raised in a conservative white town in Southern California. My Haitian mother and Irish father raised my siblings and me Catholic. They also introduced us to Buddhist philosophy. Maman would lead us in meditation, her melodious, accented voice filling the room. My brother and I would suppress giggles, placing silent bets on the minutes before Dad would start snoring.
When a second Black family finally moved to town, the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross in their yard. Visiting my father’s homeland of Ireland, I was identified as Black—“other.” In my mother’s homeland of Haiti, I was considered white—again, “other.” When I moved to Manhattan to study physics at Columbia, I discovered that I could define myself, claim my blackness and my humanness among Black strangers who affirmed my chosen identities with nods and knowing glances.
In 1991, I met my root teacher, Chagdud Rinpoche, deepening my commitment to dharma practice. Nine years later, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche asked me to start teaching dharma. Two years later, I completed a PhD in astrophysics as a NASA fellow. After several more years of practice, a career change, and a seven-year retreat, I began to dance in the confluence of practices that continue to fill my life: neuroscience, trauma resilience, antiracism, and spirituality.
Currently, I provide mindfulness executive coaching for individuals and institutions. I also teach within BIPOC communities, transforming suffering into embodied lessons for awakening. My essay “Coming Home to Embodied Nonduality” in the book Afrikan Wisdom explores my deep passion for facilitating the recognition of the spontaneous awareness that liberates us from limiting habits of mind. Timeless awareness is our birthright.
Why do you teach Buddhism?
So many people have no idea about their essential nature that can never be harmed by experiences. It’s powerful to witness people shift in awareness and live a life of greater resilience and profound freedom.
What dharma books do you recommend?
What Makes You Not a Buddhist by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, America’s Racial Karma by Larry Ward, and Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche’s The True Source of Healing.
A motto that represents you?
“Awareness has no handrails.”
—Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche
Your favorite virtue?
Honesty that is married to kindness.
Your chief characteristic?
Joyful, curious, and grateful.
Your principal poison?
Your idea of happiness?
Feeling connected with my heart, body, community, and Mother Earth. Experiencing the freedom that arises when the field of timeless awareness becomes palpable and transformative as we practice in community.
Your idea of misery?
When I’m not in touch with my essence, wholeness, and the ground of being.
Name three of your heroes.
Yeshe Tsogyal, Maya Angelou, and Esperanza Spalding.
The natural talent you’d most like to have?
The ability to make people laugh! Laughter is a gift that can help people open to realities they may otherwise ignore.
Your favorite author?
When I went to college, my father gave me both a hard copy and a recording of Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. I read and listened to that text many times, and it resonated deeply.
Your favorite musician or group?
My favorite “group” is the steering committee that organized the Black Buddhist Teacher retreat at Spirit Rock in 2019: Noliwe Alexander, Myokei Caine-Barrett, Konda Mason, and Rev. angel Kyodo williams. They rock! And they brought so much “Black Joy” to the entire process.
What’s for dinner?
Dal, crunchy carrots, and kale with onion, garlic, and ginger, along with brown rice.
Why guilt? I tend to enjoy my pleasure!