Season 3 EP#75 The Spirit of Harriet Tubman: Ayahuasca, Buddhism, and the Inner Underground with Spring Washam
In this episode of Your Story Medicine, I welcome Spring Washam. Considered a pioneer in bringing mindfulness-based meditation practices to diverse communities; Spring Washam is a well-known teacher, healer, and visionary leader based in Oakland, California. She is the author of A Fierce Heart: Finding Strength, Courage and Wisdom in Any Moment and The Spirit of Harriet Tubman: Awakening from the Underground. Spring is one of the founding teachers at the East Bay Meditation Center, an organization that offers Buddhist teachings with attention to social action and multiculturalism. She is a member of the teacher’s council at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, offering teachings on Buddhist philosophy, Insight meditation and loving-kindness practices. Spring is also the founder of Lotus Vine Journeys, a one-of-a-kind organization that blends indigenous healing practices with Buddhist wisdom for transformative retreats in South America.
Main Topics Discussed:
- Discipline and consistency as devotion
- Is Ayahuasca an intoxicant?: Incorporating plant medicine into Buddhist practices
- Becoming a bodhisattva
- How Harriet Tubman is leading us to liberation today
- Living on a diet of dharma
What are you celebrating about yourself today?
Spring: Continuity. To keep going. The spirit of not giving up. Consistency.
How would you describe your medicine?
Spring: People have called me a “fairy warrior”. I’m joyful and light, but at the same time I don’t waste time getting to the root of an issue, the depths of the wound.
How has your ancestral lineage influenced how you show up today?
Spring: I’m biracial. My father is African-American and my people were from Philadelphia, Delaware, and other parts of the North. But originally Southern. My mother’s family is from England and Ireland. I don’t know anyone from that side of the family because almost everyone has passed away. So, I connected much more with my father’s people. I’ve done a lot of exploring between these two cultures and trying to understand where I fit in. I got everything from my grandmother because, while she was a housekeeper, she was a powerful spirit because she carried so much love, equanimity, and resilience. Even though she’s Christian and I’m Buddhist, she really saw me, too. She’s very respectful. But I always believed that my real parents are Spirit, that my ancestors are bigger than my personal family.
You had a Christian upbringing. Why did you choose Buddhism later on?
Spring: Buddhism was an accident. I had debilitating depression as a teenager and got obsessed with anything that had to do with the mind. I was really reflecting on where human emotion and conflict came from. I got into all the self help books. Someone sent me Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. There’s a Self-Realization Fellowship temple where I live in Oakridge and I started going there for three-hour meditations regularly. After a year of that, I realized I needed a living teacher. I stumbled on a ten-day Vipassana led by my teacher Jack Kornfield and knew that this was my path.
What would you say to someone who is interested in Buddhism but doesn’t want to be labeled as such?
Spring: I totally understand that. You don’t have to become anything unless you want to. You can look at Buddha just as a psychiatrist who can help you sort out your mind. Everyone can use a good therapist no matter who you are. Take these practices and deepen your own religion, whether you’re Muslim or Baptist. I’m not interested in converting people to Buddhism. To me, it’s all about freedom, liberation, and how we can work with our mind. I feel that Buddhism blends wonderfully with every tradition. The Buddhist position is that you’re enlightened already. You’ve simply forgotten. I love that hopefulness, because the whole practice becomes one of remembering and clearing the obstacles from the beauty that we innately possess.
Why do you incorporate plant medicine with Buddhism in your practice?
Spring: While trying to be a leader at the Self-Realization Fellowship, a lot of old trauma came up for me. I had a breakdown at some point, and I was introduced to the medicine by a friend of mine who was a psychologist. This was 15 years ago. Ayahuasca was known but nowhere near as popular as it is now. That one ceremony was so life-changing that I instantly decided afterwards to go to the Amazon in Peru to Ayahuasca’s origin. A couple months later, I flew there and signed up for a bunch of retreats and connected with these teachers. That’s where my journey began. I kept all of that to myself for a long time because I was a new teacher, and a brown teacher, in a Buddhist community. But I was slowly introducing it to my closest Buddhist friends, and we called ourselves “The Shamanistic”. I wanted to do this work within the Buddhist context, and that’s what sparked Lotus Vine Journeys. It started out as this thing I just did with a small group of friends, but it grew into a center for liberation!
How do you respond to critics within the spiritual community who say you can’t mix plant medicine with Buddhism?
Spring: There has been a lot of debate around the fifth precept and what Buddha means by “intoxicants”. In the Pa Canon, the original precept says that you cannot take things that lead to heedlessness. That means that if you have a problem with alcohol or drugs, the likelihood of breaking the other four precepts of harming, stealing, sexual misconduct, and verbal issues is very high. The debate is around whether Ayahuasca is a sacred medicine or an intoxicant that leads to heedlessness. Many in the community believe that it actually leads to awakening and understanding. You enter a different state with Ayahuasca from that of being drunk or high. I never argue with anyone. I respect the views of everybody on this issue, but this is a path that I must continue because I feel that we do it with as much honor and respect as we can.
What exactly is a bodhisattva?
Spring: The word “bodi” means “awaken” or “awake”. “Sattva” means “hero”. When we put the two together, we get an “enlightened hero”. Bodhisattva comes from the Mahayana and Vajrayana forms of Buddhism which teaches that we are awakened not just for ourselves but for all beings. We join the stream of bodhisattvas across time and commit to a life of service and practice.
What got you interested in Harriet Tubman and what is the core message of your book?
Spring: Harriet Tubman first appeared before George Floyd’s murder in May 2020. I was in a fetal position despairing due to all the racial violence happening around that time along with the apocalyptic natural disasters taking place all over California. I felt love and awakening for People of Color as Harriet went through the crack in the matrix. Harriet met me in a dream and rescued me, and I started to feel her spirit constantly. She’s reaching out to many other people at the same time. I was encouraged to write a book by everyone around me, and I resisted at first, but she appeared to me in a dream one night. It was one of the most spiritual experiences in my life and I knew I couldn’t go on without writing about it. So I did. Harriet saved me and keeps on saving me. The core message of my book is that the spirit of Harriet Tubman is rising. She’s being reborn on a spirit or consciousness level. She was a prophet and bodhisattva who was unable to teach all she knew in her time, but now can with our awakened minds. The other message is this idea of the inner-underground or spirit-underground: a railroad of consciousness that she is conducting on. Harriet is leading us along that railroad toward liberation, and we’re all passengers. She called me to be a mediator, to pass on the signals that she gives.
What does “liberation” really mean today and how do we achieve it?
Spring: We have to be somewhat delusional to muster up the bravery to strive for liberation to the end. We seek the dharma because delusion is painful. The dharma is a medicine and Buddha is a doctor. We’re all influenced by colonization and that, in itself, is suffering. Liberation is overwhelming, but I don’t think you can fix the matrix because the matrix is forever broken. What you can fix is the mind, and then the problem fixes itself. If we’re not well, we can’t help others to the best of our ability. For those who fight for freedom, I’m with you. But this is a battle of consciousness. We have to free our mind now. We’re not in chains. First, yourself, then we move outwardly. We need to rely on something much bigger than ourselves.
How did plants serve as allies for Harriet on the road to liberation?
Spring: Harriet was so passionate about nature. She spent years cutting trees and hauling them through the forest. She found a deep refuge in the forest. She became an excellent spy because she knew how to navigate in nature. She had the ability to find plants and use them, such as to heal wounds and for use as tonics. She saved a lot of lives during the war thanks to this knowledge. She was an herbalist.
What are you doing to stay grounded and what have you learned to release?
Spring: It’s so loud and noisy these days. I don’t consume media. Instead. I consume a diet of liberation theology, which means meditating, listening to conversations on wisdom on liberation whether on podcasts or YouTube. I’ve had to release resentment and bitterness for things that have happened in the past, because that is nothing more than an energy-waster.
If you were a future ancestor, what would you tell yourself?
Spring: You’re so much bigger than you know. You’re not just a body. Your Spirit connected to the Source. Just open your heart. Let go and feel the flow of the ancestors within you.
Conclusion: To find our power, we must reconnect with Earth consciousness. To embrace nature, the wilderness, is the doorway to peace for everyone who has suffered and still suffers from the legacy of colonization.
Action Integration: Live on a diet of dharma. Switch the dial of your consumption. Be aware of what you’re living on, energetically. Be grounded in a spiritual liberation practice. Exercise mindfulness. Tap into the Law of Attraction. Be in your beloved community, for only among our people do we amplify our good qualities on our spiritual path.
Learn more about Spring Washam:
Visit her website: www.springwasham.com
Follow her on Instagram: www.instagram.com/springwasham
If you are in the season of receiving support to water the seeds you’ve been planting, then I invite you to apply to Bud to Blossom which will be the only way to work with me closely this year.