Monthly Archives: March 2021

A Look at Telepathy… through Science and Personal Anecdote

Telepathy for Facebook and Then the World - WSJ

Collective Memory—

In my philosophy of film class, I always include Richard Linklater’s Waking Life, a veritable philosophy fest in words, ideas, colors, conversations, and even sound. With all held together under the grand question of what it means to live authentically, the topics span from free will to lucid dreaming, to the role of creativity and art in the human experience—touching on the central inquiry in the branch of philosophy known as Aesthetics. 

In one scene, two people lie in bed, speculating about about things of an esoteric nature… especially reincarnation and the notion of “collective memory.” 

“Maybe reincarnation is collective memory,” the character played by French actress Julie Delpy, suggests… “What I’m trying to say is that somehow I believe reincarnation is just a poetic expression of what collective memory really is.” And then she continues with a couple of examples, most notably, the crossword example, now of some repute:

There was this article by this biochemist that I read not long ago, and he was talking about how when a member of our species is born, it has a billion years of memory to draw on. And this is where we inherit our instincts. I like that. It’s like, there’s this whole telepathic thing going on that we’re all a part of, whether we’re conscious of it or not. That would explain why there are all these seemingly spontaneous, worldwide, innovative leaps in science, in the arts. You know, like the same results popping up everywhere, independent of each other. Some guy on a computer, he figures something out, and then almost simultaneously, a bunch of other people all over the world figure out the same thing. They did this study. They isolated a group of people over time, and they monitored their abilities at crossword puzzles… in relation to the general population. And they secretly gave them a day-old crossword, one that had already been answered by thousands of other people… And their scores went up dramatically, like 20 percent. So, it’s like once the answers are “out there,” people can pick up on them. It’s like, we’re all telepathically sharing our experiences. (Waking Life, 2001)

This phenomenon, whereby somehow, in a way that seems to exceed what we understand about reality by way of Newtonian causation (which applies just fine on the materialistic level), we are able to affect one another and share one another’s knowledge collectively, is sometimes referred to as the collective consciousness – a term first coined by French sociologist, Emile Durkheim.

Yogis Knew it When—

Yogis have had a similar belief for thousands of years… My own teacher, Guru Singh, speaks often about how we carry seven generations of familial information in our mind-body system:

It’s both a hologram within countless holograms, and a mirror of your consciousness reflecting images and experiences from the programming of your evolutionary history and future destiny. Your consciousness is an assemblage of all these images and stories from throughout the entire history of your incarnations and generations of your ancestry, and then projected through countless opportunities into your future…Your evolution — through tens of thousands of lives — makes up this kaleidoscope of your body and consciousness. The lives of your ancestors — for seven generations — all contribute to the makeup and experience of your physical body. Whenever you don’t realize that your experience is a mirror of all this, that’s when you’re living as a slave to the actions and reactions of the moment. Freedom is to experience your experience, while acknowledging it as a holographic reflection — an assemblage of personal perspectives experienced through the window of this projected consciousness and a mirror of reflections. This all takes place within your mental body — a result of your brain and its connection, or disconnection, with the Universal mind. When your brain is connected to the Universal mind — achieved through consistent meditation and contemplation — your thoughts are fresh and intuitive . . . flowing with the ease and grace of willingness. (Guru Singh, 2019)

So, to “wake up,” is to consciously recognize these tendrils of influences without remaining enslaved to the stories they carry. This is part of what it means to heal. For, to become liberated from “the story” is to heal. And when we heal ourselves, we also heal those past generations, as well as the future ones. There is no such thing as living in a solitary or isolated state… we are all interconnected, as one, in ways that we are just beginning to understand.

Telepathic Connections Abound… And Yet, We’re Still Bound to the Senses—

The characters in Waking Life pondered the idea that somehow, once “the answers are out there,” we can all tap into them telepathically… in a way that mirrors what the Yogis have said throughout the ages… in a way that cannot be accounted for by the traditional five senses. And yet, still today, centuries after the Age of Enlightenment, scientists run into all kinds of barriers and road blocks when trying to explore these sorts of topics.

Consider the case of British scientist Rupert Sheldrake, whose theory of Morphic Resonance was rejected as “heresy,” as if it were the 17th century. In short, he proposed that DNA is insufficient for explaining much of the behavior that is seen in all of nature, including the means by which we communicate with one another. He suggests that the missing gaps in science may be better explained by the idea of what he calls a morphic field, which is described as a field of information that influences everything, and also stores the collective habits of species. Think of it as something like an electromagnetic field, but as it relates to the extension of our “mind.” 

One of the most interesting aspects of Sheldrake’s idea is its ability to account for telepathic experiences:

The morphic fields of social groups connect together members of the group even when they are many miles apart, and provide channels of communication through which organisms can stay in touch at a distance. They help provide an explanation for telepathy. 

But, the mystical nature of what he was proposing was so offensive to the traditional scientific community that upon the release of his book, one influential reviewer proposed, in no ambiguous terms, that it would be well to burn it.  

Eight Personal Anecdotes of Telepathy (Or… Music, Bed and Instagram)—

1.I had just reconnected with an old friend from when I was 14 years old. Gino is two years older. We both worked in the Italian deli (I said I was 16). We became fast friends and quickly bonded over our shared obsession with Elvis Costello. When we reconnected, it was just before the pandemic hit, so I was sitting in my regular spot in the neighborhood coffeeshop, and had just begun typing out a response to his email when Elvis Costello’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” started playing over the coffeeshop speakers.

2.This one also involves Gino and music: I sent him a link to a Joe Jackson video on Youtube. His response was immediate… “No way! Just two hours ago I was filling out security questions for an online form and it asked me for my first concert, which was Joe Jackson. I hadn’t thought of him in years. Then you send me this video!”

3.I was finishing the watercolors for my storybook The Sycamore That Wanted To Be a Cactus, and one of them required a detailed rendering of the Fed Ex truck, with its readily identifiable purple and orange logo. I enjoyed doing it and this feeling was enhanced by my recollection that my biological father, who passed away when I was a young girl, had done sign work as a career.  His father (my grandfather) had also been a Graphic Artist. I felt the need to share this moment, which was imbued with all kinds of special significance… that I was somehow carrying out my family lineage… a sort of “divine right”… through the act of painting a little sign in great detail. So, I sent a text to my friend Sharon, saying that “this is what my dad did in the 70’s, and back then, it was all by hand, and I really like doing this…” One hour later, I received a phone call from my aunt DD, his sister, asking for my mailing address. I hadn’t spoken to her in years. She explained that she’s going to be sending me a cherished ring that my dad wore… one that my mom had given to him.

4.It was last April, 2020: I had just posted another singing video to my karaoke channel on Instagram. The song was “Hello It’s Late,” by Stone Temple Pilots, a rock group I have followed for many years. I had gotten to know them a bit during my years as a music reviewer, especially bassist Rob Deleo, who I talked with the most, and so I decided to look for him on Instagram, thinking it might be fun to reconnect after all these years, or at least tag him. When I found him, I saw that he had just posted a picture from the making of that very song, only a few minutes prior.

5.I had just woken from a dream, imagining myself in conversation with a relative. I was responding to a “made up” question, saying “I’m small…” And then I clarified, as if having a real conversation, “What I mean is that I’m not very tallI’m a small person.” And I continued repeating this imaginary, one-sided dialogue in my head, when I decided to check my email. I saw that there was one from him in my Inbox. After the usual greetings, there was a random by the way… “I’ll explain later,” he said, “but I was wondering… how tall are you?”

6.It was just before going to bed one night. You know those loose, out of left field thoughts that swirl through your mind, just before slipping into dreamland? But I was still cognizant of one thought in particular… I was thinking about how neat it would be to name a baby girl “Misty.” A strange thought to be having, considering I’m past my childbearing season. And besides, I never wanted more than my one wonderful son, anyway. But I continued my musing on the name “Misty.” Like a misty, foggy beach… And, like that wonderful song, “Misty.” And then, I was wishing I had had better luck singing that one, but alas, it didn’t seem to suit my voice. Then I decided that I couldn’t sleep yet, and so I opened up my phone. Because Instagram was the last place I had visited earlier, it popped right up. At that moment, the latest post from a fellow singer who calls himself “Jazz Cat” was right there. He was playing “Misty” on guitar while a female vocalist sang the song.

7.It was in the evening, when I often watch live music on Youtube. I had just watched a recording of Burton Cummings, from The Guess Who, on the Stern show. Youtube now offers me things that it “thinks” I’ll like, and say what you will of Stern… he rescues cats and gets good musical performances out of artists! So, then I turned off the TV. Not quite ready to go to bed, I looked through some old texts from a boyfriend of the past. I was hoping to find a link to another Cummings performance of the song “Undun.” Unsuccessful, I got tired of scrolling and went to bed, but it must’ve gotten into my psyche… I woke up in the morning from a dream with him in it. I immediately had the thought, Whew, thank God it was just a dream. And then I had another thought, Wouldn’t that be something if there was a text from him? And just at that very moment, as if to test it out, I picked up my phone, and there was, indeed, a text from him. But it gets better… It was simply a link to… The Guess Who Greatest Hits, on Apple Music. I checked the time of the text… it was sent at exactly the moment when I awoke, although I hadn’t heard it, as sounds were silenced.

8.This one is to the point: One day, one of my good friends and I sent each other pictures of the Eiffel Tower, by text. At exactly the same minute, without any prior conversation leading up to this seemingly random exchange. 

*For more on Rupert Sheldrake’s story, see the BBC documentary on Youtube entitled “Rupert Sheldrake: The Most Heretical Scientist of Our Time
*I also published this on, which I contribute to regularly.

Five Books To Take with You on a Spiritual Journey

I was asked to compile this list for a soon-to-be-launched website that will be similar to Goodreads and which will include my own book, The Buddha in the Classroom. These are my own top five spiritual reads! Thought I’d also share here. Enjoy! ~Donna

1.The Four Agreements ⎜ Don Miguel Ruiz

The Toltec wisdom in this classic is simply told, and immediate in its applicability. For example, the second Agreement reminds us to never take things personally. How much of our suffering comes from doing just that? These teachings bring our awareness to this tendency. And awareness, however basic, does the bulk of the heavy lifting when it comes to stepping out of old patterns that keep us from feeling at peace within.

2.The Wisdom of Insecurity ⎜ Alan Watts

In my own book, The Inspired Teacher (Originally The Buddha in the Classroom), I tell the story of my fortuitous and life changing first encounter with this book, while in my first year of college. Foreshadowing my career as a teacher of eastern philosophy, it lit the fire of my ongoing interest in Zen and had a profound impact on my personal journey into meditation. I sensed that the ironic title held some precious secret. I would discover, within its pages, the magic that happens when we learn to lean into the unknown, rather than fight against it. Indeed, the search for assuredness in life only seems to perpetuate the angst that is at the root of all the anxiety that characterizes the human condition… at least for many of us! Through letting go, we become more free.

3.The Divine Romance: Collected Talks and Essays on Realizing God in Daily Life ⎜Paramahansa Yogananda

This is part of an anthology of collected talks by the beloved Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda, which also includes Man’s Eternal Quest and Journey to Self-Realization. They are what I keep in my own nightstand and what I open during times of trouble. And this one is my favorite of the three.

Paramahansa Yogananda is direct and loving in tone. This is the kind of book that doesn’t need to be read at once—you can open up to any page and find solace. The theme revolves around the importance of dropping the self-sabotaging bad habits that keep us from true joy.

4.Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind ⎜ Shunryu Suzuki

This may be the most loved and widely known book on Zen. Like the Paramahansa Yogananda selection I spoke of above, it is transcribed from a series of talks, and so, it has a direct and intimate feel. Like many Zen masters, Shunryu Suzuki speaks with humor and conveys deep wisdom through Koans and lighthearted parables. The relaxed tone reminds us that enlightenment isn’t meant to be complicated. It’s right here, but we miss it because we expect deep wisdom to come cloaked in armor and difficulties.

If you only read one book on Zen, let it be this one, as it covers everything from the basics of sitting to the notion of emptiness, and in a way that feels as effortless as a breeze.

5.Be Here Now ⎜ Ram Dass

When I first held this definitive item of the late sixties counterculture in my hands, I was delighted by the unconventional design of the whole thing, from the front cover through to the way the text is laid out… sometimes coming at you in spirals, carrying the whimsy and free spirit of its era. There was nothing else like it and there never has been. Technically published in 1971, it relays the atmosphere of change that was engendered by the events spanning the Vietnam era, including the general spiritual awakening which followed, and which Ram Dass (then Dr. Richard Alpert) helped inspire.

In a highly readable and artistic fashion, he shares the most essential messages from his own transformative experiences, spanning his journeys into psychedelia and later into life as a Yogi, following the life-changing meeting with his teacher, Neem Karoli Baba, in a stripped down, compelling and relevant way.

The Buddha in Your Belly

Chest Out, Belly In”—

Growing up in the west, we were told to stand with our chest out and our belly in. But, from the perspective of eastern wisdom, it’s all wrong. The belly is not only our center of gravity, but the location of our life force, known as ch’i. Mystics and masters of old will tell you that you have a special power in your belly. I remember my own Zen teacher saying to me once: “There’s a little Buddha in your belly, why don’t you see if you can wake him up.” 

Relationship Between Belly and Breathing—

The first step to waking up the Buddha in your belly is to relax. Holding in your belly creates constriction and blocks energy flow. The idea is to let go of any tension within the belly, so that the diaphragm can move easily with the breath. “Belly breathing” brings the latent powers, that are said to lie just below the navel center, to life. The belly should appear to inflate with each inhale. It’s easy to see if someone is doing belly breathing or chest breathing by whether the belly or the chest rises with each in-breath. Most of us aren’t taught to breathe deeply unless we study some form of Yoga or martial arts. Or, if you’ve taken singing lessons, which is where I was first taught to breathe with my diaphragm. Consequently, the too-shallow and too-rapid “chest breathing,” which is emblematic of a stressed out and anxious world, tends to be the default… but more on the nitty gritty of breathing, below.

A Rose By Any Other Name—

Although most of the different meditation traditions that I’ve encountered emphasize deep breathing as a counterpart to any meditative practice, the Taoist styles, and the martial arts trainings that draw from them, are particularly focused on breathing techniques that work to generate ch’i. Once this life force is accumulated, it can be stored in this area that we have mentioned, right below the navel, and then later harnessed, much as you would draw power from a battery. This special place goes by many names. The Kung Fu masters call it the Tan-tien, the Zen masters call it the Hara, the Tibetans call it the Windhorse, while the Yogis have always referred to it as the Solar Plexus… meaning, “sun center”—conjuring up the idea of the “fire in your belly.”

Aligned with our third chakra, known as the Manipura Chakra, the Solar Plexus is the storehouse of untapped power. It is just below the belly button and is believed to be the cradle of our character, emotions and overall physical energy. The western vernacular word mojo comes to mind, since this can mean different things, but also suggests the idea of an inner spark and feeling of motivation. When tapped into, this vital center is also the source of virtues like patience and willpower, which may sound contradictory, but not when you consider that patience requires strength… and this strength is just another application of life force. 

The Story of the Archery Master—

There is a story I like, which illustrates the hidden power that lies within the belly:

Kenran Uneji, the archery master, bade his pupils test his arm muscles at the moment when his bow was drawn to its fullest extent—a bow which nobody but himself was able to draw. His muscles were completely relaxed. He laughed and said, “Only beginners use muscle power—I draw simply with the spirit,” and he meant by that the power that comes from Hara. (Karlfried Graf Durckheim, 1977) 

This story demonstrates the ease at which tasks are accomplished once we tap into this magical font of personal vigor, rather than relying on brute force.

As mentioned above, breathing kickstarts the flow. Like a gas line… it begins the pumping action that starts the cumulation of ch’i, direct from the universe to the belly, by way of the breath. And there are many different breathing techniques which are appropriate, from simple long deep breathing, to variations of kapalbhati, or fire breathing, which have roots in Ayurvedic healing traditions. But even before focusing on the breath, the process begins with our awareness; we first learn to anchor ourselves here.

Try it with me:

A simple meditation in Awareness—

Where ever you are… in a chair, or on a pillow or meditation cushion…

Close your eyes and bring your attention to your belly. Place your right hand on your belly. Do you feel it move with your in-breath?

If not, that’s okay. Simply concentrate here for a moment. Envision a little flame in your belly.

Can you feel the heat that this flame is generating?

Let the breath go.

Now, try and take another big breath and direct it into your right hand, as it rests on your belly. Imagine this breath fueling that little fire... bringing it to life.

Do you feel your belly expand outward with your inhale?

Now, exhale… Do you feel it deflate?

The Ego—

It is often said among mystics and Zen masters that simply bringing our attention to our belly keeps us grounded and out of the ego. Because it is the ego and the thinking mind which imagines that it has to do everything itself, and thus turns everything into a struggle. In Taoist language, which is part of Zen’s root system, being stuck in the head pulls us out of our natural alignment with nature. But on the other hand, when you learn to tap into this hidden well stream of power, you simultaneously surrender that superficial mechanism of control, in deference to something unseen. Something bigger than us. And when we direct our breath here, and let our actions come naturally from this power spot, we maximize our effectiveness in everything we do.

It is admittedly difficult to let go of our addiction to doing and to controlling. Even though this business of control is but an illusion. We aren’t used to trusting the flow of nature.

Another Real-Life Example—

There is an Alan Watts video I like to show my students of eastern philosophy, which includes old black and white footage of a celebrated Japanese Judo master who was over 70 years old at the time of filming. In that footage, Mr. Mikuné is challenged by a series of younger British black belts, all of whom are twice his size and half his age, and each one of them finds himself thrown down in a seemingly effortless way, by Mr. Mikuné. As a tiny little thing, it’s certainly not due to brawn, but rather because the master understands how to harness his chi force. With hardly a perceptible movement in Mr. Mikuné’s wrist, the large lads find themselves defeated, one by one. And it all appears so elegant. And then they bow.

Wu Wei (Efficiency of Movement)—

We may not all have black belt aspirations, but learning to awaken the energetic potential of the solar plexus, gives influence to the way we approach everything, and in turn, positively affects the subtle aspects of our lives, from the physical to the psychological… having a healing effect on our moods, sleep and even metabolic process, like digestion. 

All of the Yogas—and by “Yoga,” I mean all practices designed to connect us to the divine within via breath, movement or devotion—and similar mystic traditions, such as Chi Gong… typically encompass some form of diaphragmatic breathing. This breathing style is generally taught in conjunction with the principle of maximizing efficiency in the way we utilize our ch’i. In the Taoist tradition, this is called wu wei, which translates as Non Action. However, “ease of movement” captures the spirit of its meaning better.

To get the sense of wu wei, consider the example of floating. I remember when I was a child and was first learning to swim. I saw someone floating and was captivated… Wow! You mean you can lie on the water without sinking?! Of course, as I quickly learned, the more you kick and flap your arms, the quicker you sink. But more to the point of wu wei, the more you flail about, the quicker you deplete your ch’i. And as I always remind my students, the conservation of ch’i is at the root of all Taoist teachings, which is, in turn, the source of martial arts training, as well as Chinese medicine.

The question to ask is: “How can I get the job done without depleting my reserves?” Or, similarly, “How can I solve my dilemma in the most simple and graceful way?” The well loved scholar on world religions, Huston Smith, called wu wei “creative quietude,” which nicely points to the gentle nature of whatever answer we decide on. Music and sports are replete with applications of wu wei. For example, any swimmer knows that to maximize speed and minimize exhaustion, form, movement and breath have to work together in a streamlined way. Wild, excess movement will have a deleterious effect on time and performance.

The Particulars of Breathing—

As it turns out, we can all benefit from efficient breathing… even if we’re not out to win any races. In the Yoga tradition in which I was trained, it is said that most people breathe close to 20 cycles per minute, a number that goes even higher under stressful conditions. You can feel it… when you get nervous or angry, can’t you just feel your heart pounding? That’s the “sympathetic nervous system” response in action! We need that when we’re in duress, but we don’t want to live there. So, it’s important to learn to activate the other side of the autonomic nervous system, known as the “parasympathetic system.” To activate this part of the system, known popularly as the relaxation response, it is ideal to breathe less than 15 cycles per minute.

And to add insult to injury, not only do most people breathe too fast, but most are also breathing too shallowly. The chest style breathing, which is the norm, only utilizes about one third of our lung capacity. Both habits leave our cells hungry for oxygen.

Many people never give breathing a second thought. Your body will continue to breathe without you bothering about it. But consider other automatic processes, like digestion… it will work on its own, but what we eat, how we sit, and how we move, all affect how it works. To our chagrin and discomfort, we’ve all undoubtedly experienced the debilitating aftershocks of… shall we say…. bad food combination choices!

Like any tool, we can maximize our system’s efficiency, if we’re clever in the way we use it. Consider: To better cut wood, we use the right saw… we hold it properly and cut along the natural lines of the wood. And for more effective communication, we choose words thoughtfully… or perhaps say nothing at all (True wu wei/non-action). Similarly, in our digestion example, eating foods which agree with us, along with other lifestyle choices that complement the process, shows likeminded wisdom. And continuing on… with the breath, we start by directing it to the right place… the solar plexus.

So, the breath and the belly work together, like bow and arrow. The solar plexus is the bow and the breath is the arrow. 

In the kundalini tradition, in which I teach, this is the center of prana (our word for life force, similar to ch’i) and the fount of the kundalini energy. But, this wellspring of power would run dry without breath. Interestingly, it is said that if you don’t speak from this region, you will not be heard. Inhale down to the diaphragm. Breathe until you look like you’re pregnant! And when you are speaking from this region, you will be more effective and more convincing because it will be thrust from this source of God energy. Note that this has nothing to do with volume. You could whisper and be more effective than someone who is yelling, so long as the whisper is being drawn from this bow—the belly.

Getting Scientific About It—

It is only recently that science has taken an interest in understanding the workings of these mystic practices. Although the mechanisms are not fully understood, psychiatric journals speak in these terms:

“Qigong and Tai-Chi frequently involve anchoring attention to interoceptive sensations related to breath or other parts of the body, which has been shown to enhance nonreactivity to aversive thoughts and impulses. Preliminary studies suggest that the slow movements in Qigong and Tai-Chi with slowing of breath frequency could alter the autonomic system and restore homeostasis, attenuating stress related to hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis reactivity and modulating the balance of the autonomic nervous system toward parasympathetic dominance.” (

In plain language, this means that when we breathe in the ways dictated by practices like Tai Chi, we activate our parasympathetic nervous system, which relaxes our stress response, as I discussed above. This makes us feel more in control of our impulses and moods. I have witnessed in my own students, the improvement of addictive tendencies as well, since the need to take in energy from outside sources diminishes naturally, when we are energized from within. Sleep improves, as overall balance takes the place of the artificially generated surges and corresponding drops in energy that follow from unhealthy consumption habits. 

The Spiritual Dimension—

The Yogis have a saying… that the breath is the bridge between the physical realm and the spiritual realm. So, while we can observe and describe the changes that are palpable, like better digestion, sleep, and overall mood, the deep belly breathing opens the portal to a less tangible but even more exalted realm. The moment we begin to breathe consciously, we begin our spiritual journey; we traverse that bridge into timelessness. We invite the infinite within, so that we may discover that there was never any separation at all. It is because we are taking the leap out of our thinking minds and into our belly… out of our worries and into our breath. And thus, the mystic experience is directly correlated to our ability to engage this region.

Breathing turns the key to the process of self-transformation and is a superior conduit for the evolution of our consciousness and the culminating awareness of ourselves as divine beings. Its origin is the navel point–and when this region is strong, we can then harvest that energy to “pierce into the upper realms of consciousness.”

*I wrote this article for, an online journal which I have been contributing to for many years.