(from Intuition Magazine)
by Blake More
For P.M.H. Atwater, an experience called future memory opened the door to a new way of thinking about consciousness and the human brain
One Monday morning in the summer of 1978, P.M.H. Atwater returned to work after a two-week vacation. A financial analyst, Atwater was excited to be back and eager to focus her renewed energy on the pile of papers that had accumulated in her absence. Then something strange happened. As she sat at her desk, pencil in hand, everything around her froze in place. Heat rushed from her feet to her head and her office surroundings faded from view, and ,suddenly, she was in the future, "preliving" the events she would experience over the next year.
She was saying good-bye to her friends, selling and giving away everything but the few things that would fit into her small Ford Pinto. Her car packed, she set off for a cross-country adventure, fulfilling her childhood fantasy of exploring the United States by car. She watched the sun set on the Pacific, explored the Carson Sinks of Nevada, ate fry bread in Albuquerque, hopped aboard a Mississippi steamboat, followed the footsteps of Abraham Lincoln in Kentucky, and watched the sun rise over the Atlantic. She made new friends, talked to strangers, felt connections that seemed to reflect some important aspect of her life. Simultaneously, she watched and thoroughly lived this scenario, in full sensory detail that left her feeling as if every instant of the experience was as real as any present moment.
This experience ended as suddenly as it had come, and she sat in her chair stunned. Although she had just "lived" through a whole year, barely ten minutes had passed. She asked her co-workers if they had felt or noticed anything strange. Nobody had. She shook her head and wondered if what sheíd seen could be true. How could it be? She a dedicated Westerner, pull up stakes and move to the East Coast? But then, as if to seal her fate, the entire scenario replayed itself once more. Except this time, an ending was tacked on; she also saw herself meeting and then marrying a man, the two of them embarking on a life of nearly continuous writing, public speaking, and travel.
Sound odd? You bet it does, and even P.M.H. Atwater (her close friends caller her Phyllis) admits it. But, true to her nature, she refused to yield to the demands of her rational mind and instead set out to uncover the facts about what she was experiencing. As a result, Atwater became a pioneer in the field of future memory¾ a phenomenon she believes was connected to the near-death experiences she had had the year before.
Atwater defines future memory as the act of living life in advance, literally preliving the future as if it somehow overlapped present time. It is different than other modes of futuristic awareness such as precognition, clairvoyance, déjà vu, or flash-forwards because it is experienced in every physical sense¾ vision, smell, sound, taste, feel. In her words, it is "very, very real," not just slight peeks into what seems to be the future.
Atwaterís book Future Memory was preceded by Coming Back to Life and Beyond the Light, her two books on the near-death experience. While future memory appears to happen more frequently to near-death survivors, she says non-NDE survivors also experience the phenomenon. According to Atwater, the experience of future memory indicates a transformation in consciousness¾ what she calls "a brain shift."
"I believe Future Memory can change the way we understand the evolving brain," Atwater explained in a recent interview. "It explores areas of brain development that call for a reconsideration of what is presently known about consciousness and the near-death experience. It stretches the boundaries of what is real and what is not.
"Future Memory is about people who ëliveí in future before it physically manifests and remember having done so. This preliving is so utterly involved that there is no way to tell the difference between present time and future time while the phenomenon is in progress. Future memory enables an individual to ërehearseí or prepare in advance for what is about to happen in life."
But can such preparation really make a difference in a personís life? Atwater says yes. In her case, future memory episodes gave her the courage to quit a successful job, sell her belongings, and travel to a brand-new life 3,000 miles away. It gave her a glimpse of the "angel of a man" she was destined to marry and introduced her to people who later became important influences in her life and career.
"After I started my research and began gathering data, I was amazed at how many other people have had future memory episodes," she says. "I remember one man pulling out his Bible and showing me the inside cover listing the generations of family members who had experienced the phenomenon. I find that in most cases, people have episodes during stressful times¾ as if future memory helps them have more of a feeling of control of their lives. This may be why so many future memory experiences tend to be mundane, rather than sensational occurrences¾ simple things like doing dishes or driving a car. In fact, one woman claimed to have had ten such, ëordinary extraordinaryí episodes per day during a time in her life when she was struggling with school."
Atwaterís far out journey, like that of many others, had fairly normal beginnings. Born in Twin Falls, Idaho, she experienced a few incidents involving inexplicable phenomena as a child, mostly suppressed them, married young, and became a mother of three. For a number of years, she was a Sunday school teacher, a secretary, and a prize-winning cook. Then, in the mid-60s, she began a career in public service and rekindled a long-dormant interest in paranormal and altered states of consciousness.
Before long, her hobby became her passion. She became a serious student and teacher of pursuits that were even "fringe" 20 years ago. She led hypnotic past-life regressions; conducted sensitivity work; dabbled in astrology, numerology, dream and symbol interpretation, and rune-casting. But it wasnít until 1977, when she suffered a severe health trauma and went through three near-death experiences in three months, that her lifeís work began in earnest.
"Each episode was different," Atwater recalls. "Yet each seemed somehow to lead into the next. In my third NDE, I reached what I term the level of all-knowing and of revelation¾ a typical stage for many experiencers. I was told by a booming, all-pervasive voice¾ which I call the Voice Like None Other¾ that I was to write one book for each ëdeath.í I was also told the content of each book, but not how to write them or what such research would entail. You could say that I made the agreement to do this work with those on the other side of deathís curtain, and that this has fueled my passion and inspired a total commitment to my research."
When she set off on her new path, sheíd never heard of near-death guru Raymond Moody, never read his book Life After Life, had no idea that somebody had coined a name for her strangely wonderful experience. But then, coincidence struck. Struck in the cold at Chicagoís OíHare airport, waiting for a delayed airplane, she found herself huddled beside a fellow traveler and, for some inexplicable reason, the two began talking about death and dying. This woman turned out to be Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, and for the first time in Atwaterís life, she was positively identified as a near-death survivor.
Encouraged by the discovery of others like herself, and by her subsequent future memory experiences, Atwater dove into her research, determined to keep her commitment to the "Voice" as well as understand and integrate the inner changes resulting from her unusual adventure. In her search for other future memory experiencers and near-death survivors, she placed ads in newspapers and magazines and gave public talks; the bulk of her research subjects, however, simply "appeared."
"It was miraculous the way my research came together," asserts Atwater with an exuberant exhalation. "One of the jobs I had at the time required constant travel, and that meant I was exposed to all kinds of people in all manner of situations daily: taxi drivers, seatmates on airplanes, customers, construction workers, truck drive, folks in elevators and at lunch countersÖthe majority of whom turned out to be fellow experiencers. Either theyíd say something or I would. Thatís all it took. It was as if these people were waiting for someone like me to pop into their lives so they could ëunloadí¾ share their NDE episode and discuss all that was happening to them in a safe environment."
Working six days a week for the past 21 years, Atwater has thus far conducted more than 3,200 interviews with NDE subjects and, needless to say, has amassed a substantial body of information¾ findings she proudly claims are object and verifiable. She attributes this to her status as a "copís daughter" who began her training in police investigative techniques in early childhood.
"I study people, their eyes, gestures, mannerisms, how they walk, and so on. When I do an interview, I visit the personís home, talk to his or her significant other. I ask straightforward, open-ended, even dumb-sounding questions. If I want to know more, I signal that intent with forward body movement, a tilt of my head, a smile and the magical word, ëandí¾My father was quite explicit about this, saying, ëIn a car accident, you cannot use the word car until the witness does.í So, when interviewing near-death survivors, I never say ëlightí or ëdarkí or anything else until they use the term first. The response of the experiencer must determine how I use language. Plus, all of my work is cross-checked at least four times and peer-reviewed before it is published. I will not accept less. My father always told me that my findings must stand up in a court of law or I should toss them. I donít know if my findings will hold up, but at least I know that I gave it my best."
However, it is the unique twist she gives to her findings as much as her rigorous investigative training that sets her apart from the 80 or so other NDE researchers in America. Moving beyond tunnels of light and heavenly edicts, she talks about "brain shifts," "increased limbic functions," and "restructured models of time and existence." To her, NDEs and aftereffects such as future memory are road signs indicating a turning point in the consciousness of the experiencer¾ a kickstart mechanism that marks structural, chemical, and functional changes in the brain.
Brain Shift/Spirit Shift
Atwater says that over time, future memory episodes bring about grounding and peace in peopleís lives; as this shift takes place, the episodes tend to become a few and far between. Her research points to other benefits as well. Psychologically, future memory experiencers lose their fear of death, become more spiritual, love more freely and joyously, abstract more easily, because more focused and less competitive, reject previous limitations and norms, and have heightened sensations of taste, touch, texture, and smell. Physiological aftereffects include more energy and improved health, unusual sensitivity to light and sound, the desire for lighter foods, metabolism and blood pressure changes, more youthful appearance, and the appearance of previously unknown talents.
As "brain shift patterns" surfaced in her research, Atwater says, she began to view future memory as a sign of growth rather than a psychic anomaly. "A transformation of consciousness is more than just a change of attitude; it actually engenders structural and chemical changes in the brain that affect experiencers in a number of unforeseen ways," she says. "I was attempting to figure out how all this tied in with NDEs, when I stumbled upon a book about childhood brain development. I read that kids between ages three and five spend more time in the future than in the present, and I knew I had found my answer. It is not only healthy but necessary for children to play in the future, because this shows them what is expected, helps them trust their surroundings as well as establish continuity and learn consequences.
Interestingly, Atwater also found that the temporal lobes¾ part of the higher brain¾ develop from ages three to five. Brain researchers call this time the "birth of imagination" and trace it back to the limbic system. Could it be that neural pathways "rewired," somehow rerouted, maybe even revitalized during a kickstart mechanism inherent in NDEs and other so-called "psychic anomalies?" Does this suggest that we are programmed as a species to continue evolving and that the apparatus for this change already exists with our bodies, waiting to be triggered? Is the expansion of the limbic system the lynchpin of higher wisdom?
Once again, Atwater says yes. "We are so fortunate to wear the bodies we wear," she says. "Our very humanness is arranged and built for our expanding consciousness, providing us with the mechanism that allows our consciousness to continue evolving. In other words, we can re-create ourselves as well as procreate ourselves. Future memory is part of the system of re-creation, an indication that the higher brain is developing, precipitating the emergence of the higher mind. We find ourselves knowing what we have to do; we intuitively begin to know that our lights are turned on."
At least initially, extrasensory phenomena¾ whether they come through extreme trauma or ordinary spiritual practice¾ tend to confuse, even threaten, experiencers. Thus, the process of reverting back to a stage they went through during childhood helps them to assimilate their experience and reestablish continuity¾ giving them the tools to become functional, reasonable, and grounded on the earthly plane. Suffice to say that coming back to earth after an NDE is not easy, even though the experience may seem to be the greatest thing that ever happened. It is not unusual for near-death survivors to go through long periods of inner turmoil and depression. Many are not believed or are afraid to talk about it for fear they are going crazy. Unresolved life issues tend to loom large; a newfound sense of mission can compel NDE survivors to cast aside any semblance of a practical or constructive lifestyle.
"When I interview significant others and associates, they often describe NDE survivors as seeming unfocused, aloof, radical, strange, as if they are on a drug high. Typically, it takes nearly seven years before survivors are able to successfully integrate their experience. The idea that NDE survivors become enlightened, selfless, and unmaterialistic afterward exists as potential, not as a guarantee. Fortunately, our limbic system gives us a hand by looping us back to the period of development that allowed us to become more embodied and present¾ a time when we were children trying to get used to life on this planet."
Although Atwater often uses future memory and the near-death experience as models to identify the brain shift pattern, this shift, she says, can result from any number of other-worldly occurrences, including religious conversion, kundalini breakthroughs, shamanistic rituals, being struck by lightning, and certain types of head trauma. It can also come about more tranquilly through the slow, steady application of spiritual disciplines, mindfulness techniques, meditation, or vision quests.
Atwater thinks more dramatic/traumatic events, such as near-death experiences and future memory, happen to those who tend to be stubborn or one-sided in their thinking. She describes her own experience as an example of the "heavenly sledgehammer" effect. "Some people need to be kicked back onto their path because they are making choices that are less than ideal for their spiritual/physical/psychological evolution," admits Atwater. "Others donít need that because they are already choosing to live a meaningful, spiritually rich life. My husband and I are perfect examples. He stepped on the path all by himself in his 20s and got where he is through martial arts and mediation, and I had to go through three NDEs and a lot of soul searching to get here. But now we are essentially at the same place in our understanding of consciousness."
When future memory experiencers¾ both those who went through NDEs and those who didnít¾ are asked why they think their episodes occur, most respond with a similar answer: the future memory episodes were rehearsals. One female student (a non-NDE experiencer) who was having ten future memory episodes a day became less neurotic and worrisome. She felt smarter, and claims that without them she probably wouldnít have made it to graduation. Today, she says, she is more balanced, happier than before. "Triggered by her hectic life, she was given extra tools to help her re-create herself," Atwater says. "She benefited in substantial ways, because anytime someone finds more peace, becomes more comfortable in their skin, they are of greater benefit to the world around them."
For Atwater, the answers she was getting matched what she was observing in her life, for she too felt she was becoming smarter, more at ease, more comfortable with herself. "Future memory has clued me in to how normal the evolutionary process really is. It has helped me to see beyond the legends, myths, stories, claims, to see that thereís a lot more to transformations of consciousness that most people claim; that these transformations may indeed be the engine that drives evolution. In the book, I talk about historic leaders who ëdiedí at some point during their early lives, among them Mozart, Einstein, Lincoln, Churchill, Queen Elizabeth. These people have led some of our more significant movements, yet nobody seems to know of their interesting side stories.
"I wrote Future Memory to show people how ordinary altered states of consciousness are, how normal future memory is," she adds. "I want future memory experiencers to know that they are not going crazy, and that their experiencers arenít made up or magic, not overrun with religion, psychism, or any of the things we normally associate these things with; it is a developmental process that has been triggered by experience¾ and one that can also be developed by choice."
And since most people¾ particularly researchers¾ do not have a firsthand experience to use as a baseline as they explore relatively uncharted environments, she considers herself lucky to be among those who do. Utilizing the broad scope of her background, she hopes to help people understand that NDEs and future memory are just indicators of altered brain structure and triggers of positive life changes.
"Regardless of the initiatory event, if the future memory phenomenon and the aftereffects it engenders are successfully integrated, experiencers become positive role models in society," she says. "Their stories, even their very presence, can uplift and heal others, ease the burden of grief for those who have lost a loved one, and help bring about the events that can truly change the world.
Now thatís definitely a future memory with having.
Future Memory is available at bookstores nationwide; for more information on the research work of P.M.H. Atwater, contact her at cinemind.com/atwater.
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