Bernadette Roberts Enlightenment Story

The following is an excerpt from a biography self-written by Bernadette Roberts for the book Mystics, Masters, Saints and Sages by Robert Ullman and Judyth Reichenberg-Ullman.

The moment was unheralded, unrecognized, and unknown; it was the moment “I” entered a great silence and never returned. Beyond the threshold of the known, the door upon self was closed, but the door upon the Unknown was opened in a fixed gaze that could not look away. Impossible to see the self, to remember the self, or to be self-consciousness, the mind was restricted to the present moment. The more it tried to reflect back on itself, the more overpowering the silence.

By steadily gazing outward upon the Unknown, the silence abated and the emptiness of self became a joy. But the search for the still-point–God within–revealed not one emptiness, but two, for when there is no self, there is no Other; without a personal self there is no personal God–without a subject, there is no The still-point had vanished, and with its disappearance it took very sense of life the self possessed–a self which could no longer be felt to exist. What remained was not known. There was no life, no will, no energy, no feelings, no experiences, no within, no spiritual or psychic life. Yet, life was somewhere because all was as usual.

Though it could not be localized or found within any object of sight or mind, somewhere out-of-doors, life was flowing peacefully, assuredly. On a bluff above the sea, it revealed itself: life is not in anything; rather, all things are in life. The many are immersed in the One, even that which remains when there is no self, this too, is absorbed in the One. No longer a distance between self and the other, all is now known in the immediacy of this identity. Particulars dissolve into the One; individual objects give way to reveal that which is the same throughout all variety and multiplicity. To see this new dimension of life is the gift of amazing glasses through which God may be seen everywhere. Truly, God is all that exists–all, of course, but the self.

At one time, the Oneness grew to an overpowering intensity, as if drawing itself together from all parts, drawing inward and obliterating all that existed, including the eye that saw it and that which remained. At the threshold of extinction, the eye flickered and grew dim; instantly, that which remained, turned away. To bear the vision, to enter in, the light of the eye must not go out. Somehow it must become stronger, but what kind of strength is this and how could it be acquired? There was something still to be done, but what? No-self is helpless; it has no strength; it is not the light of the eye nor the eye itself.

Nine months passed before the eye upon Oneness became the eye upon nothingness. Without warning or reason, all particulars dissolved into emptiness. At one point, the mind came upon the hideous void of life, the insidious nothingness of death and decay strangling life from every object or sight. Only self can escape such a vision because only self knows fear, and only fear can generate the weapons of defense. Without a self, the only escape is no escape; the void must be faced–come what may. On the hillside, the epitome of all that is dreadful and insane was confronted–but who, or what beheld this terror? And who or what could endure it? In the absence of self, all that remained was an immovable stillness, an unbreakable, unfeeling silence. Would it move–crack open? Or would it hold? This could not be known, surmised, or even hoped for. What would be, would be.

5 thoughts on “Bernadette Roberts Enlightenment Story”

  1. This “enlightenment story” is somewhat incomplete. After nine months of absolute void, she sat by a river and suddenly smiled at the sight of a branch floating in the water, and in that moment, it was seen that “The smiler, the smile and that at which it smiled were one”, which marked the abiding in, and seeing of “what is”, the end of the transition.

    This is one of the very few humble, honest and open descriptions of this transition I’ve read, that seems to be totally lacking in agenda.

  2. My impression is she never managed to return from the Abyss. She crossed to the eternal realm but never managed to successfully integrate the experience into her mundane consciousness. I am reading her book “what is self”

  3. This entire narrative is only valid in one sense, but not in an absolute sense. As one who has spent his life and seeking out such people and in exploring such experiences personally, or perhaps I should say non personally, I spent more than an hour one day 35 years ago with Bernadette on the common of a suburb of Los Angeles as the traffic zoomed about us.

    I can say, safely, that however void, selfless, and non-existent Bernadette may have seemed to her own perception, she indeed was in possession of all of the selfhood, ego, and Humanity as any other Mortal walking the planet. She had thoughts and feelings and reactions and conditioning s which were clearly evident in her persona, and, for the record, not so very liberated as one might have imagined. In fact, as one who is extremely sensitive to energies, I would have to say that she was energetically very tight, and that there was a fair degree of generic psycho-spiritual tension within her, as if she were constantly on guard to make sure what was said conform to certain dinner directives and mandates.

    All this will be very difficult for Bernadette-lovers to accept, not having known in met her, but in fact this was the case. One could theorize that a person who has transcended self and all that belongs to it would events
    Evince free open and flexible presence, with great fluidity and almost dance-like naturalness about them, but again this was far from the case. Bernadette, if truth be told, has since birth been deeply immersed in the judeo Christian tradition, particularly the Catholic version of it, and as such she has or had deep and abiding programs at work below the threshold of awareness which greatly shaped her self-expression in this world.

    As free as she ostensibly became , she was never truly free of this deeply, pervasively Catholic worldview. One could feel her silent, unspoken reprimand if one dared to insinuate that there was something less than truly valid or accurate about her take on things. She could be not just firm but hard, she could be not just full of conviction but judgemental.

    But again all this will be too much for Bernadette -lovers, particularly aspiring Christian contemplatively , who need a role model, to accept and absorb.

    And, far from Simply adding profound and insightful new insights to the contemplatively Christian or mystical narrative, she also added needless complexity and confusion, in fact even heaped it, upon what already was there from historical sources. If God is this complex, indeed complicated, indeed confusing, then we are all in for a terrible time.

    Almost all of these seeming insights and apparent subtleties where nothing more or less than what Bernadette’s Mind and Spirit did with the ultimately very simple. truth of existence. Being such a complicated, complex soul, and looking through this multi-layered lens which she had inherited and added to, her experience of the One was necessarily needlessly complex and convoluted. Again, if God is this confusing and inscrutable, then we again are in for a heap of trouble.

    The solution is to come to God for more simply than Bernadette, or for that matter most human beings, did or do, for as simple as we are, that simple will be our perception of the infinites, immutable, inscrutable, source of all.

    And how ironic to read, in one of her latest books, that she thought it was a great deal more to be written and wondered if she was going to be given the time to write it!

    Poor Bernadette! Such a sincere, deep, searching soul, who nevertheless, as most Mortals, could not perceive, much less Escape, her own psycho-spiritual conditioning. For when one enters the unconditional, one never comes back into the conditional which is to say, had Bernadette truly experienced the profundity of Truth, she would not have there after retreated into the archetypal religious iconography of Catholicism, however well veiled she attempted to make it.

    Be still, then, and be simple, and you shall know the truth…

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