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.

24 thoughts on “Bernadette Roberts Enlightenment Story”

    1. This is from Bernadette’s book, The Experience of No-Self . The author of this article erroneously says Bernadette wrote this for a book titled, Mystics, Masters, Saints and Sages by Robert Ullman and Judyth Reichenberg-Ullman– which is demonstrably not true. It is an excerpt from this book:

    2. “The Experience of No Self.” Years ago I read all Bernadette’s books, and then I’ve just discovered a new book, “Contemplative.” Bernadette is a gifted writer, and here she recounts her earliest memories from age 2 1/2 to 17, often sprinkled with humor. I had the opportunity to go to one of her talks, and didn’t. I love this book and her story. I cherish Bernadette.

  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.

    1. Would you be so kind as to point out which other accounts you have read that were comparable? I can point you to jed Mackenna, who, although with a completely different style, also has the qualities you describe.
      Thank you in advance!

  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…

    1. Thank you very much. In my 30’s I soaked myself in the works of Bernadette Roberts. I wrote to her, and received 5 or 6 long, single-spaced typed responses, which I kept for years, but now have lost. I was deeply drawn to her, and felt I was in this very same experiences. But over time, I realised I was trying to subtly follow her “prescription” of the journey through self (though she would never claim to be prescribing anything at all.) Eventually, I. had to let go of all attachment to Bernadette, and live my own “death,” and walk the difficult road with Christ alone. I am very grateful to her, but I must say, I. appreciate and give nod to your assessment here. As Bernadette said in one of her books, so truly, “When her time has come, every woman must go it alone.” Every man as well.

      These days, the simplicity of a child calls me like nothing else, the simplicity of nature, of music, of life.

      Thank you for your comment, inside me I heard “yes” when I read it.

      1. Hello Lauren,

        Not sure how the site works, but I posted a year late response to your post of 2019 about your journey with Bernadette.

        If you are up for it and would consider a long-distance dialogue about some of the subtleties of your experience, I would be much interested in conversing.

        I may be reached at 413-475-4072, Eastern standard Time zone.

        If this potential does not interest you, please take my best wishes for a safe and joyful journey…

        Joseph Marcello

    2. Yes, that was obvious to me too. Her books held me together over a period of 6 years which ravaged anything left of me. As the dust settled, and I learnt to function again in the new ‘space’ I re-read them and all you discussed was clear to me too. One cannot talk about any religious connotations after realising the Absolute. There is zero in terms of concepts and belief systems. Her refusal to acknowledge other paths was also bizarre. She was so heavily caught in her Catholic creed that she couldn’t see out, and she was ‘tight’ in her energy seen from her YT videos’.

      I knew a Zen master who thought the same.

      It’s so simple. How could God be complicated?

      Thank you.

      1. Hello Lulu, would it be possible I could email you? I’m at the the early stage of what feels like ego death or dissolution, there’s a massive void opened up where ‘I’ use to be, it’s like a gaping hole right where my former centre was. Very confusing, and somewhat scary, to be honest it feels like a meltdown in many ways. There’s been energetic happenings also love, bliss and spaciousness. I feel I’m definitely beyond the point of return. Any help or advice would be greatly appreciated if possible. Many thanks, Rob.

        1. Hello Rob,

          I’ve just seen this – can’t believe I wrote my post over 15 months ago. Yes, of course. I’ll wait to see if you respond before I post any contact details. When I started to disintegrate it was in 2012 and I have never returned. Wrote about it extensively for 5 years but took down my writings because nobody understands unless they have gone through it in such a dramatic way. Had it checked by a Zen master and an advanced follower of Jean Klein (a yogi) who both told me to use my breath (except the utter incapacitation prevented me from controlling the breath!). Plan to start a podcast about difference between unity and no-self/absolute (or Brahman and Parabrahman) explaining clearly from east and western perspectives. Let me know. Take it easy if it’s ravaging you … 🙏

          1. Hello Lulu, it’s been a while since I visited here, thank you for your email address. I’ve sent you a mail, I’ll leave mine here just in case you don’t get it and you wouldn’t mind getting in touch. I completely forgot about this site as I’ve been going through some quite heavy memory loss and brainfog for the last couple of years along with a real loss of self. Many thanks, Rob –

    3. I am a late comer to this discussion. I just wanted to say that what you shared about Bernadette was exactly my impression upon reading her work. Those personality traits, psychological knots and catholic presuppositions come up all over the place. That said, I know that only broken people can share unusual insights. The question is how to short out that which truly comes from her experience and those that are merely her human aspects. Do you happen to know of anyone who has gone through her work and done this kind of work? It seems that most people either knock her or exalt her, but do not engage in earnest. I would really appreciate any info you could give me. Thanks.

      1. hi Daniele! it´s phoenix here! good to see you! someone hacked my facebook account and so i have not been able to approve any comments on the BR facebook group and i never got around to making you an admin so now the group is dead! funnily enough, since i somehow made all my comments and posts private they cannot be seen so what remains to be seen is all your wonderful insights as well as those of a few others. i don´t know what to do about it excepts maybe start another group? what do you think?

    4. How does one, with writing so full of of ego…recognize that another is not dwelling in the egoless abode of the Heart?

      1. Hello Angel,

        I’m revisiting this site after 15 months and thought I could answer some points if I can be of any value here. If you mean about Bernadette’s writing, it is extremely valuable to show one of the paths to the Absolute – repeat one of the paths because of the graphic nitty-gritty of her experience (which mirrored mine without the heavy-duty religion). I had Muslim and Catholic parents and had dropped that impossible over-sized luggage decades ago., but I had created a unified centre on my own terms having cherry-picked what I wanted from the world at large and it worked for me as a God-centred being … until ‘God’ and my entire centre vanished during a period of 3 monumental, concurrent crises. I realised that I didn’t exist only ‘something appeared to exist’. What I experienced felt like Tesla’s pylon as energetically I was ravaged as I desperately tried to hold on to what was left of me. I failed and had to surrender to the unknown- it was an extermination, the Great Death of Zen. The paradox is that the void becomes what is known as bliss but not rapturous bliss as in the I Am or unity consciousness because there is no sentience to compare it with normality because the latter is forgotten and wiped. . It just is … what is left is just gazing …like a lighthouse but nothing inside. I don’t like words such as light beings, etc., but it IS the dance of emptiness as the ultimate witnessing. One becomes that lighthouse ….and you cannot return because all the energetic layers of the false self have dissolved and never in a million years would you want to re-build a persona that caused you so much trouble and pain.

        You ask how it’s possible for Bernadette to assess others. I’m not sure that it’s evident from her writings that she could or wanted to. She could only speak from her experience and her understanding of that experience and to teach it in terms of the restrictions of her over- complex religiosity. The latter is entirely irrelevant in terms of the Absolute. The fact she felt obliged to re- interpret her scripture was for her own need to offer mystical Christianity the Final Solution if you pardon an inappropriate metaphor. She needed to have disciples, etc., all as discussed in this forum. Disciples are ludicrous in terms of absolute freedom- disciples for what and whom? All concepts.

        I would like to add in my own response that from the aspects of the Eastern traditions ( my ultimate bent) “a jnani can recognise a jnani”. ( A jnani is self-realised via a particular path.) Yes, indeed. I know immediately if somebody is clear- to answer absolutely concisely – via a perceptual sweep of the physical form and a sense of the radiating energy; from where the voice is emanating, how sound affects the body; what is said, quality of voice, breath, posture, etc. Nothing escapes my ‘eye’ because it’s all me and I’ve experienced the psycho- spiritual drama and delusions.

        The Absolute is obvious to those who have landed unceremoniously perhaps in its lap. Most importantly, it is NOT God the Creator – that is the unified state. The Absolute is a step behind watching the entire proceedings silently. You are That. It does not feel joy, exultation, pain and suffering because it is without any sense apparatus. Formless, bodyless, it is the ultimate Nothing.

        And all That becomes involved in the mundane day to day.

        If I have been if any value that is good. As mentioned further up this post in response to Rob, I have been asked to do an East/West clarification of the I Am/Absolute misunderstandings via YT or podcast.

        Absolute has to watch the purchase of the mic and hassle with technology because nobody is actually ‘doing’ it – it is just happening. Hands are waving around with cables, expletives may abound- just form and sound. Impossible to understand from mind but that is the experience!

        Peace ..🙏

        Time for a coffee !

    5. Nothing against your message on the simplicity of vision, but please, a bit of grace for Bernadette: your anecdote paints a picture of a very human reaction, whether one is a sage or not, to being stuck for an hour in a noisy smelly place, forced to share conversation with someone who one instinctively does not trust. Maybe, check your own vibes

    6. There are several issues with your critique of Roberts which betray your coexist, faux-enlightened position. The first being: there is no escaping dualism in most areas of life. While criticizing Roberts, you implicitly are doing the thing you criticized her for. The second being your criticism of her “judeo-christianity.” No actual Christians or Jews use that phrase, btw, it’s mostly just boomers and atheistic types who generally share the same passive-aggressive mealy-mouthed liberalism- their “psycho-spiritual conditioning.” Also, several of your pre-suppositions are comical lol!

      Hopefully one day we can all be as simple, profound and generally enlightened as you. Also, hopefully, less vain, passive aggresive and smug. I’m fairly certain those are, simply, false-self artifacts.

  4. Lauren,

    Well it’s been a year since you’ve made your comment, I have only just read it, and I’m glad that what I had to share might have been helpful and freeing you to travel your own authentic journey…

    like you, I too had a long correspondence with Bernadette, and saved many letters which were as you say, singly spaced typed documents, full of much thought and opinion.

    And like you, in the end, despite the tremendous temptation of her seemingly overwhelming awakening, I had to choose the gifts that heaven had given me, expressed as my life my persona, my passions, my instincts, my intuitions, my knowings, and the wordless reality of who or what dwells at the center of me, for which the world has never been capable of creating a totally accurate word, because of course, like music, it means much more than any words can.

    Perhaps this is why my life path is that of a musical composer! The realm beyond all logic and rationality, far more valuable and life-giving than anything the mind can offer.

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