Bernadette Roberts was born in 1931 in California to devout Catholic parents. She entered the Monastery of Discalced Carmelites in Alhambra, California when she was seventeen in January 1949. After eight and a half years of monastic life, Bernadette left the cloister and entered the University of Utah where she was a pre-medical student for three years. After studies in Utah she returned to her parents’ home in Hollywood, California and obtained a degree in Philosophy from the University of Southern California. She taught Physiology and Algebra at Our Lady of Loretto High school in Los Angeles for four years where she met and married a fellow teacher, with whom she had four children. Bernadette went on to obtain a Montessori credential in London, England and opened her own Montessori school in Kalispell, Montana in 1969. In her Montessori school, Bernadette repeated all of Piaget’s cognitive (developmental) experiments with children. In 1973 she obtained a Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education from the University of Southern California. In 1976, Bernadette’s husband left her and the children, after which she obtained a Church Annulment. Between trying to earn a living, raise her children, and now helping out with grandchildren, Bernadette has a very busy life. Apart from this, however, for the last forty years she has annually made extended retreats with the Camaldolese Monks on the Big Sur in California. She has often said that “Camaldoli is my only true home on this earth.”
Spiritual Life and Experiences
Bernadette has extensively chronicled and described her life and spiritual journey. Her book Contemplative: Autobiography of the Early Years presents an account of her early family life and spiritual experiences. Her spiritual journey after entering the cloister is described in The Path to No-Self: Life at the Center. This book includes descriptions of her experience of the “Dark Nights” and of the state of “Union,” as spoken of by various Christian mystics. After years of life in union with God, Bernadette describes an event she calls the experience of “no-Self” in The Experience of No-Self: A Contemplative Journey. The book, however, only covers a two-year period after the events described. Bernadette has since further elaborated on the context for this event. After the first publication of The Experience, Bernadette was invited to speak around the country, to present her talk, “A Passage Through Self,” that uses a series of circles to illustrate the spiritual journey. For the last 30 years Bernadette has given annual retreats entitled “The Essence of Christian Mysticism,” in which she presents the essence of Christian mysticism as Trinity, Christ, and Faith. Her most recent work is The Real Christ (2012).
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The following account of Bernadette Roberts awakening was provided by the website Enlightened People.
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.
Books And Audios
The Experience of No-Self: A Contemplative Journey
Some books and audios of Bernadette Roberts which are downloadable