Good morning :),
PS - where is the "I"who has any kind of writing that has a dramatic flair?
You caught "me" there ;)
1) Is there a separate entity 'self', 'me' 'I', at all, anywhere, in any way, shape or form? Was there ever?
No. Its not a real entity. There's only a story about it. Just like stories we have about Santa Claus, Superheroes, and any other fictional characters. There are thoughts about it, but no entity behind the thought.
2) Explain in detail what the illusion of separate self is, when it starts and how it works from your own experience. Describe it fully as you see it now.
Hmmm. The illusion is that there is some sort of separate self, outside this body and world, unaffected by any outer conditions. This magical separate self owns and controls the brain and the body. It owns things. It has qualities and characteristics. And that is who we are. It is simply a belief passed on to us at a young age. We are told "You need to control yourself!", "You should do this and not that" and the illusion of I as a controller is created. We are also told "You are good, bad, ugly, beautiful etc..." and this imputes some sort of permanent identity with characteristics on this controller. This controller makes decisions and controls this body, and owns this body. It thinks and owns its thoughts as we are asked about "our thoughts" or "what are you thinking of?". "Hmmm never realised these thoughts were mine," and so they became "ours".
Language creates this illusion at every turn and continuously reinforces it. The mind in an attempt to create meaning out of all this phenomena, concludes there is a separate self. an I that is the thinker, agent, decider and owner.
3) How does it feel to see this? What is the difference from before you started this dialogue? Please report from the past few days.
The difference experientally is very simple: All there is hearing, seeing, feeling, thinking, etc.. Nothing else. Everything is clear and simple. There is no sense of being the "controller", or the "observer". Just this moment of whatever experience is happening. Its very different from before. Thoughts don't have the "distorting effect"? Thoughts aren't "sticky" anymore. It feels very ordinary, but very ... quaint. Also, although thoughts of self do still come up (way less than before though) they are no longer believed to refer to something "real". Just another thought, another story.
4) What was the last bit that pushed you over, made you look?
Hmmm. It was somewhat gradual. The biggest thing was relaxing into the possibility of thoughts being wrong, and looking into them. A sort of "What if?" moment.
Then the paradox of free will became very clear as well. Even if there was a "thinker", how does that thinker choose its thoughts... well it would require another thinker! ditto with being a doer and decisionmaker. The whole idea of free will suddenly became absolutely ridiculous because its not even logically possible. That made me laugh a lot :). From there everything else crumbled.
5) Describe decision, intention, free will, choice and control. What makes things happen? How does it work? What are you responsible for? Give examples from experience.
In reality "choosing", thinking, "deciding", doing are just labels and stories to explain what's happening under the framework of self/free will. Life happens as a process, as a result of causes/conditions. Computations are made and the organism acts. Then thoughts appear with content of choosing, deciding, doing, etc. In fact these "controller/decider/doer/thinker" thoughts are completely unnecessary, everything could work perfectly fine without these I thoughts, they are simply a product of the process.
To use a nature analogy. Tornadoes are very interesting phenomena, it could be interpreted that they are "born", they "act", they "flow" and make "choices" on where to move, they die, they interact with the environment and are affected by it. In fact they are a part of the environment. We don't generally attribute their behavior to some puppet master essence within them however. Same thing with humans. They "act", affect everything around them and are affected by everything around them. No essence or controller. Very natural. Things just happen.
Eeeek, responsibility. That's a tough one. Hmmm, the way I see it, responsibility is a complete human construct, just another story. It is somewhat useful however. Ultimately, however, its all just causes and conditions. Can a greedy man, be blamed for his greediness? No because there's no one to blame. There is only an organism that is conditioned a certain way. That is all. There are ramifications to this...and this is definitely something to be thought of more.
Almost forgot the examples: So choosing to get out of this chair and make myself a meal in reality is: Certain conditions (relating to hunger) reach a certain level such that the brain formulates a solution (making meal), this cause the body to move and cook. In direct experience: "thoughts of hunger", sensation (labeled hunger), "Thoughts of deciding meal", sensations of body as it moves and cooks, and so on.
I wanna add that thoughts of choosing and deciding are much rarer now: acting and moving comes much more naturally.
6) Anything to add?
This has completely ripped my model of human nature, ethics, happiness to shreds. How will I ever recover :( ?
Where to go now?