1) Is there a separate entity 'self', 'me' 'I', at all, anywhere, in any way, shape or form?
Was there ever?
There never was a separate self - it can only be found as a concept. For me, there was a strong insistence to believe in that concept for a long time. It was the reason I put so much meaning on so many things. It was the reason so many things 'didn't make sense.' Somewhere along the way thought saw that it's understanding of things was empty, and not the highest authority. It didn't even come to this surrender willfully - life helped it.
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.
The illusion of a separate self is a concept. It's a vague image one has of oneself based on a random bag of memories + AE feedback they label as "self." Any one of these items could leave, and there'd still be a 'self.' Any one of these items could be isolated out and they'd be called something else, not self perhaps, but a component of self.
I have to use memory for why I think it started. This concept of 'self' was taught to me. The moment it was taught, I didn't know what I was. I learned that I could be something - good, bad, rich, poor, strong, weak, ugly, beautiful - and I tried to become some and avoid others but at each point was never satisfied with the definition. I went to school to learn how to become things, but none of them were what I was. I learned that what other people say or think of me indicates what I am - but never came to a conclusion based on that information. I learned that I could say things about myself, but none of the definitions were absolute. All AE, in all it's interpretations via thought, seemed to contradict themselves.
The illusion of a separate self arises and subsides throughout the day. It comes in the form of thought. It always has an opinion. It masquerades as the subject end of the "subject/object" dynamic yet when looked for cannot be found. It insists that it is a something, but it's just thought. Thought isn't sentient. It can't help itself. In a way all this writing is it just talking about itself. And it's all okay, because without good / bad, or any of these other relative definitions whose meaning is empty, it can be free of some confusion.
3) How does it feel to see this?
It's been a few weeks now and there's been a lot of reflection. The first week felt so light, I'm not sure if that's a common symptom and I hesitate to talk about it because it just adds to the idea that this is an experience. I kept going through the day wondering if something was missing. I kept thinking that things might go back to their normal ways. But once something is seen through it's hard to make believe.
Old patterns still come up in their own ways - but thought doesn't seem interested in spinning a web on top of itself. It's seen as what it is. Same for emotions - they're fine and don't need to be managed. They don't need a story to make sense of them.
The biggest thing for me was to see the lack of control, and just how impossible it is to change the world. It really had to hit home. That's the favorite thing for this separate self - the thought that things should change for it. There's the idea like, "Okay world! I'm here, get ready to roll out the read carpet" - and the little guy is dumbfounded when the world can't even stop to look.
Thought needs to be able to work from a place where it actually is, and not from a place of where it thinks it should be. It requires honesty - but for that it seems like you need help. We're very good at tricking ourselves.
What is the difference from before you started this dialogue? Please report from the past few days.
This dialogue really helped me explore what I thought had 'changed.' It gave me concrete examples of how AE can be interpreted in a million different ways but wasn't actually saying anything. I really think it cleared up a lot of confusion in me and perhaps saved me a lot of time. It gave me a confidence to look for myself and pushed me to look closely.
4) What was the last bit that pushed you over; made you look?
I may have came to a conclusion before coming to here. I want to say it was a desire to know that made me look - and perhaps that was the relief I felt when the looking came to an end when the truth was accepted. It was like I had to know. Writing that out makes it seem more than what it is. Like Kay said, you can't control when looking happens - that's how it looks to me. Thought just kept coming back to this question, never really getting anywhere with it, until something finally clicked over - almost accidental. But I wasn't looking for the 'self' at the time. It was more or less a moment of seeing that all the conceptual knowledge is empty, but I was believing it was full.
5) a) Describe decision, intention, free will, choice and control. What makes things happen? How does it work? Give examples from your own recent experiences to how things happen and how things work.
All of these things are concepts of thought whose evidence for existence are cherry picked. There are plenty of "decisions" I make throughout the day that happen unconsciously with no attention required. But looking at the 'conscious' decisions, those are the ones that are used for the idea of 'free will.' Those seem like thought is being pulled in 2 different directions, like its weighing possible outcomes and eventually goes one way. But there's nothing on the other end of that decision, nothing able to predict. Nothing able to even initiate the process - it just happens or it doesn't. There's just a watching. The only thing that comes up is a thought that says, "I chose." But that "I" never gets defined. It's the same thing as the 'choosing' - a thought.
To me, it looks like people are just reacting the best they can with what they got. That extends to my idea of self too! Paradoxical to talk this way I'm sure.
For me it seems best when thought just does it's thing where it needs to and arrives a decision with minimal effort. But most tasks don't even require this much energy. Ultimately, I can't stop or start when it happens. Attention can shift, but I'm not the attention which indicates I'm not in control of it. I'm not thought, so I'm not in control of it.
There's no technique needed to live life. You can't try to be yourself. It's not something learned or controlled.
b) What are you responsible for? Give examples from your own recent experiences to how this works.
Nothing. There is no "I" that's responsible for anything. It's a really strange thing to articulate because the concept doesn't really exonerate one from responsibility. The sense of separate self is built off this idea that it was responsible for actions. It's not my life to live - life has me, not the other way around. Very hard to talk about.
I mentioned earlier that old tenancies still come up. Here's a good one, I think. I washed the dishes the other day and there was a string of thoughts. The first was "That was nice of you, you're a good person" which was quickly tempered by a thought like, "That's not very humble." All of that was automatic. I wasn't responsible for it so I couldn't inherit the meaning they implied - either that I was good or prideful. It all stems from this idea that we should be a certain way - all of it from cultural values. It's a great thing to be free of this because I can do the dishes and require no compensation. People seem to treat their relationships like transactions. I did the dishes - great - now it's my girlfriend's turn to pull her weight. Or if not, she better thank me. I could see how ludicrous this was before but never understood why it was happening.
I'm also not responsible for my mistakes - but that doesn't mean I can't apologize or seek to mend them. It happens in it's own time and it's own way. But the resistance to it is weakened because all of the resistance was coming from the concept of having a 'correct' point of view of the situation. That point of view was always pointing back to a fictional 'I.'
6) Anything to add?
I'm really amazed by what you guys do here. I think you all must be geniuses. I'm very gracious for your time. There are still curiosities I have but there's so much that's out of the way now and things are seen through much quicker. Emotionally, I'm doing well, but I'm kind of living in a state of ignorance.