1) Is there a separate entity 'self', 'me' 'I', at all, anywhere, in any way, shape or form?
Was there ever?
There is no separate entity, 'me' or 'I' and never was.
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 separate self begins early in life, mainly due to language. We are named, classified and language refers to 'me' , 'mine' or "I- my feelings, my body, my life, I think, I do, I sense. This quirk of language is accepted as fact and the myth is never truly looked at for what it is- a falsehood. The 'sense of me' compounds the illusion- 'I' am contained somewhere inside this body, looking out on the world outside thus creating separation. When it is discovered that this 'sense of me' is an amalgamation of thoughts, sensations, images and 'awareness', one is able to look at these individual elements and see them for what they are. Thoughts are just thoughts, arising from nowhere and disappearing to nowhere. They are real but the content of thought is not real. The thought of a tree is not a tree itself. Thought cannot think another thought. They imagine a past and a future. Sensations, when directly experienced are just that- sensations. We label them with the the mind as 'anxiety', 'fear', 'sadness' etc but these are just labels. Sensations cannot sense another sensation or think- they just are- coming and going just as thoughts come and go. Thoughts and sensations often come with an image of 'me' but an image is not real- you can't touch or taste take an image. 'Awareness' or the thought "I am awareness/consciousness" is another subtle form of managed duality- I am not thought or sensations or images but thoughts sensations and images are 'known' so 'I' am that in which and to which these things appear in and to. This is false as there is no independently existing 'awareness' waiting for object or things to appear in or to it. If it were the case, that awareness existed in and of itself, it itself would be known as an object in its own right- but what would know it?. There is awareness but only 'with' the arising of sensations, thoughts images etc- a sensation arises and is 'aware-d' thus there is 'sensation-awaring' happening. Thought or the 'sense of me' appropriates this 'sensation-awaring' as happening to or known by 'me' but when we investigate this 'me' in AE it cannot be found. If it cannot be found 'now' it never existed in the first place.
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.
In a sense there is relief. There is no need to improve a non-existent 'I'. There is no need for answers. There is just what is happening or arising 'now'. All the retreats, therapy, mediations, talks, books were just used to improve or find answers for an 'I' that doesn't exist. There is freedom in that. Freedom to allow (as if it could be any other way!) life to unfold. I came to this dialogue in a searching/seeking mode and that has been largely if not completely extinguished. I'm not under any illusion that difficult emotions or conditioned thought will continue to arise but they are now seen for what they are- just the arising of emotions and conditioned thought- arising to no-one. So there is a relaxation, an allowing. Over the last few days the end of this dialogue process has been seen and some apprehension has arisen. It's like when you're learning to swim and it's time to take the armbands off- you're on your own!
4) What was the last bit that pushed you over; made you look?
I can't say for certain if it was a 'bit'- just the continual LOOKING and not finding. That is still happening and will continue to happen.
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.
Decisions and intentions are labels on thoughts arise from nowhere. It is suggested that these thoughts are made by 'me' and are 'mine' but when we LOOK there is no-one making decisions or intentions- they just arise. As such the concept of free will, choice and control is redundant. There is no control over what we hear or see for example- there is seeming control made by an 'I' thought but that thought 'layers over' what has already been seen or heard making the seeng and hearing "I am seeing, "I am hearing". Choosing just happens. I 'choose' to have a cup of tea. But 'I' could have chosen coffee, or vodka. Where did the thought "Have a cup tea" come from- nowhere.
There is just what happens- seeing happens, hearing happens, choosing, observing, directing, deciding- all just happen. For instance, in question 3 I wrote that some apprehension had arisen in 'going it alone'. The original words I wrote in place of apprehension were 'sadness/anxiety' but this did not convey what I meant. I went to make a cup of tea and from nowhere the word 'apprehension' arose. I wasn't purposefully trying to think of alternatives to what I had written- the word just arose. When making the tea, 'I' wasn't making the tea- all the actions of making the tea were just carried out- with no direction by 'me'. The actions were observed by 'me' but in reality there was just 'observing'. 'I'm' typing these words with seeming control over what 'I' write and how to write. But the words 'I' write are arising from nowhere, not controlled by 'me' and the actual actions of typing are just happening. I'm not controlling the hands. Typing is happening without direction or control by 'me'.
6) Anything to add?
I'd just like to express my gratitude to you Vivien. You've shown patience and understanding in our dialogue and I'm truly grateful. You pushed me when I needed to be pushed and circled back when you sensed I wasn't quite there. And to the LU project and all who facilitate it- many thanks.
What has been seen cannot be unseen. What remains is to keep LOOKING.