Hello Ilona. These are my responses.
1) Is there a separate entity 'self', 'me' 'I', at all, anywhere, in any way, shape or form? Was there ever?
No, the self-identity is not a separate entity; it is a belief in a mind-body existence as a separate entity. This belief is mere thinking, and thoughts exist as fleeting experiences. The self exists only as an illusion, imagined as a mind-body entity that is conscious with a free will to move and act in time and space. When one looks for the self, there is no self to be found in experience. Once the self is recognized as a mere thought construct, it fades away. There is no self in reality.
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 belief or understanding of the mind-body as a separate, conscious, intelligent existence is a conditioned belief that assumes that it has control of the body and can decide what course of action to take. This belief is learned at a very young age through the use of language. Language assigns labels to the self and objects in relation to experience. Language attributes properties to the self that separates it as a mind-body entity. These labels attribute to the self the abilities of sensing, thinking, and performing actions on separate objects.
In my experience, while identified as the self, it feels as if I'm the doer of actions, the thinker of thoughts, or the feeler of sensations. In the flow of life, there is only being or the knowing of sensations and thoughts. From the perspective of clear, silent knowing, the self is recognized as fleeting thoughts.
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.
When sensations and thoughts are noticed from a disengaged sense of being, the present is sensed with a fullness of life, richer in sensory detail and clearer of mental distraction. Anxiety and mental baggage is dropped or greatly relaxed depending on the degree of distractions.
Before starting this dialogue, I was still identified as the one who controls the focus of interest or the attention of awareness. When forced to consider the question of how the focus of attention is changed, it became apparent that this sense of control was just another self-identification.
This new insight was indeed significant, such that in the last few days there has been much more noticing and less identification with the self. For several years, my only meditative practice was the observance of thinking from a silent, disengaged background. I was always too lazy or too busy to sit for this. So, whenever I noticed thinking, I would just observe my thoughts as I ran around during the day. However, a sense of self identification remained, and thinking would normally capture and constrict the sense of being into the separate self. This does not happen that often anymore.
Throughout the day, I move from one task to the other, and there is not much dwelling in thought anymore. I also seem to be experiencing gaps in memory due to this practice, but I haven’t dwelled on it.
Also, being more present is enriching experience. Yesterday, while waiting for my car tires to get rotated, I sat in a tire shop's crowded waiting area. I put on ear buds and started listening to a Led Zeppelin station on Pandora. Led Zeppelin music has always been captivating, but it was now a richer, full-bodied, more sensational experience, as if I were on drugs. I experienced a couple of songs with my eyes closed, moving my right leg, and rocking my head in rhythm with the music. Thoughts kept barging in trying to describe the experience, but they were ignored. Then thoughts about my outward appearance became overwhelming, and I had to open my eyes a little. Self conditioning still lingers, and it distracts focus away from the present experience. Nevertheless, recognition of mental commentary as mere thinking allows most of the attention to remain on the present.
4) What was the last bit that pushed you over, made you look?
The last bit that pushed me over was considering the question of what moves attention? Just looking at this idea brought the realization that the self was identifying itself as the controller of attention. This was the last bit for me.
5) Can you talk about decision, intention, free will, choice and control? What makes things happen? How does it work? What are you responsible for? Give examples from experience.
Decisions, intention, free will, choice and control are presumed abilities attributed to the imagined self, which is identified as a separate mind-body entity. However, the self does not exist in reality. Thus, there is nobody to decide, to choose, to intend, to will or to control the presumed variable factors of experience.
Life unfolds and it is experienced by an aware being as sensory and mental perceptions. Life unfolds like a song or a story, and it is experienced as it flows. And like a song or a story, it may be happy or sad or many variations in between. You have no responsibilities in deciding a course of action, choosing between options, or in redirecting the attention of awareness, because there is no you; therefore, there is no free will, nor the ability to control the flow of life. Life just happens.
An example of a lack decision, intent or control in my experience is mindless driving. This is where you drive home without realizing how you got home. The self usually attributes this to the brain being in autopilot.
Other examples are ideas or knowledge coming from the subconscious, from inspiration, from intuition, or from spontaneous desires or cravings. These are examples where we obtain knowledge or insight, and then we use a mental rationalization to assign responsibility to the self or to explain its mechanism.
6) Anything to add?
I just want to add that I don’t have all the answers, but I know that I am not myself. While I learned from a young age to look at the bright side of things, life is even brighter now. My life is not without difficulties, but they do not drag me down anymore. Who is there to drag down?