I've been focussing on this a lot lately, there are thoughts that say I'm not there yet, that there is another state to achieve, and that may be so, but I will answer the questions as is experienced now.
Recently it has become clear to me that thought is commentary, not direct experiencing. Thought doesn’t experience anything, nor is it required for anything to be experienced; it simply adds a commentary afterwards. This has released some of the clinging to thought and taking it seriously.
1) Is there a separate entity 'self', 'me' 'I', at all, anywhere, in any way, shape or form?
Was there ever?
A. there is no separate entity / self / me, except as an idea / thought. There never was, except as an idea / 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.
A. The separate self is a pattern of thought knitted together over time. It contains thoughts about the past, the imaginary future, what's good / bad about 'me', friends, enemies, experiences etc. Like a bird's nest it is made up of many different fragments, but on close inspection it's seen that there is no thing called 'nest' there, just a a bunch of twigs and leaves, which give the general impression of 'nest'. It is linked to the material body, which is believed to house 'me'.
It begins from early childhood, a sense of 'me' belonging to 'this family' and being part of a tribe. It is also a social convention, it is what we do as humans to play the game of life and engage with each other. 'I' then take this idea over and build on it myself, particularly starting in adolescence. Wanting to associate with certain things and people (right, cool, interesting) and to disassociate with others (wrong, bad, boring). I see how I have self-mythologised over the years; creating a story and a history about 'myself', often to hide wounds, defend poor decisions, make bleak periods seem more interesting, validate and endorse 'myself'. Periods of depression and unhappiness have occurred when it's not been possible for thoughts to make the story 'ok' for 'me'. Periods of happiness have occurred when thoughts, actions and circumstances have aligned in a way that felt 'ok' to the mind, and was congruent with what 'I' wanted. All this linked to the body and physical sensations -what is comfortable / uncomfortable. Trying to escape what feels 'bad' using thoughts. Trying to make more good stuff, using thoughts. The mind constantly assessing, judging, narrating; endlessly trying to think its way out of reality into some imaginary future where everything is rosy and perfect.
Meanwhile, life is simply unfolding, here and now, irrespective of thoughts. Thoughts are part of that unfolding, but they do not create life and they are no more 'me' than anything else arising. It is only a thought that says it's me!
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.
A. When I initially had a clear seeing of this my main thought was how much time I'd wasted on nonsense! How bloody ridiculous it all is! Since then, those self-building / defending thought and behaviour patterns have simply lost their grip and are seen as what they are, just thoughts trying to bolster up a man-made thought creation. It's very liberating to see it, as there's no longer a need to hold on to this little persona, to manage it and keep it 'safe' from external threats. Sometimes there's still a reflexive defensive response to a perceived external threat to 'me', but these are quickly seen for what they are, and there's not the unquestioned identification with this imagined person that there previously was.
Since before I started the dialogue there has been a gradual shifting and change, and clarities have arisen. Nothing terribly dramatic has happened, but that happened a few months before we started working together. I have a much less clear sense of time nowadays, but if I reflect back I can see that a lot has shifted, but in a slow, seismic way. I no longer have any desire to bolster myself up in any way shape or form. Even things like dressing up, putting on make-up, wearing heels seem absurd to me now. I previously did those things all the time! When I have formal work, I dress up, but it feels like 'dressing up' now, as putting on an appropriate persona for the job.
A couple of weeks ago I was talking to someone about a baby I lost years ago, they asked if it still hurt me, and suddenly I realised that it hurts me no more than if it had happened to a woman across the road. And yet at the time it was utterly devastating, and sent me into a deep depression for several years. Now, it's just a thought, a story about something that happened once. All those old pains and stories about what happened 'to me' have fallen away, like autumn leaves from a tree.
The last few days I've been more able to shift focus away from thought to the underlying peace that lies when attention is pulled softly back into itself. Just here, now. There's also been a sensation round the heart, deep and strong and loving. But it's beyond the mind, and afterwards the mind tries to understand it - it clearly can't, so then it says I imagined it. I don't give these thoughts any strong attention, just observe them.
4) What was the last bit that pushed you over, made you look?
A. I don't believe that I've had the last push! I know that's just a thought, but I figure it's like an orgasm - you know it without doubt when it's happened! :-)
Lately, it feels like it's so close. I know that is just a belief, but (like an orgasm) I know I can't force it, just keep looking, being aware, coming back to the now.
I can't answer question 5 as I'm not experientially there yet, I'd just be making stuff up to try and find the right answer.