1) Is there a separate entity 'self', 'me' 'I', at all, anywhere, in any way, shape or form? Was there ever?
No, I cannot find any separate entity that can be called "me" or "I". There was never a separate self. It has never existed, despite appearances.
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 little girl was brought home from the hospital. There was no experience of separation. Life was just happening. All the senses were engaged in equal measure. Life happened, needs were met. One week later baby girl is given a name. And the conditioning (brainwashing, haha!) of the separate self begins. As "time" goes by there is continuous reinforcement of that separate self and "I, me, mine" by everyone, including the little girl. It continues and grows and evolves until it can no longer be questioned.
NOW, there is the seeing that THOUGHTS hijack all the other senses and become the "King/Queen of the Land". We come to believe that they are more important than anything else. As adults, thinking drives everything we do because we believe that thoughts are real/reality. Questioning their validity goes against everything we are led to believe. But once you see that they are just a mirage, life can be experienced differently despite being exactly the same.
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.
It feels freeing to see this. There is a great sense of relief. The difference is that while the intellectual knowledge had it's place, without LOOKING at experience, there would be no way to get to this place. "Normally" I can be anxious or a worrier. A thought will pass and a feeling will arise. Anxiety about __________(something). As I was driving a few days ago, the process started. Mild anxiety. And there was the usual process of looking for what was causing the feeling. Hmmm, I couldn't find anything at all! There was nothing to "hook" the anxiety into and I laughed out loud. It disappeared immediately.
4) What was the last bit that pushed you over; made you look?
Several days ago there was a strong sense of overwhelm during the reading of several of your responses. Thoughts were jumbled and I felt like my mind would not work. It was hard to describe my experience in words here. So, I gave myself permission to take a short break. And during those couple of days, I realized that this is not a test, there are no "wrong" answers. I told myself "Just go back to LOOKING (and not thinking!!!)". And the mind relaxed. I don't know how else to describe it.
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.
After all the looking, I cannot say that there is any decision, intention or free will, etc. done by an individual self. I could not find any of that in my actual experience. I have no idea how things happen, how they work or "what" is directing life. All I can say for sure is that there is no "me" doing it.
b) What are you responsible for? Give examples from your own recent experiences to how this works.
Our experience of the world is dictated by thoughts. Believing that our thoughts are real. However, now I cannot find any volition, and therefore I do not believe that "I" am responsible for anything. Everyday there appears to be many decisions taken. But, if I am not the thinker, then how can I be responsible for choosing coffee or tea? Tuna sandwich or tomato soup? Thinking is what would have us believe that we are responsible (or not) for what happens.
6) Anything to add?
More than anything I'd like to say thank you for your guidance and patience. Reinforcing the importance of AE encouraged me to keep coming back to looking at what was actually happening, and not letting "thought" try to take over (again!). Invaluable! Thank you Vivien for sharing your time with me, I am so grateful!