Okay. Thanks to everyone for their info and feedback. Some excellent stuff there. Some of it will take longer to digest than others but it is all very much appreciated.
I get the onion layers, matryoshka doll, chinese boxes concept. A question I ask myself is, how would this look like in my life on a day to day practical level? If I identify and peel off a layer and I sense or gut feel that it is still not right, then what could an example of the next layer be?
Getting back to the business illusion example. I was using external factors as an excuse to mask my lack of personal responsibility toward poor business performance. I unmask this illusion and take action to fix my accountability and the business turns around and becomes successful. Yet while this is satisfying, there is still an underlying unease. I am only pleased that I found the gumption to be honest with myself and take appropriate action. Business success really does not register, I actually don't give a fuck about it.
Further examination reveals the next layer: why am I in business? Aha! To please my parents and grandparents who are successful entrepreneurs. I am doing it to please them and not myself.
So then I take action to unmask this illusion, and discover I really want to be an astrophysicist. Off I go to uni to get a degree and a phd and a job at DESY. Even though the achievements are satisfying, underneath there is still something not quite right. I go through the process of peeling back this layer only to find I was once told I was stupid, and gaining all of these qualifications and pursuing intellectual esoterica is a way to show others I am not stupid. I am still doing stuff to please others ...so on, so forth until the next layer or not.
Flow83, there is a lot in what you say and the questions you ask:
Is whatever you are, and whatever these layers are, a fixed constant thing? Or is it a living process, something amorphous and constantly generating in real time? The former suggests it's a solid object and the objective is to remove layers until reaching the bottom. The latter sees it as a process happening in real time, and the question becomes about "what is generating it, what is it actually a layer of?"
There are many different levels of subtlety. Let's take the framework here that there is some type of improving so that one can face reality. This inherently means there is an objective 'reality' out there, and that you are a separated individual who can somehow or face reality directly by purifying, improving this separate self. All of life and 'reality' is over there, and I'm here, interacting with it and hoping to arrive somewhere. Is this worth questioning as a possible illusion in and of itself?
Who or what is actually playing the game? Where is the power button?
The question I ask which may encapsulate your thinking is:
Who Is Breathing?
It is a conceit to think that you are breathing, even though we say it all the time: "I am breathing."
Of course you are breathing.
But let's face it. If it were really up to you to keep the breath going, you would have died a long time ago. You would have got distracted by this or that, sooner or later ... and, whoops, dead. So in a sense, "you," whoever you are, are not allowed anywhere near whatever it is that is responsible for your body breathing. The brain stem takes care of that very nicely. Same for the heartbeat and many other core aspects of our biology. We might have some influence on their expression, especially the breath, but it is not fair to say we are really doing the breathing. It is far more mysterious and wondrous than that.
... this brings into question just who is breathing ...who is even reading these words?
(extract from a Jon Kabat-Zinn book)
I agree that:
If it feels philosophical and mental, don't bother with it.
...but in context.
I feel there is a time, place and space for philosophical and mental exercises, and for going down mental rabbit holes.