I define Total Work as the process by which human beings are transformed into Workers and nothing else as more and more aspects of life are transformed into work.
Take the bit about Workers as the starting point of inquiry. Start here: What sorts of things does the Worker focus his attention on? Simply, whatever needs to get done. The Worker’s conscious mind is glued to, nailed onto tasks and projects, broadly understood.
But then what is it that is behind the idea that we ARE Workers? It is a more elementary identity–namely, that we ARE Doers. Search your consciousness now. See that the Doer thinks about, imagines, or remembers (a) some event together with (b) a doing. An event has a certain spatio-temporal location, and it is in that event that the Doer imagines, thinks about, or remembers some doing. A project manager thinks about the next deadline, asks herself whether she has a good overview, and then thinks about to whom she needs to assign responsibility X. A rock climber imagines (say) a specific route (often called “a project”) at Smith Rock in Oregon and then sees himself making a specific set of moves as he climbs said route. All other examples, I submit, would confirm this basic structure: event and doing.
But then what is it that is behind the thought and feeling that we ARE Doers? What is it that is able to observe and contemplate any doing the Doer could, would like, or shall perform? Indeed, what is it that is always there standing behind while observing the Doer? Hindus aptly call it the Witness, and some Buddhists would call this “mindfulness.” See how the Witness–you, the Witness–are always behind the Doer. Hence, the contemplative always comes before the active, standing behind it.
This inquiry could continue, and, if so, I would submit that what is behind the Witness is what I’ve been calling the Wakeful Deep Sleep State, and what is behind the Wakeful Sleep State is Awake Awareness. But this is an inquiry for another day.
Instead, let’s go forward. Let “extrusion” be a metaphor for the process by which each form of higher consciousness is forcefully pressed into the next lower form of consciousness. Unless we go back (as we’ve been doing here), the higher form is thereby forgotten by virtue of having been veiled. Hence, Awake Awareness is extruded in the “I Am” (or Wakeful Deep Sleep State), the Wakeful Deep Sleep State is extruded into the Witness, the Witness is extruded into the Doer, and the Doer, in modern culture, is extruded into the Worker.
As Workers, we forget ourselves (our Selves). But neti neti: We are NOT REALLY Workers. Therefore, to remember who we really are we need to go back, back, back, back, and see–that is, be–what we have forgotten. Why? Two reasons: to discover the Truth about ourselves and to end the suffering that accompanies believing that we are Workers.