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​Is Life a Project?

Life project is a plan of what we should do with our existence. Such plan speculates about matters such as vision, goals, preferences and individual fulfillment. “The life project is all about life, and living and showing it to the full,” claims an ad in a website. Is indeed our life 'project' with the specific goal for transforming us into something better? Would not be more appropriate the word ‘process’, defined by the Merriam-Webster as “the successive phases of a natural phenomenon”?

Let's review both words in some detail. A project, with a clear beginning and a clear end, is a series of activities aimed at achieving a specific objective that may take to complete, depending upon its size, a few months or several years. A process, on the other hand, is the continuous repetition of various tasks, producing similar results, for years or even decades.

At the end of a project (for example, building a factory), a process begins (operating the factory). A project modifies the conditions prevailing at a given moment--it changes the status quo--and it is judged successful when it leads to the expected results, is completed on time, and the total cost is within the allocated budget. A process, on the other hand, maintains the status quo, does not seek to change anything, and is considered satisfactory when it works well.

Where does the comparison of the human life to a project come from? The satisfaction of achieving significant specific goals--a college degree, a better job, a romantic date, a notorious victory--generates the idea that many successes together would make up a major project out of the normal life activities which, if they occur successfully, would generate sufficient reasons to live.

However, there is no such a thing as an integrated mission of all those partial goals. The way our aging happens--childhood, adolescence, youth, maturity, senescence--implies stages with a wide variety of interests, some complementary, some divergent, that can hardly coalesce into a single project. The implementation of a 'life project', especially if its objectives are influenced by both the media and the cultural environment, could push us toward being something quite different from the very nature of our essential nature.

​​It makes more sense to compare our life to a process. The result of such a process is the very quality of our life, its balance, its equanimity. When our vital process works well, there is neither anxiety nor stress; there would not be emotional suffering, would say the Buddha.

In the same way as an efficient factory rejects raw materials of poor quality, we also must avoid in our lives both the harmful foods that impair our body as well as the cravings and aversions, the intangible toxic supplies that hurt our mind. What is the permanent product of such well-run process? Our inner harmony will show up spontaneously.

As the old machineries that continue to operate, despite continued utilization, thanks to proper maintenance, we, human beings, can continue operating 'our life process' under adverse circumstances. The inner harmony that results from the process of living well will also allow us to acknowledge our impermanence and, consequently, we will have no rush or frustration when the referee of the game is ready to whistle for the end of the match.

Not if we are living as a project, at the conclusion of which we would have to work out the outstanding issues. Close to the end, we would need extra time for last minute account balancing. But we will not have hours or days for weighing profits and losses, because by then both the accountant (this is we) and the accounts (the records of our actions) will already be part of history. Nor will there be immediate reincarnations or subsequent resurrections to pay for faults or to receive awards of good conduct in heavenly paradises.

Our existence as a process is to live from our inner being, always attentive and mindful, as a factory which consistently delivers its products with total quality. Those who have lived with anguish, chasing something other than what they already are or already have, victimized by their cravings, their conditioned attachments, their aversions or their hatreds, will have squandered this, their extraordinary, unique and unrepeatable existential opportunity.

Gustavo Estrada
Atlanta, August 5, 2016