On Being

Story by James Khoo What does it mean to live? To live life with purpose and drive? Society readily hands you plans and status quos to follow. Have kids, get a house, get a high paying job. Persist in the accumulation of wealth, thereby ensuring that you have access to whatever your heart desires? Is the desire of heart the aspect of self that we truly aspire to be? What ultimately is the cost of that desire? How much of ourselves, our being, do we supposedly put on hold in that pursuit of desire? Are we sacrificing self for a hypothetical self?

As someone from the arts and involved in the study of nature, I cannot help but ponder the caterpillar. Is the desire of the caterpillar to be a butterfly? I doubt so. The caterpillar is as much a butterfly, as the butterfly is the caterpillar. It gives its whole being into its function as an organism, whether at the life stage of a caterpillar, a pupa or a butterfly. In fact, one can say that it gives so much of its being into its function that it needs to reconfigure itself later on to fulfil the function of its next life stage wholly. Why? Because in nature, biology is expensive. It always comes at a cost, a tradeoff. Want bigger horns as a rhino beetle? Then maybe, you have weaker legs. Want larger wings for gliding? Then you have to contend with bones more prone to fractures. For any organism in nature, that tradeoff is worth it because it allows it to be, to exist, to live and to reproduce.

But how does this all come back to us as humans? Where the tradeoffs in society are somehow more subtle, more sinister in nature. I think we need to first explore the aspects of ourselves, our beings more thoroughly. What essentially is it to be me? Is there an aspect of self in my life today that is constrained or denied off expression? And I mean this beyond urges like the craving for something sweet or sugary. I think that answer is simply to look for the simplest joys in our lives.

I always had a curiosity for insects. How something so incredibly small had so much detail, articulation, colours etc. This is something that I recently rediscovered. I literally get excited from finding a new insect by the roadside, waiting for the traffic light to change. I found simple joy. A fascination for this tiny natural world all around us. This joy grew in me that I pursued to express it, to share it with others in a way that is meaningful for them. In being this weirdo, squatting at random places in the city, I had found my being. I now have a steady job teaching and researching about these little gems of nature.

This comes to my final point. That being, is not so much a pursuit of passion as it is a self that needs to be expressed. The simplest joys of life and how we process it then needs to find it expressed through our beings. Every organism in an ecosystem expresses nutrients in their own way. To put it bluntly, in nature, everything consumes but it also poops. There is no hoarding of nutrients or resources. But its poop and the way each organism expresses excess or processed nutrients enriches life all around it. It breaks down something into a form that is useful and life-giving to other organisms. Its final expression as a physical organism is the release of its entire biology back to nature.

Likewise, we need to break down our simplest joys. We need to express. I cannot tell you what life’s meaning is but I can tell you truly the self is to be expressed and the expression of self is life for others.

About the Writer

James Khoo (Instagram)

Filmmaker and Bug educator, making a change, one little critter at a time

How do we make sense of a constantly evolving world when the impetus for man is to remain at status quo? How do we move past what the world says we are into who we truly are intrinsically, wholly? What does this mean for the way we live? Our ecology with the natural world and the human environment? How do we inspire and encourage each other to grow towards that whole self then that leads onto that self being expressed within society, thereby enriching it.




Regenerative Spiral is a writing project with contributions by people in Singapore and beyond. We celebrate perspectives, experiences and knowledge of people who explore what it means to live a good life when we choose to regenerate Nature and people.

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