Understanding Beans

By Kate Conklin
May 1, 2016

I cannot find the source of this quote, so I’m paraphrasing:

“Take an ingredient like beans, and don’t just boil them- cook them all kinds of ways; stew them, pickle them, sautée them- if you cook them lots of ways, then you’ll find out what you like. You’ll just understand beans.” {or something like that…} – Jamie Oliver

Formulas can work beautifully. You can of course, cook from recipes- and in fact it’s a marvelous way to begin. As we work with particular skills, strategies, ingredients and activities, we begin to observe the properties and qualities of specific things- but there is also opportunity to see how our skills and activities are interconnected. There are essential, organizing qualities in our movement, our cells, our atoms. At some point the recipe or strategies can become limiting- and often can become arbitrary contrivances. If something doesn’t go the way you expect using a recipe, you don’t have the knowledge you need to make appropriate adjustments.  (They may have been helpful at one point and have simply outlived their usefulness as you move beyond them in your skill, or they may have begun as learned entanglements that were not ever helpful. In any case, the fun is that we can change how we do things!)

I took this sentiment into my opening lecture for a group Alexander and Voice workshop. “I can give you really good recipes, and they will frequently work. But ultimately what I really want is for you to just understand beans. Then you can do what you want!”

For me true freedom of choice comes down to understanding and exploring the underlying structures and processes such that you can improvise based on that understanding.  My aim when using the Alexander Technique, and when teaching it, is to learn and explore particulars, and also to develop fluency with the underlying principles. With these tools, knowledge and experience we are equipped for invention.

The greatest use, and the primary aim of Alexander study in my opinion, is to enter into a sense of wonder which leads to deeper understanding for better quality of art and life.

A woman went to a meal cooked by the great Escoffier and loved it. Afterwards, she asked for the recipe, which he gave her. She returned the following week and complained that it did not work for her at home. Escoffier replied “I gave you a recipe Madame, I did not teach you how to cook.”

Photo Credit: Field of Beans