Food for Solitude: Menus and Meditations to Heal Body, Mind and Soul

Food for Solitude: Menus and Meditations to Heal Body, Mind and Soul

by Francine Schill
Element, 1992; paper.

Have you ever wondered what the Dalai Lama would tell you about being alone? Are you curious about what David Spangler, Gloria Steinem, David Steindl-Rast, and Gloria Vanderbilt have in common while in solitude? Did you know that Joseph Campbell meditated on the Tarot while swimming? Do you want to know about Mother Serena's experience of the inner rainbow; interested in William Irwin Thompson's thoughts about eating Light; and what about Leonard Nimoy on "tapping the center" or Nancy Ross Wilson on "being breathed"?

These are just some of the savory interview tidbits from among the host of contemporary voices in Francine Schiff's Food for Solitude. Quickly scanned, the book is an afternoon's enchantment of personal conversation and spiritual comradery - an aperitif to stimulate the appetite for a nourishing solitude practice of one's own. Slowly savored, the book provides a feast , each chapter urging on the contemplative instinct for the creation of a soul-satisfying recipe of one's own.

The text rests on the principle that "Solitude is an attitude," an attitude of gratitude. It is a state of mind, a state of heart, a whole universe unto itself. The early contemplatives in all traditions knew this secret of happiness. The anchorites and hermits and saints and mystics always knew that being alone was the greatest gift. And whether or not we sit upon mountain tops or kitchen stools, whether we seek sacred ashrams or simply stir the soup, the message is the same. For what does it mean to be alone, if not to be all one. To be who you are already-in your deepest self, to be happy. (p. xv)

Best of all, Schiff, like a fine host, encourages us to enjoy ourselves, to eat heartily and drink deeply at solitude's banquet. And for those of us uninitiated or more timid in the practice, with personal anecdote and charming whimsy she cultivates an easy confidence in our capacity to be alone with ourselves.

The text is not meant to be a definitive exploration of solitude experiences, indeed her highly varied and eclectic cast of notables might be irksome to those more accustomed to lineage and precise metaphysics. Instead, in response to the query, "What is your food for solitude?" the simple and direct voices of the seekers interviewed by Schiff offer a rare opportunity to resonate with the variety of human preferences in, thro ugh, about, and around, what we choose as nourishment in times of solitude. Avoiding pedagogy and vegetarian polemics, and skirting the obvious "you are what you eat" platitudes, Food for Solitude provides personally revealing reflections and good practical advice from some very remarkable people on how to be "alone," but not alone.

Like good garnish, the inevitable word-plays and subtleties of metaphor possible around the language of food, feeding, spiritual growth and inner nourishment, provide a pleasing presentation for the solitude menus and musings Schiff culled from her many conversations. From recipes for basic soups and breads, and even hermit "treats," to more specialized advice for a "Dinner Party for One," to instructions for nurturing right-brain processes, the reflections by Schiff, et al., provide memorable menus for a balanced life. There are included meditations, table prayers, even a shopping list for the well-supplied hermitage, and best of all, the personal testimony of 45 diverse practitioners on the fruits of solitude, each a famous and well-fed mystic in their own right.

Like a good cookbook, the text is appealing in format, with an abundance of handsome mandalas and generous wide margins. Space aplenty for the accomplished practitioner to adjust the recipes to personal preference. It is the sort of book one buys in multiple copies. A copy to give to friends who have not yet cultivated a taste for solitude -in the hope they are inspired to try it. A copy to give to those who are already familiar with its beneficial properties-with new possibilities and fresh ideas for their practice. And of course, a copy to keep - in readiness for whatever it is that needs cooking in one's own kitchen.

Finally, if there is a frustration. it is one common to most cookbooks – the more subtle ingredients take some searching out. Solitude in our prevailing American culture is a precious commodity requiring a dedicated practice. Food for Solitude provides an engaging resource. Francine Schiff is to be congratulated for finding this incredible diversity of solitude practitioners. Although the voices of the contemporary celebrities collected here are well annotated, the seasoned spice of older voices of other times and places generously sprinkled throughout the text are not so clearly referenced. But enough clues are given for the persistent practitioner to track down the essentials, and to realize that one and all, we are meant to relish solitude. Its food is our finest birthright and our deepest communion. As Francine her self quoted Nancy Wilson Ross:

We venerate all the great teachers
And we are thankful for this food
The works of many other people
And the suffering and sharing
of other forms of life. (p. 48)


Summer 1992