Rainn Wilson addresses spirituality and societal goals
On Feb. 6, students at Saint Louis University lined up for a little glimpse into the life and humor of actor Rainn Wilson. What they found amongst the jokes and sarcasm, however, was insight into the actor’s spiritual life and creation of the media site SoulPancake.
Most famously known for his role as Dwight Schrute from NBC’s “The Office”, Wilson co-created SoulPancake in 2008 with the goal of uplifting and challenging people to consider the meaning of life and of being human. Using positive media and inspirational stories, SoulPancake provokes people to engage in meaningful discussions surrounding topics such as spirituality, art, philosophy and creativity. Thursday’s event, hosted by SLU’s Great Issues Committee, allowed Wilson to explore these topics with students.
“When you talk to 22-year-olds … you’re able to touch their hearts and their minds; sometimes you can say the right thing and send someone off in the right direction in their life,” said Wilson. Finding motivation in this idea, he opened up to SLU students on his life, his faith and his mission.
Born a member of the Baha’i faith, Wilson grew up learning the importance of equality, universal education and the idea that we’re all part of one human family. He was taught to work against the prejudices that tear people apart, such as racism, sexism and religious discrimination.
“Baha’i’s are seeking the oneness of humanity and approaching it through the spiritual path,” Wilson said. He lost sight of this mission during his years spent studying acting at New York University – but the spirit of his faith never fully left him. It wasn’t until he realized how truly unhappy he was that he decided he wanted more out of life and set out to explore the question of God’s existence.
“It’s like being pregnant…there either is or there is not a God,” Wilson remarked on how he contemplated the question. One of the main teachings of the Baha’i faith is the individual investigation of truth, and after taking a 12-year journey to find himself and his faith, Wilson discovered that this was best achieved through contemplation of life’s big questions. To him, too many people inherit their parents’ beliefs without actively exploring religion or individual values. Wilson hopes to change this through SoulPancake.
“I just want to light a spark perhaps … to send [people] on a journey of learning and exploring,” said Wilson. He believes that part of this journey concerns the rejection of our selfish, consumer-driven culture. “We live in this culture of complaint,” he remarked. “Society wants you to be jaded.”
Wilson regards this consumerism as an agent of unhappiness, and incorporated the study of happiness into SoulPancake.
“Happiness is found in every breath, every decision to be happy,” Wilson stated. “Happiness is … to be found in the moment.”
In an effort to plant a final seed of optimism, Wilson told students: “Keep your heart open … it’s easy to be cynical, it’s not challenging at all.”