The Collegian
Tuesday, May 28, 2024

From 'The Office' to spiritual inspiration: Rainn Wilson illuminates campus

<p>University chaplain Rev. Craig Kocher and Rainn Wilson during the April 1 event.</p>

University chaplain Rev. Craig Kocher and Rainn Wilson during the April 1 event.

Acclaimed actor Rainn Wilson brought his charisma to the University of Richmond to discuss his spiritual journey and his New York Times bestselling book "Soul Boom: Why We Need a Spiritual Revolution."

Wilson is a three-time Emmy-nominated actor best known for his role as Dwight Schrute for nine seasons on NBC's “The Office.” Last April, Wilson released his third book, "Soul Boom: Why We Need a Spiritual Revolution," exploring how spirituality can guide humanity to face an increasingly challenging world.

The Apr. 1 event, part of the University of Richmond Chaplaincy's Sylvester Spirituality Series and moderated by university chaplain Rev. Craig Kocher, began with roaring applause as Wilson and Kocher walked onto the stage. As Wilson sat down, he quickly amused the crowd with a "that's what she said" joke.

The laughter continued when Wilson said, "Wow, I've never done a talk in a church before." 

Kocher quickly responded, saying, "And it had never been this full before."

Kocher began by asking what inspired Wilson, known for being a hilarious, lighthearted actor and comedian, to write about his spiritual journey. Wilson responded in two parts. 

First, he said he grew up in a family heavily engaged in the Bahá'í Faith, which is "all about peace, love and unity." 

Wilson continued to his second reason, explaining that when he was in his twenties, he abandoned his religion because he believed there was too much suffering and evil in the world for there to be a god. 

"I then put all my attention into becoming an actor," he said.

For a while after this switch, Wilson said he went through a mental health crisis. 

"Even though movies were rolling in and I was on talk shows, I was always yearning for something more, and I wasn't happier," he said.

At the time, mental health was not something commonly discussed or talked about, Wilson said.

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“It wasn't really in our day-to-day vocabulary, and no one could afford therapy,” he said. “Well, except Woody Allen, and we all know how that turned out." 

Wilson continued by saying, "I was living a life beyond my wildest dreams, I was this nerdy Seattle guy living in New York City." Wilson explained that even with the fame, he was having anxiety and panic attacks, and after years, he turned to spirituality because "I didn't know what else to do."

Wilson finished his remark by quoting actor Jim Carrey: "I think everyone should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dream of, and then they can see that it's not the answer."

Junior Miah Wilson said she appreciated Rainn Wilson's wisdom. 

"I think he had a really good, well-rounded perspective on religion and spirituality,” she said. “I appreciated how open-minded and understanding he was."

When asked to explain his spiritual journey, Wilson compared it to two 1970s television shows: “Kung Fu” and “Star Trek.”

Wilson explained that "Kung Fu" tells the story of a Chinese monk from the Shaolin Monastery who leaves and travels through the American West, armed only with his spiritual training and martial arts skills.

"[‘Kung Fu’ is] a truly beautiful metaphor for the spiritual path we all walk,” he said, “We are all seeking to increase wisdom, kindness, compassion and patience as we move through the dangers of the world where there are racists and oppressive weirdos and toxic people wherever you turn. This is the part of the spiritual journey that most people are familiar with, which is ‘how can I use my spiritual practices, beliefs, prayers, teachings to bring myself to greater serenity?’"

Wilson continued to talk about “Star Trek” and how it parallels his spiritual journey.

"Because in ‘Star Trek,’ we managed to solve all these problems, and we have ended income inequality through the power of technology,” he said, “We have solved racism. We have solved sexism. We are at peace with nature. So I see this as a spiritual journey in a larger context: the spiritual transformation of the race of the species." 

Wilson added that these comparisons in the book are truly rooted in his mission that when one reads them, it "makes you a stronger person, and a better person."

Sophomore Ava Scott came to the event having read Wilson's book.

"I liked how the talk was a little more interactive, a little more applicable to college students,” she said. “I think he's a better speaker than he is a writer. He's a very good speaker, and you can tell he's thought a lot about this."

The evening wrapped up with a Q&A session, during which Wilson was asked for advice on how college students can find the time in their busy schedules for their own spirituality. 

"A lot of college students have this mindset 'I just have to get through these four years, once I get out, then things get easier.' But that grind is perpetuated by an unhealthy system in the new world,” he said. “We live in a world where workaholism is prized above all things. But sometimes we have to find a balance. There's something really beautiful about tradition. Taking one day to rest and contemplate your connection with nature."

Contact lifestyle editor Emma Galgano at emma.galgano@richmond.edu. 

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