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Actor Rainn Wilson explains 'Why We Need a Spiritual Revolution' in his new book

Rainn Wilson Soul Boom book
Rainn Wilson, author of “Soul Boom: Why We Need a Spiritual Revolution”

Rainn Wilson is probably best known for playing Dwight Schrute on the hit sitcom “The Office.”

Dwight was often on a quest to get promoted from assistant to the regional manager to assistant regional manager at the fictional paper company Dunder Mifflin. But Wilson’s quest is more spiritual.

His newest book is called “Soul Boom: Why We Need a Spiritual Revolution.” He also hosts a podcast on spirituality and will talk about his book Tuesday at Mesa Arts Center, at an event put on by Changing Hands Bookstore.

The Show spoke with Wilson earlier about his book and his own spiritual journey, and he started with something he addresses early on in the book — how the word spirituality means different things to different people and what he makes of  the fact that people think about this word and concept in such different ways.

Conversation

RAINN WILSON: I'm talking in "Soul Boom" about having a spiritual revolution. But what does that mean? Because to some people that means ghosts and Ouija boards and to some people, it means, you know, crystals and incense. And to some people, it means church on Sunday. So what I'm talking about is kind of just the Oxford dictionary definition, which is spirituality is just concerned with the non-material aspects of being a human being. So what does that mean? That's feelings, it's heart, it's soul, it's transcendence, it's whatever aspect of the human experience rises beyond the mirror material.

So is this stuff covered by the Buddha and in the Bible? Like, yeah, kind of. It's also deeper and wider and more substantive than what's covered in those books. But we also have to separate spirituality from religion, because although there's a connection there, those two concepts are also different. Religion is more of a, a container for spirituality that has certain practices and rituals and belief systems around the immaterial aspect of being a human being.

MARK BRODIE: You write in this book about your childhood and sort of the the religious and spiritual components of it. And you write about how you kind of went away from that as you got a little bit older. And then you found it again as a, as a young adult. I'm curious how your personal history with going through spirituality and to an extent, I suppose, religion as well has helped shape the way you look at at especially spirituality now as an adult.

WILSON: Yeah, I, I speak about this in the book and on the new "Soul Boom" podcast, quite a bit, which is a mental health crisis that I went through in my 20s. I grew up a member of the Baha'i faith, which is a very beautiful religion. But I jettisoned at the Baha'i faith and anything to do with religion or spirituality in my 20s. And then a few years later found myself at a real crossroads, was suffering from anxiety and depression, from loneliness and alienation, addiction.

And this set me on a course of study really of the world's religions and spiritual beliefs. Because back in the '90s, when this was happening, there wasn't a lot of kind of psychology about mental health issues. So I didn't know where else to turn. And so I started reading the Buddha, and I started reading the Bhagavad Gita and the Bible. And I started to learn and look for some kind of meaning. So finding a spiritual path at that point, it eventually led me back to my faith, to the Baha'i faith. But that's not what's really important. What's important is that spirituality brought me meaning, purpose, focus, truth and light into my life, balance into my life. And I just want to share that with, with, with people. But part of it is also spirituality that can be used for social change.

BRODIE: How much of that is about sort of being kind to each other and being a thoughtful human being and being respectful of people with whom you have differences and just sort of living as though, you know, you are not the only person on this planet.

WILSON: Well, that's great. I think it goes deeper than that. So we need to think about the fact that we're perpetrating a system that is so profoundly corrupt and is so profoundly distant from our most inherent human values. So we need to start going a little bit deeper rather than just an occasional legislation of some kind of shift or change to existing systems. But to really reimagine the system itself.

BRODIE: To what extent do you credit your journey to spirituality and eventually, you know, sort of coming up with some ideas of your own about it to helping you get out of some of the struggles that you were dealing with earlier on in your life?

WILSON: Yeah, I give all the credit to my spiritual journey. It, it brought me so much faith and meaning. Let's like, let's take me as an actor. So I'm a comedic actor. I play these weird characters, like Dwight on "The Office." And for a long time, I was really puzzled by the fact that here I am, I'm playing Dwight, who's this annoying paper salesman, but I'm interested in spirituality and having conversations with Oprah about spiritual ideas, you know. What's going on here?

Like there seems to be a kind of a disconnect and I really realized like, well, wait a second, there really is no difference between art and prayer and being an artist, being a storyteller, trying to create something beautiful and, and funny and true and entertaining and that makes the world a better place. That's a service to others, is a divine impulse. And I know it's, it's just a silly sitcom, but it's a silly sitcom that brought people a lot of peace and a lot of serenity and, and joy even. And I got to be a part of that and what more spiritual act is there than that.

BRODIE: That's an interesting observation that even being a part of, as you say, a silly sitcom one, albeit that was watched by millions upon millions of people can also be sort of a part of that spiritual journey. I'm wondering like, did you see it that way at the time or was it only after the fact when you were able to sort of reflect on it did, did that come to you?

WILSON: It really happened midway through "The Office" because I was wrestling with it while I was on "The Office." And I remember speaking to Ed Helms and I was talking to him about Soul Pancake, this company that I created that was spiritually minded, but about reinvigorating life's biggest deepest questions. And he said, well, spirituality and, and art, aren't those mutually exclusive? And I thought about that and, and that's when I really kind of dug deeper into that idea because I was like, may, maybe they are, are they, you know, making television, is that a little bit different than spirituality?

But that's when I dug a little deeper and kind of really put those things together that, and I found some quotes from the Baha'i faith that, that supported this idea that, that the transcendent making of art. And now granted a lot of television is not art and, you know, it's, it's there mostly to sell, you know, Triscuits and, and, you know, and marshmallows and, and Carl's Junior, but there is, there is an artistry to it and that, you know, I found that connection and that, that's helped me. So I, I bring that up as a, as a, a specific way in which kind of living along spiritual lines helped enrich my life.

BRODIE: When you talk to people about what you've written about in your experiences and your ideas about spirituality, what kinds of questions do they have for you? What kinds of maybe ideas or, or advice do they ask you about how they can, can get into spirituality and sort of start their own, start their own journey?

WILSON: Well, that's a tricky question because we've thrown the spiritual baby out with the religious bathwater. So many people have a hard time with God and, and with organized religion. They, they don't know where to start other than meditation. And that, meditation is something I think is a great entry point into the spiritual practice. It's, it's not just contemplation, it's, it's deeper than that. And if you can add prayer to that meditation practice and in some way, shape or form, even if it's just a prayer of thanks, like thank you universe for being so beautiful. That's a great place to start.

KJZZ’s The Show transcripts are created on deadline. This text may not be in its final form. The authoritative record of KJZZ’s programming is the audio record.

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Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.