By Jimin Kim
Rainn Wilson’s SoulPancake makes you laugh, ponder and ask life’s big questions.
Although many might recognize him as Dwight Schrute from the popular mockumentary sitcom, “The Office,” Tuesday night’s SoulPancake revealed a more personal side of Rainn Wilson. SoulPancake is a lecture series based on a social media company of the same name, encouraging the arts, philosophy, and spirituality.
“People will always know me as Dwight,” said Wilson, who spoke at Stony Brook University’s Staller Main Stage. “They’re just gonna know me as the nerdy, annoying, paper salesman and that’s ok, but there’s a lot to me than just the character Dwight.”
The Undergraduate Student Government’s final push, selling tickets two hours before the event to pack the Staller Main Theater, helped attract the hundreds of students who came.
“I think I’ll laugh a lot,” said Theodore Wilks, a math major at Stony Brook University. “This guy’s hilarious, I’ve seen him in The Office and I can’t wait to see the show.”
Those unfamiliar with SoulPancake were in for a night of laughs and introspection.
“SoulPancake is a direct reflection of who I am as a human being,” said Wilson. “I feel like life is a journey, and I know that sounds like a cliché… right now, you’re on the journey of getting your education. We’re off on a spiritual journey as well.”
Growing up in the suburbs outside Seattle, Wilson had a very eclectic upbringing.
“It was a really crazy, out-there family and they became members of the Bahá’í Faith (pronounced bah-hi),” he said.
The Bahá’í Faith is a monotheistic religion founded by Bahá’u’lláh in the mid-1800s in Persia. Bahá’ís, or followers of Bahá’í Faith, believe Bahá’u’lláh is a divine teacher who holds the same spiritual station as other key religious figures, such as Muhammad and Buddha, who they believe are delivered by God to enlighten humankind.
Bahá’ís consider Bahá’u’lláh as the most recent in this line of spiritual messengers.
“In many ways it’s a very socially progressive religion,” Wilson said. “Bahá’ís believe in the equality of men and women, the unity of races, how humankind is only one race. It was very special to grow up with these ideals.”
After committing to become an actor, Wilson attended New York University’s Graduate Acting Program at the age of 20.
He cringed, all the while poking fun at the naïvety of him and his fellow bohemians in the Village of New York, who thought all it took to “change the world” was a phenomenal play of Shakespeare’s King Lear.
“I found myself very angry at my parents,” he said. “I found out the best way to rebel against them was to become an atheist.”
After years of performing in on and Off-Broadway plays, and living a thespian’s dream, “I would have moments where I would wake up at three in the morning and ask myself, why am I unhappy?” he said.
This prompted Wilson’s spiritual journey, which brought him full circle as he returned to the Bahá’í Faith.
The principles of Bahá’í Faith serve as the foundation of SoulPancake.
Now, as a Bahá’í, Wilson’s SoulPancake is a platform where people from all walks of life can, as John Lennon once said, “come together,” and openly engage with the big question, “what’s life all about?”
At it’s core, SoulPancake is about unity. As Wilson discussed the importance of maintaining human virtues of sincerity and selflessness in a dog-eat-dog world that emphasizes materialism.
“Young people are still searching and their minds are open,” Wilson said. “And they can be nudged in the right direction, especially when it comes to being of service to others and a life devoted to asking questions.”
Photos Courtesy of Isabella Skomial/USG