I just finished listening to the audiobook The Bassoon King: My Life in Art, Faith, and Idiocy by Rainn Wilson. I expected the book to be entertaining, as it’s written by the actor who played Dwight Schrute in The Office. It never let me down.
By the end, the book captivated me to the degree that I’ll spend my day writing this review and encouraging you to read it too.
Don’t you love it when you get more than you expect?
The book is much more than an entertaining read for fans of Dwight Schrute, Assistant (to the) Manager of Dunder Mifflin. Rainn is a talented and funny storyteller. His childhood is fascinating. I was especially captivated by his tales of his early years in Nicaragua. More than one story involves tapeworms.
More impactful though, are the rich tales of his cultural and spiritual experiences as he progresses through life. The Bahá’í faith; casual living room gatherings to discuss spirituality, metaphysics, and philosophy; the bassoon; New York City in the 1980s; drugs and booze; mended relationships; and family and marriage for example.
Rainn weaves a memoir with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and at the same time, he helps you see what’s cardinal to a meaningful, spiritual life.
Always eager to learn and explore more, I was stirred to learn of the Bahá’í faith and also of the mystic Austrian poet, Rainer Maria Rilke. I’ve studied similar philosophies and authors my entire life, yet somehow I hadn’t been exposed to either of these. I suppose that’s why I was so enamoured by this book, it both entertained me and taught me something new.
What Rainn has to say about the existential questions of life.
Early in the book Rainn mentions his name was inspired from Rainer Maria Rilke. Rilke was a turn of the century Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist.
Twenty minutes into the book, Rainn shares this quote from Rilke:
“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.” ― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
Wow, doesn’t that quote put to ease much of our human angst? The life questions we feel compelled to ask (or even agonize over) are quelled by that quote. The point of life may not be to seek until we find the answers. Wisdom isn’t found in a relentless pursuit of the question “why”, but instead in simple experience. Experience everything, Live the questions. Be one with the present moment. Being present with your experience just may allow the answers to gently reveal themselves. Or, maybe they don’t, and that’s okay too.
What Rainn has to say about failing.
Rainn doesn’t hold back sharing his painful experiences as an awkward child and teen, one steeped in nerdiness before it was popular. And, as an aspiring actor, there was no shortage of fear, eager anticipation, and rejection.
Many a role that he thought would be a perfect fit, or golden opportunity passed by him. Today, he sees how the Universe paved a path that could only lead him to a dream bigger than he dared to imagine.
“As frustrated as I was at the time that I didn’t get cast as ‘Tommy, gay choir member #3, I now couldn’t be more grateful.
You never know what the cosmos has in store for you , and sometimes repeated rejection is simply the All-Encompassing Creative Life Force preparing you for something greater, a different and grander plan.
For me, that plan led to the defining role of my career, Dwight Kurt Schrute.
I was about to receive the worst haircut of my entire life.” Rainn Wilson
Afraid to fail, and sometimes even afraid to succeed, it’s common to get stuck. Or, more tragic than feeling stuck, how many times have you given up after just one or two rejections?
This circles back to the Rilke quote from the beginning of his book. Be in the experience. Don’t let yourself get overly attached to the when, or the how. Be in the experience with faith that the cosmos has your back.
What Rainn has to say for creative types.
Rainn relates creating any form of art, whether it be acting, writing, sculpting, painting, music, etc, as an expression of God.
God is often called the Creator, or the Source of Creation. When we create, it’s a spiritual exercise.
“I rejoice to hear that thou takest pains with thine art, for in this wonderful new age, art is worship. The more thou strivest to perfect it, the closer wilt thou come to God. What bestowal could be greater than this, that one’s art should be even as the act of worshipping the Lord? That is to say, when thy fingers grasp the paint brush, it is as if thou wert at prayer in the Temple.”(Extract from an untranslated Tablet by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
Rainn’s experiences with faith.
Rain was raised in the Bahá’í faith, but like many, he drifted away from his spiritual upbringing. Forever an inquisitive spirit, however, he poured his zeal into acting, philosophy, and, for a time, drugs and alcohol.
Faith is a knowledge within the heart beyond the reach of proof. -Khalil Gibran
With renewed passion, he circled back to Bahá’í, reading, discussing, and demonstrating its principles of the oneness of humanity and our connection to a creative force that’s all loving.
What impresses me from his examples in the book is that Rainn demonstrates faith as an action. Faith has nothing to do with rites, rules, and rituals. Sure, practice those things if they help you be a better person, but those things alone don’t equal a life of faith. Put that faith into action. Do something that’s inspired by the deep, small voice within you which is your connection to God.
Faith in action.
Rainn, along with Joshua Homnick, and Devon Gundry, founded the organization SoulPancake: “We Make Stuff that Matters”. Its mission is “to uplift, entertain, provide inspiring human content for people.” They create various forms of media content to nurture creativity and uplift humanity. It’s a place for philosophical discussion and the celebration of everything cool about humanity.
Soulpancake isn’t his only faithful endeavor. Along with his wife, Holiday Reinhorn, and Dr. Kathryn Adams, Rainn co-founded LIDÈ. LIDÈ is a campaign to help rural at risk girls in Haiti. Through art, literacy, and creativity, they work to empower young women.
How he has time to do all these things is a mystery to me, but his example motivates me to move my faith out of my head and into concrete action.
The wrap up.
It’s a rare skill to write a book that’s so funny and easy to read, yet profound in its lessons. Rainn succeeds with many teachable moments that quietly take root. You may not realize the strength of what you’ve learned until the end. It’s a book that could be considered self-help or inspirational without falling neatly into either of those genres. His humble quirkiness lets the gems of wisdom slip in unnoticed.
The author ends his book with this passage from Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’í faith.
Be generous in prosperity, and thankful in adversity. Be worthy of the trust of thy neighbor, and look upon him with a bright and friendly face. Be a treasure to the poor, an admonisher to the rich, an answerer of the cry of the needy, a preserver of the sanctity of thy pledge. Be fair in thy judgment, and guarded in thy speech. Be unjust to no man, and show all meekness to all men. Be as a lamp unto them that walk in darkness, a joy to the sorrowful, a sea for the thirsty, a haven for the distressed, an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression. Let integrity and uprightness distinguish all thine acts. Be a home for the stranger, a balm to the suffering, a tower of strength for the fugitive. Be eyes to the blind, and a guiding light unto the feet of the erring. Be an ornament to the countenance of truth, a crown to the brow of fidelity, a pillar of the temple of righteousness, a breath of life to the body of mankind, an ensign of the hosts of justice, a luminary above the horizon of virtue, a dew to the soil of the human heart, an ark on the ocean of knowledge, a sun in the heaven of bounty, a gem on the diadem of wisdom, a shining light in the firmament of thy generation, a fruit upon the tree of humility.-Bahá’u’lláh
No doubt, Rainn’s opened many doors for me to continue exploring.
The Bassoon King: My Life in Art, Faith, and Idiocy gets a solid five stars. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
You deserve genuine and lifelong happiness, the type of happiness that can’t be taken away from you no matter what sort of craziness is happening in the world. Read my book, Happy Ever After. We can all use that right now.
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