But the price was his spirituality. In his new book, “The Ken Commandments: My Search for God in Hollywood,” Baker — the author of eight other books, including “Man Made: A Memoir of My Body,” which became the film “The Late Bloomer” — charts how he went from a panic attack in a Las Vegas hotel suite to a calm centeredness via meditation.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
In the book, you explore atheism, evangelical Christianity, meditation, Eastern religion and more. How do you identify now?
I would identify as a believer in the grace and power of faith in a higher power. I started off on this midlife search for faith and meaning thinking maybe I will walk away with a label. Maybe I’ll be a Buddhist, or reconnect with my Christian roots, but really what I have walked away with is a reluctance to put any label on where I am.
And I am at total peace with that. I have a sense of being connected to God and any denominational label would not do that justice. So I would say I am a believer, I am faithful, I am centered, I am calm. I have what I think is the powerful spirit of God — as I know God — within me, that gives me focus and strength and a sense of peace I didn’t have before.
How does having a faith help you deal with the “me, me, me” culture of Hollywood?
What I have learned through my own life and through observing the lives of celebrities, is that the path of narcissism and materialism and a secular, a-spiritual life is a dead end. I was at a place where I was taking anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medication. I was taking pills to sleep. I had this constant sense of anxiety and worry. But I have found that if you have a relationship with a higher power — even if it is not a formalized one — there is a sense of calm and grace and self-awareness that can be liberating.
For example, I broke a story and the celebrity it was about didn’t like the way I reported it. The old Ken would have been racked with worry and would have gone to the worst-case scenario — I’m going to be fired. But something really magical happened. I wasn’t having any response like that. My meditation practice helped me get through it. Often, when I meditate, I picture myself on an inflatable raft. Below me it is all crazy, but I am on top and it is all still. That is the image I try to stick with.
The stereotype of Hollywood is as an immoral, godless place. Is Hollywood more religious than we think it is?
The stereotype has an incredible amount of truth to it. The whole industry is an escape — movies, television, and music all allow people to escape their lives into a different world. But religion and spiritual practices of all kinds are also an escape. They are a means of transcending our own lives. In Hollywood you will find whatever it is you are looking for. Do you want to see people do drugs to escape their pain? You’ll find it. Do you want to find people meditating and trying to be the peace they want to see in the world? You’ll find it. Do you want to see a group of 20- and 30-something Christians celebrating their faith at a Bible study? You’ll find it.
My whole reason for writing the book, the pure source of my search in Hollywood, is when I first came to Hollywood in the 1990s I would still pray and I would still go to church and I was spiritually aware. But I lost it somewhere. And I became almost obsessed and determined to find it again in the same place that I lost it. And I did.
What does your spiritual practice look like now?
I meditate everyday. My core practice is primordial sound meditation — the mantra-based meditation I learned from Deepak Chopra that is similar to Transcendental Meditation. I occasionally go to Bible study with pastor Judah Smith and I have a very good relationship with pastor Brad Johnson of California Community Church, which the Kardashian family attends.
I would say the biggest shift for me is I am content to ask questions and encourage others to do the same. I am reading, studying, listening to podcasts about religion. I am just trying to advance my understand of other people’s spiritual journeys. For me — and this is a cliche, but it’s true — it is really about finding what is God’s truth. Perhaps because I am a journalist, it really is about asking questions. If you have an open heart and an open mind your questions will be answered. I am very blessed and I feel like I am on the right path.
Kimberly Winston is a freelance religion reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She covers atheism and freethought for RNS.