Jim Roi is a healer, philosopher, therapist, and unexpected guru. Years ago, with a marriage on the rocks, Jim realized he needed to find a better way to move through life. After combing Eastern and Western wisdom, looking deep within himself, and examining the meta-patterns of life, Jim managed to do just that.
Jim came to see our hangups as symptoms of a spiritual disease suffered equally — but symptomatically differently — by all of humanity. He also found that this disease has an easy cure: what Jim calls the third fold, or spirit. According to Jim, letting go of resentment and understanding the wholistic nature of life lets one overcome any obstacle. After discovering this truth, Jim devoted his life to sharing this message. Helping others to transform their suffering, from burden and struggle, to strength and inspiration.
CONVICTS caught up with Jim in his cozy, scholarly Greenwich Village office. What ensued was an excellently heady conversation about Jim’s transformative near-divorce experience, the dead end inner cul-de-sac known as resentment, and the ways our personal relationship with Trump are more destructive than the presidency itself.
Hey Jim. To start, can you just introduce yourself?
Hi my name is Jim Roi and we are here in my office, surrounded by very dear friends.
And what do you do here?
I deal with addiction and compulsive behaviors, or what I call spiritual disease. Spiritual disease means anything that we keep doing that we don’t want to do. Or anything that we keep not doing that we want to do.
Can you give us some examples of what you’re talking about?
So if we always want to go to the gym but we don’t do it. Or if we always want to lose weight and we don’t do it. But we know how, right? We’re in a behavioral bind. It’s just stunning that everybody knows what to do — lose weight and get organized and be nice to each other — but no one does it. We have this model of ourselves as rational beings, but when you go beyond the cognitive and behavioral, there’s still a phenomenon that’s left over. So what’s really running the show?
And what’s your answer to that question?
I say that’s spirit. We just don’t know how to talk about hiding, or shame, or not doing what we know how to do. That’s where a philosophical or spiritual perspective becomes immensely fruitful. If we can pay attention to that, talk about that, we will be in our own lives more deeply and richly. Things begin to open up that are concealed when you are trying to figure out why you didn’t do the thing that you know how to do. Why did I have that extra whiskey last night? Why, why, why? But when you quit asking ‘why?’ you stop tormenting yourself and stop listening to horrible inner narratives. It calms one down really organically.
How did you get into this line of work?
I started doing this work when my wife was pregnant with our first son. That time was a nightmare, but it had to happen: I just wouldn’t do anything to make money and all I had to do was pick up my telephone and call people from a list that I had. It was no great mystery and it wasn’t that I couldn’t do it. I knew how and wanted to do these things but just couldn’t. So I began to see my own behavior as a dysfunction of will and that threw me into a crisis. As a baseline human being that time was horrible but actually, as a philosopher, it was fascinating. So I became my own case study and the situation ended up transforming me completely. I went from never making enough money to always making enough money. Providing for my family went from a burden and struggle to a source of strength and inspiration. That’s why I’m endlessly excited about the topics of addiction, compulsive behavior, spiritual disease, bad habits, call them what you want.
Talk a bit more about these bad habits.
So when we are doing stuff that works and we’re thinking interesting thoughts, we are pretty healthy and pretty happy. So no matter what you think, if you don’t have peace of mind or don’t like what you are doing, you’re not at ease. And that’s our normal state. I discovered that this state wasn’t just me and my personal insanity, but rather how we human beings live our lives. So I’m deeply committed to providing a narrative, a conversation, a way of looking at our lives, that alters the game. We have to see things that we haven’t seen, because only then will we be able to alter our ways of being
Talk a bit about the philosophy behind all of this.
So about 2500 years ago Aristotle defined us as the rational animal. But to “define” means to put a limit to. So I might say Aristotle limited us to rationality and animality and we’ve updated the language to ‘cognitive behavioral beings,’ but it’s not all that different. We’re still trying to get the job done with this two fold model, but I’ve learned that there is a third fold and it’s the most amazing one. It’s the one we can’t see.
This is heady stuff. Could you elaborate on this third fold a bit?
We can talk about the brain and we can talk about the synapse but see, even the neuroscientists get stuck between, what they call the explanatory gap, between our subjective experience and what goes on in the brain. So there’s always something missing and it’s that something that’s missing that I am interested in. We need access to something that literally doesn’t exist. To break down the word “exist”, it means to stand out. It doesn’t jump out at us, so we don’t know what to do with it. We can’t figure it out and yet it runs the show. So I work with people to expand the model that they work in. Instead of just figuring out what to do, people can actually have a transformation of who they are.
What would you say to someone who is turned off by the whole concept of spirituality?
Hah. I was a devout atheist by the time I was twelve and stayed that way until about the age of thirty, so it doesn’t much matter whether you are devoutly religious or atheist. It’s just not like that. It’s other than that. And I will say as a philosopher and as a father and a husband and as a human being, there’s something surprising that we are missing. The way that we have defined ourselves blinds us to something that is available. It’s not like ‘Ok god, come and save me.’ It ain’t like that. But it is something that is other and beyond mind and behavior.
How does this manifest in relationships?
Relationships are the birthplace of all possibilities. If I think that I’m over here and sealed off, I’m like a billiard ball. If I’m trying to relate to you, I rush at you and the most we can do is bounce off each other. Which is what usually happens. So there’s something already wrong in our relationships, it’s not as mysterious as it seems but we just don’t want to see it.
Can you give an example?
So I’m married now, going on thirty-six years, but for a while I didn’t want to discover that my wife and I were the dysfunctionally perfect couple. She asked for nothing and I provided it. I used to try and control my wife’s behavior so that she would please me and make me happy and be whatever I thought she should be. Or she’d try to run my behavior and we were so crazy. She would save money without telling me and I would spend money without telling her and we’d be doing all the suffering about money cause we didn’t know how to work together. We didn’t know how we fit together and we didn’t see the pattern. I kept trying to fix her and fix me and fix us because I couldn’t imagine it was ok for us to be the way we were, the way we are. Almost everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned in a crisis. So we got to the brink of divorce, and right on the edge, almost the last conversation, she let me go, and I had this amazing realization that I would do the same thing again. Whoever I pursued, ultimately I was going to do the same thing. I had not known how to love. And the same not knowing is going to show up whoever I attempt to relate with. It was a great transformation, instead of thinking I knew how to love, I determined that I do not know how to love and had to learn. These are profound underpinnings of who we are and how our relationships go and how our money goes and bodies go and our families go. I’ve spent my life trying to unravel my own ball of yarn and knit something that includes my wife, her family, my family, our children, so that we have a full rich fabric, a new weaving woven on the loom of being.
Last question, talk a little bit about the Trump moment and all these negative emotions swirling around our cultural atmosphere?
I kinda see Trump as our huge lesson right now. If I say ‘us and them,’ we are not going to fix ‘them.’ They’re not probably going to fix ‘us’. So we blame people. As Nietzsche puts it, “I suffer, someone must be to blame.” “We use resentment to preserve the hope that there’s going to be a life without pain”. So it must be Trump or the conservatives. But if you listen to the conservatives, they have a very coherent narrative about who’s suffering, and how liberals are causing the suffering. We have all kinds of differences and right now we are being pushed to communicate with what seems like our opposite. We have that two fold model. We have ‘us and them’ or ‘this and that’ or ‘front and back’. We call it duality, right? What I learned from the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard is that everything in life is connected to it’s opposite. So what I learned from learning to love my wife is that we usually start out as opposites. If we get stuck there and the opposites come apart, we’ll have a grand divorce, but if you really start examining the relationship of the opposites, you see there’s no horrible opposition. If we hang in with what seems to be opposition, it transforms into a complement.
Can you elaborate a bit on that?
So today, my experience with my wife is that she is me and is not me, and there’s a way that we are already one. There’s a way that we do fit together and now I really get to live that. Although once that was immensely novel and amazing and surprising and didn’t seem like it could be be true. But to say “Trump and I are one.” Oh my god, isn’t that a bit of a challenge? My friends will disown me if I say that, but if I let go of ‘us and them’ and say ‘I don’t know what the truth looks like,’ I can begin finding a way that will work for all of us. So before I say ‘Look, Trump is doing everything wrong and he’s messing everything up,’ wait a minute and ask, ‘How am I relating to Trump? How am I creating Trump. What do I need to discover?’
Thanks for the sound advice Jim, it’s been a pleasure.