Joni Mitchell re: Chögyam Trungpa. “He snapped me out of [cocaine use].”

Via elephant journal
on May 30, 2010
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Painting by Joni Mitchell of Trungpa Rinpoche:

Interview with Joni re: Trungpa Rinpoche:

Via Reader’s Digest (!):

RD: Did you ever have problems with drugs or addiction?

Mitchell: I did, briefly. I didn’t get involved for years, and then I went on Rolling Thunder and they asked me how I wanted to be paid, and I ran away to join the circus: Clowns used to get paid in wine – pay me in cocaine because everybody was strung out on cocaine. It was Chögyam Trungpa who snapped me out of it just before Easter in 1976. He asked me, “Do you believe in God?” I said, “Yes, here’s my god and here is my prayer,” and I took out the cocaine and took a hit in front of him. So I was very, very rude in the presence of a spiritual master.

RD: And he was able to…?

Mitchell: His nostrils began to flare like bellows, and he a rhythmic breathing. I remember thinking, What’s with his nose? It was almost hypnotic. They have a technique called emanating grace ways. I assume he went into a breathing technique and a meditation. I left his office and for three days I was in awakened state. The technique completely silenced that thing, the loud, little noisy radio station that stands between you and the great mind.

RD: And when you came out of that awakened state…?

Mitchell: The thing that brought me out of the state was my first “I” thought. For three days I had no sense of self, no self-consciousness; my mind was back in Eden, the mind before the Fall. It was simple-minded, blessedly simple-minded. And then the “I” came back, and the first thought I had was, Oh, my god. He enlightened me. Boom. Back to normal – or what we call normal but they call insanity.

RD: It was his breathing technique and he managed to pass it on to you. And when you came out of your three days, you were no longer cocaine?

Mitchell: Yes. Ten years later when I learned he was dying, I went back to thank him.


We’ve covered Joni Mitchell’s “Refuge of the Road” song for Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche—a great, wild, dignified, sweet,  Buddhist teacher—before, but here’s the video, by way of fantastic site Dharma/Arte. ~ Waylon Lewis

“…He drank and womanized

And I sat before his sanity

I was holding back from crying

He saw my complications

And he mirrored me back simplified

And we laughed how our perfection

Would always be denied

“Heart and humor and humility”

He said “Will lighten up your heavy load”

I left him for the refuge of the roads…”


Joni Mitchell on meeting Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche:

“He was the bad boy of Zen. I wrote a song about a visit I made to him called ‘Refuge of the Road.’

I consider him one of my great teachers, even though I saw him only three times. Once I had a fifteen-minute audience with him in which we argued. He told me to quit analyzing. I told him I couldn’t — I’m an artist, you know. Then he induced into me a temporary state where the concept of ‘I’ was absent, which lasted for three days.

[Later], at the very end of Trungpa’s life I went to visit him. I wanted to thank him. He was not well. He was green and his eyes had no spirit in them at all, which sort of stunned me, because the previous times I’d seen him he was quite merry and puckish — you know, saying ‘shit’ a lot. I leaned over and looked into his eyes, and I said, ‘How is it in there? What do you see in there?’ And this voice came, like, out of a void, and it said, ‘Nothing.’ So, I went over and whispered in his ear, ‘I just came to tell you that when I left you that time, I had three whole days without self-consciousness, and I wanted to thank you for the experience.’ And he looked up at me, and all the light came back into his face and he goes, ‘Really?’ And then he sank back into this black void again.” (


I met a friend of spirit

He drank and womanized

And I sat before his sanity

I was holding back from crying

He saw my complications

And he mirrored me back simplified

And we laughed how our perfection

Would always be denied

“Heart and humor and humility”

He said “Will lighten up your heavy load”

I left him for the refuge of the roads

I fell in with some drifters

Cast upon a beachtown

Winn Dixie cold cuts and highway hand me downs

And I wound up fixing dinner

For them and Boston Jim

I well up with affection

Thinking back down the roads to then

The nets were overflowing

In the Gulf of Mexico

They were overflowing in the refuge of the roads

There was spring along the ditches

There were good times in the cities

Oh, radiant happiness

It was all so light and easy

Till I started analyzing

And I brought on my old ways

A thunderhead of judgment was

Gathering in my gaze

And it made most people nervous

They just didn’t want to know

What I was seeing in the refuge of the roads

I pulled off into a forest

Crickets clicking in the ferns

Like a wheel of fortune

I heard my fate turn, turn turn

And I went running down a white sand road

I was running like a white-assed deer

Running to lose the blues

To the innocence in here

These are the clouds of Michelangelo

Muscular with gods and sungold

Shine on your witness in the refuge of the roads

In a highway service station

Over the month of June

Was a photograph of the earth

Taken coming back from the moon

And you couldn’t see a city

On that marbled bowling ball

Or a forest or a highway

Or me here least of all

You couldn’t see these cold water restrooms

Or this baggage overload
Westbound and rolling taking refuge in the roads


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11 Responses to “Joni Mitchell re: Chögyam Trungpa. “He snapped me out of [cocaine use].””

  1. Tyler Dewar says:

    When Joni sings, I can't not listen.

  2. Tara says:

    I fear the nets will no longer be overflowing in the Gulf of Mexico.
    On another song – Strange Boy – a few tracks later on the Hejira album, she throws in the phrase "his Crazy Wisdom holding on to something wild."

  3. […] Our pal and editor Waylon Lewis dug up this great story from Reader’s Digest (?!) and posts about it here. […]

  4. John S says:

    A friend of mine heard her play on the Hill somewhere in Boulder in 1977 or 1978 in the summertime (I think–it was a surprise appearance), and she introduced "Edith and the Kingpin" with "This is a song about Rinpoche." (So there's another one.)

  5. jim tolstrup says:

    Hejira is one of my all-time favorite albums (do people still say albums?) One day I had a flash that the song refuge of the roads held a reference to Trungpa Rinpoche. When Clark Warren acknowledged the same during a talk at the Austin Shambhala Center I actually jumped up and pumped my fist in the air "YEEAH!!!"

  6. Edmund says:

    Beautiful page, Waylon. Thankyou.

  7. The author dealt with a number of curious things in this post. I came across it by searching Yahoo and I’ve got to admit that I am currently subscribed for your blog, it is extremely great (;

  8. Lucille says:

    Listening all I could do was cry and remember the feeling of being in physical time and space with our beloved Crazy Wisdom Master…the reference to the rhythmic like breathing was so helpful for me to understand what I experienced with him in a dream this year…yes….grace, such love, like redemption being held in his grace, hearing him breathing. Thank you for posting this….

  9. Andrew Safer says:

    What a cool story. Thanks for writing it up.

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  11. Marcella Friel says:

    I first heard the song "Refuge of the Roads" at age 12 and thought the man described in the song was very intriguing. Little did I know that, 13 years later, he would become my spiritual teacher.