Living Life From the Zero Point: Be Who You Already Are – A Spiritual Hero


johnson“In Lakota framework, everyone is a meaning maker; everyone must make sense of his or her experience. ‘Woableza’ has been translated as ‘realization.’ It has always seemed to me that this word acknowledges that each person has a capacity to make meaning; that understanding is very personal, is timed by him or her, and is not predictable; and for woableza to exist, a change in the person should take place.” — Gerald Mohatt, The Price of a Gift

IN THE BUDDHIST TRADITION, a bodhisattva (a spiritual hero) lives to reverse self-absorption in order to be of benefit to others. This is true of many spiritual and humanitarian practices, such as in the Toltec and Earth traditions — a shared precept is to lose our self-centeredness. Nothing is all about you. (Or me.) However, to radically transform negativity or to create positive experiences, we need a healthy sense of self. So, also like a bodhisattva, Living from the Zero Point, we are given a way to transform the world from within with a strong sense of confidence — a strong sense of self. It takes courage to live life from our side with humility, confidence and awareness. It takes courage to be creative. It takes confidence to be a meaning maker.

At the same time we cannot gain awareness, confidence or even courage through seeking it. Instead we explore the practices and approaches that allow these qualities to arise naturally and spontaneously. (And they do!)

So the zero point agreement asks us to live courageously and confidently from our side (“I live life from my side”) as we transform the world around us — one experience and conversation at a time. You are the zero point. So there is no need to seek outside of your self. At the same time, it is only from the zero point that confidence and courage, along with creativity and generosity can be explored and expressed. No one else can run the race, enjoy the fine meal, write the novel or love your partner in your place. This life is yours to live. So we don’t go in search of meaning; we become the meaning maker within the context of our daily lives. We don’t let circumstances boss us around. In fact, living fully from the zero point gives us ways to use even the most difficult circumstances as an opportunity for making meaning.

As I write this article for The Edge, I am surrounded by my beautiful home and land, as well as about a dozen other writers. I offer free open retreat days at my home and seasonal retreat center for those seeking creative refuge. I do this in celebration of the poet William Stafford and for all us poets. It’s good to gather together and share in the energy of creativity and ideas. On the day I am writing this article (the last open day of the year) a new visitor looked around and said to me smiling, “You are living your dream.” Yes, I am — not only through this beautiful log home we built, but through the practices I have found that bring my dream to me, as well as in the sharing of my dream. He said he knew I was living the dream by the way I greeted everyone. I have a dream worth sharing.

The zero point is the place dreams are made.

Your happiness, creativity and success all come down to living life from your side — no matter what the circumstances. When each of us realizes that we are our own meaning maker and that we participate in the world from our place in the whole, we will find the meaning in making the meaning. Life then becomes a series of inspirational moments, bursts of insight, eruptions of creativity, and even personal revelation. Each moment becomes alive with opportunity, possibilities, and rewards. As Daniel Kahneman writes in his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, “When you analyze happiness, it turns out that the way you spend your time is extremely important.”

Central to the book and the message of the zero point is the wisdom of the Heart Sutra. The Heart Sutra is the core teaching throughout the different Buddhist traditions, but it is again found in the core of indigenous and humanitarian wisdom. The Heart Sutra explains how no single condition can cause anything — it is through a collection and continuum of causes and conditions that result in an effect. The creation of a dream comes from many causes and conditions of which you are at the zero point. We can learn how to participate in this “continuum” and live a life rich with meaning and fulfillment. You can tap into this continuum of causes and conditions and find yourself living your dream.

And it isn’t complicated — it gets down to being who you already are and being present to the potentiality of the present experience.

“Does the rose have to do something? No, the purpose of a rose is to be a rose. Your purpose is to be yourself. You don’t have to run anywhere to become someone else.” — Thich Nhat Hanh, on the Heart Sutra, taken from The Heart of Understanding

In closing, I want to share this short anecdote. A client came to me recently for some guidance around something urgent. Her mother was in the final stages of breast cancer. They had a history of a rocky relationship. She wanted some ideas on how to handle this difficult passage with her mother. I use this story to set out a reminder for all of us — to practice living life from your side every day, so that when difficulty strikes (as it will), you are prepared and well-skilled. So that living life from your side and being yourself arises naturally in the moment. Find practices that resonate with you and activate them in your daily life. Or work with difficulty when it is small (such as a negative emotion like anger when it first arises) because when the difficulty is fully bloomed, it is much harder to dismantle or transform.

I bring this article to a close as I sit in my living room with the other writers in a rowdy silence of tapping keyboards. In a bit, we gather for a “sharing circle” before we return to our personal lives. In this closing circle. we open up and listen to how we each have spent time alone and, collectively, make meaning from our lives.

“Whichever step of the staircase you enter upon, the journey will, in its own way and own time, lead you to all the other steps. The only requirement is that you continue to put one foot in front of the other — one thought, moment of interest, and effort after another. That is all teachers really require of their students. They have trust that the teachings will unfold their results naturally, if the student will only grasp the opportunity.” — Geshe Lhundub Sopa with David Patt, Steps on the Path to Enlightenment

The Eleven Core Principles of the Zero Point Agreement

  • Take full responsibility for your experiences
  • Find freedom through personal investigation and examination
  • Take refuge in wholesome and strong intentions
  • Work with your strong, disturbing emotions
  • Maintain your inner integrity (inner independence)
  • Live as the meaning maker
  • Show up halfway for all your relationships
  • Reflect on the preciousness of human life
  • Cultivate a spiritual practice (live by ethical principles)
  • Depend on the natural world
  • Rely on qualified teachers

“When someone seeks,” said Siddhartha, “then it easily happens that his eyes see only the thing that he seeks, and he is able to find nothing, to take in nothing because he always thinks only about the thing he is seeking, because he has one goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: having a goal. But finding means: being free, being open, having no goal.” — Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

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Julie Tallard Johnson
Julie Tallard Johnson is a transpersonal counselor, licensed clinical social worker and creative writing consultant. She is the award-winning author of 10 spiritual books for teens and adults. Her new book, The Zero Point Agreement: How to Be Who You Already Are, will be available December 1. She has been studying the scientific basis of thought transformation, inspiration and creativity for 35 years. She lives in Wisconsin.


  1. Great article, Julie. It’s taken me a long time to get to my side, and I’m enjoying it immensely. You helped in many ways , and I miss sitting in your writer’s circle.

  2. Wow, I really enjoyed and can feel the internal connection to “Woableza” from you article. As a Native American Woman I was taught that all good things come (especially good writers) to move your soul. I’m happy to have read this article and to understand more fully how the Zero Point Agreement can help me become more of a meaning maker in my life.


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