World peace begins with inner peace. Your greatest impact on others and the world will only come when you have looked deeply inside and made peace with what you find there. But what if what you find makes you squirm? What if you hate what you find?
The answer is love; it is always love.
The person you need to love most–who most needs your love–is YOU. Loving and caring for yourself first isn’t selfish, it’s self-full. This means caring for your Self with gentleness and compassion. If you need to forgive yourself or others, do it and the energy of the anger and resentment you once carried will be available to fuel your dreams. When you offer and accept love of and for yourself, then your heart will overflow with love for others. You will find yourself being more kind, more patient, more accepting and more generous with yourself and others.
The path to a peaceful, authentic life begins with this love for oneself. You can’t be authentic with yourself or others if you don’t like what you see in the mirror. To cultivate self-love, you must embrace your shadow self—those tender parts that you feel ashamed of and fear to share with others—and quench them with love. Those tragic and terrible mistakes you made, the ego that lashed out at others, that wounded and abused child who shivers in your heart—work to make peace with them for they are also aspects of your Self. It is heartbreaking work, accepting the shadow self, but in fact, your heart must break if it is to open at all.
But how to achieve this inner peace, this self-love? Two ways—through generosity and through gratitude. Being generous with yourself and others is the surest and fastest way to open your heart. A Tibetan Buddhist lama once commanded me to stop feeling sorry for myself and start thinking about the happiness of others. When I followed his advice by performing daily acts of intentional kindness, I learned that everyone suffers and is engaged in a heroic battle to survive and thrive. As a result, I gained perspective around my own illness and troubles and was able to release them all.
Acts of kindness can be as simple as letting the mom with the crying child go ahead of you in line or sending a thoughtful handwritten note to someone in need of comfort. Every time you perform an act of kindness, your body produces pain-killing endorphins and mood-boosting serotonin that can heal your body and, more importantly, heal your heart.
As your heart begins to open and heal, feelings of gratitude will naturally arise. You will find you appreciate people and things more. It will begin to seem that every experience that enters your life is a blessing—from your most caring friends to your most bitter enemies (who, you suddenly realize, are your greatest teachers).
As generosity and gratitude permeate your life, your inner peace will shine through you like a beacon that attracts love and abundance to you. It is a virtuous circle that generates greater and greater peace within; a peace so compelling and complete, it infuses everything you touch. THAT is when world peace becomes possible and when you are positioned to make a genuine impact on the world.