In order to detach and keep the mind calm, so that when you sit for meditation you are able to withdraw the mind, you must take the first step in spiritual practice—the practice of karma yoga. Karma yoga is the fundamental practice on which meditation is built. No meditation is possible without karma yoga; it doesn’t matter what you do.
Someone who practises karma yoga acts in two ways. Firstly, a karma yogi is continuously meditating while working. When he serves others, he sees Lord Narayana: “Oh Lord, I am working and worshipping and serving You through this particular person. Thank you for giving me this opportunity.” Secondly, he detaches from the result of the action he is doing. He is not attached to the result of the action he is performing, good or bad. Master Sivananda would start all his teachings with the instruction “Serve, serve, serve.” This is what karma yoga is—serving. During service the karma yogi, whether working in the office, washing the dishes, worshipping in the temple, mowing the lawn, whatever he is doing, knows that the work is worship.
Karma yoga, during which you learn detachment, is the first step in meditation. Until detachment develops, until you are able to renounce, no meditation is possible. You may do innumerable activities during your day, if you are practising karma yoga then the mind will not be perturbed by anything, because you have trained the mind to be inward all the time. Others will look at you and say, “Ah, he’s just like any other person working.” They cannot see the secret of your inner peace. Only you can touch it, you can feel it. A yogi’s inner life is secretly guarded. He never expresses it to the outside world. Outwardly he behaves just like an ordinary person, but inside he is a fathomless ocean. He has touched infinite peace. Nothing can affect him inside. This is the place where the result of practice of karma yoga takes you. And then only is meditation possible. You cannot describe that peace. But it takes time. It takes time and patience. You must work hard for years and years and detach yourself every moment from your actions, and then the first step comes, PEACE. Peace comes.
Detach yourself from every action, yet carry out your responsibilities. Don’t shirk your responsibilities. A haphazard life is not yoga because it shows there is no steadiness of mind. When a yogi takes on a job, he keeps on it until it is finished. His mind will not waver. He can focus on anything and that is why he is successful. If he takes on a responsibility, his mind will not waver. Even if death comes, he will not move; he is steady. That is the power of the yogic mind—it is focused at every moment. Some people do a little here, a little there, a little here, a little there. They move around in a haphazard world. This is not meditation.
One who truly meditates can turn out more work in less time, without bringing unhappiness to himself or anyone else. There is peace inside. His actions are all on a sattvic (pure) level, and everyone who comes in contact with him is naturally uplifted. In his presence even the laziest will find strength and encouragement, uplift. They find they perform actions they could or would not perform anywhere else, just because of the yogi’s presence, because he is a dynamic dynamo. Tamas (lethargy) will not prevail in front of such a yogi.
Meditation starts with detachment in your day-to-day life. This is one of the first lessons to learn. See the Lord in all. Serve all. Serve the sick, the suffering, the destitute. See not the names and forms, but the indwelling Supreme Presence. This will hasten your progress in concentration and meditation. You will get to understand that service and realisation are the two wings of the same bird of Self-knowledge.