Separation of Body and Spirit. Earnest Hemingway and the Power of Thinking of Your Body as a Tool

“You did not do so badly for something worthless,” he said to his left hand.

“But there was a moment when I could not find you.”

Why was I not born with two good hands? he thought. Perhaps it was my fault in not training that one properly. But God knows he has had enough chances to learn. He did not do so badly in the night, though, and he has only cramped once. If he cramps again let the line cut him off.

(The Old Man and the Sea, 85)

The self immolation of Thích Quang Duc. Photo Credits:

We are not our bodies

The Nobel Prize winning, 20th century Illinois native, Earnest Hemingway, in his legendary novel “The Old Man and the Sea”, shines light on a fundamental truth of life that regardless of your spiritual beliefs or lack thereof will help you to accomplish what you want in life.

The separation of body and spirit, body and energy, body and will, body and soul, whatever or however you like to think about it, the body is a tool and nothing else. When we die, what leaves? It is not the physical body — the bones, muscles, tendons, nerves, joints, organs etc. Your spirit leaves, your essence, your soul leaves its vessel. So when we think of the body just as a tool, a sometimes needy, frustrating, irritating, and sometimes non-compliant one at that, it will help us to put things in our life in better perspective and journey through life more capable and equipped.

The body is not us. Why is it that we live under the constant beaconing call of this glorified tool? Why are we shackled to its every need, desire, and whim? Why is everything predicated off of its emotions and well being. The secret to accomplishing what you want in life is to realize that the body is just a tool to actualize your dreams, to materialize your desires, deal with it accordingly.

The body, the spirit, and the mind

The purpose of the body is the manipulation of the physical world. It is what gives us the power to create and destroy, to augment and change, to bend and to break the world around us. It is the universe’s greatest tool. The spirit is what makes us go. It is what gives our bodes the energy move, it is what fuels every action that the body takes. It is what drives us to create, what pushes and forces us to do, what pulls and draws us into toil, and what influences our labor. It holds our essence, our uniqueness, our purpose. It is the source of everything that we are and propels our being. The mind is the command center which takes the wishes and will of the spirit and commands the body to act accordingly. It is what transforms the energy, will, and push of the spirit into definable action that the body takes. This is how the all of the greatest men and women in history were able to peacefully and valiantly endure the greatest of sufferings, the severest of toils, and worst of physical calamities. They realize the difference and place their presence and priority on their wills, not their bodies.


He who has power over himself has power over his greatest enemy.

— Matshona Dhliwayo

Mahatma Ghandi’s three week hunger strike, the self immolation of Thích Quảng Đức, and Leonid Rogzov’s surgical removal of his own appendix, are all extreme representations of this concept. How do these people capable of these extreme acts of self control see it through? These baffling feats and all others involving self control are possible because in their minds, they have separated the two entities of our being. The spirit or energy are different than their physical body. Again, the spirit is what makes us us. It is what drives our actions, it is what gives us purpose, it is what motivates and fuels every action that the body makes. They are not their body’s feeling, emotions, sensations, desires, afflictions, or servants. They are only the representation and manifestation of their wills. So they do not care what happens to the body or what the body goes through because they know the body is only here to serve as an aid in actualizing their will.

The benefits of separating these two entities, body and spirit are almost infinite. In every task, in every duty, in every journey, in every struggle, in anything you do on a day to day basis, this mindset and revelation will transform your efforts.

Lets say that your goal is to get healthy (a good place to start). What happens when its time to go to the gym after a long day at work and spending time with your family? We say, “I don’t feel like it.”, “I’m tired”, “I’m not in the mood”, “I don’t have the energy”, we so mistakenly take the bodies feelings as our own and succumb to its pressures. In all actuality, your body may very well be tired, but that doesn’t mean that you cannot do it. Your body’s energy level does not correspond or dictate the drive of your spirit or will. Its the body’s job to perform, and to let you know what is going on with it, and what is going on with its performance, but our minds have to take that message and decide what to with it. When your body says its tired, you say, “ok thats fine body, thank you for letting me know, I will take that into account, but I still think we can run this half mile and pick up a few weights.”

When your body says that it is hungry, thirsty, tired, horny, energetic that is fine, you can take the information and urges that it sends you and decide what you want to do with them. Everything that your body tells you doesn’t have to be done, dealt with, or acted upon. You are not its servant, it is yours. A lot of times we make the body the overseer of our lives and we just have to comply with what it tells us, but it is imperative that we change this perspective.

You would be completely shocked by what happens when you take that mindset around with you in your dealings with your body. You will be able to work harder and for longer, you will be able to endure suffering much easier and longer, you will be able to go through what most people on this earth cannot endure, you will be less erratic and emotionally and physically driven — freeing you up to be driven by your goals instead of your current feelings, and every single time that you perform this way, every action that you take with this perspective will only strengthen and reinforce the power that you have over your body so it will be subservient to your wishes.

If you do not conquer self, you will be conquered by self.

— Napoleon Hill


In his novel, The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway details and experiments with this concept through the experiences of an old fisherman who is alone far out at sea.

His first time in 85 days, the fisherman, named Santiago, speaks to himself and his body just as described above. Just a very convenient means to an end. While out at sea, alone, and in a small skiff, the fisherman encounters and hooks the fish of his life. He has not been able to see the fish up to this point, but he can just tell by the pull on the line, his movements, and his composure that this is an experienced, confident, and noble fish. After he hooked this enormous behemoth and has kept him on the line for a day and a half at this point, his body betrays him. And in a wildly entertaining and beautifully indicative inner dialogue, Hemingway, through the story of this old fisherman, paints the picture perfectly

Shifting the weight of the line to his left shoulder and kneeling carefully he washed his hand in the ocean and held it there, submerged, for more than a minute watching the blood trail away and the steady movement of the water against his hand as the boat moved.

“He has slowed much,” he said.

The old man would have liked to keep his hand in the salt water longer but he was afraid of another sudden lurch but the fish and he stood up and braced himself and held his hand up against the sun. It was only a line burn that had cut his flesh. But it was in the working part of his hand. He knew he would need his hands before it started.

“Now,” he said, when his hand had dried, “I must eat the small tuna. I can reach him with the gaff and eat him here in comfort.”

He knelt down and found the tuna under the stern with the gaff and drew it toward him keeping it clear of the coiled lines. Holding the line with his left shoulder again, and bracing on his left hand and arm, he took the tuna off the gaff hook and put the gaff back in place. He put one knee on the fish and cut strips of dark red mea longitudinally from the back of the head to the tail. They were wedge-shaped strips and he cut them from next to the backbone down to the edge of the belly. When he had cut six strips he spread them out on the wood of the bow, wiped his knife on his trousers, and lifted the carcass of the bonito by the tail and dropped it overboard.

“I don’t think I can eat an entire one,” he said and drew his knife across one of the strips. He could feel the steady hard pull of the line and his left hand was cramped. It drew up tight on the heavy cord and he looked at it in disgust.

“What kind of a hand is that,” he said. “Cramp then if you want. Make yourself into a claw. It will do you no good.”

Come on, he thought and looked down into the dark water at the slant of the line. Eat it now and it will strengthen the hand. It is not the hand’s fault and you have been many hours with the fish. But you can stay with him forever. Eat the bonito now.

He picked up a piece and put it in his mouth and chewed it slowly. It was not unpleasant.

Chew it well, he thought, and get all the juices. It would not be bad to eat with a little lime or with lemon or with salt.

“How do you feel, hand?” he asked the cramped hand that was almost as stiff as rigor mortise. “I’ll eat some more for you.”

He ate the other part of the piece that he had cut in two. He chewed it carefully and then spat out the skin.

“How does it go, hand, Or is it too early to know?” He took another full piece and chewed it.

“It is a strong full-blooded fish,” he thought. I was lucky to get him instead of dolphin. Dolphin is too sweet. This is hardly sweet at all and all the strength is still in it.”

There is no sense in being anything but practical, he thought. I wish I had some salt. And I do not know whether the sun will rot or dry what is left, so I had better eat it all although I am not hungry. The fish is calm and steady. I will eat it all and then I will be ready.

“Be patient, hand,” he said. “I do this for you.”

I wish I could feed the fish, he thought. He is my brother. But I must kill him and keep strong to do it. Slowly and conscientiously he ate all of the wedge-shaped strips of fish.

He straightened up, wiping his hand on his trousers.

“Now,” he said. “You can let the cord go, hand, and I will handle him with the right arm alone until you stop that nonsense.” He put his left foot on the heavy line that the left hand had held and lay back against the pull against his back.

He settled comfortably against the wood and took his suffering as it came and the fish swam steadily and the boat moved slowly through the dark water. There was a small sea rising with the wind coming up from the east and at noon the old man’s left hand was uncramped.

“Bad news for you, Fish,”

Earnest Hemmigway so clearly and so enjoyably paints a vivid picture of how one is supposed to view their own bodies. How one is supposed to direct and oversee its actions instead of always being in them. The way the old man refers to his hand in the third person and calling it an ‘it’ is hilarious. But this passage is powerful because again, when you start to look at your body as a tool it completely changes what you can do, and what you can accomplish in this life as a result. And by the way, he ends up catching the fish :).

Thank you for spending some time with me today, and I deeply appreciate the attention you have given this post. If you got anything from this post, then please share it with someone important to you in your life.

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