Tao de Ching – #7, #8 – Containment


The Tao is infinite, eternal.
Why is it eternal?
It was never born;
thus it can never die.
Why is it infinite?
It has no desires for itself;
thus it is present for all beings.

The Master stays behind;
that is why she is ahead.
She is detached from all things;
that is why she is one with them.
Because she has let go of herself,
she is perfectly fulfilled.


The supreme good is like water,
which nourishes all things without trying to.
It is content with the low places that people disdain.
Thus it is like the Tao.

In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don’t try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.

When you are content to be simply yourself
and don’t compare or compete,
everybody will respect you.


There is a concept in psychotherapy called “Containment”. This is the ability to sit with a patient in distress, sometimes dire, and tolerate the outflow of negative emotion – even if it appears levied toward the therapist. There is something about this that mirrors what should be the good attachment relationship that perhaps a patient has not sufficiently experienced now or in the past. Containment is a way of being with the patient that is non-judgmental, and that projects acceptance and love. What these two poems illustrate is that attitude. Containment is generous and selfless, without an egoic sense of superiority. It is more a joining with the patient in their experience, detached from “all things”, in the Buddhist sense of non-attachment to the flow of emotion whatever that may be, and one with that flow as the therapist receives it in all of its rawness.

In containing the patient, the therapist is attending closely to them in the moment. Negative affect and distress is allowed to be felt. In this secure one-on-one environment, the patient can be with their emotions and experience these feelings fully without the sense that they need to “get rid of” them. The therapist remains in the “low place” that perhaps the other people in the patient’s life have “disdained”. By the receiving, and working through the pain in the presence of someone just being there “nourishing without trying to”, the patient can feel “simply themself” as they are at that moment, and through this acceptance, the message is conveyed that as such, they are worthy of respect.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s