Letter No 96 - Tension, tension, tension

Dear friend,

Do you know what the meaning of the word tension is?

We use the word often, but there is immense beauty and clarity in its meaning.

Tension is the presence of two opposing forces in the same object. Forces that are directed in opposite directions simultaneously.

In physics, tension exists when a rope is used to pull an object. Let’s say a tow truck is pulling a broken down car. There are two opposing forces. The truck is pulling in one direction, and the broken down car is resisting in the other direction. Then there is said to be tension in the rope.

In the world of electricity, tension is expressed as voltage. When there are two poles with opposite opposite charges (negative and positive), there is said to be tension or voltage between them.

In music, Katy Perry uses syncopated beats to create rhythmic tension in her song "Roar". Beats or chords that make you feel uneasy, unsettled are said to create musical tension. Usually it is done by inserting an off beat or a note that is not matching with the chords in the song.

In food, chefs create tension by juxtaposing two contrasting flavours like sweet and spicy, sour and salty, or two contrasting textures like creamy and crunchy or flowy and sticky (errr… That sounds a bit gross though 🤣)

In art and design tension is created by bringing together strongly opposing elements like a circle and a square, black and white, a line and a curve. A photographer may place a glass half full of water at the edge of a table instead of the center to create a feeling of tension!

So there you go, you’ve probably never thought of tension in so many contexts before.


Tension is opposites.

Tension is breaking rules.

Tension is symmetry.

Tension is disagreement.

Tension is in the unexpected.

Tension is stress.

We all know tension well enough.

But what is like to share with you today is that…



In our life whenever we are pulled apart by opposing ideas or desires or goals, we will feel tension.

I want to stay at home but my friend wants to go watch a movie.

My mother wants to go for Indian but the rest of us want to have Chinese.

I want to grow like crazy but I want to have a balanced life.

I want to have a deep relationship but I want to be loved and validated all the time.

We want to grab new opportunities but we want to ensure the existing customers are not dissatisfied.

I want to relate with young people and new ideas but I also want to hold on to traditional values.

I want to be gentle and understanding, but I also want to be strong and decisive.

There is tension.


I don’t want to do any sugar coating of the difficulty, pain or even ugliness that comes with tension. But I genuinely believe that tensions can create opportunities for individuals and entire organisations. Tension is necessary for change and innovation because without tension and challenge - and their resulting frictions - new ideas wouldn’t exist.

My friend Akash calls it ‘creative tension’.

When things are still in emergence. Ideas are flying around. Decisions are fluid. There is excitement and nervousness.

But even when their is tension caused from conflict or disagreement or indecision, it is almost always an opportunity for growth and Innovation.

Let me share with you an exercise that has helped me immensely. I’m sure it will help you too. You too can transform tension into music / art / flavour / growth / peace / all of the above. Don’t be fooled by its simplicity. Do it diligently.

Just relax and take a few deep breaths. With too much tension the strings of the guitar will snap. Release a little of the tension into the space around you.

When did you feel tense last?

Write down a few situations.

Now pick one of those situations and identify what are the opposing forces that are pulling you and causing tension. Think clearly. Find two different directions you are being pulled in. Identify them. Articulate them as best as you can. If possible write them down.

Now take a few more deep breaths. Become aware of these two forces. See them clearly. Don’t try to change then or remove them. Just see that they are there and the tension they are creating. Stay with them for a long as you feel like.

Tension leads to release. And that’s what makes music, art, storytelling, and even our life beautiful and interesting. Watch what emerges as you feel some release. What new insights did you gain? What did you realise about yourself? About others?

Take some time to do this exercise. It is very powerful. Stay with your feelings and thoughts. Give them the space they need. Take the time to do this, and you will find the opportunity in the tension.



Try these flavour combinations and experience the tension they create!

Potato chips with strawberry sauce.

Salt and caramel.

Olive oil and vanilla ice cream.

Beetroot and chocolate.

Cheese and honey.

If you want to experience how composers use tension in music to move and manipulate their listeners, listen to this classical piece by Maurice Ravel called ‘Bolero’



And speaking about tension and worry, here is a thought to keep you perfectly tuned like a rock star’s guitar!


Until next time…

In fratitude (Friendship and gratitude),