Through loss and heartbreak, author Tamsin Calidas found salvation in nature
Turning points in Tamsin Calidas’ life have been as dramatic as they are heartbreaking. Following a car crash and a terrifying incident with an intruder in her London house, she and her husband decided to move to a dilapidated croft on a remote island in the Outer Hebrides.
For a while, this idyll was just what Calidas needed, but it wasn’t long before distrust and infidelity drove her marriage apart and Calidas was forced to give into change, trusting that moments ahead would play out as they were meant to.
‘Life is testing,’ she observes. ‘My own experiences show that those profound moments are the ones where all of that inner transformation and rebirth, that beauty, lies.’
Left alone on a remote island, with broken hands from separate accidents, Calidas was forced to fend for herself, before finding friendship and belonging with a neighbour. Shortly afterwards, that friend was tragically killed in a car crash and Calidas once again had to reset her life. At this point, she says, she truly gave in to the power of nature. ‘We’re so outwardly focused that we don’t give much thought to internal influence and agency,’ she says. ‘But we all have the ability to deal with and embrace all that comes to us. That is really an important truth, and one that I found when I went to the water to swim: every day, waking at dawn and running across fields to be present in that awesome moment when the sun lifts or the moon sets.’
Wild swimming – and, by extension, nature – became her sanctuary. She embraced its raw power and beauty with her entire soul. Her book is a hymn to the power of the wild landscape in which she has found her home and to the beauty of giving in, letting go and facing challenges with an open heart.
Can you identify the key moments of change as you began to follow your dreams? I like very much that you suggest there was a series, because change happens all the time. And it’s not just an external but an internal process. In the book, we start externally and then we come right into the heart. It’s an immersive internal journey.
There was the big change after my initial car crash, when I knew that life was short, temporary and precious. I was suddenly aware of my own mortality. It really woke me up – prompted me to make significant changes in how I lived and worked.
Some of the changes in your life have been chosen and some forced on you. Do you see them differently?
Often, it’s not that you’ve decided to make a change, but a tipping point happens. Sometimes it’s going on behind the scenes, almost as if life takes care of things. And I believe change often happens through necessity: there are external forces and factors, but also an emotional shift inside when you suddenly realise it had to be this way, because it couldn’t continue.
With the island, we didn’t talk about it. We just went. It had been a dream for a long time, but the incidents in London were the impetus to actively make that change. Later, when my husband left, I was so numb and disconnected that it felt like change was going on around me. Change can come suddenly, or it can creep up on us. The beautiful thing of life is there’s so many unlived threads and narratives and stories, but there is always a pattern. For me, it was about saying, “Wake up! This what you’re doing. And you can keep doing it. But is it for you?” Unless we change our inner fabric, we just keep repeating patterns.
I love the metaphor of windows in your life that you pass by: are you actually going to dare to stop, to look through, and to step through? Or throw open the window and breathe the fresh air beyond the glass?
How has living amid nature helped you through challenges?
It helps me every day. The day that my husband left, I lay down on the floor, because I needed to feel the earth holding me. That was instinctive. There was such a calm and quiet solitude, it felt like a great wave of water over me. It was a relief to feel that weight of silence and to close my eyes. I knew if I could just keep breathing quietly, life would start to change.
Later, when bills kept coming and there was no money, and I struggled to even eat, I was so hungry that I reached out for a small handful of greenery. That was a huge mental shift: suddenly realising, ‘It’s all here. All I need. I’ve just been looking in the wrong place.’ It felt like a gift. It was a relief to discover such an abundant food source.
How has wild swimming helped you?
Grief is like soil: it’s heavy and clings to your skin, even when you come up for air – even after you brush it off. And this is where transformation and uplifting and the most peaceful thing that ever happened to me took place. One day, I went to the water, and something extraordinary happened. It felt like my name was called with a voice that came from the universe itself. But it was inside as well.
Ever since then, I know it only takes a breath to reconnect to that world. That connection is cellular. It’s within your body. And that’s the gift that’s waiting for all of us. I knew I would never feel alone again. And when times get harder again, I can access that connection.
Do you believe that ‘this too shall pass’?
In many ways, yes. When you’ve got waves barrelling towards you, you think, ‘That’s gonna be cold or it’s gonna hurt when it hits,’ but then it doesn’t. The water is cold, but it’s also soft. It wraps around you, and the buoyancy lifts you. In the water, there is no place for fear; you are just your breath. And that’s a huge physical, emotional, spiritual, metaphysical awakening.
We have that resilience inside us. The profound depth of our suffering is often there for a reason. We euthanise our pain or our sorrow, our grief, our fears. And we frame those as negative experiences that we can’t wait to get beyond, but actually life brings us its gifts.