I am an American expat living in Portugal, and this is my story.
I’ve immigrated from the United States to Portugal, not for an escape, not after a careful analysis of the options for living abroad, but because I am following what I know. It’s part of my ongoing Surrender Experiment.
My Surrender Experiment began in 2017, I think, after I read The Surrender Experiment by Michael Singer. In it, he tells the story of saying YES to whatever the Universe brought to him, regardless of his personal preferences. It took him on a series of unlikely adventures from opening a retreat center to becoming the CEO of a software company, when all he really wanted to do was sit and meditate.
Something about Michael Singer’s experiment moved me. I began to ask, “What is surrender?”
I wanted my own Surrender Experiment, which I sensed would be different from Singer’s, though I didn’t know what it would be.
My Surrender Experiment led me on the adventure of leaving my marriage, my home, and my business. Yet to my surprise, I wasn’t surrendering to something outside of myself, not a god on high nor forces beyond me, but rather to a me that is bigger than me.
It was a surrender to myself as the Universe, a version of myself I hadn’t met, and a life lived from something beyond my personal mind.
And so it was, five years into my Surrender Experiment, it surprised me again.
The Surrender to the Space Within
I wasn’t searching for a change; in fact, I was more content and satisfied with my life than I’d ever been. And yet, there was something troubling me.
I wanted more from my partner and I knew it was not in his power to give. I had seen enough to know that needing my partner to change is a recipe for misery. I knew, conceptually at least, that his change wasn’t going to solve my problem, even though sometimes it really looked like it would.
Then I read a paragraph in Clare Dimond’s book Sane: Getting Real With Reality by Clare Dimond. Here’s the bit that blew my mind. (Italics are mine.)
“…we are not ready for what we think we want. We know we are not ready for it because it looks like we don’t have it already.
“It looks like what we want is out there, separate from us, that it will bring the happiness, satisfaction, security or better life we seek. That it is on our shoulders to make it happen…
“We go out there seeking but it changes nothing. The only change is from the dissolving of these fixed ideas of self and separate world. It is in the dissolution that infinite possibilities reveal themselves.
“The promotion, the new business, the money, the good health are revealed not obtained. They appear not because we have created them but because our idea of who we are and what they are has become thin enough that we can finally see them.”
What if what I was looking for was already inside me? Really?
My mind couldn’t conceive of what this might mean, but still, I looked. For weeks I pondered the question, in and out of my awareness, and as always happens, when I look in the direction of Truth, I see.
I can’t tell you exactly what I saw, but it shifted something fundamental in my way of being. I looked within and the feeling led me to drop my expectations and demands that my partner should be different. I felt myself as responsible not only for creating what I desired, but as the actual source of it.
Immediately, my relationship with my partner improved. I enjoyed him more. But something else happened.
It was as if the winds of my life changed direction overnight. I had new navigation coordinates. The message was clear: go to Portugal.
The Call to Portugal
It’s not as if I hadn’t felt a pull to Europe before. I’d been meeting with a team of people for the last year, exploring regenerative projects, mainly centering around communities in Portugal. I’d hypothetically considered the idea of a move, but this was different. This was a direction. GO.
The direction was so strong that it seemed at odds with my current life situation. Where? How? When? I didn’t have any of these answers. And how did I talk to my partner about this when it was all so nebulous?
With this new direction came a change in my entire life, not just my geographic location. I knew I was leaving my current relationship. My current business was expanding into something bigger. I was expanding.
Since I didn’t yet know what to do, I did nothing. Or rather, I lived my life as best as I could while torturing myself by trying to figure out the details.
But gradually, over the weeks, I began to settle. I waited until I knew what to do to take the actions given me, one step at a time. A trip to Portugal for a regenerative event, to meet my creative partners in person for the first time. I could do that.
And as the sense of leaving my partner grew stronger, I had the necessary conversations. Clumsily. Imperfectly. With as much integrity as I could muster.
Trusting In Something Bigger Than Me
I had a sense that my visit to Portugal in September of 2022 would lead to invitations to live there, and that one person in particular would also be my new relationship partner, but there was no evidence. In fact, by all appearances, this person was not interested.
How could I have such clear direction when it didn’t line up with what the world was showing me?
Again and again I laid down my expectations and assumptions. I simply couldn’t know exactly what it meant or where this guidance was taking me. My only job was to follow.
By the time I got on my flight for Portugal, I had let it all go. I truly didn’t know what would happen and I’d stopped trying to think my way to the outcome. It felt light. I was curious and could only wait and see what would happen.
I met my unrequited love interest in person. Within five days, it was clear we were in a romantic relationship. A few days later, he asked me to delay my stay in Portugal, and by the end of a month, he gave me the email address of his immigration lawyer.
“Come live with me,” he said.
I said yes.
Choosing a New Identity
It seemed almost outside my control, yet it wasn’t. I made small choice after choice to say yes to this new life, to this new way of being.
It was a long journey, more challenging and painful in some ways than I could have imagined. It took time to unwind my life in the United States and navigate the confusing immigration process.
Even more so, it was difficult stepping into this new expression of Stephanie as a globe-trotting expat. For most of my life, I had feared travel. I was afraid to speak a new language and get it wrong. I realized how very small my world was and saw the assumptions I’d ignorantly made because of my cultural conditioning.
For the first time, I knew myself as a minority, an American in a sea of Europeans who all seemed so much more sophisticated and world-wise than me.
This emergent me was bolder, surprisingly provocative, still full of insecurities but showing up as fear-less and moving forward in spite of them. In her clear moments, she was surprisingly humble and kind to herself.
She throws herself into life with an abandon she’s never known before. Still slowed by insecurities, but only for a brief time before she jumps back in. There is patience here. There is grace. There is a new appreciation for the soft animal of her body and the fragile veneer of her identity.
The Next Chapter of My Self
Now that I’m here in Portugal, what next? It’s not as if the country noticed the arrival of another American expat.
I live my life. I do what occurs to me.
New adventures unfold through small, simple actions that occasionally evolve into business ventures, clients, friendships and opportunities to create things in service.
It’s a huge change and yet living is not so different. Surrender is infinitely less complicated and more satisfying than trying to run my life by my intellect or the internal voice that once domesticated me, as Don Miguel Ruiz might say.
I am a wild creation, a new self in each moment, somehow unknown, yet recognized as me.