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Miriam Serna

What is philosophy for you?

To me philosophy is a way of thinking beyond yourself, and thinking about the values that are important to you as a human being; for example, honesty and beauty. It's deciding what you think is important and applying that in your everyday life.

Do you see a connection between philosophy, thinking about all these virtues and values, and their application in everyday life?

I see how they work together, but I don't know if I do a great job at putting them into practice, and I think that as you grow up it's not something that is taught in school, so I think people have a hard time connecting them. It's almost an esoteric point of view. Philosophy becomes something that's very "high above", that's not very attainable or practical. I think that link is missing . I definitely see the value of the connection and I believe it's something that takes practice and has to be very intentional.

As a parent and as a young person, how do you think it's possible to create that link?

To practice. I came to philosophy later in life and my son is a young adult. It's a little bit challenging at this point but I think what I try to do is make everyday situations, that I know we can learn from, into everyday little lessons.

for example, if I see something that he didn't do right or he can do better, then I'll try to talk to him about it and have him think about how it impacted not only himself, but other people. Those are small ways that you can infuse practice and raw ideas, because philosophy is not a set of readings or books, it's really about being alive and living a human existence.

Would you say that in your life you recognize certain values or certain virtues that you are trying to apply?

Yes, definitely. In my everyday life I try to work towards being more compassionate and more present. It's a big challenge. With so much noise, such as social media and the shifting priorities our culture has towards the material, of having and acquiring things versus being more present and focusing on experiencing and learning, I am trying actively to work towards being more present and looking introspectively more, versus focusing on the outside with all its clutter and the noise of our everyday lives.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I would focus less on trying to follow what I think I'm supposed to do, and just do what feels right. Still have a goal in mind but especially work-wise, stop living from one accomplishment to the next, trying to advance to the next thing… It’s important to move forward but I would take more time to appreciate where I am in the present moment and learn from that, and then live it based on what I felt was right, versus what I felt I should be doing because of my age or because what my parents wanted or what society tells us we should be doing at a certain age...

How do you recognize what is the right thing to do?

Do what feels right in the moment in the sense of what makes you feel joyful or happy versus having to think so hard and second-guessing yourself and doing something just because you're told it’s the right thing but it doesn't feel right in your gut. I don't know if there is a parameter to figure it out. I think it's a personal choice but if it makes you feel good and at peace and doesn't have you question yourself, then I think you'll know you're doing the right thing.

Do you think that for a young person today it's possible to figure something like that out?

Yes, but I think they have to have guidance. I'm going through that with my son right now, because he is definitely does not want to follow the traditional four-years-of-college, and that is something I was really focused on accomplishing and he is pushing back and fighting but he's being really honest with himself and he knows this is not his way. I don't know that he knows what his way is, I can help him but he has to figure it out on his own, and that's a very challenging thing for you to accept or realize as a parent, but I think as long as there are people in his life, a parent or a friend or a teacher or someone that has more experience and can help guide him, I think it's possible.

What do you think should be the qualities of the guidance? What qualities or set of skills does the guide need to have?

I think it's somebody that has to be very patient, very open-minded, someone that has some life experience. For example: to know the things in their lives that they have regretted or have not done very well. Not preaching, but using their experiences as examples. It definitely has to be someone who has the patience to listen and help guide the conversation, versus imposing their thoughts on what they should do. I think this is the challenge we have as parents. In the end, you don't have control over other people, so he as a person has to figure it out and has to learn how to listen. It's how to help to guide him with patience and perhaps give him some sort of tools or resources that he can discover on his own and come up with a decision on his own. It's directing in a positive way and without being judgmental because this is where you lose people.

If you had a gift that you wanted to give to your son or to any young person at that stage, what would that non-material gift be?

I would give him curiosity to explore the world. I find that because everything is at our fingertips on our screens we have lost the ability to just go out and have the curiosity to go and learn about the world and about people. I would give him more curiosity and the hunger to explore.

Some people would say that because we can connect to the other side of the world in a second it's actually made everything a lot closer, and kids today are much more open too many other things they never had a chance to see before. Do you agree with that?

I have mixed feelings about that. On one hand, it's easier to learn about things, but it's different when you learn it in a book versus experiencing it for yourself. While not everyone has the opportunity to travel around the world and meet different people, we live in such a rich city that just walking out your door you're going to meet people from all different walks of life. What I feel is missing is that sense of curiosity that is a true sense of being together and connecting, and I'm guilty at that too. I need to do more of that – exploring! Instead of being so wrapped up in your own thoughts and other distractions. As humans, we need to bring back more curiosity, the need to explore and to truly connect to people.

You mentioned curiosity that is mostly directed outwards to the things around us, but at the same time you described that in your life you are also reflecting inwards. How do both of these things work together?

I think theyboth work together because, for example, I'm doing a yoga instructor's course and even though yoga can be very physical and external, it's also internal. It teaches you to take a pause and reflect, and have patience with yourself. There's a lot of learning in this process.

Curiosity directed towards the external can also help you take a look at yourself and see what

quality you need. For example, when you meet someone who really inspires you, you ask what is it in this person that inspires me? How can I learn from that and apply that to my own life?

There's definitely room for these two things to work together.

If you are really on an exploring journey it's a given that if you're curious, you're usually a person that likes to reflect... Those two qualities work really well together.

Do you have anyone who inspires you?

My parents have really inspired me. They are very hard working people. I'm proud of them for always doing the right thing. When I'm getting “off-track” I kind of reflect on them. Especially my father, who is someone who has qualities that I can take and pass on and has really encouraged my son. I think about how he has lived his life, has sacrificed, and given us a page of his life...

Can you think of a moment in your life that was very meaningful and impactful?

Having my son was one of those. I was very young. It definitely changes your whole life and the way you see and think about the world.

Reflecting on that experience, what would you say was the biggest change it had on you?

It was having to think of someone other than yourself. It forces you to live your life thinking about how it's going to affect and shape their lives as human beings. It's a big shift from seeing things as one dimensional to seeing how your actions impact another human. It's a challenge, till this day... He's 18...

In your opinion, what defines being a successful person?

To me, being a successful person means being OK with yourself, being OK with your virtues and traits and also being OK with your flaws and learning how to balance them. I don't think it's about money or having a career, it's about being at peace with yourself and knowing yourself.

You're actually saying it has nothing to do with external things, that a sense of success is something completely internal. Is that right?

Yes. It's not that the external world doesn't matter, because it helps shape us, but at the end of the day, YOU have to be OK with your life choices and to be happy with the things you're doing and accomplishing in your life, however big or small they may be. You can't measure yourself by other people's standards. In my opinion, that's a true sense of success, and it transfers to being a parent, a professional or just being yourself.

What is happiness to you?

Being at peace with yourself. Happiness isn't measured by smiling all day, everyday. It's really about knowing who you are and being at peace with that.

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