Parastou Youssefi and Fariborz Massoudian

Recorded April 10, 2021 Archived April 9, 2021 35:27 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: mby020575


Friends Parastou Youssefi (40) and Fariborz Massoudian (58) share a conversation about their journeys as students of Islamic Sufism, and about the community relief work they've engaged in.

Subject Log / Time Code

FM and PY share a little about their backgrounds. FM describes his first experiences with the MTO School of Islamic Sufism.
PY talks about growing up with Sufism in her household, and describes her process of applying the lessons of Sufism later on in life.
PY and FM talk about the ethos of volunteering and service at MTO. FM talks about the relief work he has done with MTO in Texas.
FM mentions how a Texas congressman recognized MTO's work, and designated an "MTO Day." PY describes her own involvement in MTO's work in California, and reflects on the Sufi lesson that change starts at the individual level.
FM discusses how Sufism is intended to be practiced, and reflects on selflessness and service in Sufism.


  • Parastou Youssefi
  • Fariborz Massoudian

Recording Location

Virtual Recording


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00:01 My name is a fibroids mess with Ian. I'm 58 years old. And today's date is April 10th, 2021. I live in Dallas, Texas. I will be talking with pastor yousefi of your fellow students and volunteers at MTO shahmaghsoudi School of Islamic Sufism.

00:22 Hello, my name is Paris to eusepi. I am 40 years old. Today's date is Saturday, April 10th, 2021. I live in Oakland California. The name of my conversation partner is sorry boersma. Sue Dion. We are both students and volunteers at the MTO School of Islamic Sufism.

00:46 To share more about myself. I was born in Iran and migrated to the US at age, 15 have actually lived in the US for a 3/4 of my life, but my accent is still catching up here and engineering manager by profession and married and have a 22 year old daughter, who is also a student at MTO.

01:12 I was born and raised in California. I work in philanthropy and an International Development, currently a senior program officer with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. I am a married with a new baby and baby boy name Yusuf.

01:32 So fibers, I am excited to talk to you and get to know you and your story a little bit better and to learn about your path to stupid them. I'm curious when, and how you first came across and Tio.

01:49 Yeah, I first heard about into in the early 90s two of my colleagues were also friends had just started attending MTO classes and I could see em that they are more focused. I could see that you're more organized at the it was also a newfound gentleness in their interactions with others. So I obviously had a positive experience with people that are attending the school, but I honestly had no interest in attending the school. At the time. I was working full-time in management. I was also working on my MBA on this side and I had my gold all set in life and I had no interest in everything else of my plans were to climb the corporate ladder until a global 500 company with African Turtle position.

02:49 I was working on at the time and you know that working full-time and attending.

03:00 You know, I can certainly relate to that. I think I've also can be delusional at times and focusing on life goals. I'm curious, if you're, you know, life plan worked out the way that you expected it to.

03:18 Definitely not as you would expect in late 93. I finally got my MBA and I received a promotion at work and I just felt invincible and lately. I've been thinking what was going through my mind at the time. I've been really thinking hard about that, but I can't remember anything. I feel like they think of my material life will just continue forever. Life will just continue going my way. But again, I just can't remember anything that was going through my mind at the time as I'm concluding that when one is Young.

03:56 You're so busy. You're so focus on these goals that you said for yourself that you don't even think about why you're here on this Earth. What is the purpose of life on this Earth? Answer to that was just what I was going through at the time. It was just being focus on my goals and not thinking about anything else.

04:21 I think you're probably right about the time issue. I think I may be one generation younger than you and there is to know, definitely this feeling that time is never-ending or with the right, you know, I don't know planning and organization. Nothing bad will happen. I'm curious. Did you grow up talking about some of these bigger Topics in life and your family or household. Did you grow up in a particularly religious or spiritual household anti-religion? I my father, especially had bad experiences with organized religion, and he saw religion as a way to control the masses and advised me to stay away from religion.

05:13 It it it was obviously mode of thinking as well.

05:22 Yeah, I can certainly relate. I have some you know, what kind of family members or friends who you know also have quite a bit of I would say is suspicion or skepticism as well. So I'm curious what changed your mind.

05:38 So later that year after I got my degree and my promotion, my first young wife, as she was only 32 at the time as she was diagnosed with Advanced cancer. So as the expression goes, that brought me back down to earth. I started questioning the reason for life. I started questioning creation. I question. Why was working so hard for something so temporary and I have discussed these questions with my friends that were attending a few sessions. And I heard points of views that I haven't heard before. There was The Sound Logic to their answers. I didn't hear the customary, religious Dogma the answers. They said that they were also searching for some answers. So I asked if I could attend an end to your class and it's your station and they said, yes, I also asked if their teacher would be open to talking to

06:38 But my question was in desperate. Need of someone who could help me make sense out of my situation, so they invited me to write a letter to Professor.

06:51 And how about place with being in his presence? In that first session. He received my wife and me with the generosity and kindness that I have never experienced before.

07:04 Tell me more about that. First meeting. What kind of what answers did you hear to your questions? That maybe you hadn't heard before?

07:15 But what I heard that first night was completely different from what I expected. I may be expected in to talk to me about faith and geology, but instead Professor, another and go to the gym and interest in our problem. He started talking about them in a very logical and scientific way.

07:38 An amazing leader was still a beautiful Simplicity to the concert. I've learned over the years that if someone truly knows the topic, they can convey that in a manner. That simple to understand, unfortunately got distracted, the various treatment options and I couldn't attend stations for more than a year. I lost my first wife, a year-and-a-half later that tragedy made me very curious about that. And at that point, I started attending into classes again of you on there through the teachings of Professor know that I learned that it is an evolutionary and developmental stage of Bean.

08:19 I learned that this is not an end, but a beginning.

08:24 And in one of his lectures, he eloquently explained that the moment I was born into this world. I died in my mother's womb and these fit and purse with continued until there's no more room for development or growth.

08:42 Wow, that's a tub. Beautiful, and powerful, and very peaceful concept of deaths. You know, I'm just thinking with with so much death and suffering this past year because of covid in OMG. I'm sure you're at your story and this unique definition of death must really resonate for many as well. And no knowing what I know of that until Community. I'm sure the generosity and kindness that you experienced was also really helpful for you during this difficult time. Don't think I would have survived it all. Had it not been for the teachings and kindness of our teacher, professional to Angela. How about your past?

09:30 Yeah, so unlike you by Boris. I actually grew up with Sufism. My parents are both students. And so I certainly also experienced that generosity and kindness that you described, but I wouldn't say that I really learn the teachings. You know, I was, I was so focused on my life checklist, you know, I remember being a teenager and thinking, I can't wait till I get out of this house and travel, the world, and pursue my studies, and get an advanced degree. My career, change. The world get married have kids by nice and probably in that order too. And, you know, I did pretty well against my list. I'd saved quite a bit of those goals, but I let those achievements Define me and you know, there's nothing wrong in the pursuit of those goals, but for me,

10:30 Was a problem when I let those achievements Define who I was. And so, when a number of things that I had carefully planned out, you know, the right job, the right relationship didn't work out. I really lost myself. I began to experience, anxiety, and depression and it was a difficult time for me. I know that sounds, so trivial compared to the loss that you experienced. And the lost that so many have experienced this past year to the covid. But you know. Even though you grew up with Sufism and I didn't grow up with you cuz I'm and I did, it's interesting. We kind of both ended up at the same place in a way.

11:19 Yeah, we travel different paths with him to the same realization. It's very interesting.

11:24 Yeah, you know, I when I reply.

11:30 But I didn't really listen. I think I just attended classes going out of because either I was expected to or to see my many friends at MTO but I didn't really kind of apply them to my everyday life. But you know when I did had that low I know of a place that I could go back to that to kind of ReDiscover myself if you well and actually our teacher Professor not there on

12:02 No, he once posed, a set of question in his book title Sufism that really got me thinking and he asks and I'm going to quote this, they don't mess it up. If there were only one in the world. And that one were you, what would your name be? Who would you be? Would you hate? Would you love?

12:24 And I really reflected on those questions, and I felt like no matter what I came up with. I kept falling short, you know, my name Paris to was given to me by my parents. I had no say in my, you know, Ivy League school degrees. That's not me. I was just very good at school. I love to dance. We didn't discuss politics, explore new places. You know what? Those are my hobbies? I wouldn't say those. That's who I am. I just an American.

13:00 These are like these external labels. I just, I couldn't, I kept coming up short and I felt very lost and alone.

13:09 And so I set out to find some answers and it was actually the 3-day MTO Meditation Retreat, that really was life-changing for me. And I kind of went things started to turn around. It was three days. Dedicated, completely to meditation by Marcos, which is a concentration method unique to MTO. And, you know, let me just paint a picture. Imagine, you know, the setting in Northern California. Beautiful, tall green trees, super quiet, you know, Sunshine, she's beautiful space and it was just three days of focusing on, you know, meditation and I'm self-discovery. And I

13:59 Dance Experience. These moments of tranquility and joy that I hadn't experienced in a really long time. And I even started to feel like myself again, which I thought was so weird because in a way, because I didn't know who I was, but something felt very familiar, and I just remember the time just felt really good and, you know, so I just wanted to know more leaving that Retreat. How, what is the source of tranquillity? Enjoy? How can I access it? Whenever I want, you know, it's just a focus on yourself and in your spiritual held at. So what did you learn at the retreat?

14:41 Yeah, absolutely. Was it a total luxury to have that time? So you know, what I learned is that MTO teachers actually very practical Sufism. It's not, you know, meant just for history, books are books, what books of poetry, like Rumi? It really is meant to be practiced or experienced. And what I learned is that I didn't see how it teaches that there are eight principles and when they are in practice together and under the guidance of a teacher, you can access the source, anytime you want that resides in each of us and that source is my identity. Not my achievements or material things and I'll give you an example. So one of those principles is kuzma or service.

15:31 And to me that means service to the community to others, but also to self write. Because when we are in service, we get back, you know, way more than you know, we we give and you know, service also starts in our centers are MTS enters. And you know, you we all just take turns, keeping our centers clean and tidy, making and serving Refreshments at the end of classes didn't really think much of it. But if I can share like it's just a short story.

16:13 You know, when I was experiencing severe anxiety, one of the ways that that physically manifested was that my hands would tremble really badly. I mean, I remember trying to cook myself breakfast and I couldn't even grasp the handle of a sauce pan to fry an egg and then 10 fast forward year and a half two years and you know, found myself serving these trays. He's heavy trays of hot tea. Did you know this tray Zach Madden? 20 glasses, full of hot tea with steam coming out of them. And that moment was not lost on me. It was such a profound teaching meant. For me that even such a small basic seemingly small and basic Act of service was really

17:13 Compassion and love and it's definitely a moment that I'll never forget. But there's such a strong East. I was volunteering and a service at MTO because really it's a continuous reminder. And I would say discipline really to stay true to that love and compassion in our hearts that Sufism tries to help cultivate, and I know you're all Super Active in Texas, as well. So I'm curious cyborgs, how has service shown up for you as an important practice?

17:50 Right soda, as you said in service, we just get so much more back then. Be give and heading back to constantly, remind me to Express gratitude to the ones who are receiving the service. As you know, if you has a long history of a charitable activities, in Dallas is no exception, but this recent response to covid-19 has just been beyond my imagination. Other Professor another's angle and look good items. As soon as he came together from across the globe, at to build personal protective equipment, PPE for the local community because I do remember there was a real need for PGE for medical staff at the beginning of the pan to make it. There was a shortage there was a shortage of food. So we were Distributing food to families in need and even our fellows to the

18:50 School, I practice medicine and Psychotherapy came up with an online. Siri called coping with covid-19, and clothes, and sleeping meditation, or sitting meditation classes that people referred to earlier. Those were being offered online 11 language is actually, this was the horse with no charge for the public and it was all online blessed to have many opportunities to serve the community to, and you've always looked for those in the community that are underserved. And if I learn to listen to the needs of the community first and then offer up,

19:42 Service, it's not just going out there and say this is a service I want to offer, we need to understand. What is it? That they need an example from a few years ago in Dallas, North Dallas Center was this. Nice pasta salad, local high school. So our Center in Dallas is actually in an affluent area. So the high school which is right next to us is also in that affluent area and you expect students that are attending the school to be Bella. But defended from the principal of the school that you're financially, challenged students are attending the school and they can't afford basic hygiene items and they can't even afford warm clothing.

20:29 And, you know, Texas is known as a hot place, but the Dallas and North Texas gets really cold in with her. So students really need a jacket and a once he found out about this need, honestly, I like the first one that went through. My mind was that what is my daughter was going to school? And she didn't have warm clothing or she had clothing. That was torn. That was that she felt embarrassed of her. What is? She didn't have basic hygiene items and I discussed this with a fellow students. I believe that we are all one that we are all branches of a single entity. Your child is my child, and it was amazing to me that the students of went out and bought new clothing and if I knew clothing that they would buy for their own jet.

21:29 Second hand, me downs. This wasn't such that they were about to throw out and they bought hygiene items as well. And with the permission of the school. We went to the school and fill the place needs closet with the clothing with a warm clothing and a hygiene items. And I appreciate it was donation that the future doesn't have gas.

21:55 That's awesome to be featured in this school. A newscast. I love that story that you know, the your focus on first listening to the needs of the community first and then being responsive. I know that seems so logical but you know, I work in the sector and you would be surprised how often that does not happen. And you know, even though I'm listening that empathy that you talked about, you know, your child is a child. I know I'm sure the kids in the school really appreciative of that. I'm sure you know, just because of this past year with covid. I'm sure you've all had some more many opportunities to serve and didn't send you all. Had a really bad storm, winter storm with it was in February, right? And text me.

22:55 And I asked you a national news. We lost power on top of it. And as you said, because of the pandemic, he had many opportunities to serve the community. There was the distribution, the building of the distribution of PPE that was a distribution of food. There was a lot of people doing it in those areas. But for me is any interaction that they had the homeless population and I think it's tied to this winter storm that we had. So, earlier during the storm. We lost power and of course all most of the heat in this area is is using electricity and our house in particular. That be I think had maybe five hours of power in two days. So that extremely cold. I remember that my family and I we had to put on multiple layers of clothing.

23:54 And you had to call inside sleeping bag. Just to keep warm. Just gave me the slightest glimpse of what the homeless population must endure on a day-to-day basis. It was nothing compared to their experience. Of course, he had the security of four walls around us. We had a roof over our head but it helps us get a glimpse just a small glimpse into what is experienced. And that's why I think this interaction that we had with the homeless folks. I really stood out for me. It was at the beginning of the pandemic, you know, that was March of 2020 and it was still cold and homeless, shelters started up there during social distancing guidelines, that meant that they could only serve half of the population that they were previously serving.

24:51 That meant that some of the homeless folks that were being sheltered before not have to sleep outside again and in the cold of March, so the students in Dallas and I decided that we needed to go and

25:09 Make a donation directly with the folks that are outside the shelter because the folks inside the shelter at least getting some assistance and the guys did some research and found out that the homeless, my niece, hygiene items. And of course, we wanted to make sure that they got to warn me off. So they work with the local restaurant and they got him a hot meal and the pack more than a hundred bags of Edie's hygiene items and a hot meal. And we took it directly to the homeless folks that were standing outside the shelter and we started handing these packages out.

25:55 I asked you were doing that. One of the homeless dude. He took a nail clipper out of the bag.

26:02 And he said, thank you for giving us this nail clipper just this morning. I was wishing, I had one and that was just such a learning moment for me. I would have never thought that somebody would thank us for a meal Clipper. I thought maybe they would thank us for the hot hot meal, but not for a nail clipper.

26:21 Yeah, that I would not have thought of the nail clipper has the first priority as well. I think you're just going back to what you were saying. That's why it's just so important to listen and to be responsible and not make assumptions. You know, I also would never have thought, I didn't realize that because of social distancing that the shelters would be operating at half capacity, a terrible. I mean, it it's so great that you all could be, you know, up service in that moment. And it's just really underlined underscores the so much difficulty that. So people have experienced this past year, especially

27:05 Yeah, that's wonderful. As as many opportunities to serve the community and what one thing that really fueled. Our

27:18 I guess our desire and helped us set an example. Hopefully, for the community. Was that the Texas Congressman actually looked up at what we were doing at the community. Congress are no match for him. Actually, recognize the Intel Community here in Dallas, and the 1st September 4th, anniversary of the appointment of our teacher Professor, another angle as including the state of Texas. And that was just such a joyous occasion for us. Not because we were looking for that recognition, but just because it is allowed us to be an example in the community for other nonprofits, to maybe step in and also help.

28:06 That's wonderful. That's so great. That, like you said, it's it's not done for the recognition, but that's so great that you all are recognized in that way. And I think really just points to the scale at which you are all operating on. That's wonderful. Can you share some of those activities?

28:32 Yeah, that's right, you know, here in the Bay Area but we've also been blessed to have the opportunity to be a service. This past year. In particular. We've been able to work with over 50, 5-0, nonprofits, mostly with personal protective equipment. Also, food, as well as school supplies for, with a lot of the low-income students, as they were engaging in, in remote learning and I said the city of Oakland also, recognized MTO for its volunteering efforts and service which was wonderful of them actually found out. I was pregnant a couple months before the pandemic started and so it was such a scary time. I feel like we've all kind of gotten in a way used to this Norm way of being, but that's right when it had started. It was especially a very

29:32 Scary time is so I couldn't personally go out and be on the ground and the way I wanted to with my fellow volunteers, but I was able to use my professional skill sets and be a service from home and that's a thing, right? There's also there's something that all of us can do whether it's donating or more skills to be of service and just reflecting on that time, you know, actually, my my day job is in philanthropy and working with charitable organizations. And so, by day, I was super focused on, you know, how do we get these Diagnostics and Therapeutics and vaccines, especially to those in, low-income country, right to this pretty big and lofty undertaking.

30:20 And then in the evenings and on the weekends, I was volunteering in my own community. And, you know, I would just kind of Reflection from the two and on that micro and macro. And I what I realize is that, you know, both are really important and Sufism teaches that you really need to start at the individual level. With me at that micro. I want to read another quote that I really helps make the point of our teacher Professor know, they're on, teaches that we need to. And I quote commit not to the idea but to the process of mastering our own minds and if enough of us do the same, the world will simultaneously change because the world is us.

31:10 And I really reflect it on that and just, you know, going back to the story. I share it about my own path to Sufism.

31:18 And I really had to peel away all those titles or seemingly important things peel away at my ego, to get to the core of who I am. You know, that that what he says about the process of mastering your own mind and really is at constant daily effort to put aside your ego and assumptions and I found out that you know, really value is not in these things. Are these titles are achievements, but value really is in our hearts and to one another and, you know, mto's response to Kobe, just pass you in particular, you know, that service is not just to our communities but to ourselves in the process because it cultivates that compassion and love. And you know, if enough of us do the same, we really can change the world, you know, it's cliche as his own and

32:19 Yeah.

32:20 That. That's what I really appreciate about intrusive ISM. It's meant to be practice. I think you refer to it earlier. It's not an aunt. That's not poetry. Those are nice back in the actually, learn to practice. And we learned so much through service or could not determine that using Sufism as you mentioned earlier and there are so many layers of learning in service.

32:48 Tell me more about that cuz I,

32:50 I know about one or two of those layers and meanings but he's had multiple many layers. So I'd love to learn more act. So the customer definition of selflessness, is that you think about others before you think of yourself, of course having a disturbing philanthropy, you know, that people don't always act selflessly in philanthropy in Sufism to take it a step further. And when you're talking about selflessness, our goal is to take the self or the eagle out of the way, out of the way of water, the way of that wisdom in each, and everyone of us, every human being easier said than done. And you, as you stood me up, for more opportunities to serve, because the more we serve, the more we learn about

33:49 Aspects of our egos that are getting an already that are covering up that source of wisdom and Tranquility, that's within each and every one of us. And we believe that boy, that self that eagle is out of the way. The only thing that remains is divine wisdom. That's wisdom. Is what you need to follow to evolve as human beings. Professor another angle teachers that following others is never the answer.

34:19 He reminds us that we shouldn't follow him or anyone else all that we need to do is search for that Divine wisdom. That's within us. And if you're able to do that, then their new dance in the answers that we get and that source of wisdom is permanently hours.

34:41 Yeah, that's so beautiful. And you know that that it is permanently ours and I was eating and no one can take it away from you so much about compassion and love is well. And, you know, service really is a key component of that to a demonstration, you know, I would say to em about love that. Connects all of us. Yeah. Well, thank you very boers for sharing. Your story is so wonderful to speak with you and get to know you a little bit better. And your past is Sufism and I would enrich your life.

35:19 Thank you,. Sweetie, was a pleasure and it was great to get to know about your surgery as well.