Welcome to Sharudin Jamal Blogspot

More than two decades ago, I was diagnosed of having a peculiar illness known as Bipolar Affective Disorder. My world as I knew it crumbled; I lost my business, then my job and later my sense of purpose. It was during this dark moments I rediscovered the joy of running and writing. Most of the articles here are about my rekindled pleasure of hitting the tarmac, my coming to terms with the illness and my discovery of the meaning of life.

I always on the lookout for inspirations to write in these three areas with the hope that they will shed new ray of hope to others who are in the same position as I am.

Do keep in touch if you feel connected through these essays.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

In Search for Truth

In search of truth is a sensitive topic.  That is because there are many paths to truth and  there are many seekers along the path.  However for truth to prevail, there should be one common understanding of its meaning.  Anyone who is confronted with this realization should accept that truth is universal.  Thus there is only one language for truth and those who uncover it should be able to accept it without prejudice.

Way back in the early days, people turned to religion for the ultimate answer.  I did the same thing years ago.  It seemed logical to me.  After all, the religious people happened to be, in my eyes, contented with the answers they got from their religious devotions.  I, therefore, dived into the religious studies like a zealot on steroid.  I spent my mornings studying the meaning of Quran, also known as the Tafsir under the tutelage of  Professor Dr. Abdul Hayei of the Religious Studies of University Malaya for two years.  I also attended the lectures in the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization (ISTAC) in the evenings whenever time permits.  To top it up, I pray five times a day in the mosque and worked on my Arabic Quranic reading twice a week with the local imam.

In the beginning, I was overwhelmed.  There was a vast body of knowledge to cover.  I even learn Arabic to keep pace with the readings.  Finally, after struggling for quite some time, I decided to confine my research to the Quran and Hadith.  This was way before the You Tube era, so I bought a software that can do a keyword search in both areas.  What I discovered, I was not impressed.  Sans from being labeled blasphemous, I just say that some of my findings border along absurdity.  It's hard to imagine one can accept such writings as the truth when some of them were marred with inconsistencies, inaccuracies, and bigotries.  I know this statement will make the fanatics jump from their seats, but that is only because they are making judgments based on their conformity bias.  Furthermore, these people operate within a narrow scope of thinking based on the preset paradigm.  Thus I decided to move on...

My next stop is philosophy.  At first, I get myself acquainted with the traditional Greek thought leaders.  Names like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle weaved their ways into my research.  I found comfort in their manuscripts as such they provoked thinking rather than accepting everything lock, stock, and barrel as the ultimate truth.  Slowly I veered from the Greeks to the works of Thomas Paine, Voltaire, and Descartes.  They propagated excellence in human achievement through reasons and intellect to say the very least.  I also came across the works of Anthony Flew as he came to his closure on the topic of the existence of God.  All these were fine specimens, but it was Nietzsche that caught my imagination.

Nietzsche was an intellectual giant.  He is probably the most widely read philosopher in the world today, but he is also the most misunderstood.  He was born on 15 October 1844, in Germany.  He had, on the whole, a happy, fulfilling and pious childhood and he never spoke in his writings of any kind of rebellion against his religious upbringing.  However, when he went to university in 1864 to read philosophy and theology he had already ceased to believe in the existence of God.  His work influenced my thoughts when he talked about God is Dead, The Superman, The Will to Power, and Eternal Recurrence.  Where I stop short is when he said, anything can be the truth.  I felt like that was an anticlimax to a wonderful array of reasons he provided so far.

It was then I realized that philosophy is not the path to uncovering the truth.  Once again I set my course and this time on science.  It took me awhile to find my way around science since I left the field for more than thirty years.  I started back from the time of Copernicus to Kepler then to Newton. From there, I moved to Maxwell and then Einstein and later to Bohr.  The good thing about science is, everything starts with a hypothesis.  Then followed by some testings and observations.  This sieving process makes way for a theory and then the establishment of the theory and perhaps a law.  This is known as the scientific method.  The dynamic is never a status quo.  When new evidence presents itself the whole process repeats again.

It's easy to conclude that scientific method is the way to the ultimate truth.  Unfortunately, the finding from the scientific method is not the end all be all answer to this quest.  It is just a tool to get to an answer.  If there is new evidence emerges in the future, then the whole cycle repeats itself.  The target is always moving.  There is only one solid body of knowledge that is steady throughout the years, that is mathematics.  With mathematics, there is always a problem to solve and an equation to prove.  Having said that, the answer is always coherent.

I fell in love with mathematics when I found out that there are twenty-six fundamental constants that hold the universe together.  They are:  
  • the mass of the up quark
  • the mass of the down quark
  • the mass of the charmed quark
  • the mass of the strange quark
  • the mass of the top quark
  • the mass of the bottom quark
  • 4 numbers for the Kobayashi-Maskawa matrix

  • the mass of the electron
  • the mass of the electron neutrino
  • the mass of the muon
  • the mass of the mu neutrino
  • the mass of the tau
  • the mass of the tau neutrino
  • 4 numbers for the Pontecorvo-Maki-Nakagawa-Sakata matrix

  • the mass of the Higgs boson
  • the expectation value of the Higgs field

  • the U(1) coupling constant
  • the SU(2) coupling constant
  • the strong coupling constant

  • the cosmological constant
Without these constants, the universe won't exist!  Imagine for a while, the numbers must tally for us to occupy this amount of space.  

Even the way objects are structured require a certain pattern in mathematics.  Take the Phi Ratio or the Golden Ratio, for example, the sequence is very fluid and yet it exists in all forms of existence.  There is no requirement to explain things in a long-winded way, just do the math.  Once you understand the mathematical aspect of how things work, there is no longer the need to be superfluous about the logic behind it.

The Phi Ratio

Mathematics is more than just numbers jumbled together.  It is the foundation of science, engineering, medicine, communication and technology as a whole.  Without it, we will not progress from the stone age era to today's marvelous living condition.  It may not answer the questions such as the existence of God, life after death, and the spirits' realm but it certainly has gotten us this far.  

"Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful
 without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?"
- Douglas Adams (1952-2001), 
from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy 1979


Monday, September 26, 2016

Pain is My Friend

Running is not natural for me.  If I don't run for two weeks, I will feel the drop in my performance.  Therefore I made a point not to miss my run two days in a row.  The beautiful thing about running is that once you are on the roll, the whole motion becomes effortless.  What was initially a drudgery becomes fluidity. That may not be the case in the beginning.

Initially, a run requires effort.  The body, much like a rusty machinery resists the action to mobilize.  All the joints ache after thirty minutes of running.  The lungs scream for more air.  The legs straddle to accommodate the ever increasing level of lactic acid.  For those who just started, running can be an insanity streak.  It defies logic.  How in the world a sweaty, hot and sticky calamity be able to outdo the comfort of the couch and the cool breeze of an air-conditioned room?

There is a logic to the whole conundrum.  Running may be a torture in the beginning, but as you progress, the body adapts.  While you are slogging on the tarmac, wonderful things happen to your body.  To resist the pain, your brain produces a morphine-like neurotransmitter called endorphin.  This is known as the runner's high.  The after effect of endorphin is a mildly euphoric state that can last for the entire day.  

Scientists also discovered another neurotransmitter known as the endocannabinoid or anandamide.  Endo means internal and cannabinoid means cannabis receptors.  Which means the body is capable of producing its own cannabis to make you high.  This is also why it is called anandamide, by means that ananda is bliss in Sanskrit.  Hence running has its perks.  The feel good chemicals can be addictive in a positive way.  You get ecstatic merely by sweating.

Those are not the only reasons to start lacing up your shoes.  It was discovered that the brain's synapses multiplies with at least thirty minutes of active physical motions.  This is known as neurogenesis.  It helps much in keeping us alert as we aged.  Not only that, the brain also experience another phenomenon known as the neuroplasticity.  What it means is the brain organizes itself in a new way when we are physically active.  This helps the person who exercises regularly deals with depression and age-related illnesses like Alzheimer and Dementia.

"Running is the greatest metaphor for life because you get out of it what you put into it." Said Oprah Winfrey.  This is so true.  You cannot hoodwink running.  For example, you cannot decide to run a marathon without conquering  the mileage.  There is no short cut.  The road to success is through training.  Training, training and more training.  That's the only way to do it.  Of course, everybody's rite of passage is you must go out to take the first steps.  You may start with a modest 5 Km runs.  This will eventually increase in speed and before long you may decide to go for 10 Km.  As you progress, your mileage will increase as well.  Then before you realize, you are on the road to greatness.  It was suggested that it takes at least two years to get from the couch to a marathon.

A marathon is a unique race.  In a normal situation, anybody can complete a race.  Not in the case of a marathon.  Unlike other shorter races, in a marathon, you will face the wall.   This normally happens in mile 20 or kilometer 32 of a race, where your body depletes its glycogen reserve.  It might as well be two races added up because, beyond the wall, you must summon your mental strength to rally forward.  It is said that a marathon is both a physical and mental game.  Too fast and you get burned out early, too slow and you will lose valuable time.  So timing is everything.  It is best to over prepare for a marathon than to cut corners.

Every race distance has its lure.  A 5 Km race is to establish the basis of your lower limit.  A 10 Km race on the other hand, is to compete with the young and frisky.  A 21 Km is for the enjoyment and a marathon is for salvation.  My favorite race is the 21 Km.  It is long enough to feel elated yet it is short enough not to feel dragged.  However, to keep me on my toes I make a point to run a 5 Km tempo run and a 10 Km long run on a weekly basis.  These two runs coupled with a once a week interval run are enough to keep my body tuned for further distances required in the future.

What is the human race without it runs?  Our body was build to travel far.  We were born runners.  Our ancestors develop these running skills long ago to hunt prey for food.  Not many animals can run long distance as we humans.  Perhaps only dogs, hyenas, and horses can do the same.  The rest like antelopes, deers and antlers can run fast but on burst intervals.  We should continue this legacy for our good sake.  We humans, are meant to be mobile instead of sedentary.  

What doesn't kill us makes us stronger.  Better still, what doesn't kill us makes us adaptable.  Adaptation is the key to survival.  Run if you can, walk if you have to but never, never sit still.


Sunday, September 25, 2016

Success is a Habit

You never change your life until you change something you do daily, said Mike Murdock, a renowned public speaker.  That's right.  The secret of your future is hidden in your daily routine.  Nothing will ever dominate your life that doesn't happen daily. This holds true especially in the field of sports.  It's the daily grinding, day after day that separates the boys from the true champions.  If you want something bad enough, put your entire day effort to pursue it and eventually you will see the result.  It had been said that to be good at something, anything, you must clock in ten thousand hours.  Then only it becomes an unconscious habit that lasts a lifetime.

A successful life is often expensive.  It will cost you something to become a champion.  Time.  Energy.  Focus.  It has to come with a burning desire to be better than the rest.  To soar like an eagle, the saying goes, you can't flock with the turkeys.  To be extraordinary, you must commit to the little extra.  Unless of course you just want to be ordinary.  Which is fine in most circumstances.

Often times we are awed by individuals who seemed ordinary but yet can achieve an extraordinary feat.  The person I can think of is Dean Karnazes, a runner who achieved a surmountable feat of running fifty marathons in fifty days.  It is given that Dean has a special advantage; his body produces a low amount of lactic acid.  That, however, is not the sole reason why he is so agile.  This guy runs everywhere he goes and is always on his feet almost every second he is awake.  He even ran back from New York up to Missouri after completing his fiftieth marathon.  Talk about being a super human!

Again the emphasis here is the daily habit.  Without his conscious effort to get up and run every day, he would not have gotten that far to realize his true potential.  When asked about the secret of his success, Dean replied humbly that he is just an average guy putting one foot over the other.  I was not convinced and so I dug deeper.  After watching some video clips and reading all his books, I found the answer - Pain is my friend.  This guy sought after pain.  Now that is something extraordinary...

How many of us give up at the first sign of fatigue?  Or how about we surrender when stress creeps in?  The very nature of running is to create stress.  Only by stressing ourselves will our body adapts.  Many of us runners loathe the hill.  We silently curse the upward battle as we incline our body in a climb.  Contrary to popular belief, hill run is good.  As you go up you use the quads and as you scale down you use your hamstrings.  These two major muscle groups seldom get tuned on a flat run.  The beautiful thing about the human body is it will adapt to the given situations.  Do it often and long enough, everything will become second nature. 

Always remember the powerful importance of linking your habits to your life purpose.  Habits alone will merely reduce us to being automatons without the definiteness of purpose that governs it.  Just like a beautiful painting requires a backdrop for the paints to reside,  life purpose pulls you towards your destiny.  It's the little thing that keeps you going when the chip is low.  It's the very reason that keeps you going day in day out to pursue your intention.  Seldom a ship that sets sail without a rudder will ever end anywhere except floating aimlessly.  Life purpose is that rudder that sets the course of your actions.  It sets the direction to your destination.

The battle belongs to the persistent.  The victory goes to the one who never quits.  Sometimes you have to do something you dislike to create something you desire.  For every disciplined action, there are multiple rewards.

Road Racing with a Twist

Today I woke up at 4.30 am with a gusto.  After all, this is my first race this year.  Three months ago I registered for the 12 km run and I certainly look forward to putting my best effort in this event.  However, at the last minute, my wife decided to join me in my endeavor.  An avid runner in her younger days, she still cherishes the moments where she can join me in my races.  Unfortunately, her knees are not what they used to be.  So after much deliberations, we decided to walk together for 6 km.  I never walked in races before.  Certainly, there is a first time for everything.

We arrived one hour early.  There were ample of parking space at Cyberjaya, where the event was held.  I left my number at home since I am not running in my category.  Thus this was the first time I participated as a bandit.  I was nervous as hell.  My wife who was quite used to the ordeal when she accompanied me in my races before was cool as a cucumber.

"Relax," she said.  "It's not that they going to arrest you."

"Yeah, but what if they snag us in the middle of the race?"

"Very unlikely."  She replied.

I started eyeing for other bandits within the vicinity.  It seemed there were two kinds.  The first were the one wearing finishers t-shirts from other races.  Normally they are marathoners and half-marathoners.  I suspected these people entered many races in a year but not willing to pay for all of them especially the mid-distance ones.  Imagine if you enter twelve races a year and three-quarter of that are weekends practice runs.  It will be a pricey fee to pay just for the use of the road since you are not concerned with the medals, certificates, and t-shirts.  These are the fast runners.  You can tell by their physiques that they clocked the mileage and they were just there to finish the course.

The second kind were those wearing the event t-shirts but with no number.  This is an amazing discovery for me.  That means the runner in the family wore the number but passed the t-shirt to the spouse or child who just walked the entire course.  They were not looking for speed or prizes, just accompanying their loved ones.  In a way, they get fifty percent discount on the ever hefty price for participating.  I like this option better.  I normally run the long distance races.  Next time around while waiting for me, Liz can join the shorter distance races by walking; while wearing the shirt.  At least there are something for her to do rather than sitting idly.  I never wear race t-shirt after the event anyway.

So what was it like to walk in a 6 km race?  You might asked.  It was a humbling experience to say the least.  In the very first place, I was shocked to note that the majority walked!  Yes, people in this category represented a cross section of the Malaysian's demographics.  Here you see the young, the young at heart, the round, the stubby, the joggers, the trotters, the moms with babies and what have you.  I started at the back end so as not to get in the way of the paid runners and yet there were still people behind me.  Much slower strollers.

It is worthy to mention that as a race normally is, there are competitions at every level.  Walking at 10 min/km, turned out we were not the slowest.  We took pride bypassing some of the younger generations and sometimes had fun overtaking some "wide rear bumper" ladies.  Of course, we did not stop at the water station.  We didn't feel justified.  

For us, the walk gave us the opportunity to enjoy the rapid development of Cyberjaya; a township that I last visited in 2006.  Things had changed a lot.  There were many new high rise condos and shopping malls.  The city is taking a new shape with new skyscrapers lining the landscape.

The walk was a breeze for me but it's a nice feeling to be able to complete a race with my darling wife by my side.  To think that she endured the course with her aching knees was a gesture I treasure.  We arrived at the end point slightly over one hour.  The route turned out to be 6.7 km long.  We didn't cross the finishing line.  Instead, we detoured as we reached closer.  Giving way to the others to claim their glory. 

I didn't expect this race to be that rewarding.  Luckily the feeling though obtained differently, was as wonderful as if I was running the 12 km race.  Though I might lose the endorphin's kick, I gained much more in the oxytocin's department.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The 7 Tribes

Throughout my life, I had encountered 7 different types of beliefs.  They are:
  1. Theists
  2. Deists
  3. Agnostics
  4. Agnostic Atheists
  5. Pantheists
  6. Polytheists
  7. Autotheists
Given the fact that they are good people, these 7 tribes are seldom seeing each other at eye level.  The theists believe in an intervening God, believe in miracles and support their belief with their own holy books.  The deists believe in a non-intervening God, support their believe with reasons and don't believe in miracles.  Agnostics can't say for sure God exists and remains non-partial.  Agnostic atheists don't believe in God but are willing to shift their stand if there are proofs.  Pantheists believe everything is God.  Polytheists believe in many Gods and Autotheists believe they are the manifestation of God; a demigod so to speak.

I had been in all the situations.  Throughout my journey, I met respectable people from all the tribes.  They are well-intended people who have great passion over humankind.  In their tribes, they are great people who call for justice, peace and harmony.   That's where the similarities end.  Between the tribes, there are hatred and bitterness.  Everybody claims his world view is the best.  Nobody is willing to concede and thus the feud lasts for thousand of years.  The main theme is whose God is supreme and those who don't believe will be severely punished.

Isn't it ironic?  God the Creator and we humans who were created in his image condone evil in the name of love?  Where is the logic behind that?  We had created a monster with our system and now we are choking ourselves with it.  The political & religious structure create silos among the 7 tribes to the point they cannot stand the sight of each other.

Since I know these people personally, I believe human being are good at the core.  Nobody was born evil.  They become so because of the upbringing.  A simple example... your religion is decided upon birth.  Who decides for you which religion you were born in?  Why will God condemn a person by choosing him to be born a Muslim, a Jew, a Hindu or a Free Thinker?  Why must other people outside the tribe be condemned to eternal torment just because they cherish God differently from you do?  It doesn't make sense.

What if I say all the 7 tribes propagate good and forbid evil?  Do they deserve a merciless afterlife too?  Hence the concept of hell as the eternal damnation for nonbelievers is a bit harsh.  I believe that as long as we practice the Golden Rule; do unto others what you want others to do unto you, then we are one big family called the homo sapiens.  We should love and care for one another.  After all, we are the last hominids left on planet earth.

What if for all you know, all these while, heaven is actually a place calls earth?  God is proactive.  He gives first.  This is our home, the final frontier.  We should strive to turn earth back to its heavenly state.  Everybody is welcome.

I am making my small contribution towards this cause.  In 2019 I will run 2 half marathons.  Then in 2020 I will run a full marathon.  This is my way of saying that I am part of the human race.  I will put my best foot forward to carry this aging body to cross the finishing line to a glorious dawn of the great human civilization.  With me will be 4 other runners from Sekolah Alam Shah.  We call ourselves the ASAS81.  The 1964 Wood Dragons.  With us, we will be carrying the Sacred Flint and the Stone of Hope, to symbolize humanity.  

My challenge is that I do not know if I can finish the marathon at 56.  Hence, I will not carry the symbolic items.  Azhar Ahmed will carry the flint in marathon 2019 while Basiruddin Siman carries the stone.  Finally, Major Aminuddin Yahya will carry the items in marathon 2020.

With the run, I carry my prayers, I wish for all humanity to enter heaven, peace on earth.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Freedom, Health & Happiness

"Do what makes you happy."  Said a friend.  I love running but I love smoking too.  Both makes me happy.  For as long as I can remember,  I had been trying to find a common ground where I can enjoy my run and my cigarette as well.  So what I end up doing is, once a year I will enroll in a road racing and quit smoking for a month to train for the race.  Subsequently, after the race, I will then happily go for my cigarette and start smoking like chimney again.

With me and cigarette, the relationship is beyond puffing some tobacco leaves wrapped in glistening white paper.  Smoking consumes me.  I can quit for three weeks or three months or three years even; the moment I light up, I'm back to a pack a day smoker.  When I quit I have to abstain from three things, the craving, the boredom, and the depression.

Getting away from the craving is easy.  If I don't smoke for three days,  I'll be ok.  Then comes the boredom.  This is easy too, I just keep myself busy or I just doze off.  What I can't stand is the depression mood.  This is hard.  Even after three weeks of quitting, I feel like a sack of potatoes.  To compensate I eat a lot of fattening and sugary stuff.  This is no mind over matter anymore.  The depression is real and it grips me like an anaconda coiling a caiman.

It is ironic considering that my utmost value in life is freedom.  I pride myself when I'm not smoking and able to walk in the mall without anxiously looking for a cigarette break every one hour.  I know smoking is a menace but I can't seem to let go of the filthy habit.  Worst, smoking takes my time away from my daily runs.

Same as before, this year I enrolled in a 12 km race which will happen on the 25th of September.  Earlier last month I quit for three weeks.  But the depression is overwhelming.  On the last day of August, I smoked a pack.  I promised myself to quit the next day.  Sadly,  I continue smoking the next day and the next and the next.  I'm back on being a chain smoker.

My friend told me to find the root cause of the problem.  After some deep thinking, I concluded that this may be due to me being lonely.  However, I am a solitude person by nature.  That's why my sport of choice is distance running.  I am fully aware of the health setbacks due to smoking.  And yet, I still can't let go of smoking.

If I can only predict how long the depression lasts, things will be for the better.  It's not that I can't quit but rather, how to stay quit.  Tomorrow is my birthday, and I intend to quit again.  How many times have I quit?  Perhaps a few hundred times.  It doesn't matter.  I will continue to quit until I can overcome the depression.  I asked my doctor to prescribe some antidepressant.  She refused to comply because she said the medication might get me to mania mood.  In other words, the doctor rather has a depressed patient than a manic one.  Easier to handle I suppose.

I am not giving up on finding the solution.  Somehow, I got to tackle the depression state of my dependency.  Now that I know I can handle the craving and the boredom, my focus on quitting, this time, is to vanquish the depression.  I'll go for another twenty-one days and see how it goes.

One strategy I can think off is to counter the lethargy with being active.  Always on the move.  Perhaps the motion will lift my spirit up.  I don't know for sure.  What I know is that when I am depressed, I have a low amount of energy.  So, motion creates emotion.  Hmmph...  I'll give it a shot.

Other than that, I intend to drink a lot of water.  It might work.  Finally, I will not smoke another cigarette.  That had backfired before but at this point, that seems to be the most sensible thing to do.

Wish me luck.