There is a role for structure, however, it is a far cry from the one in practice today. There is no freedom of expression, no creativity, without structure. Take the grammar out of language and what you have would be an idiotic stream of words that might be meaningful to the speaker, but would communicate nothing to the listeners (many would argue that this is precisely where we are headed these days). Therefore we need some form of structure, to serve as kind of vessel used to convey meaning to others. When we are novices in a language, we experience this structure as confusing, distracting and inhibiting – restricting our ability to express ourselves freely. However, once we have mastered it, it is placed in the back of our minds; while we focus our attention on conveying the precise tone and meaning we wish to communicate.
Similarly, when we see Tai Chi being practiced by a throng of elders in a public park in China, all are meticulously following the same precise sequence of movements, performed at the same tempo, executed in exactly the same way. The impression is one of precise clockwork.
Now, if you are fortunate enough to see a master forming the same form by himself in a park, you would recognize the same form, however it would be somehow different. The movements would not be as distinct, they would bleed together, it would have a quality that might be described as soupy, or cloudy. It would have a quality that the others lacked – a certain smoothness, strength, depth- subtle but immediately apparent. If you were to then see another master performing the same form on his own, the movements would yet again vary according to his particular style, while retaining the same core structure, depth of feeling, etc.
Now if you were to witness either of these masters accosted by a hooligan you would likely witness a rapid sequence of indistinct movements that culminated in the hooligan being on the ground. Very likely you would not be able to recognize the specific movement in the form which was implemented by the master. This is formless form in practice.
Structure is meant to elevate us, to free us, not to confine us. In our world it has been subverted and become the tether to tie not just our bodies in place, but our minds and souls as well. The Player Culture promotes a robotic mindset in which all are just going through the motions, their minds parked elsewhere.
The problem arises when they have to deal with new and changing conditions, something that takes place on a day to day basis these days. They simply cannot cope! Having done their jobs mechanically for so long, the situation varies, the employee simply has no idea of how to accommodate the new conditions. Over the years occupations have become progressively more specialized. Instead of integrating and synthesizing information from several areas, these days many people’s mental functioning is more akin to data processing.
The result is that their ability to respond to the unforeseen is severely restricted, their response being confined to a limited range of pre-programmed strategies. This makes for employees who may be highly efficient, in the classical sense, but are not particularly effective. In the past, the focus was upon producing more, now it must be on producing intelligently.
Mastery is one of the cornerstones of this alternative approach. Mastery is something that has come to be completely devalued over the last century. The road to mastery is long and tedious, demanding endless hours of tedious repetition. The distinction between this repetition, and that practiced by the assembly line worker, is that for the artisan it is a meditative process done with mindfulness, a key milestone on the way to a deeper understanding. Meanwhile, for the assembly line worker there is no payoff whatsoever.