In the novel, avout follow a life path called the Discipline, sometimes referred to as Cartasian Discipline, after Saunt Cartas, the founder of the mathic world. It is a set of rules governing what is (and is not) allowed for avout to know and/or do, and was codified centuries before the time of the story in the Second New Revised Book of Discipline.
Chief among these is that the avout are separated, both mentally and literally, from the Sæculum, or outside world. There are different levels of separation. For example, within a concent, there are different terms of residency. There are 1-, 10-, 100-, and 1,000-year orders. Each of these celebrates "Apert", a festival opening the concent to the outside world and allowing the flow of information between them, on an interval determined by that number. For example, a 10-year order would celebrate Apert once every ten years, remaining isolated otherwise. Likewise, a 100-year order would only celebrate Apert every hundred years, and a 1,000-year order once every 1,000 years. It is an essential part of this that at any time an order celebrates Apert, all orders below it also celebrate Apert. For example, a Millenarian (1,000-year) order would celebrate in the year 3000. Because 3000 is also a multiple of 100, 10, and 1, Centenarian, Decenarian, and Unarian orders would also celebrate. Exceptions to this rule include "hierarchs" (those who administer the concent) who are required to confer with the Sæcular Power on decisions of weight.
The main secondary aspect of the Discipline is that the avout are allowed to own only their "bolt, chord, and sphere". These objects are made with "newmatter" (matter made with a modified atomic structure to be more versatile), and can be made to alter their shape, texture and other physical properties without the use of tools or other outside technologies. The bolt is a length of newmatter fabric and is used as clothing; the chord is a newmatter rope used to secure the bolt; and the sphere is a newmatter balloon of adjustable size, shape and hardness, and serves as a multipurpose tool.
There are several restrictions governing, for example, the use of "sequencing" (genetic engineering), "syntactic devices" (computers), or other "praxis" (technology). Due to the restrictions, avout can only work on an entirely theoretical basis de jure.