The Abba--the spiritual father was considered the source of wisdom and life by his or her followers. An Abba (or amma) did not function as an instructor but as an example. Therefore, the sayings of the Abba were tied to certain circumstances; they were not lectures. Their manner of life was to be studied and imitated in close proximity, if only on certain occasions.
Simplicity of life--The desert monastics stressed living in a humble, uncomplicated manner, owning little or nothing. They chose simple work, such as rope making, to support themselves, ate poor food, lived in stone and mud huts, and wore rough single garments.
Economy of words--The desert monastics stressed using few, if any, words, finding in much speech spiritual danger.
Spiritual warfare--The desert life was a place to go and confront one's own moral failings, especially patterns and habits of sin. Accounts of demonic encounters were considered a normal part of the monastic life.
Solitude--A life spent alone with God in prayer and contemplation was the ideal for the desert life. The eremetic (hermit) life was more common in Lower Egypt, while the cenobitic practice of a gathered communty was more common in Upper Egypt. At Nitria and Scetis, they gathered together in skete (larva) cells living near each other. "Sit in your cell and it will teach you everything."
Austerity--The monastic life was to be one of going with as little as possible--as little food, as little sleep, as little wealth, and so on. Not all desert monks practiced the same infamous extremes of the Syrian stylites--going about naked, living on columns, refusing to remove vermin from their persons.
Fasting--One meal per day was considered sufficient. Fasting was considered a way of breaking the control of one's bodily appetites.
Charity--The practice of charity included simple acts of hospitality, going without if others were in need, and a continual practice of forgiving and seeking forgiveness.
Prayer--Contemplative prayer and the chanting of the psalms were at the center of their manner of life.