When did you last truly go wandering outside?

Photo by Lucia Baggio on Unsplash

There is an old, a very old, practice called abbhokāsika dhutaṅga, meaning roughly ‘the practice of dwelling on an unsheltered spot’.  The idea is to do without shelter for a while, to deliberately reject the tree whose branches can protect you; the roof whose solidness can strengthen you.

It is an ascetic practice – that is, a practice that works to the theory that denying yourself a comfort can help you to become wiser.

What kind of wisdom can come from an activity like this, from going outside and staying without shelter for a while?

The theory is that in our normal lives, we become attached to our homes, where we feel welcome, and comfortable, with all our needs supplied.  The idea is not to masochistically deprive ourselves for the sake of it.  Rather, the idea is that if we get too comfortable in our home spot, we get lazy in our comfort zone.  We can end up afraid of going out, and finding all sorts of excuses to stay at home.  We become unable to travel without good reason – unless work or a chore forces us outside!  And, unconsciously, we become addicted to all the cupboards, shelves and appliances we have arranged around us to give us what we think we need.

Dwelling outside without shelter teaches us that comfort is an illusion.  That we think we are gaining something from our home comforts, but in fact we can become so addicted to them, that we are their slave.  The practice frees us from that dependence, reminds us that there is life away from our chattels, and helps us to travel more fluidly.  This is helpful because we can help others much better.  There is nothing that prevents us from loving others more than selfishly sheltering in our own home.  If you think about it, it is what selfishness is: an addiction to one’s own security and shelter, and an aversion, quite literally, to ‘putting oneself out’.

The original practice was often quite extreme, and fraught with several rules.  But perhaps there is a modern version which can give us a taste of it.

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Set aside some time, maybe a morning or an afternoon (or, if you are feeling adventurous, a part of the night).  Leave your home, and just walk.  Stay outside, and try not to stick to your most familiar haunts.  Become a wanderer in open space for a while.

You might even want to drive to a new place, park the car, and do the same thing.  If so, for safety, maybe take a phone and mark the location of your car with a sat nav reading!  But the principle still applies: see how it is to escape the needs of indoors, to wander under the sky without your usual trappings.

You might experience wisdom in all sorts of ways.  Perhaps you’ll learn, by listening to your self, how dependent you are on your home comforts.  Perhaps you’ll find out how interesting it can be to come across strangers, and share a word, or watch an activity unfold.  You might, coming back home, realise that you feel liberated, freed up a little from your usual addiction to having everything just-so. You might find your normal life improved by your awareness that you are less dependent on things going your way.  You might, ironically, find that being unsecured for a while has made you less insecure in your personal life.

Disability may make it tricky to undertake the practice; but hopefully there is some aspect of an unsheltered life that you can explore.

Good luck if you try this.  It doesn’t take much: just a plan in your diary, setting aside part of a day for wandering outside.  And you can know that you are tasting a mindfulness practice reminiscent of ancient times, the practice of abbhokāsika dhutaṅga.