"Learning can be practiced as a form of spirituality," notes Mary Catherine Bateson, the author of "Composing a Life" who teaches English at George Mason University. For Bateson, lifelong learning is the essential key to survival and abundant experiences. Using examples and illustrative material from her involvement in other cultures — Iran, Israel, and the Philippines — she observes: "There is a spiritual basis to attention, a humility in waiting upon the emergence of pattern from experience. . . .Looking, listening, and learning offer the modern equivalent of moving through life as a pilgrimage. Even death is a time to learn."

Whether she is reflecting on the death of her infant son, remembering a hike into Sinai, recalling a sermon she gave at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, meditating upon the significance of gardens in Iran, or discussing the debate over multiculturalism within American education circles, Bateson makes it clear that peripheral vision is essential to achieving a richer, fuller life. What are the characteristics of this perspective? It involves an ability to think about more than one thing at a time. It means making a place for both continuity and discontinuity in our way of living. And it includes a joy of learning and a delight in diversity.

Bateson believes that our lives are diminished by a dilution of attention — when we are not present in our experiences but instead are lost in some never-never land. She criticizes Western culture for training us in boredom and enslaving us to "ever more vivid diversions." As an antidote, Bateson writes about the value of repetitive ritual and ecstatic expression.

"Peripheral Visions" is a profound book that shows us the process of learning from our experiences, savoring different cultures and peoples, and improvising new paths to self and communal fulfillment. Bateson concludes: "The challenge for parents and educators is to create the readiness to respond, the quality of attention that makes recognition possible: pattern matched with pattern, vagrant awareness welcomed, empathy established." Lifelong learning as a sacred path never sounded better.