The best books to help you know through creativity (yes you can do that)

Why am I passionate about this?

I've been making messes with paint, string, and words, as well as in love, mothering, and in virtually every other way imaginable my whole life. Eventually, an expertise began to grow, and the confusion in my life began to make sense through my creations, while at the same time, the seemingly irrelevant words and textures I was making started to tell me something about my life. Eventually, my lived experience and training in the Expressive Arts Therapies have led me to the roles of teacher, educator, and contemplative artist. If we pay attention to what we express and how we express things, we can find our way through any mess we find ourselves in.


I wrote...

Creating Stillness: Mindful Art Practices and Stories for Navigating Anxiety, Stress, and Fear

By Rachel Rose,

Book cover of Creating Stillness: Mindful Art Practices and Stories for Navigating Anxiety, Stress, and Fear

What is my book about?

Discover the healing power of expressive arts with this hands-on guide to using creative mindfulness to reduce stress, find presence, and unlock self-knowledge. Expressive arts educator Rachel Rose weaves together mindfulness practice and art therapy to demonstrate how tapping into your own innate creativity can help you find peace in a stressful world.

This self-directed guide teaches ten key principles of mindfulness through ten creative invitations, along with a series of simple exercises and guided prompts to help you start noticing and flexing your creative mindfulness muscles: anchoring your practice with ritual; setting intentions; honoring your impulses; trusting the process; non-striving; and letting go. Requiring no prior experience of the arts or mindfulness meditation, Creating Stillness provides tools to explore difficult emotions and find insight into personal struggles and traumatic wounds.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Art Is a Way of Knowing: A Guide to Self-Knowledge and Spiritual Fulfillment through Creativity

Rachel Rose Why did I love this book?

As an anxious mother, I struggled to understand how my creative practice could help me through this trying stage of life.

This book was the first key to help me unlock how my creative practice could support my healing and help me learn more about myself. But most importantly, it gave me permission to proclaim that I could know and understand the world through my intimate creative expressions.

Part memoir, part instruction, this book provided the road map for who I am today: a woman who welcomes her suffering into the creative realm and watches it transform into insight.

By Pat B. Allen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Art Is a Way of Knowing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An expert in art therapy offers this “wonderful” guide “for anyone, artistic or not, who is interested in using art to know more about himself or herself” (Library Journal)
 
Making art—giving form to the images that arise in our mind's eye, our dreams, and our everyday lives—is a form of spiritual practice through which knowledge of ourselves can ripen into wisdom. This book offers encouragement for everyone to explore art-making in this spirit of self-discovery—plus practical instructions on material, methods, and activities, such as ways to:

   •  Discover a personal myth or story
   •  Recognize patterns and themes in one's…


Book cover of The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World

Rachel Rose Why did I love this book?

A great insight in my life has been realizing that the Western world has tricked us into believing there is only one way to know and understand the world.

What do stories of ancient cultures from across the world have to do with creativity and healing? Wade Davis has spent his life living intimately with other cultures and plants; the lessons captured in this book require us to take pause and realize everything we have taken for granted about what we know and how we know it.

As Davis says, "rediscovering the diversity of the human spirit" requires us to unshackle ourselves from our biases and recognize that some things can’t be explained or understood through the narrow lens of the Western world.

Creativity and the imagination are fundamental to being human; this book caused me to question what I was missing by not fully recognizing them as a way of knowing.

By Wade Davis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Wayfinders as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Every culture is a unique answer to a fundamental question: What does it mean to be human and alive? In The Wayfinders, renowned anthropologist, winner of the prestigious Samuel Johnson Prize, and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Wade Davis leads us on a thrilling journey to celebrate the wisdom of the world's indigenous cultures.

In Polynesia we set sail with navigators whose ancestors settled the Pacific ten centuries before Christ. In the Amazon we meet the descendants of a true lost civilization, the Peoples of the Anaconda. In the Andes we discover that the earth really is alive, while in Australia we…


Book cover of The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

Rachel Rose Why did I love this book?

Of all the creative self-help books out there, Twyla Tharp’s perspective stands out as one fueled by awareness and curiosity rather than grit and force.

For me, this gentler, more curious cultivation of creativity has proved sustaining as opposed to the conventional wisdom that suggests life must be pushed away or overcome to create. As a choreographer and dancer, her wisdom on building a life of creative expression is broad and encompassing, focusing on how one interacts with the world rather than the products one creates.

The inspiration in this book is followed up with practices that have changed the way I approach seeing the world, focusing my thoughts, and allowing the creative process to transport me to surprising places.

By Twyla Tharp,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Creative Habit as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What makes someone creative? How does someone face the empty page, the empty stage and making something where nothing existed before? Not just a dilemma for the artist, it is something everyone faces everyday. What will I cook that isn't boring? How can I make that memo persuasive? What sales pitch will increase the order, get me the job, lock in that bonus? These too, are creative acts, and they all share a common need: proper preparation. For Twyla Tharp, creativity is no mystery; it's the product of hard work and preparation, of knowing one's aims and one's subject, of…


Book cover of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants

Rachel Rose Why did I love this book?

I read this book as I was grappling with questions about what role creativity and expression play in a world facing a climate crisis, reimagining justice, and ballooning mental health issues.

With each word on the page, Kimmerer showed me that yes, creativity matters, and in fact, it may be just the tool we need to truly talk to one another and imagine new solutions.

An outstanding example of how creativity (in this case, creative writing) can help one to intimately know and celebrate the nuance and complexity of life, this book weaves together science and creativity with grace.

As an Indigenous woman and plant researcher, Kimmerer welcomes her expressive voice, storytelling, and myths into her lived experience. The resulting essays are personal yet universal and show how creativity can breathe life into any topic, holding a space that shines with intimacy, expertise, and something uniquely our own.

By Robin Wall Kimmerer,

Why should I read it?

48 authors picked Braiding Sweetgrass as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Called the work of "a mesmerizing storyteller with deep compassion and memorable prose" (Publishers Weekly) and the book that, "anyone interested in natural history, botany, protecting nature, or Native American culture will love," by Library Journal, Braiding Sweetgrass is poised to be a classic of nature writing. As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer asks questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces indigenous teachings that consider plants and animals to be our oldest teachers. Kimmerer brings these two lenses of knowledge together to take "us on a journey that is…


Book cover of The Paper Dolls

Rachel Rose Why did I love this book?

I always seek to immerse myself in creative works like film, fiction, and music, and as a mother of three young children, I have now added children's books to this list.

The magic and simplicity of bringing together poetic voice and imagery in picture books have shown me the alchemy of weaving together mediums to convey emotion and meaning in a simple and powerful way.

Of the thousands of children’s books I have read (seriously!) this one struck me as a gem, exploring the vulnerability and enchanting realm of childhood, a place where creativity once roamed free within us.

This simple story of a mother and daughter and the beauty of the imagination and memory as one ages feels like an invitation made just for me asking me to reignite the spark of expression without all the added weight of adulthood.

By Julia Donaldson, Rebecca Cobb (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Paper Dolls as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 3, 4, and 5.

What is this book about?

The Paper Dolls is a stunning, lyrical story of childhood, memory and the power of imagination from Julia Donaldson, the author of The Gruffalo, and award-winning illustrator Rebecca Cobb.

A string of paper dolls go on a fantastical adventure through the house and out into the garden. They soon escape the clutches of the toy dinosaur and the snapping jaws of the oven-glove crocodile, but then a very real pair of scissors threatens . . .

The Paper Dolls is a beautiful and evocative story from Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb, the bestselling creators of The Everywhere Bear.


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The Pianist's Only Daughter: A Memoir

By Kathryn Betts Adams,

Book cover of The Pianist's Only Daughter: A Memoir

Kathryn Betts Adams Author Of The Pianist's Only Daughter: A Memoir

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I was first a clinical social worker and then a social work professor with research focus on older adults. Over the past few years, as I have been writing my own memoir about caring for my parents, I’ve been drawn to memoirs and first-person stories of aging, illness, and death. The best memoirs on these topics describe the emotional transformation in the writer as they process their loss of control, loss of their own or a loved one’s health, and their fear, pain, and suffering. In sharing these stories, we help others empathize with what we’ve gone through and help others be better prepared for similar events in their own lives.

Kathryn's book list on Memoirs illness aging death moving vivid prose

What is my book about?

The Pianist's Only Daughter is a frank, humorous, and heartbreaking exploration of aging in an aging expert's own family.

Social worker and gerontologist Kathryn Betts Adams spent decades negotiating evolving family dynamics with her colorful and talented parents: her mother, an English scholar and poet, and her father, a pianist and music professor. Their vivid emotional lives, marital instability, and eventual divorce provided the backdrop for her 1960s and ‘70s Midwestern youth.

Nearly thirty years after they divorce, Adams' newly single father flies in to woo his ex-wife, now retired and diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Their daughter watches in disbelief…

The Pianist's Only Daughter: A Memoir

By Kathryn Betts Adams,

What is this book about?

Grounded in insights about mental health, health and aging, The Pianist’s Only Daughter: A Memoir presents a frank and loving exploration of aging in an aging expert's own family.

Social worker and gerontologist Kathryn Betts Adams spent decades negotiating evolving family dynamics with her colorful and talented parents: her English scholar and poet mother and her pianist father. Their vivid emotional lives, marital instability, and eventual divorce provided the backdrop for her 1960s and ‘70s Midwestern youth.

Nearly thirty years after they divorce, Adams' father finds himself single and flies in to woo his ex-wife, now retired and diagnosed with…


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