Geeky about thinking – Two types of thoughts

Two types of thoughts - man and woman with images above their heads

Two Types of Thoughts

Before we explore techniques for using thoughts as the object of meditation, let’s talk about the two types of thoughts: auditory and visual. Auditory thoughts are words or sentences you “hear” in your mind. Visual thoughts include images you “see” in your mind. Words are like radio and images like silent movies. Both may occur at the same time.

If, while doing your movement meditation, you simply notice that thoughts come in those two varieties, you’ll be ahead of many people when it comes to awareness. The general population, thinking all the time, is asleep to these classifications. Start there, noticing that thoughts come in two forms.

Once you have made yourself familiar with the two types of thoughts, things get super interesting (for meditation geeks, at least).

Auditory Thoughts

The first category of thought is auditory or sound thoughts. You hear snippets of sentences, repeated words, music you heard or made up, or conversations in your mind. The classic earworm song that sticks in your head is an example of a very intrusive and repetitive auditory thought.

Similar to “image thoughts,” these auditory thoughts may be recognizable or may not. They may shift from a song you know into one you don’t, then into something completely unrecognizable. They might be static or a single sound but will often move and change.

You can “see” words as visual representations, but those are image thoughts. When you “hear” words, those are auditory thoughts. Notice the difference? It’s subtle. To quote Shinzen, “Subtle is significant.”*

Visual Thoughts

The second category of thought is visual. Within this category, the mind offers endless possibilities. You know how your TV has 3,000 channels but nothing’s on? The mind has a billion channels. Something’s always on. Let’s look more closely.

You might see a person’s face, an image of a car you used to drive, a plate of food, or a scene from a movie or television. Those images might be vivid and real and in color. These recognizable images might be static for a minute, but often they move and change.

Or you might see fuzzy or vague images you can’t quite make out. They could be black and white or in color. They might be static for a bit, a solid color or one pattern, but often they will move and change. “Image thoughts” may switch from recognizable to impressionistic.

Visual thoughts are easiest to spot when you meditate with your eyes closed. Since you probably keep your eyes open during movement meditation (safety first), visual thoughts are less likely, but not impossible. Have you ever been in the middle of a long, repetitious workout when a scene from a movie scrolled through your mind? If you see the characters or backdrop, those are visual thoughts.

People tend to have a preferred mode of thought: auditory or visual. As a writer, I tend to think by hearing words or inner sounds rather than in images. My painter friend’s thoughts arise in images. Notice yours.

I have included more than twenty “Your Turn” exercises in the book Make Every Move a Meditation.

*Shinzen Young, “Meditation: Escaping into Life—An Interview with Shinzen Young by
Michael Toms.” December 7, 2016.

This excerpt is from Make Every Move a Meditation by Nita Sweeney which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.