Kelly Madigan Erlandson

Enclosed Inflorescence

I have been practicing a meditation in which I picture myself entering a small temple. The doorway is so low I have to bend over to step inside. Once there, I am bathed in a blue light, which usually appears as a cool, thin flame. I practice allowing it to burn away my fears and resentments, so I can emerge clean. I have come to love the tiny cave of the temple, a simple, round space where my spirit restores itself.

         There are many different ways that trees and plants produce flowers, but the fig tree has developed its own technique. It flowers on the inside of the fruit, never visible to the eye, which is called enclosed inflorescence. This makes the blossoms difficult to pollinate, so the world has produced a special fig wasp that is adapted for entering the one small opening in the fig. Once there, it pollinates these internal flowers, and lays its own eggs. The fig tree and the fig wasp are interdependent.

         This image of a small, enclosed space decorated with flowers reminds me of geodes, those rocks that appear ordinary and nondescript on the outside, but are usually hollow and lined with beautiful, inward-pointing formations of crystal. If you don’t know what to look for, you would walk past them and never know that hammering them open would reveal treasures.

         I grew up believing that the center of the earth is molten lava, much like the material spewed by volcanoes. This has left me with the sense of a hollow Earth, into which liquid metal has been poured. This isn’t accurate, but it is a way for me to picture what I can’t otherwise know. Scientists believe the interior must be metallic, because of the presence of the magnetic field around the planet. The theory is that it is mostly molten iron.

         In South Africa, mines have been dug 3.5 km into the Earth to extract gold. These are the deepest entry points we know of, and the mining companies aren’t going to go much further. The intense heat and pressure at that depth make it difficult for the miners to work. It makes me think we are living on a fireball, a star that is blossoming internally rather than radiating its light across the heavens.

         Entering my imaginary temple is a process of turning away from the appearances of the world, and going to a created place inside of myself. Although it doesn’t physically exist, I am able to picture it throughout the day. To get there, I learned to close my eyes and attend to my own breath, in and out, inhalation and exhalation, as a passageway. Now that I have been practicing, I can summon the image by simply closing my eyes.

         The fig wasp, over time, developed special features that allow it through the one opening into the interior of the fig, including a flattened head and many teeth, some on its legs, to climb through the tiny tunnel. The miners in South Africa have special equipment, as well, to enter the mines and gather the gold. Rock hounds learn to recognize geodes without breaking them open. Part of their technique involves assessing the weight of the rock, information which can speak to the hollow center.

         The secretive beauty in the world overcomes and tricks me. I am taken with the fig tree, and its mosaic of flowers lining each fruit that only the wasp inhabits. From its example, I have learned to cover the walls of my temple with blossoms. I practice holding round stones in my hands, imagining they each have a molten center, or a contained sea, or a slow pulse.

         I have begun a new meditation practice in which I follow the passageway of my breath through a mineshaft into the earth’s interior. It is filled with fields of flowers. The pollinators are there, misshapen by the backwards birth of entering this place, tending to the world with their reverence. I always pick one small bloom and swallow it before returning.