Walking through the Forest of Shadows is not like an ordinary walk through another forest. In other forests there is stability and organization; even the changing things change in accordance to rules. Here, nothing is ordered or stable. A walk eastward may bring you westward, if you are lucky. More likely, you will end up not moving at all.
What is real? Before, it was simple. Perceived things were real, thoughts were real, emotions were real. Dreams were not real, imagined things were not real, illusions were not real. Here, in the forest, a tree will fade from view the longer you look at it. From the corner of your eye you think you see a flower; look around, and it is gone.
Many have found deer or rabbit tracks, you may too, but you will never see a rabbit or deer. Does this mean there are no deer or rabbits? Perhaps not, but perhaps the tracks are simply part of the unreality of the forest.
Deep in the forest, there is a smooth lake; at night it perfectly reflects the moon, even on nights when there is no moon.
It is easy to believe that the forest is purely an illusion, it is hard to comprehend how any of it can be real. And yet, most of the travelers you meet in the forest will insist that at least parts of the forest are very real, perhaps even more real than the rest of the world. You may find talking to them frustrating, few will make reasoned arguments for the reality of the forest. Instead, they will point to the bracing air, the joy of stumbling upon a new clearing, the beauty of the leaves in autumn.
What is real? You are used to thinking that what you clearly perceive is real. But your fellow travelers have a different idea of reality. They say reality is the beautiful, the sublime. The echoes of birdsong, far more beautiful than birdsong beyond the forest, is more real than the cawing of ravens. This is said despite the fact, freely admitted, that there are no birds to be seen in the forest, and that their cries are only the faintest of echoes.
Tired, you rest on the forest floor, leaning against a tree until the tree becomes insubstantial. And you dream. In your dream, the forest is real, gloriously real, but even less logical than the forest while awake. A step may send you halfway around the world; a conversation may change substance, and speakers, in mid-sentence; trees grow and die before your eyes.
When you wake, you doubt your dream. Waking, a dream, so real while asleep, seems even less real than the forest. Things of the mind, you think, are less real than things of the body. Except, in the forest, that may not be the case. The memory of the sun warms you far better than the sun itself; you can climb a tree if you believe one is there even though you do not see or feel it.
What is real? The forest may be more real than anything else, it may not exist at all, or it may just be another part of the world. It would be nice to just experience the forest, but the unreality of it distracts you from staying in the moment.
Eventually, you decide to leave the forest. The mere decision changes it. The paths begin to twist and turn, the trees seem to reach down and snatch at your clothes. The forest, at first blush, seems to be trying to trap you. But a moment later, it seems quite the opposite. The trees thin out, the path straightens and broadens. You quickly find yourself at the forest's edge.
Leaving the forest, you quickly forget about it. It is easy to dismiss it all as a waking dream. The memory of the Forest of Shadows is itself a shadow. It fades away until it is gone. You will not visit it again.
What is real?