"Falling in love provides a glimpse of the real gold that lies at the heart of our humanness. In love's early stages, powerful qualities of our being — openness, peace, expansiveness, delight — simply emerge, unbidden, out of the heightened sense of presence we experience with our partner. And this inspires us to commit ourselves more fully to this growing connection, which seems to bring so many blessings.

"Yet as the relationship precedes, the gold often becomes harder and harder to find. Old personality patterns, which are like iron ore mixed in with the gold, begin to obscure it. If we want to regain access to the pure gold, we will have to go through a refining process — which involves encountering and working with our obscurations. In fact, the obstacles to loving presence contained within us need to come up and be worked with if we are to free ourselves from them.

"If falling in love provides a glimpse of our true nature, entering into a long-term relationship brings us up against all the obstacles of residing there — whatever prevents us from being present, being real, being ourselves. I don't know any couples who have not suffered this fall from grace at some point, losing touch with the original bright presence that first drew them together. Yet this is not a problem when we understand it as an integral part of a couple's journey toward greater wholeness and a richer, more seasoned kind of love.

"The Sufi tradition contains an important distinction between states — qualities of being, like peace, joy, trust, inner strength, or confidence, which emerge spontaneously for a short time, as when we fall in love — and stations — these same qualities when they have become permanently integrated into our lives. Once a state has passed, we cannot readily call it back. But a quality that has become a station is on we have access to whenever it is needed. If love and presence are to become stations in our lives and in our relationships, rather than just passing states, we need to understand what we do to obstruct them, and how we can remove these obstructions. This is the path of conscious relationship.

"When two partners with a deep bond choose to work with the obstacles arising between them, this deepens their connection with themselves and each other, and can provide a lifelong, mutual sense of path and direction. On the other hand, if they refuse to work with the difficulties in their relationship, they lose a precious opportunity to let the fire of their love refine their natures and forge their inner gold. One of the chief sins against loving, according to the Sufi master Hazrat Inayat Khan, is 'shrinking from all the sorrows, pains, troubles, and difficulties that come in the path of love.'

"Of course, facing the challenges on this path takes great courage and daring. This is where a guiding vision becomes essential: It helps two partners take heart and gather their energies when they feel lost or bogged down. What can sustain a couple through the most difficult times is knowing that they are together for a larger purpose — helping each other refine the gold of their essential natures by working through obstacles in the way of their deepest unfolding. Such a vision can help them convert ordinary tribulations into what the Russian teacher Gurdjieff called 'conscious suffering' — willingly making use of the pain of encountering inner obstacles, as motivation to work on overcoming them.

"Now that many of the traditional bonds holding couples together have broken down, relationships can thrive in these difficult times only if they reflect and promote our true nature. This is the kind of connection our heart truly desires. Do you really want a partnership that reflects and promotes only your personality, your concepts and beliefs about yourself — who you think you are? That is an unconscious relationship, based on ignoring and denying aspects of yourself that don't fit some image in your mind. A conscious relationship is one that calls forth who you really are. It is dedicated to truth, rather than to chasing after illusory images. Regarding relationship as a vehicle or path that can help two people access the powerful qualities of their true nature provides the new vision our age so urgently needs."