Phil Morgan finds guidance in the wisdom of a story by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist, about washing dishes.
In the story, Hanh reflects on the unpleasantness of washing dishes when he is anticipating the chore and when he washes the dishes in a hurry thinking about what he is going to do afterward. He said that if he can’t wash the dishes with joy, then he is equally incapable of enjoying what he does before and after. However, when his mind is focused on the present, washing dishes becomes pleasant, and the chore becomes a means and an end.
“It’s one of those enlightenment moments where you realize, I need to be present right now, not about what happened or what’s going to happen,” Morgan, who lives in Astoria, said. “And it makes life a lot easier.”
Morgan moved to the North Coast five years ago. He spent 25 years working in management for the state and then shifted towardsocial and spiritual services.
Born in Minnesota in 1941, Morgan and his family moved to Medford when he was 6 years old, where he grew up above the mortuary his family owned and operated.
As he got older, he started helping his dad pick up bodies from the hospital. The experience gave him the opportunity to deal with and become comfortable with death, he said.
After graduating high school in 1959, Morgan went into the military to work with computers and data processing.
Right before Morgan was scheduled to return home from the military, his dad died. Morgan, the only child, came back and supported his mother. They subsequently sold the mortuary.
Morgan married Marty, who he had known since grade school, and they had three kids together.
While living in Portland, Morgan became a hospice volunteer after he and his wife helped care for some friends before they had died. He started working and volunteering at his local hospice to support patients with their spiritual and physical needs.
Morgan also started studying Reiki, an energy therapy where practitioners place their palms on a patient to transfer energy to promote emotional or physical healing. He eventually became a Reiki master.
Morgan cared for his wife when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and eventually died.
In Morgan’s three partnerships after Marty, he became a caregiver for each of them during their battles with cancer and eventual deaths.
“I’ve had to come to an understanding of what death is that allows me to understand it and accept it and support it,” Morgan said. “That was the major turning point. When Marty died, I didn’t have that all together, so I spent the next couple years working on some of that.”
You wouldn’t know Morgan experienced so much loss upon meeting him. He has a gentle demeanor and a joyful smile.
Morgan said his experiences with death and his personal spiritual journey have taught him not to resist death, but rather view it as an opportunity to connect more to the universe and everyone and everything around him.
Morgan described death as “letting go of our physical body and moving into a relationship with the entire universe.”
“It’s a gift if you can see it that way,” he said.
Morgan serves as a volunteer chaplain at Columbia Memorial Hospital in Astoria and offers Reiki as an integrative therapy to patients at the Knight Cancer Collaborative. He also volunteers for Lower Columbia Hospice’s No One Dies Alone program.
Each experience with death has taught Morgan to open up to the lesson it can offer, which has allowed him to be more present. That presence, just as in the Buddhist monk’s story about washing dishes, has allowed him to find joy even in the hardest of times.