BILL Clinton, walking on coals? Literally, rather than politically? And what about Hillary, having tea in the White House with a New Ager who refers to the Almighty as the 'Goddess' and advises her clients on the benefits of 'spiritual psychotherapy'? And lest we forget, there's also Newt Gingrich - a man with his political feet on the ground, but whose mind is swimming with such intense notions as 'demassification', 'virtuality', and the 'Third Wave Information Age'. These days nobody, even the nation's leaders, are above having personal gurus to probe that part of the inner consciousness still unsullied by the earthly stench of campaign financing. 'Guru' is, admittedly, something of an overworked word in these parts: James Carville, the political strategist, is referred to as Mr Clinton's 'political guru'; Vice-President Al Gore has become the 'reinventing government guru', simply on the basis of having launched that initiative on his boss's behalf. The gurus of the 1990s have come a long way since their spiritual origins on the sub-continent, not least in the size of their bank balances. They have even progressed from the bearded, beaded counter-culture revolutionaries of the 1960s, such as Timothy Leary. These days, the guru (natural habitat, California and mountain hideaways like Santa Fe) is a smart, sassy character in business dress and a business-like approach to peddling a commodity called 'self-development'. Executive consultant Mark McCormack was probably the 1980s' most famous example of such a guru, although his successors have developed his boardroom themes and spiced them with a tantalising touch of the moral and the spiritual. The three such gurus recently consulted by the Clintons are probably the most famous - and the most moneyed - in their rapidly expanding field. Not surprisingly, there was much media curiosity when it was found out that the President had invited Stephen Covey and Anthony Robbins over to his place during the Christmas break for advice and counselling on how to reinvent himself (Mr Gore wasn't around) after the shock of the November elections. No-one will say what went on behind closed doors, but Robbins is the best-selling author of tomes such as The Giant Within, and whose therapy is said to include boosting his clients' self-awareness by getting them to walk on hot coals. Covey is just as interesting a choice for Mr Clinton, not least because his huge best-seller Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People has also become a bible to Mr Gingrich, who agrees with the President on very little else. Seeking perhaps to shed his vacillating image for that of the dynamic go-getter personified by the new Speaker, what Mr Clinton would have heard from Covey is a philosophy of doing business based on principle and conviction and the setting of identifiable goals. Mr Clinton has never been short of goals but what often lets him down, according to the Covey theory, are side issues that distract him. This could be anything, of course, from State troopers to opinion polls. Not to be outdone, Hillary has been putting her head together with Marianne Williamson, the power-dressing guru to power women everywhere, including Oprah Winfrey, Barbra Streisand and Cher. Williamson, whose A Return To Love sold 750,000 copies, has a post-New Age philosophy that leans heavily on Jesus, with a bit of Sappho and Camille Paglia thrown in. Stressing the independence of women, her favourite concepts are healing, loving and doing away with fear. This is exactly the kind of message the First Lady needs to put across, since the country seems inexplicably to have a fear of her. She must sense this, since she got her press office to put out a statement saying Williamson was not acting as her guru. Trying perhaps to appear more New Testament than New Age, Mrs Clinton said: 'I believe those who publicised her visit want to marginalise my expression of faith as a Christian.' Mr Gingrich doesn't go for fear, either. He quotes liberally from Franklin Roosevelt, who stood for all the Democratic principle he despises, but who uttered the memorable phrase about America having nothing to fear but fear itself. The new Speaker describes himself, not immodestly, as a 'visionary' and 'a true revolutionary'. His futurist gurus are Alvin and Heidi Toffler, whose famous work The Third Wave discussed transforming Western society on a new wave of computer-driven, communications revolutions. Mr Gingrich peppers his speeches with Tofflerspeak, little of which most voters understand, except to get the idea he is ahead of his time. Quite what welfare mothers and gun-toting teens will get up to in the Third Wave hasn't figured in the picture yet. By then, maybe the poor will have access to their own subsidised gurus.